Monthly Archives: January 2012

There’s no such thing as “healthy food”

There’s no such thing as “healthy food”.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

And repeat:

There’s no such thing as “healthy food”.

It’s true.

There is Health Food, as a cultural construct1, but, as a cultural construct, it is ever changing; currently we are undergoing a cultural shift from low-fat to low-carbohydrate food earning the appellation. But, aside from the fact that we simply cannot agree on what qualifies, there is so such thing as “healthy food”.

One of the most frustrating things about being a fat woman is: everyone is convinced they have The Perfect Diet, and if I would just follow it, the fat would just walk away2. Everyone. Everyone. The veg*ns. The Paleos. The Atkin adherents. The raw food peeps. Eat no fat; eat tons of fat. Eat no grains; eat soaked grains. Eat a fastfood turkey sandwich every day; eat nothing from a store. Everyone is convinced they have The Truth on what is Healthy Food, and what the other guy (or the fat chick) is eating ain’t it.

Or, maybe, for the super open minded and tolerant, they’ll say we’re not quite sure just what healthy food is (except you won’t find it at McDonald’s). But by all the saints and Starbucks, don’t question the idea that there is such a thing as Healthy Food, because surely, if we just apply Science/Prayer/Common Sense/Historical Analysis/Noble Savage Wisdom, we’ll figure it out. And no one will ever die.

What? That’s the logical conclusion to the idea of Healthy Food. If we eat right, we won’t get sick. If we eat right, we won’t get fat. If we eat right, we won’t become diabetic. If we eat right, our kids won’t get autism. (If we eat right, we won’t be infertile, and we’ll be able to have children, who will obviously be free of all illness and defect.) If we eat right, we won’t be crazy. If we eat right, we won’t die from heart attack or stroke or cancer or liver failure or kidney disease or AIDS — and, if we eat right when we’re pregnant, neither will our children.

These are all things believers in the myth of healthy food have said. Half of them to me.

Ok, but let’s say that’s a hyperbolic misrepresentation of the position of Healthy Food’s believers3. Let’s say that when you say “she got diabetes because she ate like crap” you don’t actually mean “she wouldn’t have gotten diabetes if she’d eaten right” which itself could only be true if “no one who eats right gets diabetes”, which is utter bollocks. Let’s say that, instead, you have amazing powers of sight into alternate dimensions and a perfect ability to predict outcomes of statistical likelihoods4 — because that what it comes down to, risk, with some eating patterns carrying, on a population scale, different risk profiles than other eating patterns. You’re just saying healthy food improves your odds, not actually calling healthy food a panacea. But there’s still healthy food and unhealthy food, right?

No.

If we are not claiming there is a food, or a way of eating, that brings perfect health (which is assuming we can even meaningfully define “perfect health” in the first place), then the best we can do with food is risk management. “Healthy” can only exist as a comparative, not absolute, value.

So, compared to what? Which is healthier, raw cultured butter from pastured cows, or cold-pressed organic olive oil? That depends on whether you’re vegan, or lactose intolerant, or live in a dessert without a means of keeping food chilled5, I’d say. Which is healthier, a plate of brown rice spaghetti in fat-free sauce made from tomatoes from your own garden, or a protein shake with artificial sugar substitutes — to a diabetic? Which is healthier, the home cooked meal a growth-delayed, sensory-averse child absolutely won’t touch, or the McDonald’s chicken nuggets they’ll scarf?

Food — all food — brings things that are “good” for us, and things that are “bad”; or, more accurately, things that we need in that moment and things that we can store for later and things we don’t need (right then or at all) and things that we have too much of and things that actively harm us. All foods have all of these — only the specifics and amounts of each change. And the specifics are variable depending on our needs, which not only are different from person to person but each person’s needs change all the damn time.

Given that no food can fill all needs simultaneously6, and eating is a practice in good enough balance over time, how can we call a food “healthy” as an absolute?7 Food is meant to meet our needs8, and can only be evaluated on its ability to do so. Even a Twinkie is “healthy” for a person starved for caloric energy.

So there it is. There absolutely are foods that have a better need-filling to harm ratio in any given situation9. There absolutely are reasons to aim for eating foods that better meet more of your nutritional needs more of the time (though you have no moral obligation to do so). There so absolutely are reasons to call for large corporations to take out unnecessary harmful components from the food they sell and for, at the least, factual labeling about those additives. I disagree with not a piece of that, nor with helping people, should they wish, learn how to feed themselves in a way that meets more of their needs more of the time with less harm. Please, if that’s your calling, keep at it.

But the fact remains: there is no such thing as “healthy food”.

  1. Whence we have the terms “crunchy” and “granola” to describe people — as many would describe me.
  2. SOMEONE BUY ME THIS.
  3. It isn’t.
  4. Remind me not to play craps with you.
  5. Helloooo rancid oils.
  6. For example: the presence of calcium inhibits the absorption of iron (and, pertinent to both me and the Boychick, oral thyroid hormone supplementation), and therefore we need to eat some foods high in calcium and deficient in iron, and others high in iron but lacking calcium.
  7. Even postulating the theoretical existence of a food that perfectly filled all of our nutritional needs simultaneously in a perfectly balanced way: would it be healthy to be bored out of our ever-loving gourds by eating the same exact thing all the time?
  8. Not just nutritional needs, but emotional, ritual, social, and so on — none of these is more or less important than others.
  9. A large apple may do as well for our theoretical Twinkie-eater — though only if they have the teeth to eat it.

Cooking and Competence (and Massively Mangled Metaphors)

Recipe for competence

Stuffed squash and
Sausage stew and
Spiced muffins and
Sweet potato popovers and
Creamy corn chowder and
Risotto from scratch and
Stock from scraps
  because I am able
  and they are there

Chop, stir, spoon, cook,
dash of this because it smells right,
measure of that to rise it well

Each meal might last as long as leftovers, built into the menu
  or
  a frozen portion put up for who knows when
(more likely gone tonight)

and

this is how
I feed
my family
  self
    soul

***

I’ve been cooking more, lately. We’re back to weekly meal plans (and their requisite weekly shopping trips), a chore that creates more work, yet (done well) makes our lives easier. There is mindfulness to be found in the movement of food from pot to plate, to be sure, but sometimes it’s more a struggle to eke out the time, trade off the babe, fend off the child (or, harder, invite him in to help). Yet when it is done: I have done it. We, more likely, but for all the effort is communal, my pride is personal. I was taught some skills in each discrete kitchen task, but never shown, in instruction or by model, the how of putting it all together in putting a meal on the table. This is learned. This is mine.

There are so few areas of my life I feel unreservedly, realistically competent. Not confident — a wager on oneself, a boast of one’s abilities — but competent: to know a job has been done well, and I have done it, not by fluke or luck or Herculean effort, but by showing up and simply doing. A repeatable act.

I have skills as a parent. Contrary to the trolls taken to haunting my comment box, I am not a bad parent. I have skills, and creativity, and a vast, emphatic love for my children. I have a metaphorical toolbox full of skills and tricks and guiding ideas — but its latch sticks. Its hinge is squeaky sometimes, and I’m not sure there’s enough oil in the world to make it open smoothly when I most need it. I do not feel competent as a parent, not past infancy. I cannot stir lovingly and spice well and bake children with brilliantly balanced flavors, nor whip up a smooth and full and just-right-sweet relationship with them. I know how to hold and I know how to hold firm, and I even have an idea of when each is needed, but the synthesis (the putting into practice when three burners are full and the oven needs emptying), the ownership and overarching knowledge of this parenting gig, is lacking. My snuggle soufflés, like my similes, fall flat.

But in the kitchen: this I can do. There’s no cookbook I follow (though I always have Joy at hand, a metaphor too obvious to pursue), no single philosophy beyond “food as much like food as seems appropriate” (because sometimes there’s only time for canned beans, or a craving only boxed mac’n'cheese will fill). I use what I have, clean out the fridge when things get funky, mix beloved dishes with new recipes with spontaneous inspirations, and feed us, and feed us, and feed us — knowing none of it will last, knowing failures and fiascoes are blessedly fleeting, knowing with each meal I am building something worthy, knowing tomorrow’s drivethru cannot uneat today’s homemade fare.

This is competence, and I did not know its lack until I first tasted its elixir. I find myself craving more.

Terrible grace

My mind is relentless. It churns out hatred, bitterness, recriminations, shame and guilt and hate, hate, hate. All for me, all at me, all about me and the many, many ways I fail.

I’m a horrible mother. I’m a horrible person. I’ve let so many people down. I should step away and hide away and go away. I’m bad. I’m bad. I’m bad.

What would happen if I said no? No to the thoughts, no to the recriminations, no to the hateful, hateful hate.

No: you yelled at your child, and I love you anyway.

No: you have a messy house, and I love you anyway.

No: you start projects you haven’t had time to finish, and I love you anyway.

No: you keep thinking these thoughts, and I love you anyway.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

How painful. To be seen, to be known, to be loved despite it all, because of it all. The fire sweeping through the diseased prairie, terrifying to behold.

Let it burn through me.

No.
and
I love you.

Yes.

NPFP: A Big F*cking Mistake

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous writers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone, whether blogger or reader only, is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

Trigger Warning: There is a trigger warning on this post for rape and withdrawn consent.

The author sent it with this note: “I’m tempted to title it “A big fucking mistake,” simply because that’s literally what happened and I find that title humorous, except it doesn’t fit the tone of the post. Name it what you want.” I happen to have a similar black humor, a dearth of title ideas, and want to name it what the author wants, so:

A Big Fucking Mistake

I don’t even know how to start. So I’ll start with the hard part.

My husband raped me. But he’s not a rapist. Well, he is since that’s the definition of the word, but that’s not how I see him. To me, he’s very loving, soft-spoken, kind, respectful. Everything wonderful. Except one time, I wanted to stop, and he didn’t.

It was early in our relationship. We weren’t the adventurous kind, so needing a safe word never crossed our minds. Sometimes you get into positions that aren’t comfortable for both people and while I originally thought I couldn’t handle it, at some point, I wanted to change positions and so I told him to stop. But he didn’t. Because he was so close. But that shouldn’t even matter. Because I said stop and he didn’t and so he raped me.

Afterwards, he knew he shouldn’t have kept going. I felt betrayed, violated. I did not want to cuddle with him or talk to him. He apologized. He knew he crossed a line he shouldn’t. And he’s never done it again. And in the years since, we’ve become more open about communication and discussing sex. We’ve come up with a safe word because neither of us want that to happen again. I know it haunts him. He takes full responsibility, but he doesn’t know how to make up for it. I don’t know how to “fix” it either. He really is a good person who is gentle in every way. Except for that one time.

It makes my life as a feminist complicated. Because “no” means “no”. And we want to paint all rapists as bad and deserving to be on the sex offenders list. We want justice, we want it to never happen again. But then, there’s my husband. And he’s a rapist. But I’m not going to call the cops on him because it’s been years, we’ve remedied the issues that led to it, and he never ever wants that to happen again. I think our relationship has grown and moved on and we are in a better and safer place. And I don’t worry for the safety of me or other women and children he is with. He has no temper or violent tendencies. The one time I’ve seen him upset beyond what he could handle, he left the room until he calmed down. And that was once in 7 years of being with him. He doesn’t deserve the title “rapist,” except he does. Or did. That one time.

What do you do with something like this? “He raped me once, but he’ll never do it again,” can sound so enabling, so apologetic. Except that it’s true. And sometimes people make mistakes, even big mistakes.

——————————

Please support the Naked Pictures of Faceless People project by commenting on the posts. Comments which attack or attempt to guess the identity or any aspect of the identity of the writer will be deleted, however. Protect and respect this space as though it were your own work on display here, naked and faceless.

Anonymous comments are welcome on NPFP posts. Simply put “Anonymous” or any pseudonym in Name, and either your own or a fake email addresses (ex me@me.com) as the email. NOTE: If you have a Gravatar associated with your email address, it will show up even with an anonymous name, in which case please use a different or a fake email address.

Word of the Year: Tone, Or, On the Ease of Moving Between States

tone noun \ˈtōn\
9 a : the state of a living body or of any of its organs or parts in which the functions are healthy and performed with due vigor

b : normal tension or responsiveness to stimuli; specifically : muscular tonus
10 a : healthy elasticity : resiliency
b : general character, quality, or trend
c : frame of mind : mood

- Miriam Webster Dictionary

Around this time in the Gregorian calendar, many people pick a word — a single word — they wish to invoke, experience, or focus on for the coming year. I’m normally not a meme sort of person, but today, for this year, a word came to me. It’s a word that came up for me again and again in 2011.

I have a strong body, capable of birthing 8 and 10lb babies, of carrying my children in my arms and on my back, of giving massage as deep or as light as needed, of lifting and bending and dancing and loving. And I have a strong mind, capable of surviving infancy and toddlerhood and (as my friends call it) The Fucking Fours, of crafting words into shapes beautiful, touching, and persuasive in turn, of thinking deeply and broadly, of feeling deeper and acutely, of dreaming and laughing and dancing and loving.

But what I lack — no, what I have capacity and the desire to develop further — is the ability to move between these states. My mind is capable of so much focus, on a single feeling or an idea, and of so much breadth, so many feelings and ideas, but is not yet skilled at taking each in turn in a way that leaves me with tangible accomplishments (posts, submissions, lists, emails and obligations responded to promptly). My body is capable of so much strength, in a single feat and a long day’s endurance, and of so much relaxing, the deep, heavy stillness of sleep and meditation and doneness, but is not yet skilled at living in the vibrant space of readiness for each moment’s task, at organized and sensible transitions from relaxation to effort and back again.

Tone is the middle path, the ability to dance from one path to another as called for, the function of all muscles (in body and mind) working in harmony so no one bears excessive strain, the state of neither clinging too tightly nor allowing unbalancing slack. Tone is the goal and the way one gets there. Tone is harmonious, joyful, pleasant to experience — and with its efficiency can move mountains, change minds, and fix so many ills.

I long for so many things — excellence in parenting, in writing, in activism and intellect and academics, in body and music and my many professions, in housekeeping and homesteading, community and family — and I want them all right now, no waiting or work required. 2012 will not be the year all my dreams become real, not with an infant and a (soon to be) five year old, for this is the year of surviving, of thriving in small ways, of gummy grins and growing teeth and scooting-crawling-walking, of milk and foods and beginning of sibling boundaries, of fully living in each moment and then letting it go to allow for living in and loving the next. 2012 will not bring me “balance”, that elusive perfect mix (as if life were a recipe: 1/3 work and 1/3 family and 1/3 fun, stir and bake and eat a slice a day); but, I hope, I will dance and rest and live this year in vibrancy, moving ever more easily between this moment, and this, and this.

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