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Cheat Day Land, an Instagram-friendly museum dedicated to foods that you feel ‘guilty’ about eating, is opening in Los Angeles. But is it a fun celebration of photo-ready fake food, or does it promote dangerously contradictory messages about what we should and shouldn’t consume?
Swimming in a giant bowl of cereal, deadlifting donut-shaped weights or wearing a dress made of pizza sound like typically eccentric LA experiences, but all this and more can be found at a new museum dedicated to the days when you eat anything you want without guilt. Cheat Day Land is a space for those on the daily healthy eating wagon to indulge their desires without the calories. The museum is opening in the Arts District in the former home of the Instagram-oriented Museum of Ice Cream, whose attractions included the eminently Boomerang-worthy swimming pool of sprinkles, banana-shaped swings, and enormous prop cherries and ice lollies. Cheat Day Land is the latest in a procession of interactive museums that are designed to look good on social media rather than have any educational or serious cultural value – what you’re getting for the $38 (£29) entry fee is the chance to pose in front of a series of photo backdrops.
“Cheat Day Land is the world’s first interactive pop-up museum dedicated to your favourite cheat foods,” says founder Rubi Rymenmy. “Imagine a donut gym complete with pastry dumbbells or a life-size bowl of cereal where you suspend from the spoon to get that perfect Insta shot. This is a playful, fun, whimsical world where your inner child can come out to play.”
While there’s nothing wrong with playing with your food every now and then, the messages spread here aren’t just fun and games. The narrative of Cheat Day Land is at least partly concerned with a restrictive eating regime that classes foods such as cereal and pizza as not normal or everyday foods. The rhetoric on the museum’s website has statements such as that the founders “stick to a clean eating regimen allowing only a special day every so often for cheat food” and that you “deserve” to have a cheat day. The foods featured in the museum – which include pasta, tacos, cake and ice cream – certainly aren’t the healthiest on the planet, but they are normal, everyday foods that shouldn’t be vilified. Eating a bowl of cereal won’t derail your fitness goals, so it feels unnecessary to create a swimming pool of the stuff to help you through the struggle of not eating it every day.
“Cheat days conjure up a plethora of images,” says Gillian Killiner, a Northern Ireland-based dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Society. “To those who are happy and healthy and comfortable about themselves and their diet, then the phrase is often used for comical or dramatic effect. For others it has a much deeper effect and can cause anxiety, upset, lack of control, binge eating and added stress. The term can cause unnecessary confusion and people who are desperately trying to stick to a calorie-controlled ‘diet’ can end up focusing on getting to their cheat day instead of focusing on the concept of healthy nutritious foods for life.
“A place like this can absolutely be dangerous. You can make healthy versions of ‘unhealthy’ food and therefore nothing is off limits if you know how to make it and how much and how often to eat it. So cheat days are really not needed.
“Once we focus on foods negatively or make an issue about them it makes alarm bells ring when considering vulnerable people. Children and eating disorder sufferers, for example, could interpret the messages the museum is giving without clear knowledge or understanding of what this all means and take it to extremes. I would consider failed serial dieters to be at risk too. The museum set-up, I imagine, was to be a fun gimmick for a new concept around food and they didn’t really factor the complexities it raises.”
With approximately 1.25 million eating disorder sufferers in the UK and the museum actively promoting the fact that under-fours can enter for free, that’s problematic.
The founders of Cheat Day Land have gone some way to address the contradictory messages raised by their creation through a post on their Instagram, stating that they “created Cheat Day Land to celebrate food in a fun, positive, healthy way.”
Founder Rubi Rymenmy was inspired to create the concept after a trip to Japan where she visited interactive museums. Her family owns Art Flying Aerial fitness studio in Lomita, a city in Los Angeles County, and thinks that “eating clean helps you stay stronger and healthier.” “I always eat sensibly,” Rymenmy says. “I eat according to what my body needs and I always listen to what my body needs. I don’t necessarily follow a very strict diet, but I occasionally indulge in rich foods like burgers, pizza and sweets.
“I wanted to create a fun and engaging environment that brought all ages together celebrating art, fitness and food because my family didn’t have this growing up. Our museum celebrates family and friends coming together as a result of food, and the foods we have in the museum are mainly from what my family and I indulge in when we are on our cheat days and get together (which is ALL the time).”
The museum will provide advice and guidance on healthy eating. On whether she sees it as a contradiction to offer this advice in the same setting as celebrating ‘unhealthy’ foods to the point of parody, Rymenmy says: “Growing up, my family prepared unhealthy and healthy choices when we got together to celebrate. We must eat in moderation. Our museum advocates awareness, balance and choice.”