A Shame

To my way of thinking, it’s just plain good manners to avoid insulting people. No one should intentionally embarrass or ridicule another person. To do so would be rude and ill-mannered.

But what about drawing attention to destructive behavior in the hope of influencing people to change it? I don’t mean singling out individuals to criticize, but rather to criticize the behavior generally, even though doing so might cause those engaged in the behavior to feel offended. Is that bad manners?

When I was a boy it seemed that nearly all grown-ups smoked. Smoking was the social norm. There certainly was no social stigma attached to smoking. The newscasters on TV smoked, on the air. It was just something people did.

But as the evidence about the dangers of smoking came to light, things began to change. As the health consequences of smoking became known, smoking suddenly wasn’t so cool anymore. And as the danger of “second-hand smoke” became known, smokers found themselves increasingly isolated in society.

What was the effect of the public awareness of the dangers of smoking? Millions of lives saved.

tobacco consumption

These days it is difficult to criticize destructive behavior without being accused of “shaming” people. But our commendable desire to protect people from ridicule and meanness, can have the effect of silencing criticism of destructive behavior–in order to avoid being accused of “shaming.”

It can be a delicate situation. My book has generated some push-back already, on the grounds that by identifying consequences of destructive food choices, I might be “shaming” those who make those choices.

I’ve tried to handle sensitive issues with appropriate sensitivity. As I say in the book:

Given how broadly our society has now been infected by the consequences of poor food choices and the power of the industrial food complex, recovering the Wesleyan ethic will not be easy. We must remain mindful that criticism of the system and its effects may be perceived as criticism of those who are suffering from those effects. If the Wesleyan ethic is to be recovered, therefore, let it be introduced gently and lovingly. Let it be used to inform, guide and bless people; not to shame, ridicule or condemn them. Millions of people have been lured gradually and unsuspectingly into an unethical and health-destroying food culture. We cannot reasonably expect them to be drawn out of it overnight. But while a sincere desire to avoid producing shame or guilt in those who are suffering the consequences of poor food choice should inform our discussion, it must not silence it. There is too much at stake.

I’m absolutely convinced that we cannot let our desire to avoid giving offense silence us on these vitally urgent issues, and I refuse to believe that we cannot have a frank conversation about destructive food choices without being guilty of “shaming” people.

What if our concern to avoid shaming smokers had silenced the anti-smoking movement? How many lives would have been needlessly ruined and cut short?

It’s not an easy path to navigate, but we simply must find a way to have this conversation, both without intentionally giving offense and without accusing those who seek to bring attention to destructive food choices of having bad manners.

We all have the opportunity to do a lot of good by making better food choices. It would be a shame not to.


26 comments on “A Shame

  1. farmerkhaiti says:

    This is a wonderfully thought-out and written post Bill. Keep up the great work you are doing, speaking out and getting people thinking!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Khaiti and back at ya! What we’re saying won’t resonate with everyone, and will even rub some the wrong way. But the responses and feedback we get is far more positive than negative. People are thinking and that holds the potential for some great things. 🙂


  2. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    If people are honestly unaware of “bad food” choices, how else are they to become aware, if no one speaks out?
    It would seem to me, that the only ones who would benefit from a reticence of wanting to “shame” someone would be those who want ignorance of health issues and diet to remain the norm… And shame on them. Tobacco. Glyphosate. NeoNics.
    I came across this bit yesterday (just a tiny sliver of what he had to say), while reading a link from your comment on “Income Streams”. Why shouldn’t people become informed about why obesity is rampant? *My assumption, by the way*. Who decided that the entire population of North America should become participants in a study on the effects of GMO’s? Oh, right… What study?
    “… Nine out of every 10 bites of food — and even higher for chicken (raised on corn and soy), ice-cream (dairy cows supplied corn silage), cheeseburgers (corn) and tortilla chips — are created with GMO ingredients. The same goes for every sip of soda, processed fruit juices, and most yogurts (corn syrup in each). In fact, we’re so jacked up on GMO corn that when a scientist from UC Berkeley created a test — based on corn’s unique carbon patterns — he determined that 69 percent of the average American’s body carbon is derived solely from corn …”
    For those who missed it the first time: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/forrest-pritchard/weve-missed-the-entire-point-about-gmo-food—-a-farmer-explains-why_b_8153978.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      The above mentioned Forrest Pritchard: Seventh generation farmer, NYT bestselling author of “Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm”


    • avwalters says:

      I am not so polite. Granted, I’d hardly approach someone and accuse them of being obese–and burdening our healthcare options. They are not the chief offenders in any event. When it comes to corporate responsibility (and let’s face it, we didn’t get here without their culpability) I think we should use the tax code as a cudgel. Just as our air, and our water, are public resources, our precious topsoil (and its ability to carry and sequester carbon) is a resource. Corporations whose products undermine the regenerative capacity of the soil (either through the manufacture of chemical poisons or through wasteful and irresponsible corporate farming practices) should pay dearly for that privilege. Similarly, there should be a corporate sugar tax, paid by the purveyors of these addicting processed “food” products, calculated to reimburse us for the medical costs incurred. We have an entire country, addicted to added sugars and suffering from various degrees of resulting metabolic disturbance. If that isn’t enough, we should inform the populace what has been done to them, and unleash the awesome powers of the courts to provide remedies.

      Liked by 7 people

    • Bill says:

      I enjoyed his article and perspective and I shared it on Facebook when I read it yesterday. It’s interesting that even though there is a scientific consensus that GMOs are not harmful to human health, the spike up in adverse health consequences of poor diets coincides with the introduction of GMOs. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a list of products containing GMOs that aren’t detrimental to good health.


      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        No such thing as a coincidence. Especially when it’s continent-wide and NOT just restricted to those making “poor” dietary choices. I can’t tell you how many people I know that are fighting weight gain and can’t figure it out, in spite of trying everything, they just can’t seem to figure out why…


  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, many are not really interested in change unless they get to a drastic state in their lives. Even then some are looking for a magic pill that will deal with the situation while they can continue to live the same as always. It seems that not many are willing to sacrifice bad habits (smoking, bad eating habits, excessive alcohol consumption) until something bad happens in their lives. It appears they are beating the odds because nothing happens right away. The human body has been designed to deal with some pretty extreme abuse and still survive. Unfortunately quality of life has been slowly stolen from the mass population with only a few knowing that it’s happening. It’s amazing to me that what we are talking about here is self inflected health issues. There is no germ, bacteria, or virus that causes obesity. It’s simply eating too much or eating food that doesn’t promote health. I can not cast the first stone because I’m far from being healthful in all my eating habits. I will say they are much better than a few years ago. Being single and hanging out with single people doesn’t help the situation. Not many single folks are into eating at home and making their own meals. The common complaint is that it’s just too much work for only one person.

    I would say that if some one gets offended by your book or the comments about the subject of food, we are on the right track. Not everyone is going to understand or want to hear what’s in your book. I’ve had a couple busy days and haven’t had a chance to continue reading but will be back to reading soon. I’m finding the book very informative and really non opinionated (well, maybe that’s because I’m of the same opinion) but just very factual. There’s lots of references to dive into this Winter.

    Have a great shameless day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      You’re right about folks looking for the “magic pill.” We have a friend who works in a health food/natural supplements store. People will often come in the store and say they’ve been told by their doctor to lose weight. What do you have for that, they’ll ask. So she’ll respond with something like, “Let’s start by discussing your diet.” They’ll immediately interrupt her and say, “Don’t you just have a pill you can give me.” Or sometimes they’ll come in saying they hear Doctor Oz say that eating some kind of supplement will get rid of belly fat. The last thing many folks want to hear is the truth: that in order to lose weight and restore health they’ll need to eat a nutritious diet and exercise.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dave Sikkema says:

    Bill, where can I order a copy of your book? I appreciate reading this blog every day. Thank you!


  5. Joanna says:

    My supervisor when I was doing my Master’s passed on a piece of wisdom from one of his old tutors. It was along the lines that if someone is complaining, you are doing something right. He didn’t mean it in a confrontational way, but if our research tends to suggest that something needs to change, then we are going to upset somebody, somewhere, no matter how hard we try not to. Keep gently pushing onwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Joanna. I saw someone post something similar to that about the book on Facebook. Someone else sent me an email praising the book, but saying that some folks will need to wear steel-toed boots to read it (I think she was talking about pastors). I’m a little uncomfortable at the thought that anyone would take offense at it, and I have tried to avoid that, but as I said in today’s post, this is not something about which we should stay silent, even if speaking up might ruffle some feathers.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Comparing poor eating habits to smoking – stroke of genius. When you put it that way, it seems less offensive to discuss the effects of poor food choices. I’m going to keep that comparison in mind the next time I hesitate for fear of offending someone.
    I wholeheartedly agree with avwalters about corporate responsibility and absolutely LOVE the idea of taxing those practices that compromise soil and health. I think it takes the immediate shame off of the individual and although I am a pretty strong supporter of taking personal responsibility for the choices we make – at least this would help inform the public of the dangers/consequences and give them an opportunity without putting the spotlight directly on the individual – which we all know doesn’t really motivate a lot of people – it just makes most of them crawl deeper into their shell. Shame is a tough row to hoe and not really an effective and positive tool for change. I think education/information is key – like with most things I suppose – the more you know….
    You are doing more than your fair share of moving the conversation along in a positive, supportive way. Yay Bill!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I got the idea after reading about Curt’s work with the Lung Association back in the 60’s and 70’s. He worked on anti-smoking campaigns and it occurred to me that with our heightened sensitivity to giving offense these days (which I don’t consider to be a bad thing) campaigns like that might not be possible. I used it as an analogy in the book manuscript but removed it during the editing process. Maybe I should have left it in.

      I’m in full agreement that shame is not a good way to bring about change. I prefer to think that folks generally want to do the right thing, and often what they need most is information. Some of the information we need to make wise and ethical choices is obvious–like overeating and junk food lead to obesity. But some isn’t obvious these days–like the fact that the meat and eggs in the grocery stores come from abused animals.

      As you say, the key is information and education.


      • I think tobacco use was easier to tackle than obesity. We were dealing primarily with one industry and it was easy to make that industry the “enemy.” In addition to pushing a deadly drug, it did everything it could to attract and addict children. We also had the issue of second-hand smoke working for us. People weren’t only making themselves sick, they were making people around them sick. This gave us an incredibly powerful (and justified) tool to push for a smoke-free society.

        Having said that, tobacco use and over eating share much in common. Both represent health problems of epidemic proportions. Both cause extensive harm to the individual. Both cost society billions of dollars in health care and related costs (a cost we all share in increased insurance premiums and taxes). Both have an addictive nature. I could go on…

        When I was putting together Proposition 99 in California, the tobacco tax initiative of 1988, I decided the only effective way to attack tobacco use was on a broad front— in schools, yes, but even more so in communities and through the media. The tobacco industry determined that our effort was the greatest threat they had ever faced up to that point and behaved accordingly. Amazingly, we beat them. What was important was that the tax raised $500 million dollars per year. I was able to negotiate that 20% of the tax, or $100 million dollars per year would go toward prevention programs. It enabled us to undertake one of the most extensive prevent programs in history.

        Since then, the effort has proven that prevention works. California moved from being a state with one of the highest incidents of tobacco use in America to one of the lowest. The California Department of Health Services has determined that over one million lives and $70 billion in health care cost have been saved as a result. And that is only in California, not reflecting the national and international impacts.

        I see the Battle of the Bulge as being similar in nature, but more complex. I am quite impressed with your book, Bill, and where the fight seems to be going. Overweight people need to understand that you are not attacking them, per se, but the industry and the culture in America that encourages overeating, and overeating unhealthy foods, and an industry and a culture that allows for cruelty to animals that wouldn’t be allowed for a second if we were talking about Fido the dog, or Fifi the Cat, or Tweetie the Bird. —Curt

        Liked by 1 person

  7. BeeHappee says:

    For each person who may take it personally or offense to what you have so gently been preaching, Bill, there are ten or twenty, who listen carefully and learn. You guys educate by example, and that is as honest and as effective as it can ever get. Smallest changes, will make a difference, it is already making a difference. We have resiliency organizations now here in our suburban area, hosting classes on wild food foraging, cheese making, suburban gardening, fruit tree guilds, you name it, and there are tons of people interested. Just talked to my CSA friend, and she is organizing farm to table event – joint event of local organic farm and B&B for city folks out on the farm, and hopefully new customers for the farm eating local. I see tons of young people, I mean 14-16 year olds volunteering on our historic farms, making butter, working chicken coops, planting gardens, we met a young wonderful lady just this past Sunday, I was so impressed with her passion and knowledge. Keep up the good faith!!


    • Bill says:

      There are certainly a lot of encouraging signs these days, pointing to a resilient and sustainable future. We have good things happening in this community too, but sadly we’re way behind much of the country. This is one of least healthy places in the country–which is just crazy considering how easy it is to eat healthy here. But in this area there is widespread addiction to crap food and we have a sick and unhealthy population to prove it. But things are getting better. Last night we spoke to a large group at a church in a nearby town and the response was very positive. Today a group of seniors from that church came out and toured the farm, heard our spiel, and again the reaction was very positive. I think people want to do the right thing and given the information they need to make better choices, most will do it. Like you I believe in the world-changing importance of small changes.


  8. ain't for city gals says:

    “might be shaming them”?…don’t worry about it.


    • Bill says:

      Sometimes we get too carried away with the “shaming” thing I think. I read a post recently in which the author complained about being “shamed” for allegedly shaming others. Good grief.

      If we’re so sensitive to feeling ashamed, maybe we ought to be asking ourselves if we have something to be ashamed of. If not, then we can’t be “shamed.”

      But having said all that, there should be better and more effective ways to get our point across than by using ridicule. Just as we probably need to be less hyper-sensitive, we also need to be careful I think not to unnecessarily hurt feelings. Somewhere between those poles is where we ought to have public dialogue, it seems to me.


  9. smcasson says:

    Very interesting conversation. Yeah, I’m gonna join this one late too.
    First, it seems like that ~15% tobacco consumption number is low to me. I see more than 15% of people smoking or dipping or chewing. Of course, I’m also in KY.
    Second, what about having “this conversation” (pointing out bad food habits, or other habits too) with someone close to you? What about explaining choices our family is making to someone close, who is not making those choices, who then looks in the mirror in light of those choices? Of course, I don’t mean any offense by my explanation of our choices (and likely, they asked anyway), but they feel somewhat ashamed by their different choices?
    It’s tough. There’s no anonymity afforded in such a private conversation.


  10. Bill says:

    According the CDC Kentucky has the second highest percentage of tobacco users in the country, just behind West Virginia. In 2011 Kentucky was #1: 29% of Kentuckians smoked cigarettes and 7% used smokeless tobacco.

    It is tough. Just like it’s tough to tell someone close to you they ought not smoke. I like what you suggest. Many people make poor food choices because they think that good food won’t taste as good, they’ll be miserable and hungry if they eat it, etc. But when folks see people they know eating a nutritious diet AND enjoying the food, maybe it will cause them to want to try it too. I also think that many people eat meat and eggs from animals raised inhumanely just because they’re unaware of how the animals are treated and that there is another option. Education and information are very important in that area too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. EllaDee says:

    I too agree with avwalters, we can’t do enough shaming from the top down… board & shareholder shaming. People who fill their coffers via corporate smoke and mirrors all care no responsibility it won’t bite us in my time corporate strategies. Have they not seen what has happened with litigation and the tobacco companies… It will catch up with them.
    My husband is a smoker… he tries so hard to quit and has reduced his smoking considerably. Offering him information and options isn’t shaming. As with food choices if your approach is tactful and well meant then I’d say any shaming isn’t about you it’s related to that person’s own pre-existing issues… and you know for many attack is the best form of defense.


    • Bill says:

      We can’t expect corporations to have consciences. They exist to maximize profit and minimize liability. If corporate officers and directors acted in the best interest of the community at large, or the environment, and at the expense of corporate profit, they’d be in breach of their fiduciary duties to shareholders. They change their behavior only when not changing will cost them money. If they are “persons,” then they are completely amoral persons. They can’t be shamed. As for directors and shareholders, on the other hand, I agree with you. They can be, and often should be.

      Both of my parents smoked. After my father had his first heart attack, at age 47, two years before his fatal attack, both he and my mother quit. I have family members who still smoke and I believe they should have that freedom. I know people who have tried hard to quit but haven’t been able to do it. It’s a powerful addiction and I don’t judge or condemn those who can’t break it. But for many, making sure the truth is out there and available helps them make informed decisions and deters lots of people from heading down that road in the first place. It always comes back to education and information.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s