privilege

All posts tagged privilege

Fat Activism – More Crucial Now Than Ever

Published April 1, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

The world is in a terrifying state, there’s no doubt about that.  With the USA imploding under the rule of The Great Orange Narcissist, fascism having gone mainstream globally, the UK opting for xenophobia and segregation from Europe, the mass Western rejection of our responsibility to assist people fleeing from harm and conservatives adopting The Handmaid’s Tale as some form of user manual, we live in very dark times.  There is no question about that.

However, I have heard some quarters saying that to continue the fight for fat liberation is somehow frivolous or irrelevant in the face of all of the other issues that are happening in the world.  This to me sounds exactly the same as those who decried “identity politics” after the US presidential election, blaming those of us who spoke up for the oppression of marginalised communities for somehow “alienating” voters who got tired of hearing about people who were different to themselves.  Which is utter bullshit.

Those people who were privileged enough not to have to worry about their human rights were never interested in voting for anyone but themselves in the first place.  That is the core of privilege – the ability to ignore issues that do not affect you directly.

Now more than ever, the focus of righting all the wrongs that are in the world has to be on people – human beings.  The right of human beings to live their lives in peace and with respect, without discrimination and vilification for their skin colour, race, religion, gender, sexuality, health and physical abilities, income level and indeed, bodies.  This includes climate change as well – the right of all human beings to have clean water and food now and into the future, not just the elite.

Unfortunately, marginalised people have been banging on about the issues around xenophobia and discrimination, which boils mostly down to white supremacist patriarchy, for all of history.  More recently, women and other marginalised people have been warning about the rise of violence towards them from the same sector of society that are now in power across the globe, only to be told that we’re over-sensitive, or that we’re making a mountain out of a molehill.  Well the mountain is now visible to the rest of you, just like we said it would be.  The mountain has always been there – many have just refused to look up and see it right in front of them.

How does fat liberation fall into this?  Now more than ever, it is important to keep up the fight about body autonomy, the dehumanisation of some people because of their bodies, and the basic human rights of all people regardless of their body size, shape, ability or arbitrary measure of “health”.  When it is already difficult for fat people to get adequate health care, then the fight for health care rights must highlight those who are already excluded, and not just those who are at risk of being excluded later.  When fat people face discrimination and lower wages in the workplace, then rights for those who are already discriminated against need to be at the forefront of  worker’s rights.  When fat people are denied bodily autonomy – the pressure to punish and reduce their bodies, lack of access to effective contraception, the overwhelming push to force fat children into harmful diets and fat people in general into gastric mutilation against their will – then the fight for bodily autonomy must focus on those who are at the highest risk of losing that autonomy.

By this same token, that goes for ALL marginalised people – when we fight for the rights of human beings, then we must put those who are the most oppressed at the top of the list of the people we are fighting for – not shove them down at the end like an addendum, a last thought if there is anything left after the “more important” white, male, able-bodied, thin, heterosexual, Christian, affluent cisgender have got their share.  The privileged are already getting the lion’s share of everything, first dibs at things that we should be able to find resources for all humans, not just the privileged.

Not to mention that across almost many marginalised identities, people of colour, poor people, disabled people, trans people, women and so on are more likely to be fat, AND they’re more likely to be further marginalised within their own communities.  Ask almost any fat woman who belongs to any other minority how her identities intersect and how she is treated within her own communities in her fat body, and see just how important it is to her that her fatness is included in the fight for her freedom.  Marginalisation is intersectional – a person is never just marginalised for one aspect of their lives when they fall into multiple minority categories.

In these times where hatred, greed and xenophobia are getting stronger and stronger, now more than ever we need to stand up for our rights as human beings, and for the rights of those who do not have access to the privileges that we access.

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Nostalgia is a Luxury

Published March 5, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

I really hate those “Remember back in the old days when things were better and we weren’t so precious.” kinds of posts.  You know the ones that crop up on Facebook all the time.

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By CeesOutlook on Flickr

I do remember the old days. I remember having the living shit beaten out of me while friends, teachers and neighbours “minded their own business”.

I remember going hungry because teachers didn’t check that kids had reasonable lunches.

I remember being not being able to afford decent shoes, school uniforms or to participate in school activities.  I remember the constant worries about how bills would be paid, how food would be on the table.

I remember two boys dying in one year from head injuries while on their bikes, because helmets were not mandatory.

I remember the boy who broke his arm in the most HORRIFIC way playing on shonky playground equipment because there were no regulations then and has never lived the same since.

I remember when nobody on television looked like the people I knew in real life – they were ALL thin, white, straight, able bodied and affluent.  They had nice clothes, cars and homes and didn’t have to worry about paying the rent or the electricity bill.

I remember when I got food poisoning at a Brownie camp because there were no regulations to ensure the kids were fed decent food.

I remember when women were treated like shit in the workplace and not only had no way to challenge it, but it was ENCOURAGED by management.

I remember being discouraged from pursuing tertiary education, because I was a girl.

I remember when the Indigenous kids in my class were told that they “came from savages” and there was nothing here before white people came.

I remember when people with disabilities were locked up and then had to endure school trips of abled kids coming to “Visit the poor cripples.”

I could go on and on and on. But frankly, it’s exhausting to have to constantly educate people on how their rosy past only applied to a tiny portion of the population.

Nostalgia for the past is for the privileged. The rest of us are desperately glad the world has changed and can’t wait to keep pushing more of those changes through.

You Are Not Subtle With Your Hate

Published February 20, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

Inspired my my dear friend Ali over at Mean Fat Girl, I want to expand upon her post That Thing Thin People Do.  The thing is, we see you, thin people.  You think you’re being OH SO SUBTLE in your little judgements and smirks and insincerity towards us, but there’s one thing I can promise you – you’re not subtle.  You’re not even original.  Because when I sit down and talk to other fat people, particularly fat women, I hear the same things over, and over, and over again.  So perhaps if I lay them out in a nice, easy to read list, you can all see just how blatantly obvious you are with your cruddy behaviour, and maybe you’ll understand why so many of us simply don’t trust you, or even like you.

Oh you might not do all of these things, nobody is saying that.  But I’m quite sure you do some of them, because I and other fat people have seen you do it.  Time and time and time again.  And if you are one of the few who DON’T do these things, then this is not about you.   Don’t get all “not all thin people” at me – it’s no different to #NotAllMen or #NotAllWhitePeople

Things Thin People Do

  • Expect their fat friends to hang out with them for hours on end while they try on clothes that are not available to them, without ever returning the favour, or being cognizant of how fat people are excluded from clothing
  • Scowl at fat people in public
  • Laugh at the idea of fat people dating, being in love, having sex.
  • Laugh at fat people in public
  • Assume that fat people are all lazy gluttons
  • Decide how much and what fat people should eat.  Those “Are you sure you want that?” comments.
  • Nudge their partners, friends, family and point out fat people in public
  • Take photographs of fat people on their mobile phones
  • Talk about our bodies to other thin people, particularly about whether you think we are lazy or gluttonous.
  • Say things like “If I ever get like that, kill me.” In reference to our bodies
  • Inspect our shopping carts and baskets
  • Watch us eating, staring, following every morsel of food from our plate to our mouths.
  • “Compliment” us only when we wear dark colours, or clothes that hide our bodies, but if we wear anything colourful or that shows skin, you’re suddenly silent.
  • Talk about how fat you are, in front of us, like being fat is the worst, most disgusting thing you could be.
  • Use us to make yourself feel better about yourself – “at least I’m hotter/better/thinner than her.”
  • Speak to us as if you’re our intellectual superiors.
  • Assume we’re exaggerating or over-sensitive when we talk about how rude and hurtful people are to us.
  • Talk over us about fatness, bodies and eating disorders, as if you have more expertise on our bodies than we do.
  • Tell your children “You wouldn’t want to get fat now.” Right in our hearing, again, as though that’s the worst thing that a human being could be.
  • Laugh when your children parrot the hateful things to us that you have taught them.  As if saying something mean to a fat people is funny or cute.
  • Do absolutely nothing when someone says something hurtful or hateful about fat people in front of you.

And most tellingly;

  •  Get offended when fat people point out the many ways that you behave rudely or hurtfully towards us.
  • Make excuses for all of the above.

That’s right.  Ask yourself right now – has the list above pissed you off, or offended you?  If the answer is yes, then I’m talking about you.  If you’re bothered that I and others are pointing out all of these appalling behaviours, then perhaps ask yourself why you’re so invested in being “allowed” to treat fat people with such disrespect and hate.  What kind of person are you that you think any of the above behaviours are acceptable towards another human being?  Would you accept people behaving like that towards you?  Would you respect, trust or want to be around people who exhibited those behaviours towards you?

As I said at the beginning of this piece – fat people see you doing this stuff.  It’s not subtle at all, you’re not sneakily engaging in something that nobody will notice.  We see you.  And instead of internalising your disrespect and hatred of us, we’re learning to shine a spotlight on it for what it is.  That might make you feel uncomfortable, or ashamed.  Good – that’s how you’ve been making us feel about our own bodies for so long.  The difference is, our bodies are not harming you, they are just that – OUR bodies.  None of your business.

Let’s Talk Classism in Plus-Size Clothing

Published February 17, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Wow.  In the past 24 hours I have seen some of the most disgusting displays of classism in discussions about plus-size clothing that I think I’ve EVER seen in the fatosphere.  Wait until you see the doozy I just screen capped.

As most of you probably already know, Beth Ditto dropped her new plus-size clothing line this week.  It’s gorgeous.  I would love to own almost every item in the range.  But a lot of fat women have quite rightfully raised that they are priced out of the range because it aims at the high end market.  This isn’t a criticism of Beth herself, or her new range, but an important message about how one high end fashion range is not a victory for fat women in general, because MOST of us are not able to access the range (let’s acknowledge the cut off of larger sizing too, but that’s a conversation for another post).

My main comment was that for many fat women, the cost of just one of those garments is equivalent to a week’s rent, or filling their car with fuel for the month, or paying their utilities bill.  When it comes down to choosing which gets paid for, the necessities of life have to come first.  Even after necessities, if looking at value for money, for the same cost as one Beth Ditto jumpsuit, I could buy air fares to New Zealand and back.

But the pushback against anyone raising this issue of affordability and access has been swift and it has been pretty disgusting.  Mostly because affluent fat women are assuming that the statement “All fat women deserve access to clothing that they need and want.” as “Take away the rich lady’s Beth Ditto clothes!!”  Which is NOT what is being said at all.

It’s all well and good to tell fat women to shop ethically, to invest in high end fashion and to buy local, but in a world where fat women are openly discriminated against in the workplace and in education, this is a moot point.  Don’t believe me?  Look at this little screen shot @kiddotrue shared on Twitter…

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Now, it would be great if we all had access to the kind of funds required to dress in Beth Ditto’s gorgeous range.  But the reality is, most of us don’t and yet we still need clothing.  And when I say need clothing, I mean we need a range of clothing to suit our lives – which includes clothing that is to our taste as well as meets our practical need.  The ability to express oneself via clothing is as vital to our humanity as it is to cover our bodies.

Unfortunately, so many people have NO IDEA what “budget” actually means.  They say “ditch fast fashion and invest in yo dress” with no regard to whether or not many fat women actually CAN fork out $120 – $400 for one garment.  Others cite the availability of mass produced clothing brands – like Lane Bryant – as evidence that there is “affordable” clothing available to fat women, completely dismissing that at full price, many of those brands are also outside of a lot of fat women’s price range too.  A cursory glance at Lane Bryant’s website shows full price for many garments up over the $100 range.  Admittedly, you’re more likely to get a discount code or pick up sale stock from a mass produced range than a designer one, but even then, when compared with what is available in straight size ranges, plus-size fashion is extremely expensive.

This also assumes that everyone has access to brands from the US and UK – not all fat women are white Western women, let’s not forget that.

Of course, there are also those who cite the deeply problematic nature of mass produced clothing lines, from both how and where it is produced and where the designs come from.  I agree, there needs to be a radical shakeup of the fashion industry in general to ensure that all clothing is ethically produced to a minimum level.  But that is not going to help your average fat woman with a limited budget to clothe herself for her job, her education, and her other day-to-day life.  If there are no ethically produced clothes available at an accessible price point, then fat women have no alternative than to buy the mass produced budget product.  And the problem lies in that there are little to no budget options for fat women.

The problem I see is that there is a deeply entrenched classism that assumes that women who want and need fashionable clothing all have access to the kind of disposable income that is required to afford the clothing that is currently on the market – from mass-produced through to designer ranges like Beth Ditto’s.  And on top of that, there is an assumption that poor fat women are not interested in being “fashion forward” or don’t have or want careers that require a certain look or standard of dressing.  As evidenced by this gobsmacking comment left on a Facebook thread on the topic earlier this morning, I’m feeling generous and won’t name the commenter…

Some of us want to be/are/are on a career track to be creative directors, ad execs, media professionals, or other life choices where we want to look a certain way.

The assumption that poor fat women have no ambition and don’t want or need to look a certain way is frankly, disgusting.  Firstly, many of us who don’t have the money to drop on the currently available clothing are ALREADY in professional careers where we have to find suitable clothing to present ourselves for our work.  I am so myself.  Secondly, both poverty and fat stigma regularly hold women back from achieving those career goals, and partly so because we cannot access the clothing we need to dress like our peers.  When you cannot access the same type of clothing as your peers, it is often a hindrance to progression in your career.  We all know that fat women are often considered “sloppy” and “lazy” – how much of this is because of the dearth of reasonable quality, stylish clothing which prevents us from achieving the same look as our thin colleagues?

I see my straight-sized colleagues turn up to work beautifully turned out in clothes from Target and other budget options, but for me to wear clothes of equivalent quality and style, I have to spend twice as much money.  Just Target alone has a vast chasm between the quality and style of what they offer straight sized customers and plus-sized ones.  They have garments of every type and style in straight sizes, but one look at the plus-sizes shows an ocean of poorly made t-shirts, loose pants and weekend/casual wear – none of which is suitable for my workplace.

Not to mention that fat women have other financial responsibilities as well as clothing themselves – be they funding family needs, education costs, or high living costs in general.  It is well known that the cost of living has skyrocketed in the past decade, particularly for those at the lower income levels.  We are paying double the rent/mortgage as we were in the late 1990’s on almost exactly the same salary.  Fewer and fewer of us have room in our budget to spend on anything outside of absolute necessities.

I also had one woman patronisingly citing “industry terms” about availability of budget clothing as though that somehow dissolved the issue of accessibility to affordable clothing for low income fat women.

Look, I know that the clothing industry is complicated and problematic.  I know that it’s not easy to produce quality garments in plus-sizes at a budget range in the current industry climate and that the whole clothing industry needs to be radically changed.  But that’s not solving the problem that is here and now – accessibility to suitable clothing for ALL fat women.

So, while many of you are squeeing over Beth Ditto’s beautiful range as being a victory for fat women, remember that through no fault of their own, not all fat women are as fortunate as those of you who can afford those clothes and that they have a legitimate reason to feel excluded from the happy buzz that many of you are enjoying, and are rightfully feeling hurt at being excluded yet again.

Good Weekend – Corrections and Clarifications

Published January 23, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Well, hello!  There are a LOT of new people popping in to view my blog, and I can only assume that it’s because of the article published today in the Good Weekend magazine, which is a weekend addition to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Welcome to all of those who are newly discovering this little blog.  And to all of those of you returning, it’s good to see you back.

Dog Reads Newspaper?

*Deep breath*  Today has been a little intense and it’s a new kind of intense on top of an already intense week.  I’ve had a lot of people contact me today thanks to the aforementioned article, some of whom with very valid questions and critique.  Quite a few talking out their arse, but I pay no mind to those.  I just wanted to write a little something to go with the article.

Now I don’t think that Tim Elliott has written a bad article, quite the opposite.  But I have been misquoted/misinterpreted a bit, and I don’t know whether that was a communication error, misinformation or just bad copy editing (do newspapers even have copy editors any more – or were those all made redundant too?).  Generally speaking the article is far more fat positive than most pieces we see, and it’s so good to see some actual fat women represented.  I had loads of fun doing the photoshoot for it by amazing photographer Paul Harris, who was really fun to work with and seemed to just “get it”.  My hair and makeup were done by Monique Zalique who was an absolute sweetie and made me look super glam, despite it being a roasting hot day!

So, a few things I would like to set right.

Firstly, for some reason, the amazing Jessica West, at fashion organiser and advocate, as well as my friend, has not been credited at all.  She’s the mega cutie in the video with the black and gold headscarf and babely glasses.  She was interviewed and photographed for the article but it wasn’t used, but footage of her was used in the video and she is the only one whose name isn’t published!  So I want to acknowledge her first and foremost.  She has a killer instagram, go follow her.

Next I’d like to address the way I’ve been described.  The “fat prider” thing – I’ve never called myself that, though I do believe in fat pride and fat liberation.  I identify as a fat activist and my focus is on fat politics.  The article implies some kind of leadership role, but I have never called myself or inded wanted to be a “leader” in any form of fat politic movement.  Personally I believe that activism should have no leaders, because activism is about pushing and growing and evolving, not a direct hierarchy.  In Australia, there are many fat activists, doing their thing in their own way.  All of us are needed.  I’m just one that will put myself in front of a photographer or journalist and do the media thing from time to time.

I also want to correct a couple of statements.  While I have had my workplace contacted by harassers, I’ve not had one show up there thankfully.  Not that that diminishes the actual harassment that has happened.  I also did not actually catch anyone slipping an abusive note in my mailbox, though I did contact the police about it at the time, who suggested I should “just get off the internet” and “not be so confident”.  The young law student from UQ that I caught was creating fake accounts on Facebook to send me harassing messages, and I was able to link those fake accounts to her real one.  Since I named her, she has not been back to my knowledge.

As for the suggestion that fat activists harass and bully people who lose weight, by choice or accident, that is absolute bullshit.  While we may object to those who start (or return to) “fat is bad” attitudes, and we will call out those who use stigmatising and hateful language to describe fatness and weight.  Saying “It’s not acceptable to vilify fatness.” is not bullying, abuse or harassment.  Unfortunately those who promote weight loss and/or dieting refuse to accept that by it’s very nature, eliminationist rhetoric about fat, the idea that fat should be prevented, cured, eradicated, it is harmful to fat people.

What you do to your own body is your business.  When you start promoting that some bodies are better than others, then I’m going to point that out as unacceptable.  That is not bullying or harassment from fat activists, and that does not make us “neo-fascists”.

One of the biggest problems with people who have privilege pointed out (especially if it’s new privilege, through weight loss, popularity or financial gain) is they refer to anyone pointing that out as “hate”.  Hate is sending threats, telling someone they are disgusting or sub-human, or ridiculing someone for who they are.  Pointing out that someone is engaging in behaviour or rhetoric that is harmful to others is not “hate”.

And finally, there is one statement that really, really bothered me.

Indeed, many fat activists regard their battle for acceptance as akin to the civil rights movement, or the struggle for gay and lesbian equality.

I really, really cringe at this.  Yes, I understand there are SOME that still see fat activism that way and conflate it with other movements.  But here’s the thing.  Marginalisation is diverse.  Each kind stands on it’s own as a valid thing to fight.  Many people have intersecting identities that are marginalised.  Some of those identities are in more peril than others, which makes the fight for their rights crucial and urgent.  Black people and trans people are currently extremely vulnerable.  There is no such thing as “another civil rights movement” – they’re all facets of the same fight – the right for ALL people to be treated equally.   The “struggle” for equality belongs to all of us, we just have to realise that some of us have privileges that others don’t.  As a white, cis, heterosexual woman with a regular income, I have privileges that others don’t.  As a very fat woman with disability, I am not afforded the privileges of thinner people, able-bodied people and men.  There is no sliding scale.  All of this is complicated and intertwining and every bit of fighting for human rights of any kind is needed.  None of them are new or taking over.  Can we please let go of that thinking right now!

So, that’s my clarifications/corrections to the article.  Again, while there are some issues with details, I still think this is a very positive article and I’m proud to have been able to participate in this get some light shed on fat liberation in the mainstream media.

Helen Garner – Violence and Visibility

Published May 15, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

Have any of you read Helen Garner’s recent piece in The Monthly about the way older women in society are treated?  I have, and I can’t leave it alone.  At first glance, I was on board with Helen’s issue, in that yes, it is absolutely true that society in general is terribly patronising and discriminatory towards older women.  But the more I read and the more I thought about her piece, the more I realise that there is a whole lot more that is going on than just an older woman speaking up about cultural attitudes towards older women in general.

Firstly, we can’t go past her public assault of a teenage girl on a Melbourne Street.  I don’t care how annoying teenage girls are being in public, nothing, NOTHING excuses anyone from violently pulling their hair.  Was the girl being annoying and rude – probably.  Does that make it acceptable for Ms Garner to “seize her ponytail at the roots and give a sharp, downward yank” so much that the girls “eyes bulged and mouth was agape”?  No it does not.  There has been a lot of discussion in the media and feminist writing about how inappropriate New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was in his pulling of a café staff member’s ponytail was, yet I’ve not seen one other person step up and say that Ms Garner’s behaviour was unacceptable yet.  People applaud her in the comments on the piece for this behaviour.  She has even been sharing this anecdote to others, and receiving laughter for it, even though she says herself “technically I had assaulted the girl.”  Technically nothing, Ms Garner, you assaulted that girl.  In no way excusing PM Key, his actions were inexcusable, but why is it unacceptable for him to put his hands on a woman’s hair in his words “playfully” but it’s OK for Ms Garner to violently yank the hair of a teenage girl in public?

I think Anne Theriault said it best in this tweet:

We are living in a time where there is a rising rate of violence against women.  The rate of women being murdered by their partners or ex-partners has shot up over the past months.  Women are being harassed and abused via online hate mobs to the point that they have to leave their homes, change careers and radically alter their lives.  Women are even being murdered for standing up about violence against women, and yet we have a public figure who for the mere reason that she’s an older woman, is excused, nay celebrated, for assaulting a teenage girl in public.  Violence against women, no matter who the perpetrators are, or who the victims are, is never acceptable.  Not two days ago there was an article claiming that women must claim a 50% responsibility in domestic violence and feminists spoke up and said “There is never an excuse for violence against women.” yet the same people are cheering Helen Garner on for “Showing it to that teenage brat!”

What is that teaching teenage girls?  Moreover, what is that teaching teenage boys?  In fact, I wonder what she would have done if it had been teenage boys behaving rudely in public?  How would people react if a 71  year old man violently yanked a teenage girl’s hair?

My second issue with Ms Garner is her outrage at being “rendered invisible by age”.  This sentiment has long bothered me, because it shows a blatant unawareness of privilege, and privilege across the spectrum.  It must be tough being rendered invisible by your age, but you have had the privilege of being visible in the first place.  Ask any fat woman, woman of colour, disabled person, poor person or any other marginalised person how they feel about being rendered invisible by age and it’s highly likely they will point out that they were never visible in the first place.  Or in rare cases, if they did have visibility, it wasn’t the nice kind that gets them served in shops, the best seat in a bar or doors held open for them – it’s the kind of hyper-visibility that comes with abuse, ridicule and discrimination.

Ms Garner complains that waiters move her and her friends to the back of a restaurant, at the uncomfortable seats where nobody will see them.  As a fat woman, I’ve never been seated anywhere else, unless I politely but firmly request it.  She complains that people are patronising to her in airports – spend a day with people with disabilities and see just how patronising folk can be to them.  She dares any blood technician to not look her in the eye while drawing blood – ask a black woman how many people look her in the eye when interacting with her.

The reality is, suddenly finding yourself invisible as an older woman is very much a mark of privilege.  Being blissfully unaware of that privilege is pretty insulting to those who have never had it.

To me, the ignorance of privilege and the public assault of a teenage girl are both examples of a distinct lack of self awareness that unfortunately crops up time and time again with white, thin, affluent, able-bodied women in feminism.  Ms Garner, and other women like you, you’re not invisible to those of us you’ve never noticed yourself.

So yes, I agree that in our culture, women are ignored and discriminated against more and more as they get older.  As I am now in my 40’s, I see the vulnerabilities that lie in my future, and I also see the devaluation of older women as members of society.  Older women, particularly older single women, are at the highest risk for poverty and homelessness.  Older women are more likely to be abused and/or neglected by both relatives and professional carers as their health declines with age.  Older women are discriminated against in the workplace more than younger women or men of any age.  These things need awareness and to be addressed.  But we also need to be aware of when we give passes to behaviour from privileged women that we would not tolerate from men.

The Educated Eater

Published January 23, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

Recently I was part of a conversation on Facebook about the concept of fat tax/junk food tax/whatever you want to call it.  The current food being demonised is sugar, and this particular conversation was about a proposed sugar tax in New Zealand, but I’m pretty sure that wherever you are has had something similar in the not too distant past.

A lot of the conversation centred on how taxing any particular food is over-intervention by the government, however it ended up in the territory of possible ways to get people to eat “healthier”.  As always, there’s a faint air of moralisation around even the most well meaning conversation about improving people’s general eating habits – the old binaries of fresh/processed, healthy/unhealthy, junk-fast/”real” are ever present, as though food is somehow either all good or all bad, which no food ever is.  Foods have varying levels of usefulness/nutrition/substance to every person.  Not to mention that food has absolutely no moral value at all.  It is not good or bad, it is just food.

Repeatedly the suggestion was that we need to “educate” people about food, where it comes from and what it’s value is.  The implication was that it was poor people in particular that need this education.

I believe that people already understand food.  Let me give you an example.

As I walk to catch the train each morning to go to work, I pass a Dominos pizza franchise.  The other day I noticed a poster in their window for a meat-lover pizza. The calorie count was in a font twice the size of the price of the actual pizza. A third of the page was taken up with the calorie count.  It is deemed more important to tell people how many calories are in a pizza than the price of that pizza.  Who actually thinks that anyone who is likely to buy a meat-lover pizza is either ignorant or cares about the calorie count?  Either you’re buying it because it’s dirt cheap and will fill the bellies of your hungry family, or you just want a greasy pizza and don’t give a flying fuck about how many calories are in it. You could put the calories in big scary jaggedy font with flames coming out of it saying that you’ll go to hell for eating it, and people would still buy it, because they want it, or because they have no other option that suits their needs.

I really do have a problem with the whole “We need to educate people about food” thing. Particularly when it’s aimed at poor people, who are statistically the biggest consumers of fast/processed food.  This is because fast/processed food is CHEAP.   The attitude that poor people need to be educated about food reeks of classism and almost always comes from those with the privilege of being able to afford tertiary education.

Honestly, poor people know about food and it’s value, better than any affluent person ever will. As someone who has lived through extreme poverty, I can tell you, you know EVERY single iota about the thing you’re spending the tiny bit of money you have on. You spend your whole life bargaining against yourself for how to get the most filling, calorie loaded food that will last the longest for the least amount of money possible. Poor people aren’t ignorant, they’re poor. They’re not choosing fast food because they don’t know any better, they’re choosing it because it’s cheap, easy, filling and available.

Then there is the belief that fat people are ignorant about food, that we don’t know which foods are “good” for us and which are “bad” (again, using scare quotes because food has no moral value – it is neither good nor bad).  I am a very fat woman.  I can tell you the approximate calorie count of pretty much any food out there.  I can also tell you how many Weight Watchers points it is, whether or not it is allowed on the Atkins diet, what carbs are in it, how many grams of fat, and in most cases, what it’s key ingredients are.  I have been forcefully “educated” about food since I was about 5 years old,  and I am now 42.  I have spent decades calculating every little fact about food because I have spent decades dieting and with fucked up disordered eating habits.   I bet I am not in the minority of fat people who have been forcefully “educated” about food their whole lives too.

Fat people are the least ignorant people about the nutritional information of food.

Poor people are the least ignorant people about the nutritional information about food. 

Both groups of people (and often they intersect), have HAD to know this information out of necessity.

Want to help people eat more nutritious, fresh food? Make it cheap. Pay people a living wage.  Make sure that they learn the skills needed to procure and prepare fresh foods, right from school level.  Ensure that they have the time that it takes to actually procure and prepare fresh food.  If you’ve worked a 16 hour day just to cover your rent and bills, you don’t have time to shop for prepare vegetables. You have kids you have hardly seen, who are hungry, and very little money to feed them, you need something quick, hot and filling available now.

Think poor people need to be aware of the conditions of production? HELL NO, they ARE the conditions of production. They’re the ones working split shifts in factories prepping frozen meals. They’re the ones working in fast food restaurants for minimum wage.  They’re the ones working shitty jobs at weird hours to pay the bills.  They’re the ones labouring on farms for less and less pay as the supermarkets cut back the price of produce on them. THEY KNOW.

Want to help change the way food is consumed? Legislate so that food processing companies have to pay a fair rate for produce. Legislate so that supermarkets have to pay a fair rate for produce. Legislate so that food producers have to pay their workers a fair living wage and employ them in reasonable conditions so that they can go home and shop and cook for their families.

The whole fresh/healthy food movement is rampant with patronising attitudes towards people who are the most aware of the problems with fast food, but with the least means to do anything to rectify it.