Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Food, Finance, and Judging Others

I was all set to post a long diatribe about cooking and feminism (FUN!) this morning, when I read Casting Stones: When Is It Okay to Judge? over at Get Rich Slowly. JD is one of my favorite bloggers, and this piece is a good example of why.

To summarize: He has a friend who repeatedly makes gigantic financial mistakes, and isn’t changing his behavior to address the fallout. JD knows he shouldn’t judge, but it’s difficult when he sees how bad habits might affect his friend’s family.

Then, JD reflects on a recent trip he took with a super-frugal millionaire, and how the gentleman’s little bits of pointed criticism made him feel somewhat judged. It wasn’t comfortable, and JD wondered if he was perpetuating the same attitude when it came to his broke friend.

Ultimately, he can’t help being a little judgey. And I don’t judge him for that, because I would be, too. It’s tough watching someone you love make poor decisions, whether it’s about food, money, or life in general. It’s even tougher on the internet, where problems lack context, and anonymity makes judgment as easy as writing, “You suck. I rule.”

So, let’s do an exercise. How many times have you logged on to a food or personal finance blog, to see statements like:
  • “Why don’t they just buy healthier food?”
  • I have time to cook dinner every night. She should, too!”
  • “Fat/poor people lack discipline/willpower.”
  • “What do you mean you don’t know how to chop an onion/roast a chicken/make cereal? My grandmother/babysitter/drill sergeant taught me as soon as I joined the army/was born/beamed in from Pluto. KIDS THESE DAYS.”
Have you written comments like this yourself? I know I have. Though we try to be objective here at CHG, I occasionally lapse into “What’s WRONG with people?”-style reasoning. I’m not particularly proud of it.

Here’s what I think, though: when it comes to cooking and cash, everyone comes with her own set of biases and experiences. The important thing is to recognize them, acknowledge how they color your perspective, and avoid applying them universally. Because holding others to your exacting standards A) is unfair, B) shows a stunning lack of comprehension of and compassion for others’ situations, and C) is kind of mean.

For example, here are ten of my own biases, and how they might affect CHG’s voice:

I am a woman (hear me roar), and since I require fewer calories than men, 
it’s easier to get by on less money.

I am in my early thirties, and past my treat-my-body-like-crap years.

I am childless, so I don’t have to support kids, 
and my time is mostly my own. 

I am as-yet unmarried and accustomed to independence. 
For a long time, I cooked and bought food for one. 

I have no distinct ethnic identity or culinary heritage
My family doesn’t pass down recipes, 
and non-Western cuisine is still relatively new to me. 

I am educated. I have access to information, 
generally know how to interpret it, and can apply it to my situation. 

I am usually employed, giving me a steady income and few financial worries.

I live in an urban area, which means I can’t grow my own food (see: this), 
but have access to a variety of ethnic cuisines.

I rent an apartment, so storage space and 
potential for bulk shopping is extremely limited.

I don’t own a car, meaning what I purchase is 
entirely reliant on public transportation.

Hopefully, being aware of my own biases will make CHG more helpful to folks in different situations. I may not understand what a rural, 50-something mom of four needs on a day-to-day basis, but I can keep from suggesting that a six-pack of Corona from the bodega across the street will solve all her problems.

Should you NEVER judge? No. That’s unrealistic. Some things (child abuse, Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake, etc.) are just wrong, and should be acknowledged as such. But a little more compassion might make our daily interactions – both online and with real people – a little more positive and productive.

Readers, how about you? What biases do you have? How do you keep from judging? When is it okay? Do you find it easier on the internet? The comment section is way open.

P.S. I should mention that CHG commenters are, on the whole, FANTASTIC about not being judgmental, and I appreciate the heck out of it. So, thank you for that.


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