I’m Rethinking My Relationship With Food, Both Personally and Politically
Content warning: mentions of disordered eating, body dysmorphia.
The other day, my boyfriend and I were snuggling up on the couch, watching some cooking show. I don’t remember exactly what show it was, but nonetheless I sat there engrossed: a chef was walking through how to prepare an artichoke. He gingerly cut and trimmed the spiky outer leaves and removed the heart, or what he called the choke (never mind how silly it is to say “artichoke choke” out loud).
I immediately recalled how intimidated I was in high school when I bought one from Walmart after my best friend’s parents introduced me to artichoke dip. It sat there lonely in my fridge for a few weeks, simply because I was too scared to find out how to cook it. The artichoke was foreign to me, with its complex layers and flavors. By the time I gathered the courage to tackle the artichoke, it had gone bad. I haven’t bought an artichoke since.
It’s a miracle how much I’ve grown food-wise in the past year. I now eat and cook rainbow chard, squash, leeks, arugula, grapefruit, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. I never would have gone near any of these before leaving home—they were either too expensive or they weren’t perceived as vital parts of Puerto Rican or Mexican cuisine by my parents. For years, I assumed most vegetables and fruits were not meant for me. At the same time, though, I was restricting my diet in the deluded hopes of shrinking myself away.
“Healthy” food meant bland, pricey vegetables that I had no connection with and skinniness equated to cultural disintegration and depravation. I forced myself to try new vegetables, like artichokes, without considering how to prepare them in ways that felt true to me. But most of the time, I just skipped lunch or over-exercised because that was cheaper than buying veggies I hated. To no one’s surprise, I was absolutely miserable.
Thankfully, I no longer felt pressured to make myself skinnier when I moved away from Texas. Realizing that the fatphobia I witnessed and experienced was tied to racism changed how I viewed my body. In a similar vein, learning about food justice and food sovereignty liberated me from calling foods “good” or “bad.” Food is food — the vegetables I scorned were the results of hundreds, if not thousands, of years of stewardship and care. Who am I to say they are not worthy?
It’s no coincidence that my relationship with food improved when I moved to New York, where I can easily get any ingredient under the sun. As Alicia Kennedy wrote in her newsletter this week: “We are lucky to go to a farmers’ market every Saturday, to have the resources to bounce around to every grocery store to make sure we have a pantry stocked to our liking. This isn’t to paint some sort of dire picture; it’s to state fact. Colonialism has made fresh, local food inaccessible to most of the population. This is food apartheid. Capitalism and racism have that same effect in areas of the U.S. itself.”
The majority of us do not have the pleasure of agonizing what to buy and what to eat. We eat what there is. Yet, we are part of a larger system that relies on the nasty extraction of labor. Our food system is intricately tied to the colonialist practice of monoculture, which is hurting the environment and contributing the erasure of our native foods. One thing I want to work on this year is eat more native and/or local foods, while I still have the economic privilege and relative access to diverse sources of food.
What do I mean by this? I mean eating more beans, squash, tomatoes, corn, cacti, and chiles, aka the foods that my ancestors would have eaten, and hopefully buy them from local farms that have good soil practices and pay their workers well. I want to reclaim a food system that is more equitable and true to me culturally. There are so many fruits and vegetable I’ve probably never encountered before simply because they were too unusual to the colonial palette — they are as foreign to me as the artichoke was, when they shouldn’t be.
Of course, there’s no way to be a perfect consumer — that is an inherent contradiction within capitalism — but I do want to support the farmers and organizers who have put the time and energy to helping our communities get better access to foods that are culturally appropriate, healthy, and good for the environment. I’ve been gravitating this way for a while, and now I think it’s time.