Comparing “Real Food” And “Real Women” Rhetoric

We’ve all seen the “real women” memes: “Real women have curves,” and so on. There’s been some pushing back against these ideas, which I think is useful, since holding up one category of womanhood as more “real” than another is ultimately essentializing and harmful.

This intriguing blog post, Real Food, draws a parallel between the “real women” meme and arguments about “real food,” arguing that this logic is problematic on several levels.

First, the “real food” rhetoric tends to be very judgmental: I’ve met very few people who make personal choices of the “real food” persuasion without also pressuring those around them…without also proclaiming that the foods most people rely on to survive are inherently inferior…without also implying that the reason the rest of us are fat, or poor, or don’t have shiny hair, or don’t walk around perpetually bathed in magical sunbeams of happiness, is entirely because we eat the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad food — the food that is not Real.

The same thing goes for femininity and “real” women. Are there any arguments about “real” womanhood that are not exclusionary or in some way judgmental? I sure haven’t seen any.

Further, questioning the realness of food – like questioning the realness of womanhood – subsumes an individual’s valid life choices in a fog of elitism. The author points out that all foods, like all women, are real, and goes to write: No, this does not mean that all foods are nutritionally equivalent, or that all foods are good for all people in all situations, but it does mean that choices around food must be individual, that all food choices can be valid, depending on the person and the circumstances, and that universal pronouncements on a food’s relative realness are not helpful or, well…real.

It’s important to keep sight of these points in order to have a realistically grounded discussion of food choices as well as gender choices. We have no way of knowing the constraints under which anyone else operates; the person buying and consuming unhealthy foods may need more calories than others because of an eating disorder, another health issue, or lack of access to other resources. Similarly, the woman performing idealized femininity may be operating in conditions that make that choice the healthiest one for her, even if it appears anti-feminist on the surface.

I found the “Real Food” post quite enlightening, in large part because I have very strong beliefs about what real food is, and I hope that I don’t come across as too elitist because of them. I do try to make sure that I emphasize that these are my beliefs are what is healthy for me, and that obviously what works for me may not work for everyone else. I acknowledge that I’m able to approach food (and gender, too) with some class privilege and white privilege, but hopefully becoming more aware of the factors influencing my perspective will help me be more compassionate toward those making different choices than I would make, for their own legitimate reasons.

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.