With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I expect to find stores brimming with candy in crimson, particularly various forms of chocolate. I was a little startled, though, to have a piece of red-wrapped candy given to me on the street, and even more so because it had moral strings attached.
I was out for a walk during lunch when a man handed me a slip of paper with a piece of candy stapled to it. I accepted it reflexively and automatically said, “Thank you.”
I got a little suspicious when he replied, “God bless,” so I paused a few steps later to read the note on the paper.
“Pure Love Pledge Candy: True love is the purpose of our lives. By eating this candy I pledge to honor purity in myself and others, to refrain from sexual relations before marriage, and to practice absolute fidelity in marriage.”
I got annoyed. All that pressure and expectation put on a coin-sized piece of candy! To say nothing of the judgment. If I didn’t eat it, did that mean I was a bad, immoral person who condoned adultery? How much worse if I ate it and was still accepting of pre-marital sex? If I was okay with pre-marital sex but not adultery, should I only eat half? What if I didn’t support either of those but just didn’t like hard candy? If I separated the candy from the paper and gave it to someone else, would those judgments go with it?
The questions may seem a bit silly, but the sad truth is that attaching moral values to food is commonplace, even if this particular version was new to me. It’s ever-present, lurking behind every bite. Diets define foods as good and bad, and we are therefore good or bad based on what we eat. A lot of people (myself included) have lately focused on eating local foods; if I’m not careful, it’s easy to look unfavorably on those who eat other types of food. Processed versus unprocessed, vegetarian or omnivore, good or bad types of cholesterol or fat – the list goes on. Is it any wonder that so many of us have conflicted relationships with food?
Meanwhile, the candy and its message remain on my desk. I may eat it, I may not; I’m not sure. What I do know is that I will only eat if and when I am hungry for it, with no moral strings attached.