Over on Marianne Kirby’s always excellent blog, The Rotund, she wrote a post that has attracted many comments. Like, a “Shapely Prose” number of comments. The post started with a long quote from a commenter that she responds to at length, and here’s what I see as the core of the comment:
I have only recently discovered FA and I love, love, love HAES – it was almost like I finally got a permission to focus on my health and not worry about my weight so much. But the more I’ve been reading blogs on the fatosphere, the more I felt that fat acceptance is about the right to eat whatever you want pretty much without regard for your health.
And Marianne has many excellent words to share in response, including these:
Here’s the thing: Fat Acceptance is not about prescriptive health.
Yes. And while HAES(SM) is about health, Fat Acceptance is not. I believe in both, and that they can co-exist. Fat Acceptance, as I understand it, is about the right to be. While fat. Without being hassled, harassed, bullied, mocked, screamed at from passing cars, passed over for promotions, and a myriad of other ways that fat people are put down, and kept down.
As far as HAES(SM) goes, I think Jess Weiner didn’t get the “health” part, so much as the “at every size” part.
I have been exposed to numerous and varied theories of health behavior, and in many of them, they attempt to explain the phenomenon of “denial.” I think Jess Weiner was using her idea of Fat Acceptance as a cover for her desire to not deal with her health. There are people, who, faced with the reality of a 40th birthday just around the corner, (or for some, a 30th birthday or some other milestone meaningful to them) and decide to suddenly “take their health seriously.” And then they have a desire to split off from the “pre-health-kick” self, and construct an explanation to allow themselves to be acceptable (in their own eyes) again. So, for Jess, she blamed her “borderline” numbers on her lack of self care, which she said was caused by this belief that she could be both fat and healthy. The “new Jess” rejects the ideas that she believes led the “old Jess” to gain weight unchecked, and not think about what her eating and movement patterns might lead to.
Here’s the thing — no one escapes from life unscathed. We all will die, and if we have a long enough life, we’re likely to get sick along the way. All manner of nasty, painful, expensive things can happen to us. We can choose to reject ourselves when we respond to signs of illness, or we can embrace ourselves compassionately, and not place blame.
But, that’s not what I really wanted to write about. What I really wanted to write about was the question in the title of today’s post which comes from commenter on Marianne’s post whose handle is Alexie, and in her comment she asks some intriguing questions:
But some of these foods are deliberately engineered to induce cravings and overeating. How does this fit with Health at Every Size which focuses on intuitive eating, when it’s up against a food system that is actively seeking to bypass the natural signals of your body? How does it fit with the idea that all foods are equally valid choices? I’m not raising this to disagree with you about the inherent morality of eating. It’s more something I’ve been grappling with. How does Fat Acceptance sit with food politics? Can it?
(Sometimes I really wish I were able to draw well — because I would show a dinner table with Fat Acceptance sitting down with Food Politics. But what would they both eat?)
Here are my answers to what I’ve interpreted as Alexie’s questions:
Q: Some foods are deliberately engineered to induce cravings and overeating. How does this fit with Health at Every Size which focuses on intuitive eating, when it’s up against a food system that is actively seeking to bypass the natural signals of your body?
A: I think Linda Bacon, in her book Health At Every Size is trying to describe the middle path here between the two. For an individual who has dieted in the past, coming to terms with these together can be a long process, and one that requires both compassion and vigilance. Compassion for oneself when eating foods that aren’t in line with one’s own food politics, and vigilance when it comes to not judging oneself and others for choices, which still examining beliefs about what’s best to put into one’s own body. For example, I know that some foods really do seem to make me want more of them. Take a Snickers bar, for example. I know that eating one will make me want one more. And I don’t like being manipulated that way, so I tend to stay away from them. And I suppose, if many more people did the same as me, maybe they wouldn’t manufacture (or engineer) Snickers anymore. But it’s really about what I want to put into my own body. I also tend to be the same way with excellent Thai cuisine, eating it makes me want more of it. I don’t think that is a result of trying to sell more Thai food, it’s just how I respond to an amazing combo of salty, sweet, umami, spicy and rich flavors. Since too much Thai food makes my blood sugar higher than I like it to be, I avoid it except for a few times a year (I would definitely eat it more often if my family liked it as much as I do, which isn’t the case). The foods that seem to be “unstoppable” for me are ones I need to approach with mindfulness. Not so much because they may lead me to gain weight (which they might) but because of other reasons pertaining to health and politics. If I think a food really does cause me to crave more of it, and I find that out, I can make a determination whether or not, or how often, to eat that food.
The makers of Oreo cookies (Nabisco?) and organic knock-offs are certainly trying to get me to buy their delicious products. And that’s their role in the dance. The steps I take have to do with buying or not buying, and also, trying to understand how food subsidies work, and thinking about the impact that changing those subsidies might have not only on me and the other people trying to avoid Snickers-es and Oreos, but the people who need the price of wheat and soy and corn to be affordable so they don’t literally starve.
I would like it if the foods that promoted better health for me were not more expensive than the foods that don’t promote health for me as well. But that’s where the politics come in — I might want to lobby for things to change. I might also want to make sure that people who harvest the fruits and vegetables I consider to be so health promoting are not exposed to dangerous chemicals, are subject to the same workers’ right that I am, and earn a decent wage. I might be manipulated into thinking that the price I ought to pay for tomatoes is less than $2.00/pound, when in order to get them for a low price, it means terrible working conditions for those doing the harvesting.
Ultimately, I would rather not be preachy about my values. I would rather base my decisions about what to eat and how much on my own values, not on a fear of being fat or getting fatter. Right now, I’m annoyed that a new person sits in the cubicle next to me, and he has a candy bowl full of salt water taffy that leads me to crave sweets in a way that not having that particular visual cue wouldn’t. But I’ve decided to just live next to the cube with the bowl of salt water taffy, rather than ask him to put the bowl away. It’s odd, I don’t really know what the purpose of his bowl of salt water taffy on his desk is. Is it an invitation to join him in a piece of delicious candy? Is it to say something about who he is? Is it because he needs to keep his blood sugar at a certain level that it would drop below if he didn’t have a bowl of candy at the ready? He’s new, and we haven’t become friends, so I don’t want to ask these questions. I do have the ability to work in the vicinity of a bowl of salt water taffy and not eat it, or not go out and buy my own salt water taffy to have on my own desk. (Okay, now I really want some saltwater taffy.)
Thinking about food politics reminds me that there are so many things upon which I can base my decisions to eat or buy certain things OTHER THAN fatness.
Okay, I’m sorry if this is growing incoherent. It’s way past my bedtime, but I wanted to get these thoughts out on pixels before bed. Good night!
One last thought. Maybe if Fat Acceptance sat down to eat with Food Politics, they would enjoy a bowl of salt water taffy. Which, it turns out, does not contain sea water.