My bf made the above video to go with a script I wrote! I think it’s safe to say most of us have, at some point, felt unsure about whether instances of potential cultural appropriation really were that. This video is about food, in particular, but the lessons can apply across many types of cultural expression. A longer version of the script (which hopefully will clear up questions that anyone may have after watching) is below. Enjoy!
Are you interested in learning more about food justice and sovereignty?? What a coincidence! So am I! Because we don’t get a lot of examples of food justice movements in history classes, it’s a lot harder for me to imagine what an effective and systemic food justice movement would even look like than it is for me to imagine what a social justice movement more focused on legal equality looks like. That, I think, we can all at least kind of imagine, as hard as it is to enact. But food justice? What does it look like? Why do we need it? And what does being an accomplice to food justice movements entail? I don’t know, obviously, but below are some articles (and a couple of podcasts and videos) that have helped me mull those questions over in a thoughtful and more educated way. Enjoy! Continue reading food sovereignty/justice media
The anthropology of food class at my college was a senior spring joke class, taken by people who actually care deeply about systems of oppression and movements for resistance. Not once in my Women’s and Gender Studies education did we do a unit on growing, preparing, or owning food, in the context of gender, race, class, or nationality. There were never any units on food sovereignty movements in my elementary, middle, or high school history classes. The only communities that were connected with food in those classes were First Nations/Native communities, and in that context, food was treated as an anachronistic cultural quirk, rather than a) a necessary part of survival, b) a serious and central part of any culture, and c) a tool that can be used in the service of both oppression and resistance. We glanced over farm workers’ movements (discussed only as labor movements), talked briefly about black and brown domestic labor, and perhaps mentioned that women tend to cook in the home more than men do (ah, the problem that has no name).
Even now I have a hard time getting my head around food sovereignty and food systems. We* just never talk about it! We do not talk about food as a serious political issue. We take issues of oppression seriously when they involve certain social identities (well, some of us do); we take money seriously, even though it’s made up.** But food, which none of us can live without, which enriches our lives in so many ways, is not a central part of a formal American education, nor is it a part of most (at least mainstream) conversations about oppression and injustice. Continue reading where’s the food?
What is the difference between wanting to be healthy and wanting to be thin? I know that, for some, there is a meaningful difference. But for most of us, is there a difference at all? I know that “healthy” has all sorts of other connotations attached to it—having a body that supports what you want to do, good poops, lots of vitamins and minerals. But, ultimately, I think that health has been distilled into being skinny. Because all that other stuff, that’s all tangential to being healthy. There aren’t “fitspo” Instagram accounts about healthy pooping. (I just double checked—there are only 15 posts under #poophealth and no major Insta accounts dedicated to bragging about healthy pooping. In case anyone was wondering.) Counting vitamins and minerals isn’t as popular as counting carbs and calories. People use weight and body size as a direct measure of health—losing weight or getting skinnier as a proxy for getting healthier. Continue reading thinness vs. health
I think about my food choices a lot, and since writing my other post about vegetarianism/veganism, I’ve been thinking more about race and class politics in relation to my own diet (and getting more frustrated with myself and other people who call themselves vegetarians/vegans). Changing my diet has been like changing my vocabulary when I first started to learn more about the histories behind apparently innocuous words, histories that made those words into weapons that are used against marginalized peoples every day. When I learned about those histories, I would try and try and eventually succeed at removing the word from my vocabulary. Words that never used to draw my attention can sting me and alarm me now. I would rather not cause a small harm to someone if I can avoid it, although I hold no illusions (I hope) about the fact that changing my vocabulary is only the very beginning of making my actions oriented towards justice, rather than towards oppression. That’s how I think about vegetarianism. I do not think my actions are changing the inhumane industry that produces most food for sale, and I don’t think that I’m saving any animals any pain by not eating their already-dead bodies. But I would rather participate as little as possible in the meat industry, including by withholding my money from them. To not do is easy; and to not do something that is, however marginally, harmful, is better than doing it. Continue reading vegetarian again
Whereeee do I even start? I started thinking about this about a year ago because my booboo was starting to get super interested in and passionate about sustainability issues and as he learned stuff, he would pass it on to me. I can’t remember what part of cutting meat out of my diet was the factor that reeled me in. If I’m being totally honest, it was probably “health” and physical appearance-related (TRYING NOT TO LET THIS BE TRUE….BUT IT IS…SRY). But I was also compelled by arguments about the harm caused to the environment by raising and eating meat. It seemed like a relatively simple thing to change about my life; if I was going to make an effort to compost and recycle properly and to drive less, it felt reasonable to also make this effort. So, I started to eat significantly less meat than I used to, and I’ve been continuing to minimize the meat in my life (and very recently starting to try to cut out other animal products too).
This is where it feels appropriate to mention my social location. At the time I was first considering this, I was in college, living at home for the summer, and working a couple different part time jobs. I wasn’t paying rent or buying my own food; I was basically living off of my parents. We’re solidly in the upper middle class, so buying food wasn’t stressful for me. I also had the time, energy, and resources (i.e., a computer and Internet access) to research vegetarian diets and recipes. I want it to be clear that the way I sort of fell into vegetarianism is a result of my economic privilege; I don’t think that my “journey” is doable or desirable for everyone. Right now, I’m trying to describe, not prescribe. Part of my thinking about food that is in extremely new stages is how to positively impact people and communities (in addition to the physical planet) with my personal food choices. I definitely welcome any suggestions for reading on that; still doing research! Meat has also never really been culturally important to me, and I know that that’s something that can affect people’s food choices.
But even though it’s totally intertwined with my socioeconomic privilege, vegetarianism/veganism/less animal product-eating is also connected with my desire to live in a way that is aligned with my politics. I think that most relationships (among people and between people and the physical environment) are characterized by violence and dominance; I think relationships should be full of compassion, and kindness, and empathy. To me, not eating meat has become a boycott at least of the really, really horrible conditions that animals endure before they’re killed, but ultimately, of killing other things for my own pleasure, period. It’s also about trying to contribute less to global climate change as an individual, even though I know my not eating meat doesn’t make systemic change (which is really what we need).
Cutting meat was right for me; it is right for me ethically, morally, and politically. I also never really liked meat that much, so on a very personal level, this isn’t that big of a sacrifice for me…I mean, I could always go for any fried chicken product, but steaks? Hard pass. I still have so many questions for myself about this choice though. On a small scale, I wonder where my meat-eating lines should be be drawn. I continue to eat meat when it feels socially better to just do it. For example, I lived in a house with 4 meat eaters last year and we shared dinner duties, so I ate meat if they cooked it (but they graciously cooked only poultry and fish). How important are these values to me if I will bend them for social reasons? On a larger scale, I wonder how the tension between this attempt at living more justly and my flexing of my class privilege can be resolved (if it can be at all). Are there more just food choices that I can and should be making?
I know that my ideas about food will continue to evolve as I learn (and eat) more about food systems and food justice, as well as about environmental justice. Who knows what the future holds in terms of food-related innovations? There are people developing meat grown from stem cells (no animal killing and less carbon emitted from raising them!), there are local and ethical meat movements, there are better meat substitutes, and that’s just a few meat-related examples. There’s so much more to food justice than meat (I think), and I’m really excited to learn more.
My short food-related reading list for the near future
- Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by Vandana Shiva
- Rebuilding the Food Shed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems by Philip Ackerman-Leist
- The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the 21st Century by David Rieff
- The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst