Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Book review: Hunger by @rgay

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I don’t really feel like a review of a person’s memoir is appropriate. Who am I to be critical of anyone’s experience or how they choose to write about it? So this is not really a review, but more of a recommendation.

I’ve had this book on my reading list for about a year now. Ever since I heard about it on This American Life, I believe. Yet somehow I missed its release. Not by much, I don’t think. As soon as I saw that it was out I hustled over to the local bookstore to pick up a copy.

Hunger is Roxane Gay’s memoir about growing up, suffering trauma, and the huge role that food has played in her life subsequent to that experience. Hunger is more than a memoir though. It’s an eye opening entry into someone else’s world. A world that most people like to pretend doesn’t exist. The world of someone who is “morbidly obese”. For people of all sizes, this book provides important insight into the world and how we could all make it a little bit better for everyone living in it.

As I read, I marked the pages of passages that I wanted to refer to in this post so let’s take a little look at some of the parts that stood out the most for me.

On page 6, Gay writes about the arbitrary cut-off point for obesity and how the term “morbidly obese” essentially frames fat people as “the walking dead”. This goes to show the deep level of stigma around fat in our society and how that attitude is ingrained in medical professionals.

On page 66, Gay writes about losing weight and how as she became thinner she became more visible to those around her. It’s ironic that the larger our bodies are, the less visible we become to other people as fellow humans. Less worthy of attention, respect, and love. It’s sad that this is the way we have chosen to treat each other and I think that we should all take a hard look at our own biases and try harder to treat everyone equally, regardless of size. Pages 120-121 offer some insight into how “well meaning” friends, family members, and even strangers, provide “advice” in completely unhelpful ways.

On page 139, Gay talks about Oprah’s struggles with her weight and I love this passage so much:

In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside. Each time I see this particular commercial, I think, I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying. And then I think about how fucked up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates. 

Then, there are other parts that were eye-opening to me. On page 157 Gay writes about strangers taking food out of her grocery cart and offering her unsolicited nutrition advice. I cannot even imagine how it would feel to have someone pass judgement on me and remove items from my shopping cart. It blew my mind that people do this.

I also never thought about the lack of clothing options for people who are overweight and how fraught shopping can be as Gay shares on page 180. Or the pain that many chairs can cause (p. 202). Or the difficulty that flying can pose (p. 209).

There were many more passages that I marked because I thought she put so many things so well but rather than retype her book here, you should probably go buy it yourself and mark all of your own favourite passages.

Hunger should be required reading for all dietitians, medical professionals, humans.

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Something doesn’t add-up with “Doing the Math” or: Food insecurity from a place of privilege

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Photo Credit: Food Banks Canada

I used to be a fan of things like Do the Math. These challenges where public figures (especially those in government) had to live on budgets akin to those on social assistance, or on food bank donations, seemed like a great eye opener. It was good for the mayor to understand that people are hungry. For those living in poverty, adequate calories are often unattainable, let alone healthy meals. While I’m not entirely opposed to such challenges, I’m no longer enthusiastically on board.

 

These challenges have been happening for years. And what benefit have they had? The politicians and do-gooders have experienced first-hand, for a week, that living in poverty sucks. They say, “wow, social assistance, disability, part-time minimum wage… is not enough money to put adequate nutritious food in our bellies.” And then??? Nothing. Nothing has changed as a result of these challenges. People are still going to the food banks and still going hungry. If these challenges resulted in actual change to our social supports then I’d be all for them. But they don’t, they’re not, and they won’t. And frankly, it’s kind of starting to piss me off that people can be so privileged that they can choose to follow a low/no budget diet for a week. In addition, I’ve always wondered if the food hampers they’re given take food away from those truly in need.

 

Let’s not even take into consideration the living standards that those in poverty often endure, couch surfing, unsafe and unpleasant apartments, sleeping in cars, homeless shelters, park benches. These poor politicians suffer through meetings, fighting to stay awake because they only ate a can of beans all day. Try working several physically demanding jobs and not having a car to get to them. I could go on and on. And yes, I come from a place of privilege, so maybe it’s not my place to have this rant. I know what it’s like to worry if the rent cheque’s going to clear, but I’m fortunate enough to have family to spot me money to make the bills and to be able to eat well.

 

If we’re going to continue doing these low-budget style challenges then the participants should at least donate any money saved on food to a local food bank, shelter, or another poverty-related organization, such as End Poverty Now.


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Chocolate for charity

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I was disappointed to see the above tweet from Food Banks Canada. Following the link I found a contest on Oh Henry’s Facebook page (which tried to access all of my contacts and my timeline… no thank you!). The contest is to win “an NHL experience, plus weekly prizes”. For every entry received, Oh Henry will donate 50 cents to the food bank.

I’m sure many of you are thinking “that’s great! More money for food banks is fantastic!” There’s a part of me that thinks that as well. But there’s another part of me that is turned-off by the use of a charitable donation to garner positive publicity. It also doesn’t sit well with me that it’s a chocolate bar manufacturer donating to the food bank. Yes, they’re donating money, not chocolate bars, but it’s a bit of a slippery slope. It’s akin to the candy stores donating money to the childrens’ hospitals or the pop company donating money to fund diabetes research; a step away from the dietetic organization accepting funding from the food industry.

Do you really think that Oh Henry’s goal is to eradicate hunger? Call me a cynic, but I’m thinking that however much they end up donating to the food bank is going to be considerably less than any marketing campaign would cost them, plus it provides them with the opportunity to seem like a charitable organization. Let’s not forget that they are candy bar manufacturers. They are not Doctors Without Borders. They are not providing us with a nutritious (albeit an arguably tasty source of calories) food. They are putting their brand at the forefront of peoples’ minds. They are associating themselves with alleviating food insecurity. They are allowing people to feel like they are doing a good deed by entering a hockey contest.

I propose that instead of (or at least in addition to) entering Oh Henry’s contest that everyone donate at least 50 cents directly to the food bank or, next time you’re grocery shopping, pick-up an additional non-perishable item and donate it to the food bank.


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Follow Friday: @FoodShareFilter

Now you can feel a little less guilty about filling up your followers Instagram feeds with photos of your food. There’s an app for that! The FoodShareFilter edits your photos onto a template that provides information about world hunger and a portion of the proceeds from all sales of the app go to Manos Unidas a charity which supports agricultural programs in El Salvador.


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Follow Friday: @freerice

Do you like word games? Do you like learning stuff? Do you want to help the World Food Program feed hungry people? Then Free Rice is the site for you. For every correct answer, ten grains of rice are donated to help feed people living in impoverished nations.

Even if word games aren’t your thing, you can play humanities, math, sciences, chemistry, geography. Free Rice even has an SAT prep game for those in the US. Games start out relatively easy and become progressively more difficult the more correct answers you get.

You can play Free Rice by yourself or start (or join) a team. If you want to join my team (which is essentially just me and to be honest, I haven’t been playing much lately so “we” could use the help) is: Ontario Food Security.