Before You Criticize the Food Choices of Others…

I normally really, really, really hate disability simulations. But I can’t think of a way to make this point more clear, and I think that there are cases in which disability simulations can actually be very helpful for people who are having trouble grasping some key concepts.

Food policing is an area in which all sorts of assumptions are made about class and ability status. It goes hand in hand with the idea that people have an obligation to be healthy, that all bodies are the same so there’s only one way to be healthy, and that there is virtue in eating “right” as dictated by current authorities in the food world. Like, say, Michael Pollan, who is editorialized fawningly in numerous publications all over the planet for his “simple” and “helpful” food rules.


Before you criticize the food choices of others…

  • Prepare a meal which takes an hour of being on your feet in the kitchen, with a 100 pound (45 kilogram) sack of flour across your shoulders. Welcome to an inkling of what it’s like to try and prepare a meal when you have a condition which involves chronic pain and fatigue.
  • You have exactly half an hour to prepare dinner, with no help. GO! Bonus: Dinner for four.
  • Prepare a meal which doesn’t include: Corn, wheat, eggs, nuts, bell peppers, fish of any kind, cheese, soy, milk, or peanuts. If these ingredients slip in, say hello to your friend anaphylaxis.
  • You can’t hear kitchen timers or any other noises associated with food preparation (like your pasta water boiling, the sizzle of meat searing, etc.). How do you plan to gauge doneness or the appropriate timing for the next step in a recipe?
  • Prepare a meal which doesn’t include anything crunchy. (Alternatives: Nothing with a strong odor, nothing soft, nothing slimy, nothing squeaky, nothing viscous, etc.) For people with sensory sensitivity, both handling food to prepare it and eating it can be challenging.
  • You’re hungry. Wait five hours. You’re still hungry. You’re really hungry! Wait two more hours. You’re still hungry, but you still can’t make yourself eat (or you can’t prepare food, or you can’t go out for food, or you can’t afford to order in food).
  • Start cooking something. Get distracted and leave the kitchen with water boiling/pan on high. Come back half an hour later. Now what?
  • Prepare a meal which doesn’t include heavy oil, spicing, flavoring, or strong ingredients. Mess up? It’s ok, you don’t have irritable bowel, Crohn’s, or other gastrointestinal conditions which would leave you writhing on the toilet for the rest of the night.
  • Sit on a low stool and try preparing food and cooking at counters which are all too high for you. (You are allowed to prepare ahead of time by moving utensils to your level, as folks with kitchens which are too high tend to lay them out in a way which is accessible for them, even if they can’t afford the modifications needed to make a kitchen truly accessible.)
  • Wear heavy gloves or bandage your hands during food preparation. This includes opening containers, chopping, and everything else.
  • Work in a kitchen which is extremely hot (or cold). Some folks with disabilities have poor temperature regulation which can make tasks like baking extra fun.
  • Try preparing a recipe out of order, or with missing steps. Folks with attention and focus issues often have trouble following recipes, especially if they are complex.
  • Make a meal. Look at it. Feel ill and throw it away. You still feel ill because you can smell it. Take out the garbage.
  • You have no clean dishes. Wash your dishes. You are now too tired to cook.
  • Recognize that you are hungry and need food. Realize that nothing in your house is suitable. Go to bed hungry.


  • People with disabilities are much more likely to live in poverty. Do your grocery shopping for the week with $20.
  • People with disabilities often lack access to big grocery stores (no public transit, store is not accessible, don’t have energy to go to the store after work). Use the corner store for groceries. For a week. You’re also only allowed to bring home as many groceries as you can carry in one bag.
  • If you’re more of an eating out kind of person, don’t go to any restaurants which fail to meet basic accessibility guidelines. For bonus points, don’t go to restaurants which are too bright, too dark, too crowded, too loud, too smelly. Also, your budget for eating out has been reduced to 1/3 of what it usually is.
  • If you have a shared kitchen, only prepare meals when no one else is there, or eat in your room from food supplies you store there. Some neuroatypical folks have a hard time navigating shared spaces. Alternatively, if you have a shared kitchen, imagine that half your food has been eaten by housemates and you can only replace it with ingredients available from the corner store. Another alternative: You can cook in your shared kitchen, but only if someone hasn’t recently cooked something which smells strong in there and if no strong smelling foods are stored there. Incidentally, any soft goods (like bread) should be considered inedible if they’ve been stored in a kitchen where people made strong-smelling food. Oh, you just bought that loaf? Too bad.

This is just a small taste of what it can be like to eat while disabled. I’m sure that readers can add many things in the comments. And I’d note that many of these limitations also apply to people such as parents and able poor folks.

ETA: I don’t know where all of the Michael Pollan apologists came from, but please stop. I’m not going to be letting your comments through, and they miss the larger point of this post, which is not to attack Michael Pollan, but to discuss trends in the foodie movement and beyond.

One Reply to “Before You Criticize the Food Choices of Others…”

  1. Or counters that are too *low*. My back problems are displeased by my hunching over our kitchen counters that are designed for someone significantly shorter than I. I had to retreat to my room after cooking this morning, where I’ve been in bed for the last three hours, without doing the dishes because I wouldn’t have been able to get off the kitchen floor if I’d done hunching over the too-low sink as well. Sigh.

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