12 March, 2020

Roadmap to Disappointment

I recently came across an absurd photo on my (apparently not carefully cultivated) Instagram feed.  It shows a white, thin, able-bodied (probable) cis-man holding up a sign that reads:

You can’t wear the title “environmentalist” and not be vegan.

You can’t wear the title “feminist” and not be vegan.

You can’t wear the title “animal lover” and not be vegan.

Well you can but you also have to wear the title “hypocrite.”

So, first of all, while the point here is not to bash veganism, it would be silly not to acknowledge that the vegan community is known for being extraordinarily self-righteous and uncompromising (I used to know someone who proudly wore a "Go Vegan Or Die" shirt regularly), which is clearly on full display in this ridiculous image.  If there is a better example of black and white thinking, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. 

But more importantly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better demonstration of entitlement and an absolute lack of perspective or empathy.  Let me break this down a minute.

First of all, it is true that being a healthy vegan (as in, getting all the nutrients that are necessary for an optimally-functioning body) is far more expensive than eating dairy and/or meat.  And I’m not just talking about how buying vegan substitute foods are way more expensive (which they are).  I’m also talking about the fact that all of the thoughtful vegans I know spend hours a week in the kitchen, preparing foods that satisfy the body’s nutritional needs while also coloring within the lines of veganism.  And time is a luxury item.  Let me say that again for those in the nose bleed seats: time is a luxury item!  If you are working two or even three jobs to support yourself and your family, there is no way in hell you have time to do anything other than the easiest and fastest things in the kitchen, which are not going to be vegan.  And if you are that same person, there is certainly no reason to believe you could afford to buy the pre-packaged vegan options.  As in, no fucking way.

Not to mention the fact that lots of people have medical conditions or even mental health conditions (such as eating disorders, including Orthorexia, which is terrifyingly common among vegans) that are relevant in determining the most appropriate food options for them, and this dick-ish sign doesn’t take that into account.  Or what about cultural culinary traditions that give people the opportunity to connect with their ancestors and history, especially for immigrants who are trying to assimilate while still maintaining their truest identity?  Or what about the fact that his hashtag is skinnyveganfitness, which should tell us everything we need to know about morons who equate skinniness with fitness and veganism with skinniness.

In other words, this guy is speaking from a position of extreme privilege (he’s white or white-presenting, male or male-presenting, he appears to be able-bodied, he is thin-bodied, etc) and he’s doing it in the vacuum we have come to expect from people who speak in such absolutes, without any allowance for the nuances of being, you know, a person!  And while this certainly isn’t specific to vegan activists, it absolutely is specific to people with unacknowledged privilege.

But the bigger problem I have with this dude isn’t that I disagree with his take on veganism; it’s that his dictates leave no room whatsoever for the idea of effort, the idea that none of us are perfect but we can still make steps toward the things we believe in and effect real change by doing so.  Because the truth is that there is no such thing as the “perfect” environmentalist, feminist, animal lover, OR vegan!  And acting as though that level of perfection exists is nothing but a roadmap to disappointment and perhaps even self-loathing.

Look, I try to be a good environmentalist.  I really do.  I always look for ways to first reduce, then reuse, and when there are no other good options, then I recycle. I avoid products with excess packaging, and have even been known to contact sellers on Amazon for doing things like packing paper in, you guessed it, more paper.  But I fall down on the job, like, a lot.  I end up buying some heavily-packaged item because I forgot to bring my lunch to work that day, or I accidentally put something in the compost bin that doesn’t really belong there.  I fuck up.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t care, and it doesn’t mean I’m not an environmentalist.  It just means I’m a glorious, flawed, sometimes-forgetful, awesome person who is doing her best to back up her politics with her actions.  It’s really not that complicated, sign-holding Dude.  Just be a person.

But it’s a whole other matter when this guy – ANY guy – tries to tell me when I can and cannot call myself a feminist.  And if there was any question as to whether feminism is still absolutely vital to women everywhere, it’s this example of a white guy mansplaining and limiting feminism to women.  Fuck that.  Is there a connection between the processing of meat products and sexual politics?  Of course there is – no question.  And again, is the idea of perfect adherence total bullshit that can only lead to feelings of inadequacy and exclusion and superiority?  YEP.  And as a man who statistically IS making more money than his female counterparts, is he in a better position to more easily make decisions for his life that are in more perfect accordance with his (elitist) politics?  You bet your sweet ass he is.   This man has no more place explaining or limiting feminism than I have explaining brain surgery.  It’s more than a “stay in your own lane” thing – it’s a get the fuck out of mine!

As for the whole animal lover thing, I just want to say that I am not a vegan and I would absolutely, without a second’s hesitation, and with total righteousness cut any bitch who even thought about hurting the kitties or the dog I am privileged to call my children.

But this isn’t about me. Or it is, but it’s also about you.  And it’s about the douche with the sign.  Because guess what?  We’re all hypocrites!  We all do things we wish we had done differently, or that go against our beliefs, or what we swore we’d never do, or that piss us off about other people. In fact, many a psychologist would argue that we get pissed at other people’s actions specifically because they remind us of the parts of ourselves we dislike the most.  So if the goal of this perfect adherence message is to not be a hypocrite, then let me burst your bubble and hereby announce that the game is rigged and we all lose.  Because none of us is perfect!  We can all just do the best we can do, making compromises as we go, failing repeatedly, still believing what we believe and trying our hardest. But we’re not machines and many of us don’t have the options that the most entitled and privileged among us have. 

And that does not make you a person of less value or fewer values, no matter what this asshat says.

05 February, 2020

Leave Grandma's Cookies Alone

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say,

“warm chocolate chip cookies made by a grandma who adores you”?

We all have different families, and every grandma is different, but let me tell you what comes to my mind:

  • Love;

  • Affection;

  • Warmth;

  • Coziness;

  • Joyfulness;

  • Licking the beaters;

  • Yumminess;

  • Comfort.

 

Really, what is more joyful, pure, and innocent than a grandma who bakes cookies for the children she loves?  I picture a grandma who is gray-haired and plump, wearing a full-length apron and nylons with her comfortable shoes, smiling sweetly at her grandkids.  I imagine she is kind and funny and a little bit silly, and sitting in her kitchen, drinking milk with my cookies as she dips hers in her coffee, makes me feel closer to her than ever, maybe even a bit grown up, but definitely special and loved. 

It’s hard for me to imagine a childhood scene that is less complicated than this one. And I say this as someone who eventually spent 19 years actively bulimic, and then another 7 years with Binge Eating Disorder.  I have spent huge chunks of my adult life, decades, being afraid of things like cookies, being unable to reclaim that simple comfort, the joyfulness, or even the basic ability to enjoy the flavor of a cookie without feeling the curse of judgment, fear, discrimination, double-standards, and fatphobic vitriol.

But when I was 6?  When anybody is 6, really?  None of that disordered and dangerous self-talk has its own voice.  At least it shouldn’t.  When you’re 6 years old, your biggest concern should be which socks to wear for show-and-tell next week.  What absolutely shouldn’t be present in the mind of a 6-year old is food fear.

So, here’s the deal.  I have this great little pal named Forest.  We’ve enjoyed a really special bond ever since he was a newborn.  His mom is my hairstylist and friend, and she has allowed me to get to know him (and his little sister), and I’ve always been grateful for that.

The other day, at their house, Forest’s grandma came over to hang out with them and make cookies with her grandkids.  I thought it was darling and charming and sweet, and a simple, uncomplicated act of love.  A very “grandma” thing to do.

I asked Forest if he was excited to have cookies later, and he immediately replied that he didn’t want one.  So I told him that was okay, that he didn’t have to have one if he didn’t want one, and that maybe later he might change his mind.  His response floored me.  Without skipping a beat, he locked his beautiful big eyes with mine and said, “I don’t want to eat a cookie.  I want to be healthy!”

.

.

.

.

Yeah, let that sink in a minute.

Once I had pushed my heart back in between my ribs, I calmly told him that having a cookie was healthy.  I explained that it’s probably not a good idea to eat cookies all the time, just like it’s not a good idea to have sandwiches all the time or carrots all the time.  I said that it’s okay to have cookies when you eat a lot of other things, too.

At this point he had started to tear up a little, and just repeated, with determination and palpable fear, “I don’t want to eat a cookie.  I want to be healthy.”  It was as thought he thought he was going to be force-fed.

I left my friend’s house shortly after this conversation, and I cried the whole way home.  All I could think about was, Who stole the simple, pure childhood experience of eating a warm chocolate chip cookie with his grandma from this sweet, tender-hearted little boy?  Who put poison in his little 6-year old brain, making him think he’s somehow bad if he eats a cookie?  And why would someone do that to him?  It’s vicious, really.

I’m not sure if this came from a teacher or another parent at his school (because I cannot imagine my friend would steal her son’s innocence from him), but whomever did it is obviously ignorant and talkative, a horrifying combination.   What this uninformed loudmouth neglected to understand is twofold:

  • First, Forest is 6 years old. He doesn’t understand what being “healthy” even means. I mean, most adults don’t understand it, so clearly a naïve little kid isn’t going to. But they have already taught him is that restriction and deprivation is healthy.  It isn't.

 

  • And second, fearing food to the point that you cry at the thought of having to eat is fundamentally not healthy.  Not even close. If the person who poisoned my little friend wanted to really teach him about how to have a healthy body and mind, they would have explained that foods are good foods, that we eat for different reasons (not just hunger but also appetite, social situations, comfort, bonding, etc), and that all of that is okay.  Because balance is healthy!  Planting the seeds of orthorexia in a 6-year old is not just fundamentally and holistically unhealthy, but completely unethical and immoral.

 

I’ve been thinking about Forest non-stop, wondering if he ate a cookie or two later that evening, or if the voices in his head talked him out of it.  I wonder if he feels like he was a “good” boy for saying no, or if he feels guilty for saying yes.  I wonder if I just saw this child I adore develop an eating disorder before my eyes.  And while I will continue to wonder about the asshole who stole part of Forest’s childhood from him, what I will think about even more is how we can all take it upon ourselves to get smart about this shit once and for all, to stop passing down generational trauma, and to keep up with the current science of physical and mental health. The last thing I want is for more innocent children to spend most of their adulthood the way I did, fighting an all-out war against food and my own body.

Regardless of nutritional density of lack thereof, it’s never healthy for anyone to be afraid of food.  Least of all an innocent child.

02 January, 2020

A Few Words About Judgment

Yesterday I overheard a woman say that her New Year’s resolution is to stop being so judgmental of other people.  She thought she would be a better person if she allowed others to just be who they are, instead of feeling like she needed to critique them.

I get it.  I get where she’s coming from.  And I couldn’t disagree more.

Judgment, in the era of Trump, has become a loaded word.  A bit too loaded, maybe.  In many liberal circles, my circles, judgment has become synonymous with dehumanizing people, with “intolerance” of people and their beliefs.  I wish I had a dollar for everyone who has stood up and righteously proclaimed that they are against intolerance.  Again, I get it. But again, I disagree.

Bear with me for a minute here, but I’m going to say something that might sound a bit weird: being  judgy and intolerant is perhaps the most important form of self-care there is.

We make judgments about other people all the time, when we evaluate their character and offerings and value in our lives.   My friend Lisa is absurdly thoughtful – that’s a judgment.  My friend Angie is funny as hell – another judgment.  My friend Liz is a great debater – there’s another one.

This sounds simplistic, I know. 

But what about when it goes the other way?  What about when we hear someone we thought was cool tell a racist joke?  It’s up to us to pass judgment on that person, and decide that he is no longer welcome in our lives.   Or what about when we hear that Wal-Mart has been systematically denying promotions to women, based purely on gender?  It’s up to us to refuse to shop there.  And when Facebook CEO/Liar in Chief Mark Zuckerberg opens his lying mouth about privacy rights and white supremacy and another lie pops out?  Yeah.  Get your ass off Facebook.

These are judgments.  These are opportunities you have, as a thoughtful, savvy person, to make the choices that serve you and your community the best way possible.  

Same thing goes for intolerance and the idea that all people should be welcome at the table, and if you exclude someone, you are committing some sort of injustice.  I call bullshit.

Look, if someone is going to be a racist, misogynist, body-shaming, xenophobic, homophobic prick, well, they don’t get a chair.  It’s my fucking table – I get to decide who gets to break bread with me, right?  I don’t claim to be tolerant, and I never will.  Because I’m not tolerant of bigotry and I don’t want to be.  And I refuse to “give people a chance” if they are expressing views that indicate that queers or brown and black people or Jews or disabled people or fat people or poor people or women just shouldn’t exist. That’s not a difference of opinion – it’s a complete lack of morality, and I’m not having it.

So I make judgments, daily, about who gets to have a spot in my life.  I hang out with other liberals, preferably of the queer, fat, working class type, because that’s my community and that’s where I feel I belong and am accepted. This is an act of self-care, more important than the occasional bubble bath or getting my nails done or even refusing to work overtime.  This is the kind of radical self-care that many of us engage in every day without even knowing it.  We make judgments.  We assess people. We decide who has valuable things to bring in to our lives, and who doesn’t, and we engage accordingly.  To not do this would be to self-sabotage, and to allow toxic people in to our valuable space.

I’m not saying it’s cool to make judgmental pronouncements about who should get to wear stripes or what somebody should buy with their SNAP benefits or the “special rights” disabled people request.  That’s fucked.  But saying that somebody doesn’t deserve to pollute your world and doesn’t get to spread their toxic messaging in your personal bubble is self-love.  It’s self-preservation.  It’s self-care.

And yeah.  It’s judgment.

Best,

Lily-Rygh

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