I’ve seen a number of posters hung in the windows of local businesses lately, advertising a pancake breakfast being held in memory of a young man who recently passed away from the effects of an eating disorder.
I knew this young man when he was a child, and what a charming boy he was! We worshipped at a twenty/thirtysomethings service together as adults. I know for a fact that his life, and sadly enough, his death have strongly impacted my community. His family and church have begun an eating disorders support group, and while I don’t know this for fact, I assume that this group has something to do with this young man.
I think it’s likely that I am going to sound rude, and that is not my intention at all, but these posters have brought a question to my mind that I am going to share with you. Why is it that people are chosing to remember this young man with a food event?
I have a basic understanding of eating disorders. And this is it: The disorder is about control. Food is used, or not used, to establish control. So why is it that the weapon used in this young man’s death is being used to remember him? It seems equivalent to remembering a murder victim by hosting a gun raffle, or celebrating someone who suffered an alcohol-related death in a bar. It doesn’t make sense to me. There are hundreds of ways to raise money in memory of an anorexic without using food. A 5K, a walk-a-thon, a golf tournament, a concert…the list is long and there is an equally long list of people in our community who have organized such events.
And if the organization has goals of reaching out to people living with an eating disorder, is a food event the best way to get them interested in the support group? My best guess, uneducated as it is, says no. Will a city’s homeless population go to a soup kitchen in a rural area? No. Will a “turn in your semi-automatic weapon” drive be successful if it is held nowhere near the demographic with the weapons? No. Will anorexics jump in their cars and drive out to the pancake breakfast? Probably not.
We have such a food-centered life here in the US. And it is getting to be a serious problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 13.8% of children ages 2-5 are overweight, and it only gets worse as they get older. 18.8% of children 6-11, and 17.4% of children 12-18 are overweight. And for adults the statistic is frightening: 32.9% of adults are overweight.
The statistics on eating disorders are not as accurate, due to the secretive nature of some disorders (bulimia, for example), but they are alarming. The National Institue of Mental Health figures that 1 of 5 women in America has an eating disorder. The Renfrew Center Foundation, which works to advance the education, prevention, research and treatment of eating disorders, says that eating disorders affect 24 million Americans, and 70 million others across the world. And 50,000 people will die from the effects of eating disorders.
Looking at the statistics on eating disorders and obesity together, it’s no wonder that people with self-worth and self-image issues decide to use food. It’s there, right in front of us, all the time! Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by images of, advertisements for, places to get food. Even when visiting friends, food is practically crammed down our throats. I know I do that (not the actual cramming), but if someone stops by, I offer something to eat and drink…I grew up seeing that (thanks, mom) and now I do it without even thinking about it. I use food to exhibit my hospitality, and that’s really not necessary when I stop to think about it.
As a nation, we need to stop glorifying food. We need to exercise some serious self-control. Especially now, as the food situation around the world is nearing a crisis level, we need to examine how we use food, not only as nourishment, but in other ways, too, before it’s too late.