4.21.2015

Organics will SAVE US ALL... from FAT! OK probly not.
Food Issues Book Club - Weighing In, Chapter 7

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Weighing In, Chapter 7: Will local, organic food make you thin?

Summary:

"[T]he implicit promise of alternative food is that if you have a more natural, sensuous relationship with your food, you will also have one with your body - which will somehow manifest in being not too fat."  In positioning itself as a cure to the obesity epidemic, the "local organic fresh" food movement inadvertently reinforces healthism.  What's more, because it is so focused on what people what people eat rather than how food is produced, "alternative food is unlikely to prevent obesity, much less cure it."

Many food advocates promote the concept of "voting with your dollars," the idea being that supply follows demand in the capitalist model.  Efforts that focus on organic or local food literally buy in to the idea that higher quality food should cost more, and as such exclude lower income shoppers. This theory of change "neglects the millions of low-wage earners who work int he food system.  Asking people to pay more for food gets it really wrong when it asks people who have paid with their lives, land, and labor to pay even more."  In this divide, the movement has created a bifurcated food movement - one for the haves, one for the have nots.

Who decides what is "real" food?
The food justice movement, which can be seen as a faction of the alternative food movement, has attempted to address this split.  It also focuses on obesity, however.  "Obese bodies are seen as evidence of injustice, with lack of access to good food assumed to be the cause.  Therein lies the problem."  This continued focus on non-normative bodies can lead to the injustices of fat shaming and sizeism.  It may also ignore other areas of injustice, such as wages and conditions of food workers.

Ultimately, the alternative food movement fails in that it attempts to impose its beliefs onto communities - often communities of color - rather than empowering those communities to organize and create the changes that they see as needed.  In this way, well meaning efforts become a form of neo-colonialism.  It is unsurprising, then, that projects intending to bring "good food" to a community often receive little buy-in from the communities they are attempting to serve (or "fix").  What constitutes "good food" is not a universally shared opinion, and the idea of tat it is for the alternative food movement is distinctly Eurocentric.  "Thus, these projects reveal a problem associated with "whiteness": that ideals, aesthetics, and experiences held primarily by whites are assumed to be normal and widely shared."

When it comes to the subject of obesity, the alternative food movement seems to suffer from a high level of confirmation bias: "I eat this way and I'm thin."  It is too often forgotten that the people behind this message were usually thin (and privileged) before they entered the movement.  With its focus on thinness, and absence of efforts to change policy, the movement is less of an alternative and more just another avenue of enforcing existing social norms for behaviors and bodies.

Discussion:

The article this came from is great.
You know what else is part of the alternative food movement?  Veganism!  And I'm here to tell you that, as a group, we are extremely white, extremely privileged, and extremely healthist.  (No, that doesn't mean that every vegan is all of these things.  Please don't "not all men" this, or excuse yourself from looking at the movement critically because you don't think you engage in these things.)

At the end of this chapter Guthman ponders "how much of the interest in alternative food is related to the personal fear of getting fat."  Given veganism's seeming obsession with obesity, I would guess A LOT.  If you're not sure what I'm talking about, wander over to Twitter or Facebook and mention that you're a fat vegan.  You'll of course be bombarded with merciless mockery on both counts from the mainstream healthists and fatshamers; that's a given.  But the surprising and disheartening bit will be the responses you get from other vegans.

Nope.
They'll range from "you're doing it wrong" / "you must be cheating" to a laundry list of cleanses and regimens that will "fix" you, under a guise of concern for your health.  You'll hear a dozen or more anecdotes from people who got thin being vegan (because if it's true for ME it must be true for everyone! My experience is universal!  All bodies are the same!  There are no factors in size but food and exercise!  Everyone wants to and needs to be skinny!  And so on.).  Maybe one in fifty people will say right on, me too, you're A-OK just the way you are.

Why is this?  Why is it that in a movement that is supposedly so "fringe," the reactions of people to fatness are essentially the same distrustful judgmental bullshit that you get from the general populous?  It is because, for all our being so radical, the vegan community as a whole is heavily invested in healthism.  My personal view is that, until we - as a group, as a global community - get over size and also learn to be more inclusive of people of color and of lesser levels of privilege, we're just a bunch of elitist assholes trying to push our morals on those who don't live up to our standards.  And we wonder why folks don't want to listen to us?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.