Food is one of the greatest joys in life. In fact it is one of my favourite hobbies.

From when I wake in the morning, to when I lay my head at night, a not insubstantial part of my day is spent thinking what my next meal/snack will be, and how it can be made its most delicious (healthily, and on a reasonable budget, of course…), and owing to the usual pressurised mix of work/friends/family etc, this sometimes means I eat on public transport. And as I live in London, I sometimes eat on the tube.

But it was not until this week I realised that in doing so, I was setting myself up to fall victim to a sinister cabal of clandestine photographers, who are taking snaps of women as they gobble on the underground, before uploading them to Facebook, and/or Tumblr. Women Who Eat On Tubes has provoked outrage on a number of fronts; it’s an invasion of privacy; it piles yet more pressure on women regarding body ideals; and it’s (largely) men laughing at women for what is perfectly natural behaviour, to name a few.

Women Eating On The Tube (via Facebook)
Women Eating On The Tube (via Facebook)

And, as usual when I see things on Twitter (admit it, we all get swept along), I was cross too at first. How dare this group make a mockery of completely ordinary behaviour? There was an 8% increase in the number of young people admitted to hospitals with eating disorders last year – isn’t this enough without lampooning the physical act of eating? And aren’t there are already enough behaviours women aren’t supposed to exhibit in public – breast feeding (as this poor woman found out), having any form of body hair, or just being generally “unfeminine”?

But, again as usual, once I put Twitter down for five minutes, I began thinking. And part of me thought that this could be bloody great. If you can, let’s put the privacy issue aside for one moment (I actually agree with Nathalie Gordon when she says these images are taken in public places, although I don’t think anyone can say they’d like to be photographed without their knowledge). I personally don’t find these images funny, but what I do smile at is seeing women who are loving their food. Because that’s how our relationship with (healthy, nutritious) food should be. It should be a pleasure, even if you are on the morning commute, and for so many women it is not. For so many, it’s a barrier to confidence and the ideals they feel they should fulfil. So to see a woman really chowing down is heartening.

So here’s what I think is actually depressing about Women Who Eat On Tubes. Although the Facebook group claims to “celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes”, lots of people are just laughing at them. They’re not smiling and saying “good for you, with your ham sandwich!”. And the reason behind that? Because images of women eating, of them enjoying a meal, are so unusual as to make them amusing. And that’s weird and sad.

I don’t think this group is sinister. I don’t suggest it shouldn’t make you smile. But as Rupert Hawksley points out, to say gender is coincidental to the group’s popularity is naive.

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