My partner recently asked me why women, in general, are addicted to peanut butter. I am undoubtedly obsessed with peanut butter, so is his housemate, and so was his housemate before that, so it’s a totally fair question, given it is also quite presumptuous. Either way, it’s caused me to start thinking, what is it about peanut butter that makes it so alluring?
As a dietitian, chef, and food scientist I can tell you that the fat carries the flavour to each and every one of you tastebuds, the protein provides strong but subtle umami notes and tells your body that you are nourishing it, the carbs give just a touch of sweetness and instantly gets to work creating energy within your body, and a pinch of salt enhances that spoonful of sticky, crunchy, peanut butter to a moment of pure bliss. But is that the whole story? If it is, why do women seem to appreciate this experience more than men?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Podcasts over the last few weeks, one I’ve fallen deeply in love with is called FoodPsych. It’s a Podcast curated by an American registered dietitian which explores the experiences of, mostly women and femmes, in a world influenced by diet culture. While I’ve been listening I’ve felt so connected to these strangers. There have been seconds of passing words which have made me re-evaluate every single thing I thought I knew about myself. I have been truly realising something which I did already know intellectually, but not emotionally, and that is that women and femmes share experiences which transcend space and time. It runs deeper than thoughts and feelings into the core of who we are, and it influences us in ways that we can’t even fathom until it’s presented to us. This point will come to be important.
There are a lot of messages we get about peanut butter, and some of those messages are definitely designed to make you feel bad about eating it (in fact, when I was lazily looking for stock photos of women enjoying peanut butter I was overwhelmed with how many “cheeky” expressions I was faced with), but for the most part they are drowned out by the fact peanut butter is marketed as a health food, with a five start health rating and a myriad of health claims to go along with it.
Peanut butter is one food which diet culture hasn’t completely taken away from us yet. It’s something that we only feel a little bit guilty about eating, if we do feel guilty at all (which we shouldn’t but that goes so far outside of this single blog). Maybe we’re craving chocolate, or donuts, or buttery cookies, our bodies are screaming out for fat and sweetness, but we couldn’t possibly listen to that request, because we are told that those foods are toxic, that our bodies lie, that these feelings were designed by corporations and they are not to be trusted. If you do give in you will surely become fat, and that’s the worst thing a woman can be! Lost, we try to find that which could fill the void, what could stave that longing, while still fitting into our false dichotomy of “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods? Well I can think of one thing, can you guess what it is?
Maybe we want Nutella, maybe cinnamon toast dripping with butter and covered in sugar, just like they used to make at the school canteen, but we couldn’t allow ourselves to have that. We need to find a food which satisfies our role in society as meek and mild ladies who take care of themselves. Who are disciplined and reserved in their use of foods…
Salty fatty, delicious chips, rich and thick chocolate milkshakes, ice cream, cake, and butterscotch candies are just a handful of things in my life which I have used peanut butter to replace. Most foods which combine fat and carbohydrate in the way peanut butter does are demonised by our society so we, without even thinking about it, turn to the “safer” option, the path which we may walk down with lesser judgement than the other. I can eat PB three times a day without anyone thinking too much of it, if I ate ice cream three times a day though… eek. and that is the experience of women and femmes globally.
If you’re using peanut butter to stave cravings for every single food which is not “diet approved” you’re going to find yourself eating a hell of a lot of peanut butter… and part of the reason for that is because it simply will not work. Our bodies are smarter than what we give them credit for, and they cry out for what they need. Refusing that does not make it go away. The cravings will keep coming and we will keep replacing them with something which was not asked for.
So maybe you’re (I’m) not addicted to peanut butter. Maybe it’s just the only indulgence diet culture will let you have.