OPINION: I didn’t moralize food — and event organizers should cut back on it

(Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

CW: Mentions of eating disorders

Drama alert! A response to a response opinion? Things must be getting spicy.

Last week, TSL published an opinion trashing an article I wrote two weeks ago about sugar at the 5Cs. The response is complicated and interesting, and before reading this article, I recommend you read both it and my original opinion to make sure I’m not misrepresenting anything.

As expected, I have a few problems with the response. Namely, the article severely understates how dangerous a substance sugar is, provides an egregious misreading of my main argument and agrees with my conclusion in its entirety.

About half of the article is devoted to undermining my claims about the danger of sugar — specifically that sugar is an addictive substance. I’ll note before I get into this that even if the author was completely right and sugar wasn’t an addictive substance, that wouldn’t suddenly make its overconsumption not a problem. Let’s not forget, excessive sugar consumption still significantly increases your risk of developing conditions including, but not limited to, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, tooth rot, many cancers, gout, kidney disease, cognitive impairments, anxiety issues, depression, dementia, strokes and even Alzheimer’s disease.

None of these problems with sugar are ever contested by the author of the response.

But let’s talk about addiction for a bit — the author cites this 2016 study as evidence that sugar isn’t addictive in humans. It’s their main argument against my claim that sugar is unhealthy. For starters, their study argues that “we did not consider the literature encompassing the [behavioral] and neural effects of sweet or palatable food consumption,” which of course is what we’re really talking about here. We’re not exactly worried about people dry-scooping sugar.

Then, the study goes on to state that “there are many strong arguments for cutting down the consumption of sugar and reformulating food products accordingly.” Not exactly the sort of evidence that would disprove my article.

I think some of the confusion here lies in the complicated nature of addiction — there are a lot of different definitions and establishing thresholds for this kind of stuff is difficult. But we all know that sugar cravings exist, right? I’ve experienced them before and so has everyone I’ve talked to about sugar. College kids are especially at risk — studies have shown that people experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness are likely to experience even greater cravings.

There’s also abundant empirical evidence that people experience withdrawal symptoms after quitting sugar, as seen in a 2018 study. I’ve personally experienced this too, as has nearly everyone else I’ve talked to who tried quitting. I’m not sure if that’s good enough for the author’s metastudy, but from where I’m sitting, that looks like basically everything I mean when I say something is addictive. And if you want more, this 2018 metastudy does a great job giving a more in-depth answer, citing nearly 300 sources in the process.

The second big problem with this article is that the author seems pretty convinced that my goal is to limit every 5C student’s sugar consumption like their ‘judgemental grandmother’ by moralizing the food they eat. This is despite my title explicitly calling out event organizers, not students, and one notable quote about halfway through my article: “The problem isn’t that people eat things they like, it’s that we’ve curated an environment that makes it so difficult to not eat a ton of sugar.” The author is totally right! It would be bad to judge people for what they eat and shame them for it — that’s why I didn’t do it.

But the reason why I’m writing this response article is because of what the author writes as her solution. Aside from a strong advocacy against moralizing food, the author states that event organizers should “include sugar-free options in their spreads in order to help increase accessibility to students with diabetes and other dietary restrictions.” This actually comes really close to my solution — more sugar-free options definitely need to be an important part of making an environment less dominated by sugar.

And this is kind of a big deal — it means the author actually agrees with me that a less sugar-centric environment at the 5Cs would be a good thing.

After I finished reading the response to my initial article, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why would someone spend so much time, energy and care to try to debunk an article they mostly agree with by completely misrepresenting it?

And I think we all know why this happened on my article about food, and not on my articles about Lil Yachty or the Oxford Comma. Eating disorders are an unbelievably sensitive topic for people our age — as they should be. The statistics are legitimately horrifying. A post-COVID study found that rates of eating disorders in college-age students are at nearly 52 percent for women and 31 percent for men. Eating disorders are dangerous and I would guess that most of us know someone who has been hospitalized for one. Many of us know people who aren’t with us anymore because of them.

In the face of a threat like this, I can understand why it can be really difficult to have discussions about the dangers of specific foods — especially when someone will jump out at every turn to insinuate that you’re driving people to eating disorders — but that shouldn’t stop us from having those conversations. Sugar is a legitimately dangerous substance, and 5C student leaders and administrators should work to make our campus environment a less sugar-centric place by providing fewer sugary things at their events.

Rowan Gray CM ’26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.

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