A few months ago, I received a lovely email from Mount Holyoke College student Ayoola White. After reading Ms. Magazine’s article, “The Femisphere: Foodies and Food Politics,” profiling feminist food bloggers including yours truly — where I talked about my identity as a feminist vegan and the intersection between the two movements — Ayoola asked to interview me for a course she was taking on food justice. She asked thoughtful, perceptive (and hard!) questions on the commonalities, intersections and obstacles in the fat acceptance/liberation and food justice movements. I was so honored and excited! So I’m absolutely thrilled to share with you all Ayoola’s interview of me:
Ayoola White: How would you describe your involvement in the fat acceptance and food justice movements?
The Opinioness: I’m a feminist vegan blogger and freelance writer. I write about how food justice is a feminist issue and an integral aspect of social justice. I also write about body positivism. For me, the two issues are inextricably intertwined.
We all deserve access to food—clean, fresh, organic, healthy, sustainable and delicious. 1 in 6 children suffer from hunger.
The government grants huge subsidies to the meat and dairy industries yet not for fresh produce. Processed food, junk food, fast food—these are cheap to produce and earn producers a high profit. Yet it harms people’s health. But if you live in a food desert (an area where no grocery stores exist) packaged food and fast food may be the only options available. Too often, food deserts exist in economically impoverished communities of color. Class and economic inequity pose a barrier due to farm subsidies driving up the cost of produce.
We need to overhaul our existing food system, abolishing toxic factory farming and the inhumane treatment of animals. We need to make local and organic produce accessible and affordable. Gender, race and class play a huge role in agriculture and issues surrounding food security. We need to stop shaming people’s bodies and policing their choices. It’s time to shift our food paradigm.
Body image and fat-shaming comprise food justice, too. Society often demonizes and blames people for being overweight. People are judged based on the morality of their food choices: healthy equals “good,” junk food “bad.” While I happen to think processed food laden with toxic chemicals is bad, people shouldn’t be stigmatized for their food choices.
We need to stop equating healthy with thin. Society demonizes people who are fat. Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes. Fat acceptance is about pushing back against fat phobia and the oppression of fat people. Body positivism is about loving and accepting our bodies at any size. It’s about reclaiming the enjoyment of eating and not punishing ourselves for our food choices.
Society and the media perpetuate the notion that food is a constant threat to women’s bodies. Women’s bodies are constantly scrutinized, critiqued and policed. The media polices women’s bodies and their consumption, reducing us to our appearances. We need to stop the toxicity of diet culture. We’re supposed to diet and exercise our bodies into submission. Our society is obsessed with controlling women’s bodies—not too curvy, not too thin. Eating disorders are on the rise, especially among young people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — we’re teaching future generations to have unhealthy relationships with food and wage war with their bodies.
Ayoola White: How do you think people who aren’t involved in food justice or fat acceptance interpret the movements?
The Opinioness: Many activists in the food justice movement use health and nutrition as a starting off point. While a discussion of health is certainly important, we shouldn’t assume fat means unhealthy. It doesn’t. Society often believes that people who are “fat” need to lose weight. They must get “healthy,” not realizing that you can be plus-sized and healthy as well as thin and unhealthy. Society tells people to conquer their bodies into submission. But those in the fat acceptance movement believe that we should accept and love our bodies at any size.
I think fat acceptance activists get frustrated with the food justice movement when it ignores fat shaming and perpetuates fat phobia. I’ve seen fat phobic advertising campaigns from vegan groups advocating nutrition.
When it comes to combating hunger or access to food, there seems to be an easy consensus. It’s when you start bringing in other issues – nutrition, veganism, animal rights, locavorism, organic food due to economic inequities – that not everyone agrees. Food is so intricately tied to tradition and food decisions are incredibly personal, people don’t want to be told what to eat and what not to eat. But it’s not about mandating food choices. Food justice encompasses ensuring fresh food to everyone, empowering people with local gardens and co-ops, eliminating animal cruelty, and eradicating food disparities.
Ayoola White: Do you witness people actively attempting to combine both? If so, how?
The Opinioness: The two movements should be easy allies. But sadly I don’t see this happening enough.
At last year’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) reproductive justice conference at Hampshire College, Sabrina Andrus, Director of Campus and Community Programs at Law Students for Reproductive Justice, spoke about the connections between body positivism, fat acceptance and food justice.
I see intersections through feminism and veganism, vegans advocating fat acceptance (although some vegans perpetuate fat phobia), and feminist critiques of sexist food advertising. But we need to see more people connecting food justice and body positivism. While the two movements have different struggles, they share common ground.
Ayoola White: What are obstacles to finding intersections between the movements?
The Opinioness: When food justice centers around nutrition and being thin, it alienates people through sizeism. Society equates food with morality — healthy food is good, decadent food sinful. Food justice activists can perpetuate this notion of “good” food, ignoring culturally appropriate foods as well as shaming people’s choices.
When body positive and fat acceptance advocates talk about being able to eat whatever they want, it can ignore the food disparities in many communities, particularly communities of color.
Even though I believe the two are linked, as the amazing writer Amadi points out, we should be cautious not to conflate food justice and fat acceptance because when we talk about food disparities and food deserts, it can “problemitize fat bodies.” If we truly support fat acceptance, then we need to be wary when we talk about systemic factors contributing to obesity as if fat bodies are something wrong rather than embracing everyone at every size. We can’t begin a discussion of fat acceptance from a place of negativity or as a symptom of oppression. It’s antithetical to the very notion of acceptance.
Ayoola White: What benefits are there to finding intersections between the movements?
The Opinioness: I always think it’s vital to find intersections and build alliances. We need to connect body image, fat acceptance, fat shaming, class, food justice and food sovereignty. We need to critique sexist food advertising and tired gender norms and embrace food equality and body image positivity. It’s time to build coalitions so we can effectively combat oppression on all fronts.
Ayoola White graduated Magna Cum Laude from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in Anthropology. She will be participating in the junior fellowship at the Asian University for Women beginning in the fall. Ayoola identifies as an eco-feminist and became interested in being an ally to fat liberationists after reading “Against Health.” She is interested in languages, reading, art, and playing cello.