The Student Health Center is considering unsubscribing from the ezine it began offering two weeks ago. “When we subscribed,” explained SHC’s administrative official Heather Turett, “we expected some level of professionalism and maturity. What we got was thinly-veiled shame alchemy disguised as medicine.” The “shame alchemy” that concerned Turett was an article called “Choosing Parenteral Nutrition”, which interviewed college students practicing a food-free lifestyle (FFL).
“I don’t have a problem with people choosing to get all or most of their nutrition intravenously,” said Turett, in her critique of the article, “some people simply don’t derive much enjoyment from eating or find that having to sit down and eat interferes with their schedule. Others come from religious traditions that promote a lifestyle of fasting or of very minimal dietary choices. The majority of those promoting FFL say they won’t eat until they have examined all the food options and picked the best options for them. For them, having to switch diets partway through their life would cause them severe emotional disruption, so it makes sense for them to eat only once they feel they’ve found a good selection of foods.”
Turett explained that these could all be good reasons to choose FFL, but that it is not a topic for a health magazine. “Ultimately, FFL boils down to personal preference,” she said, “Food-free advocates often try to cite the health benefits of their lifestyle, saying that it prevents the nutrition imbalances associated with unhealthy eating, as well as reactions to contaminated or allergenic food. But a food-free existence is very hard to maintain if health is the only goal, and the culture of guilt surrounding food that is promoted by the community makes it hard for ‘lapsed’ food-free people to make wise choices. We hear them say things like ‘well, I’m eating food anyway, so I might as well try uncooked pork just to see what it tastes like.’”
Turett also took issue with the imbalanced portrayal of FFL in the article. She said that the students partaking it were “cast as heroes” just for making a lifestyle choice, and that those who eat food primarily for the flavor — rather than the nutritive value — were portrayed as shallow. Additionally, only the benefits of FFL were described in the article, casting it in an artificially positive light. She noted that this was not an isolated problem in the ezine. In a later article, which answered questions about E. coli, prevention tips included “safer eating techniques, such as FFL”. Turett countered that this was a smokescreen. “Not eating,” she said, “is, by definition, not a form of eating. If you’re going to tell people how to eat safer, then give them tips on washing vegetables and cooking meat thoroughly. Barring a gastrointestinal illness that prevents nutrient absorption, the decision to switch to FFL should not be made on the basis of health. It would be as silly as telling everyone to stop skydiving or rock climbing or driving because of the risk of death or injury.”
The health center would like to poll the student body before making the final decision about unsubscribing from the ezine. They ask that any students with an opinion for or against the ezine should submit their opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of February. “We spent money on this subscription,” Turett pointed out, “so if it is promoting junk medicine, we’d rather be spending money somewhere more useful.”