Edit Desk: Stop stocking supermarket shelves with guilt


I fell in love with Trader Joe’s the moment my very first bag of their “chili & lime flavored rolled corn tortilla chips” made all of the Takis and hot Cheetos I’d eaten immediately seem bland and over-processed.

As a frequenter of the supermarket chain, I am familiar with many of its popular products. However, when shopping with someone this past summer, I was shocked by an item I didn’t recognize on their shopping list: “reduced guilt mac and cheese.”

This frozen, microwavable meal boasted having 65% less fat and 25% fewer calories than the store’s regular recipe. But, that wasn’t the focus of the packaging. Its name made a larger assumption about what these restrictions meant for shoppers.

The assertion that guilt was an inherent ingredient in the food people eat was one that I had never seen labeled so blatantly before. 

Outside of its obvious survival purposes, food serves as a valuable tool to unite people, express love, celebrate culture and enjoy life. Yet, with the simple addition of two words to the packaging, “reduced guilt,” a classic comfort food was weaponized as a means for a corporation to profit off human insecurity, positioning itself as considerate for absolving customers of the intentionally manufactured guilt they might never have known they could have.

As I stared at the package name, I found myself reminded of the warnings I had been given before college about the infamous “freshman 15,” a term referring to the idea that freshmen gain around 15 pounds when they make the transition from living at home to their first year of college. 

Although this phrase is widely known, it somehow always seems to be used as a caution instead of a source of comfort and communal experience. The conversation is phrased around warding off the freshman 15 or shedding the weight the following year once you’ve extended past your societally allotted period, in which it’s acceptable to be a 15-pound heavier version of yourself.

But college is a period built around change. 

In the last year alone I have turned 20, declared a major I love, worked four new jobs, slowly come to terms with my sexuality, been in my first relationship, visited two new states, gained and lost friendships, picked up at least 150 lucky pennies (and made 150 subsequent wishes), tried new hobbies, lived in a house without my parents for the first time ever, talked myself out of transferring colleges, developed an obsession with Franks RedHot, started therapy (again), went to Pride, overcame my fear of sending emails and ruined my annual pair of converse.

This running list of things, big and small, has changed me in some way. And it is ridiculous to me that in the midst of all that change, we expect our bodies to remain exactly the same.

Now that I and all of my friends have turned 20, I’ve begun to notice a pattern of people becoming frustrated by comparing themselves to how they used to look in their teens. 

It’s difficult to overcome negative thoughts that stem from people thinking they were thinner at 16 because the odds are that most people probably were. 

But this isn’t a bad thing: it makes sense. No one should look exactly the same way they did when they were 16 as they do when they’re 20. College is four crucial years for development and growth, both physical and emotional. What happens within that gap shouldn’t be ignored.

What’s particularly frustrating is I don’t think this is a phenomenon exclusive to the early 20s age range. Women, specifically, are taught to hate any signs of physical change that naturally come with age throughout their lives.

For many women, beating the freshman 15 turns into bouncing back quickly from childbirth or smoothing away their crow’s feet and laugh lines with Botox. This revolving door of new made-up problems unnecessarily strips women of their confidence in the natural beauty of aging.

We should aspire to be healthy and happy enough to get to grow old, instead of rejecting the natural progress markers of that experience.

Coming of age and shifting from a girl to a woman is a time of exploration and overcoming. Becoming a mother, whether that be biologically or through alternative means, is said to be one of the most amazing human experiences. Living long enough to develop crow’s feet and laugh lines is only an indication that someone has lived a life filled with joy. And every other scar, wrinkle, birthmark and weight fluctuation along the way is yet another marker of a moment in someone’s life 

It’s much easier said than done, but by allowing yourself the grace and kindness to accept your body’s changes as necessary parts of your life’s journey, you open yourself to appreciate parts of yourself that you might have otherwise been shamed into hiding.

One day, when I am old and have hopefully lived a full life, I want to have a belly full of delicious Trader Joe’s macaroni and cheese and laugh lines etched so deeply into my face that even on my worst days complete strangers can tell how much love my life has been filled with. I want to feel beautiful in whoever I become and know that I never felt guilty about any of it. 

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1 Comment

  1. On a micro level, I agree that associating guilt with a particular food or meal can have negative psychological effects. However, on a macro scale, we desperately need guilt to make a comeback into the culinary lives of Americans.

    We are poisoning ourselves with highly-processed foods, refined sugars, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, additives, stabilizers, etc. While unhealthy food can be enjoyed in moderation, it seems that moderation is fading away. The largest food manufacturers do extensive research to see what combination of sugar and fat triggers the biggest dopamine release and what combination of colors, words, and images triggers the biggest purchase impulse. They fund studies that always seem to show that their junk food is beneficial or at least not harmful when public health outcomes or a rational brain suggest otherwise. And there are examples of body positive activists being backed by Nestle.

    So have a celebratory meal, a cheat day, or an ice cream party. But let’s not pretend that there aren’t potential health consequences that come with frequent overindulgence. Half the people in America can’t walk from the bedroom to the bathroom without needing to catch their breath or grab a snack. While you shouldn’t stress over every pound, taking care of your body will better set you up for a happier, healthier, longer life filled with all the love and joy author describes.

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