Usually when my friend Khaled posts a link to an article online, I read it and give it some consideration, but this one particularly caught me off guard as being one of the most succinct and articulate descriptions of what is truly wrong with our culture that I have come across in a long time: “How Health Is a Human Right That’s Been Taken From Us.” It is extremely heartening to know that these ideas, which have been swirling around in my head for quite some time now, are not only agreed upon by this many other people, but are being taken up as a cause and are spurring people to action.
I hope that everyone who sees this post will also look at this article and the manifesto for reclaiming our health that it contains. The core message of the article essentially this:
When it comes to how we eat and how we perceive and treat our bodies, the default options that our culture presents us are no longer acceptable. To simply accept what is offered to us, to respond to the cues, to comply with what is “normal” means to consistently take in substances that degenerate and weaken our bodies, compromise our quality of life, and threaten the environment on which we depend. It’s essentially a lifetime subscription to one system of poisons after another, letting toxicity build until both our money and our life energy are spent: we eat the alluring, enticing ‘foods’ that our bodies can’t handle, we suffer from the effects, we buy the diet products, we continue to suffer, we buy the drugs to ease our illnesses, we continue to suffer. There is no concept of prevention, there is no concept of responsibility. We’re always reaching to buy the next thing to satisfy us, whether that’s to satiate our cravings or dull our pain. We’re full of engineered desires (or at very least, exacerbated, unnatural ones). And so Pilar Gerosimo and the other leaders in natural foods/natural health movement are calling on individuals to wake up and begin doing the work that it takes to be healthy. When everything around us is designed to cultivate complacency, it will be difficult and uncomfortable to go against the grain. But it will make it easier for future generations of people to follow along. (And you all know how I’m all about reducing unnecessary suffering.)
I realize that sounds pretty dismal, but when I look around me, it feels true. I’ve had a deepening sense of dread about how we’re eating and living for a very long time. So many people are ill and unhappy. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I was unhappy for a long time. And I wasn’t even sick, really.
I decided to look into going vegan initially because I wanted a way to stay reasonably thin that didn’t involve starving myself or using drugs. That sounds kind of terrible, doesn’t it? But it was what I was looking for. Of course, everything that I discovered about health and nutrition in the process has changed my life (as I’ve talked about in a number of posts). But the point is, I didn’t think there was a way to participate in our mainstream food culture and remain healthy for long. So I opted out.
I opted out. I decided to no longer participate in the ritual of eating the products of illness and death because I found that doing so leads to illness and death.
Over the past few months I’ve gotten into a number of really excellent conversations about how we eat and how we treat our bodies. Part of the impetus for this is that over the past year, my own relationship with food has transformed from one centered on compulsion, binge eating, guilt, and addiction to one centered on mindfulness and nourishment: a huge accomplishment for me personally, and the product of seriously examining and unpacking my social conditioning regarding food. I was able to experience a radical shift, but I had to get away from the conflicting messages that had been playing in my head for years. I had to consciously opt out of that system too.
When I went home over the winter holidays I got into a conversation with one of my best friends where we discovered that in our mainstream food culture, there are really two options: the first is to do what you’re told, jump when they say jump, except in this case, it’s eat when you are told to eat. Which is all the time. Everything. When you’re happy, eat to celebrate. When you’re sad, eat to console yourself. When you’re with friends, eat to socialize. But the same voices tell us that there’s no fate worse than being fat, which introduces option number two: fight. Just fight it. All the time. Go to the gym. Burn those calories. Watch those portions. Have a Diet Coke instead. Swap this for that. Stay skinny. At any cost. What can we do? It’s feast or famine! Both options will consume you. Both will wear you out.
Is there a third option? Is there the possibility of opting out?
Yes, but it’s a challenge, because now you must educate yourself and make new choices. Now you have to cultivate new habits. And most importantly, now you have to learn to tune out the voices coming in over the asylum’s loudspeaker. Now you have to deal with other people’s fear and criticism of what you are doing. Now you are faced with the task of becoming informed, mindful, conscious, and disciplined whereas previously you were part of a culture that promotes ignorance, impulsiveness, complacency, and indulgence.
Good luck with that! Have fun being a health revolutionary!
Part of what struck me so much about the article is the idea that being healthy is a revolutionary act. Just when I was getting concerned that I didn’t have enough extracurricular interests and that I didn’t really do anything but work, it turns out I’ve been engaged in revolutionary activity all along! Every morning when I slice up fruit and greens for a smoothie or filter my water or stretch or read articles about body alkalinity or food combinations, it turns out, this is my hobby. This is my work. The time spent picking out vegetables at the grocery store, packing trail mix to bring to class, and reading about herbs is all part of the critical work of staying alive and not going insane. Am I really a health freak? Or does desiring to be healthy require what seems like, at some moments, a freakish amount of effort? Is it indulgent and snobbish of me to buy expensive food? Or do I do it because I know how much more expensive it will be for me in the long run if I just give up right now? Does turning down the typical college student diet make me elitist? Deprived? At an advantage?
The point of writing this is simply to say that I have been, over the past few years, in that uncomfortable process of trying to be healthy. This explains the weird green juices and smoothies that look like swamp water, the collections of mysterious powders, the tiny trampoline in the closet, the lamp made out of a large chunk of salt, and why I don’t care for any popcorn, thank you. Is this what everyone should be doing? No, not necessarily. Would I prescribe my lifestyle for everyone else? No. But I would say this: consider your options. These are just a handful of mine that I’ve been exploring. My path to health has at times been weird and uncomfortable, but I don’t think I would turn back now for anything. Everyone’s path may look slightly different, but I hope that more and more people will begin to seek them out and take them.