This post of mine received a massive response. I shouldn't have been surprised about that - over at my blog I had many 101 posts on food and bodies, that people here won't have seen. I've decided to repost them as a series. They'll run once a week or so. Here is the first
The language around food and health is pretty common. People don't just call their own food healthy they feel perfectly entitled to comment on the health qualities of what someone else is eating. Sometimes it's intended in a sarcastic manner 'healthy breakfast', if you're eating a chocolate bar, sometimes it's supposed to be a compliment. All this usage suggests that some foods have 'health' and some lack it, and this quality is the same no matter who is eating the food, which is ridiculous. Brazil nuts are very nutritious, but they're not going to be healthy if you're allergic to them, or if you've a high selenium in-take.
The idea of food being 'healthy' reminds me of computer games, where you lose health if you get shot at or land on the spikes, and gain health when you find first aid. But instead I'm supposed to be gaining health by the broccolli I'm eating right now, but I would have lost health for the chocolate I had this morning.
Our bodies don't work like that; they're not simple input/output machines. Any food that has any nutritional value (and apart from diet soda and the like, almost all food has some nutritional value) can improve the health of a particular individual at a particular time.
Just to be 100% clear, I'm not saying that there is no relationship between what we eat and our health. I'm intolerant to milk, I know that certain foods can make me unhealthy, but that doesn't mean that those foods have some mysterious amount of unhealthy that they subtract from my body.
The effect food has on our health is a relationship between the food and the state of our body atthe time that we eat it. Health is not an intrinsic quality in any food.
So I've proved my semantic point, why do I care? Mostly because I think it's a wider reflection of our eating disordered culture. Generally people who talk about food being 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' are people who are self-conscious about calling food 'good' or 'bad', but it sustains exactly the same fucked up attitude towards food.
But more fundamentally because I think that it is part of a wider project to create a commodity called 'health'. This commodity is becoming divorced from the needs of us as people, both in terms of the actual physical bodies we live our lives in and our wider social needs.