Vegetarianism & feminist food autonomy: Why I don’t care what you ate for dinner.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about food. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my fairly recent decision to stop eating meat (I was pescetarian for about 2 years before also choosing not to eat seafood a couple of months ago). Because it’s recent change, a lot of people have asked me what motivated the decision. However, my answer always feels too complicated to adequately explain in casual conversation. Thankfully, that’s exactly when blogging comes so in handy! 

Firstly, here’s some reasons why being vegetarian works for me. I’m an animal person. I wholeheartedly believe that you can be an animal person and still eat meat but, lately, that just hasn’t worked for me. Not eating meat made sense for me philosophically and it didn’t disrupt my relationship to food or eating negatively so I thought, “why the hell not?” 

Secondly, in North America where so much meat is produced by factory farming, vegetarian diets* can be a way to build a more sustainable relationship with food and the environmentHowever, this is not to say that there aren’t plenty of ways to eat meat in a sustainable way and it’s important to consider that non-meat diets contain products which are the result of environmentally (and socially) harmful practice. (My decision to be vegetarian is similar to my decision to compost or take shorter showers. It’s just something I decided to incorporate in to my life as a way of reducing my negative impact on the planet.)

Being a vegetarian has also improved my relationship with food in general. Food shame is something we’re often taught to do to others and it’s definitely something women especially are taught to do to ourselves. Being a vegetarian hasn’t stopped me from food-shaming myself entirely (that kind of complicated unpacking of patriarchy is the sort of thing that requires a lifetime of work) but it has helped me to deflect some of my negative thinking. Instead of being concerned about calorie content, I can research what leafy greens have the most protein. Instead of searching a menu for the meal with the least amount of fat, I can ponder the many ways to replace meat with mushrooms. It’s not a perfect system. But, for the moment, it’s working and I’m having a lot more fun with food than I have in the past. 

Despite all of this, the most important pillar of my philosophy around vegetarianism is that I couldn’t care less whether or not you are.

This often confuses people and I can understand why because the vegetarians we’re used to seeing in the media are the kind of militant PETA-style anti-meat campaigners who tend to see discussions of diet through black and white lenses. Trust me, people who “diet preach” make me just as uncomfortable as the rest of you and most of the vegetarians I know are respectful folks who’ve just chosen to eat a certain way. Here’s three of the most significant reasons why my decision to eat or not eat meat has nothing to do with you and why your decision to eat or not eat meat is the least of my concerns.

1. Choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet is a privileged choice to make. Having the financial means to cut meat from a diet while still eating in a way that’s nutritious is challenging because fresh fruits and vegetables are often inaccessible and non-meat sources of protein like tofu and nuts are expensive. In 2012, Stats Canada determined that 13% of Canadian households are food insecure. On a collective level, ensuring people have enough to eat seems a hell of a lot more important than arguing about what we “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating. 

2. Food and eating are cultural phenomenon and, for a lot of people, meat is an important piece of cultural expression. Colonization, environmental degradation, and unsustainable practices of resource extraction have disrupted traditional ways of eating across the planet. In opposition to this, emphasizing culturally significant relationships to food can be essential components of decolonization. My friend Laura phrased this so well in her very poignant Facebook rant:

animal liberation activists screaming ‘it’s not food, it’s violence’ in front of my work on july first – a day which should be reserved for protests against the ongoing violent colonization of those indigenous to this land we call canada, who have sustained themselves by eating meat since time immemorial, who are only harmed by western animal rights movements, whose diets have been colonized and continue to be colonized, as with every aspect of their life and culture since contact. partake in vegetarianism/veganism if you want, stand up against animal abuse, fight against capitalist/corporate greed, eat ethical meat if you can afford it, do NOT lose sight of the privilege inherent in making any of those choices, and do not push your settler-colonial diet activism bullshit onto those whose land you stole.”

3. The way people (and especially women) are taught to relate to food is, to put it simply, fucked up and we really need to stop shaming each other about it. Food is a feminist issue. It’s a feminist issue in the ways that it intersects with class, culture, and colonization. But it’s also a feminist issue because judging you for eating meat is just as harmful as you judging me for eating dessert. From the very foundations of our relationships to food, eating, and each other, we need to see food-shame as any act that creates a hierarchy of diets. For many, feeling good about eating is hard enough – we don’t need to shame each other about what we’re eating too. 

To make a long story short, being a vegetarian makes me happy. However, what makes me even happier is emphasizing respect, compassion, and kindness when it comes to food and eating in general. So go ahead and order the ribs. I won’t judge you for eating them but I might make fun of the barbecue sauce on your nose… sorry.

*I use the word “diet” several times throughout this blog. To clarify, I’m using the word to just mean “the kind of food that someone eats” as opposed to it’s more colloquial reference to the restriction of food.

Image credits: (1) durangofoodnotbombs.wordpress.com; (2) spookyfemme.tumblr.com; (3) 4.bp.blogspot.com; (4) thickthreads.blogspot.ca

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Romance and Representation in “Insurgent”

Ah! Summertime! The time when the school semester is over and a person gets to actually choose what books they read. On my list for summer 2014 is the “Divergent” trilogy and I just recently finished the second in the series, Insurgent. (For the record, I haven’t read any of Allegiant nor have I seen the film adaptation of Divergent).

The “Divergent” trilogy sits amongst a collection of young adult science fiction novels (like “The Hunger Games” and “The Mortal Instruments,” for example) that recognizes the importance (and marketability) of young female heroines. However, on the feminist blogosphere at least, fan-girling over the likes of Tris (“Divergent”) and Katniss (“The Hunger Games”) hasn’t come without careful analysis of what’s missing from these series. While the predominately male-dominated world of science fiction has made space for these ladies, we are a still a far way off anything resembling fair representation. Namely, Tris and Katniss are able-bodied, cisgendered, straight, and white (whiteness is debatable for Katniss, but the movie adaptation portrays her as so). Max Thorton from Bitch Flicks points out that

“Just because straight white pretty cis girls are beginning to be represented in specific (or rather, in one specific niche that is still derided in male-dominated geek culture), we can’t assume that this means the trend will continue in the right direction without some very real, tireless, and vocal work on the part of us consumers.”

 Badass lady heroines like Katniss and Tris are absolutely a step in the right direction. But until we are also seeing non-white, dis/differently-abled, trans*, and queer girls kicking ass on screen, we still have a long way to go. (More on this here, here, and here).

(Note: my mom read this and immediately thought of Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy.” Larsson’s books aren’t really young adult oriented and they’re definitely not science fiction but Lisbeth is such a fantastic queer ((and potentially dis/different-abled)) heroine that I couldn’t not mention her here!)

Maybe that’s one of my favourite things about series like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” I can love them so much while simultaneously critiquing them and using them as a starting point for broader conversations about popular culture. One topic that I’ve been increasingly interested in while reading both Divergent and Insurgent is the development of Tris’ relationship with the story’s central love interest – Four. 

Tris and Four’s relationship changed a lot between Divergent and Insurgent. In her review of the film, Bitch Flicks’ Amanda Rodriguez notes that the main character, Tris, 

“gets rescued a lot, mostly by her love interest, Four… This made me roll my eyes a lot because I didn’t pay $10 to watch a young woman lead be so dependent on a dude for her survival.”

I’ll admit that this is a frustrating element of the first book and I expect that the movie simplified the damsel-in-distress trope even more for the benefit of Hollywood.

However, all of that changes in Insurgent. Firstly, the theme of “rescuing” stood out in the novel for other reasons. The most important rescue in the book happens when Tris’ nemesis, Peter, rescues her from certain death. Despite their personal hatred for each other, Peter saves Tris in order to pay the debt he owed her for saving his life earlier in the book. This stands out as far more thematically important (to me, at least) than any lifesaving being done between Tris and Four.

Secondly, the resolution of the story’s central conflict depends on Tris going against Four’s wishes and undermining his authority as a community leader. This allows Tris to emerge as a political actor in her own right, separate from Four and many of the other characters. Not to mention, it is her best friend, Christina, with whom Tris ends up saving the day which equals a lot of awesome girl power.

What I liked most about the way Roth developed Tris’ decision to undermine Four was how explicitly she allows the reader to see Four attempting to control Tris, and Tris directly defying that control. More than once, Tris is determined to put herself in harm’s way for the good of her allies and Four tries to deter her through guilt. He uses their relationship as a means of control by telling her that “if you do that again, you and I are done.” (page 260) Eventually, he even puts the blame for himself being in danger on her by saying, “You die, I die too… I asked you not to do this. You made your decision. These are the repercussions.” (page 338)

It wasn’t a side of Four that I was a huge fan of. But what I did appreciate was the way that Tris ultimately responds. She calls him on using the fate of their relationship as a way to control her at the end of the novel:

“You tell me you love me, you trust me, you think I’m more perceptive than the average person. And the first second that belief in my perceptiveness, that trust, that love is put to the test, it all falls apart…. So you must have lied when you told me all those things… you must have, because I can’t believe your love is really that feeble.” (page 503)

In the end, it is Tris’ belief in herself that triumphs and that is the reason that her and her allies end up being successful. My favourite line in the whole novel is when Tris says to Four: “I am exactly who you think I am” (page 503).

This side of Tris is amazing. It’s not just her determination to protect her family and her community that I so admire, but her fierce trust in herself. Despite whatever tired romantic tropes get dredged up in Divergent, Tris and Four’s relationship in Insurgent carries one message to the girls and young women who are reading: Boys are awesome and fun. However, as soon as they stand in the way of our goals, our sense of self, and our ability to be agents in our own right? Well, then they can fuck right off.

This is something that I enjoyed about Insurgent a lot. However, I have to ask myself why it is that Tris gets to be the feminist heroine and why her relationship with Four can be highlighted in exciting ways. Tris gets to be read as “non-traditional” because she’s a teenage girl with qualities like bravery and power that typically aren’t associated with girls in pop culture. Four can be a “non-traditional” love interest because he admires Tris for qualities like strength and determination as opposed to beauty. But Tris and Four are still traditional enough. They’re still white, cis, straight, and able-bodied. It is only because they didn’t rock the boat too much that they were allowed to achieve the ranks of mainstream popularity.

If you read Insurgent you might have noticed Lynn admitting to being in love with Marlene (another woman). But, this is as Marlene is dying. As a consequence the reader’s awareness of Lynn and Marlene’s romantic relationship ends as quickly as it began. That it is Tris and Four’s relationship that I focused on in this post, and not Lynn and Marlene’s, speaks volumes to where power structures continue to play an enormous role in the production of popular culture. We’re going to need to rock the boat a lot harder if we want that to change.

Image credits: skreened.comdivergentthemovie.comthe-antisocial-hipster.blogspot.ca

 

 

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An Ode to Killjoys

Being a feminist killjoy is something that I’ve reflected on a lot, and held close to my heart, ever since reading “Feminist Killjoys” from Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness in Women’s Studies 101. Ahmed has written an inspiring amount about being a killjoy and her words have done a lot to transform something that I had once felt shame about into a label I wear with pride. Here is her definition of “feminist killjoy” from The Promise of Happiness,

“The feminist killjoy ‘spoils’ the happiness of others; she is a spoilsport because she refuses to convene, to assemble, or to meet up over happiness. In the thick sociality of everyday spaces, feminists are thus attributed as the origin of the bad feeling, as the ones who ruin the atmosphere…”

But Ahmed asks us to wonder if it is the feminist killjoy who caused the bad feeling, or if she merely pointed out a bad feeling that already exists. Ahmed tells a story of sitting around a dinner table and voicing her disagreement with a problematic remark made by a family member. The mood instantly changes and becomes negative. Was it the killjoy who changed the atmosphere by challenging the remark? Or was it the maker of the remark (or the remark itself) which brought the negativity forward?

In my own life, moments of killing joy are some of the most authentic I’ve ever experienced. But I’m also aware that being a killjoy can be difficult. It can exhaust us, sadden us, silence us, or even make us unsafe. At the very least, it’s disheartening to notice “people’s eyes rolling as soon as [we] open [our] mouth[s]” and to feel that we have “ruined the atmosphere by turning up or speaking up.

When I get caught up in feeling shame for being a feminist killjoy, it can take a lot of strength to fight the instinct to apologize. Often, that’s a battle I don’t win. I call out an oppressive remark, the mood becomes negative, and I shoulder the blame for the gloomier atmosphere. I feel myself teetering uncertainly on the thin line between socializing “like everyone else” and being true to my ethics. I’ve taken up too much space in the conversation with my negativity. So I apologize.

What happens when we start apologizing for other people? When we try to dilute our killing of joy by playing down the negativity of what we find to be problematic?

A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend that stayed with me for many reasons. She explained to me that she had been told by a supervisor at work that she should be careful about how she dressed. Her supervisor was worried that if she looked “too good” she would distract men and make women jealous. Only a few weeks later, another friend explained her experience of being singled out in a room of co-workers (as she was the only Black person in the room) when someone made a joke about Black women being “easy.”

What connected these two stories for me was the ways that both of my friends started telling them. The first friend began with “I really don’t think this guy is sexist, but…” and the second started with “not to say this person is racist, but…”

What my friend’s supervisor said is sexist. The joke my friend’s co-worker made is racist. Whether or not we want to go ahead and use this as evidence of one being a racist or a sexist, these are both clear examples of the kinds of racist and sexist microaggressions that are so hard to quantify, yet so impactful in perpetuating structural oppressions.

Despite this, both of my friends started their stories by apologizing for someone else and by taking the responsibility for killing joy on themselves. It is as if the commenters weren’t the source of negativity, but that my friends were for pointing out the sexism and racism inherent in their remarks.

This post isn’t a criticism of my friends, or their choices made in telling their stories. On the contrary, it’s an expression of the empathy I feel regarding their instincts to apologize for being killjoys. For that reason, I want to say to my friends, and to all of us who’ve felt the same:

Killing joy is kick ass. It’s the kind of truth we deserve. I will always love you, honour you, and cherish you for all the joy you kill because that is what is required for us to led authentic and whole lives. We kill joy and space is made for our experiences to be validated. That is space we are all deserving of.  

images courtesy of: feministdisney.tumblr.com and www.etsy.com

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We Weren’t Born This Way

Pragya Sharma is a contributing member of the F Word Media Collective. 

Kim Kardashian isn’t a woman who’s known for her politics.  Instead, she’s known for a well-timed sex tape that catapulted her into fame; a reality television show with her family; extravagant weddings followed by failed marriages; and a relationship with Kanye West.  So, it surprised me when I heard that she posted an essay on her website yesterday, detailing how having a half black child has changed her perception on racial politics in America.  What also surprised me was that instead of accepting that people’s political positions change, prominent websites and commentators have been ridiculing and shaming Kim for not “seeing” race earlier than she did.  Even feminist websites like Jezebel which admittedly aren’t known for their kindness, are mocking Kim for finally realizing that, in her words, “racism and discrimination are still alive.”  

For everyone that’s shaming Kim for making a public post on racism: when did you learn that racism exists?  Were you born with an intricate understanding of white supremacy?  I know I wasn’t.  Despite being raised in an Indian family in the Canadian prairies, I was taught that racism does not exist.  I, like most people in the Global North, had been fed the myth of meritocracy from the moment I was born.  I held on to this myth so strongly that even when my mom was sure she didn’t get a job because of her accent, I rolled my eyes and told her that she probably just messed up the interview.  I couldn’t believe my own mother’s experience because I needed to believe that I could be successful in this world if only I tried hard enough.  And that’s me, a brown woman, who doesn’t really benefit from ignoring the impact of white supremacy in my life.

The anomaly, then, is when we have a major celebrity acknowledging racism.  Combine that with our culture’s obsession with perfectionism and complete utter lack of accountability, I can’t help but wonder if Kim’s post is kind of amazing.  I mean, she not only talks about racism, but she admits that she was wrong when she didn’t see it as a problem in the world and admits she was wrong in not recognizing it as something she’s responsible for combating.  Let’s put it this way: A celebrity who’s constantly criticized for what she wears, what she says, what she doesn’t say, who she marries, how she marries them, how she lives and how she breathes, not only acknowledges that she made a mistake, but publicly declares that racism is a big deal and that she’s responsible for doing something about it.  And what do we do?  Mercilessly mock her.

Seriously?  How can we possibly expect those that benefit from white supremacy to ever change anything when all we do is mercilessly shame them when they start to shift their consciousness?

(And don’t even get me started on the misogyny in all the commentators who brush her off as incapable of thinking of anything other than fashion.  Someone who’s built a multi-million dollar empire around a sex tape ain’t no fool.)

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“The Bachelor,” otherwise known as: “Day-Old Cheese Pizza”

I have a confession: I watched this most recent season of “The Bachelor.” I have a gut-wrenching instinct to apologize for this because, “as a feminist,” I should be ashamed of watching something so terrible, right?

Too bad, “as a feminist,” I’m also learning how not to apologize for doing something people think I shouldn’t do. Too bad shame isn’t useful and learning to resist it is an invaluable part of my feminist journey to be a whole and happy human being. So here’s to empowered engagement with all of the horrible things patriarchy, capitalism, and oppression throw at us! I watched the whole season of “The Bachelor” and I’ve got a thing or two to say about it.

If you’ve heard anything about Season 18 of the show, you’ve probably heard all the talk about the bachelor himself, Juan Pablo Galavis, being a total jackass. Unfortunately, there’s a pretty good chance this is true. There are, for example, the homophobic remarks, the slut-shaming, and the other generally offensive things he’s decided to say to women.

But that’s not what I want to write about. While all of the above is totally gross and horrible, we have to take in to account that Galavis was the star of a reality television show, meaning, what we saw of him may not actually be a reflection of reality. It is also absolutely necessary to ask ourselves what it means for Galavis to be the first Latino bachelor to star on the show. Whether conscious of it or not, how did racial stereotypes of Latin American men as “macho womanizers” seep into the producers’ editing of the show? Despite being blonde and blue-eyed in true all-American fashion, Galavis’ Venezuelan accent marks him as “foreign,” as not/un-American, and it would be naive to think that this didn’t mediate the way he was perceived by both producers and audiences.

There may be a variety of reasons that the producers of “The Bachelor” had an interest in making Galavis the bad guy. However, the reason that stood out so starkly in the show’s final episode was that Galavis refused to buy into the premise of the show the way everyone expected him to.

On the show’s final episode, all the contestants get back together to discuss the highs and lows of the season. Galavis entered the stage to a chorus of booing. The show’s “winner,” Nikki, didn’t get the same negative reaction but that’s because, apparently, we’re all just supposed to feel bad for her. We’re supposed to feel bad not because she ended up with a (potentially) slimy guy like Galavis, but because Galavis didn’t ask her to marry him. To the outright horror of the shows producers and “Bachelor” fans far and wide, Galavis ended the season by telling Nikki that he didn’t want to propose because he wasn’t 100% sure he loved her. HOLD. THE. PHONE. HOW DARE HE??!??!?!?

Oh… wait… wait no. No, that’s actually a totally reasonable thing to say. Unless you’re the star of a show dedicated to making happily married folk out of conventionally attractive white people who’ve spent 2 months going on lavish and unrealistic dates involving 25 other people, of course.

The major issue here, was that Nikki had told Juan Pablo that she was in love with him several months earlier. “The Bachelor”’s host, Chris Harrison, was visibly distressed by this shocking turn of events. He spent the better part of his interview with the couple trying to coerce Juan Pablo into confessing his eternal affections. At one point, Harrison admitted, “I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

I don’t know what I’m looking at.In Chris Harrison’s world, any relationship that isn’t on a fast track to heteronormative monogamous marriage is a relationship with no name. 

I’m not naive. It’s not like I’ve ever expected anything radical or progressive from a reality show that buys into so many toxic notions of masculinity, femininity, marriage, family, and love that I wouldn’t know where to begin to catalogue them all. But I guess I just thought they’d try to do a better job of hiding it. I guess I expected them to spout propaganda about the inclusivity of “The Bachelor,” to claim that it tells the stories of real lives and real relationships. I honestly didn’t expect Harrison to be so glaringly obvious about the fact that it’s all a contrived fantasy. 

Because, really, which one of these resonates more with real life: falling in love and getting married after knowing someone for 2 months or falling in love in different and complicated ways and having to navigate the rocky terrain of human to human connection in an imperfect and messy way? I don’t know about you, but I’m voting for the second option. In the words of the Vancouver Sun’s Misty Harris,

“[the reason] why, days later, tongues are still clucking over the hit show’s controversial conclusion: not because ABC’s prince turned out to be a toad, but rather because that toad publicly, petulantly refused to jump at producers’ command – and pulled back the curtain on one of TV’s longest running games of make-believe as a result.”

Harrison outlines his rationale for allowing the show to be the exclusive fantasy it is in an interview about the potential for there to be a gay bachelor, or a bachelor who didn’t conform to normative standards of attractiveness. His response was this:

“Look, if you’ve been making pizzas for 12 years and you’ve made millions of dollars and everybody loves your pizzas and someone comes and says, ‘Hey, you should make hamburgers.’ Why? I have a great business model, and I don’t know if hamburgers are going to sell.”

THIS JUST IN: STRAIGHT PEOPLE ARE PIZZA. QUEER PEOPLE ARE HAMBURGERS. Whahaaaat?? Couldn’t we imagine it more in terms of the current “Bachelor” being cheese pizza and different adaptations of the premise being ham and pineapple, or pepperoni, or deluxe, or REALLY ANYTHING ELSE BECAUSE WE’RE ALL JUST REALLY SICK OF ONLY GETTING CHEESE PIZZA ALL THE TIME. Harrison continued to say, “is it our job to break barriers, or is it a business? That’s not for me to answer.”

Ahhhh. Well now we’ve reached the bottom of a deep well and capitalism is not about to throw a rope down and help us out. It’s okay to be unethical, or to ignore ethical considerations, when business is at stake. But, why isn’t it Harrison’s job to answer that question? Why can’t we hold him accountable to the ethical considerations regarding “The Bachelor” franchise? What might happen if we dared to imagine that we have a right to expect more representativeness from our media?

 

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