Feminism / Food & Gender / Veganism

CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: “Whose Food Justice? OUR Food Justice” Workshop

This post is part of the series of posts on CLPP’s 2012 Reproductive Justice Conference.

Food justice is an integral aspect of social justice. Just as Katherine Cross in the Opening Plenary said, “A right is the recognition of your humanity.” Access to food – clean, fresh, organic, healthy, sustainable, and delicious – is a right we all deserve. As a feminist vegan, I was absolutely thrilled CLPP featured the workshop “Whose Food Justice? OUR Food Justice.”

The panel consisted of a farm intern, a grassroots organizer of food and community development and a fat acceptance and body image blogger.

Panelist J’vaughnii Karakashian is an intern at Urban Roots, an organization in Buffalo, New York “that strives to create healthy communities by providing access to healthy food.” He wanted to learn more about sustainable farming and the ways people would like to see the food industrial system change. At Urban Roots, a small farm relying on volunteers, they plant organic carrots, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, and cilantro. Urban Roots is interested in how we take care of the earth and take care of ourselves.

Karakashian succinctly summed up why food justice matters:

“Food justice is important because everyone deserves access to food.”

Panelist Sabrina Andrus, Director of Campus and Community Programs at Law Students for Reproductive Justice, blogs at The Taking Up of Space about body image, using a fat acceptance movement framework:

“I identify as fat, we can say ‘fat’ out loud. I don’t identify others as fat unless it’s comfortable for them.”

While she isn’t in the food justice movement, Andrus brilliantly connected body image, fat shaming, class and food justice. She gave a brief history of the Fat Acceptance Movement. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded in the late 60s. NoLose, an organization out of Oakland, CA, is “seeking to end the oppression of fat people.” There’s “the desire to separate fat and health.”

“At the heart of a lot of these discussions is that fat people are demonized: for taking up too many resources and taking up too much physical space. There’s the physical you’re in my space to ‘I have to pay for your healthcare.’

Not only does society demonize fat people, Andrus said society also blames them:

“Fat people are blamed about the obesity epidemic, and I put ‘obesity epidemic’ in quotes.”

We need to look at classism, food deserts and food inequality. Andrus said:

“We’re brilliant at taking a look at the individual without looking at the institutions.”

It’s so true, we constantly blame people without looking at the systemic oppressions that lead them to the circumstances in which they make their decisions. Andrus discussed the media’s treatment of fat people and obesity. Coined by blogger Charlotte Cooper, the phrase “Headless Fatty” categorizes media images of fat people, accompanying stories on the obesity epidemic, with their heads cut off. This visual dismembers fat people, objectifying them and not treating them with dignity.

Andrus brought up the heinous Georgia Children’s Health Alliance $50 million anti-childhood obesity campaign. In 2011, they displayed a horrible poster demonizing and shaming fat children, encouraging “viewers to retain negative stereotypes about them.” Horrifying. She also talked about the disgusting campaign by PETA who in 2011 launched the lovely billboard “Feeding Kids Meat is Child Abuse…Fight the Fat: Go Vegan.” And of course who could forget the 2009 “Save the Whales…Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian” fat-shaming campaign.

Listen, I’m a vegan and an animal rights advocate. And I want children (and all people for that matter) to be healthy. And it would be fantastic if more people go veg. But I do not condone PETA’s despicable tactics of fat-shaming, utilizing sexism and misogyny, and exploiting women’s bodies to garner attention for animal rights and veganism. Ugh.

Andrus discussed the “I Stand Against Weight Bullying” campaign which Marilyn Wann created in response to Georgia’s offensive campaign. She mentions vegan soul food chef Bryant Terry!!!! LOVE him!!! Yet she wishes he didn’t lead with combating obesity when talking about food. Andrus also talked about Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. While she likes the phrase “Let’s Move,” which focuses on activity, she still finds it problematic:

“Food justice activists often use the obesity crisis as a vehicle to inform and talk about their work and talk about the structural inequality that lead to this, the lack of nutritional food. And I don’t blame food justice activists for this.”

Looking at food justice, nutritional guidelines and classism:

“Racism and classism aren’t going to speak to larger swaths of the population…We have upper class yuppie narrative about what food is healthy…doesn’t take into account various communities…The classism piece is impressive in all of this.”

Andrus talks about the morality of eating and “good” vs. “bad” food:

“What food is good and what food is bad…We talk a lot about food as reward…Food does not have moral value. Food is not good or bad.”

Yet I can’t help but think some food is bad: food laden with toxic chemicals, processed foods. But I agree with Andrus that choosing to eat those foods shouldn’t equate with whether we are good or bad people. And yet society does judge our food choices. People assume that those who eat apples are skinny and people who eat burgers are fat:

“Shocker, there are fat healthy people.”

Absolutely…and there are unhealthy thin people. What’s so shitty about this is that if someone thin eats junk food, no one bats an eyelash. But if someone who’s “fat” does, people act as if they’re committing some cardinal sin. Our existing narrative about health doesn’t take into account that healthy comes in various shapes and sizes. Kate Harding collected photos of women of all different sizes for “The BMI Project” to show how ridiculous it is using BMI to gauge health.

Andrus recommended these books on fat acceptance and dieting myths:

  1. Fat!so? – Marilyn Wann
  2. Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere – Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding
  3. The Diet Myth: Why America’s Obsessions with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health – Paul Campos
  4. Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic – J. Eric Oliver
  5. Health at Every Size – Linda Bacon

Diego Angarita, Director of Youth Programs and Policy for Nuestras Raices, a “grassroots organization that promotes economic, human and community development in Holyoke, Massachusetts through projects relating to food.” The group started to teach kids in the neighborhood how to garden. Taking back land, viewed as an act of war in some instances, in this became case the basis for the non-profit. Angarita said:

“I like thinking about green space and how it impacts the community.”

Angarita astutely asserted that food justice goes beyond food:

“When we think about food justice, we think about people, we think about culture.”

He mentioned an ordinance in Holyoke, MA for keeping backyard chickens in order to have access to eggs. But some people don’t own their homes. Affordable housing is part of the solution. Angarita went on to mention incorporating local customs, including pig roasting, which was difficult to listen to as a vegan. I don’t want to dictate food choices. But for me, meat equals murder. We can respect local traditions without advocating and perpetuating cruelty.

An audience member raised the issues of food deserts and the expensive price of organic food. I wish we had explored this in more depth. It’s how the food is supposed to be but class and economic inequity pose a barrier due to farm subsidies driving up the cost of produce. Angarita asserted the phrase “food apartheid” (a term I’d never heard before) is a better term than “food desert” because food is grown in the desert. But I personally feel uncomfortable using the term “apartheid” because of its racist connotations.

Another audience member raised the issue of how we’re at a reproductive justice conference and we shouldn’t forget the cruel treatment of and reproductive justice of animals. YESSS!!! A connection exists between the objectification and oppression of women and animals. Both are often viewed as objects of consumption.

Cows and pigs are restrained and forcibly inseminated on rape racks. Yep, rape racks. Dairy cows only produce milk when they are pregnant. So farmers keep them perpetually pregnant in order to constantly produce milk. Pigs are also kept perpetually pregnant so they’ll keep producing litters. Cows and pigs have their babies ripped away from them. Many people don’t eat veal for the inhumane treatment to calves. Sadly, all baby animals are wrenched away from their mothers and most are cruelly slaughtered. While many don’t view humans and animals as equals, it’s hard as a reproductive justice activist to not see the parallels of rape and forced reproduction.

Someone else in the audience talked about how she started working with animals and the thought of hurting animals hurts her. But not everyone has the option to not eat certain foods. So how do we embrace animal rights, respect animals’ dignity and bridge the issues of oppression while still respecting issues of class and economic inequity and that not everyone has access to veg options?

Angarita talked about identity and food:

“Our identities can get wrapped up in what we’re eating.”

As a feminist vegan, what I eat is absolutely my identity. Speaking of my two identities, I wish veganism/vegetarianism and humane animal practices as well as gender had been integrated into the workshop, especially as women and gender play a huge role in agriculture and issues surrounding food security. While integrating race and class are vital, it was incredibly thought-provoking to incorporate body image and fat-shaming into the food justice dialogue. I had always thought of the two separately but they are intertwined.

Angarita discussed the lasting impact of food justice:

“We’re creating a shift that’s going to affect future generations.”

We all deserve access to food. We need to overhaul our existing food system, abolishing factory farming and cruel, inhumane treatment of animals. We need to eat more local and organic produce, supporting small farmers. We also need to stop shaming and blaming fat people. Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s time to shift our food paradigm.

 Read my other posts on CLPP’s 2012 Reproductive Justice Conference!

Image by Yarian Gomez via Flickr


4 thoughts on “CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: “Whose Food Justice? OUR Food Justice” Workshop

  1. “What’s so shitty about this is that if someone is thin eats junk food, no one bats an eyelash. But if someone who’s “fat” does, people act as if they’re committing some cardinal sin.”

    I need to go where you are, then! As someone who’s lost a lot of weight over the past year and works in a department of women who are all constantly on one unsuccessful diet after another, I can report that every morsel I consume is scrutinized and both it and I are judged…”jokingly”. I put it in quotes because it doesn’t feel like a joke after a certain number of occurrences. This same phenomenon happened years ago at another workplace, the last time I lost weight, so it’s not specific to this environment. I certainly don’t mean to imply that it’s just as hard socially for me as it is for larger women, but it’s not all sunshine & lollipops either.

    I see this issue as supporting Andrus’ position about people unnecessarily labeling food (and thereby, themselves) as morally “good” or “bad”. The women I’m referring to above, say things like, “I was so good today” or “I was really bad last night” to describe how they did or didn’t adhere to their diet program. I agree that it’s so important to stop judging ourselves (which will make it more possible to stop judging others); eating a cupcake doesn’t make you a bad person–it just makes you a person (saying “a person who likes cupcakes” would have been redundant). 🙂

  2. i was at this conference and deeply saddened, at a feminist event, by the lack of discussion around animal rights. the parallels between reproductive justice and the animal rights movement are uncanny and the fact that it’s ignored by many feminists is, well, enraging. thanks for your commentary!

  3. thanks so much for the great write-up! we started to get into some really great conversations during the workshop, and i wish we had had more time. And i completely agree with you, Sarah M., that really what we’re doing when we label food as “good” and “bad” is generally inferring that WE are good or bad. Ugh, how many times do you hear the old “I was so good today, I deserve a treat!” each day, right?

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