This is gonna be one of those blogs wherein I tell you some vulnerable (and perhaps just plain shitty) things about myself. I have a hard time writing about the parts of my politics that I haven't worked out completely or that - after interrogating them - I've decided intentionally not to change because that thing is sacred to me/I feel like I need it. Think: big bathtubs full of bubbling water that isn't going to get efficiently recycled or anything cute or humanitarian like that.
Are you still with me?
This afternoon as I was walking to get a fancy sammich, I passed a smooshed up cup from Jack in the Box left by the wayside next to the sidewalk.
I just *had* to stop to Instagram it.
The dark blue text was impossible to miss against the whiteness of the cup:
"Make a late night foody call," it read.
My reactions were interesting (and telling):
First, the pun loving nerd in me thought: "Punny! Two thumbs up!"
Second, the scholar in me thought: "Fascinating! They're conflating fast food and fast sex yet again. I have to include this in a lecture."
Third, the foodie in me thought: "Grrr. Don't fast food companies get that they're the reason that foodies even exist?"
And it was this third reaction that stopped me in my metaphorical tracks (but not in my real tracks because, girl, I was hungry). I felt this sense of shame and guilt for feeling an actual modicum of aggression against Jack in the Box's marketing department for daring to take the name of the foodie in vain.
Internalized classism much?
I threw some of this shade up on Facebook. This wasn't the first time I'd seen a foodie nod in fast food advertising, and so I asked my friends why fast food companies were incorporating gourmand-ese into their newest branding campaigns. Ok. Ok. I was a smidge more judgmental and less inquisitive than I'm making myself out to be but whatever.. I got some good answers despite my bratty bullshit.
So, this great mind owned by one Kelsey Rebecca pointed out that in a food-phobic culture where fat people are seen as undisciplined, sometimes we (as a culture and as fat people operating within it) endow certain food and consumption habits with magical powers. Actually Kelsey says it best:
"...'the foodie' is most def... used to justify eating in a food-phobic culture. I am not surprised that the fast food industry is adopting descriptive language that associates their products with wealth, success and accessibility. To eat is to consume, to consume is to demonstrate status and assist in the nations wellbeing and be seen as legitimized being. Yet, to over-consume is unproductive and harmful, and to be fat is to embody overconsumption. So how does our capitalist culture attract and maintain consistent consumership in regards to food while still justifying fat discrimination? Enter 'the foody.' If we regard food/taste as a means of status and food and taste as attainable via class rank, and place this discourse within the fast food industry... fast food then becomes something associated with status and worthy of consumption by a greater target audience/market... to be a foodie is to be indulgent. To be fat and foodie is also understood as a punishable offense, but I would be hesitant to disregard how class influences perceived fatness. In other words, I would be interested in seeing how enacting and reenacting class status potentially minimizes fat shame and works as a harm reduction buffer. With that said, class is inherently raced and gendered, so this should also be considered."
I got read.
I identify as a foodie for sure, and these words really pushed me to interrogate what I was getting out of that identity (besides the salted chocolate brownies, of course). I always thought that my love of bougie food sprung from my radical hedonism and refusal to acquiesce to the image of vegetable-loving fat respectability/obedience. But it was clear from the defensiveness that crept up around that damn cup, that I had set up a hierarchy in my head and foodies were in a hallowed place.
But why? And how did this happen? Spoiler alert: colonialism
*Food history recollection sequence*
I grew up in a household where my Mexican grandma cooked nearly every meal: usually chicken, soups, and pasta, and menudo and tamales on holidays. We very rarely ate desserts. We went out as a family on Sundays after church to restaurants. At school I coveted my friend's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and their Fruit by the Foot, which seemed like food diamonds compared to my perpetual tuna fish and apple. To me, the sandwiches and processed, hermetically sealed, fruit flavored, puppy-shaped gelatin snacks that some of my friends had represented everything about being American - and to a certain extent, everything about being white - that I didn't feel. Those were the snacks on TV and in the movies I watched. Not tuna and apples.
When I began dating (way older dudes who, according to fat girl lore and daytime television, didn't care as much that I wasn't petite) I was introduced to "fine dining." Foie gras, 'spensive cuts of meat, over attentive waiters, salmon foam, etc. This was all foreign and awkward to me at the time.
My first boyfriend, who was 40 when I was barely legal, made a million dollars the year we dated, and often derided my inability to tell the difference between something that was fresh and something that had been previously frozen. I wanted to live in a place where I could learn how to be a radical and so I moved to Berkeley, which is also the birthplace of the slow food movement, Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, Michael Pollan. I met people whose parents bought them orphanages for their birthday. My college boyfriend - who I met online and who was shy and about my age - took me to country clubs and fancy weddings on the weekends. I moved to San Francisco when I was about 24. And haven't left. SF is a foodie sanctuary. There is a butter rich pastry on almost every corner. Rendered duck fat is a matter of course. There is often heavy cream in sauces and desserts.
Despite the commitment to the deliciousness that fat brings to its foods, this is a town that doesn't care much for fat people. Otherwise "good" color blind neo-liberals do not hesitate to comment on the space my body takes up. For instance, I hate going to the coffee shop closest to me because I feel like my presence makes the bike-riding baristos think I'm lowering their property value - because I am not only fat but a femme-presenting and brown woman almost certainly wearing something neon and that makes me representative of everything that the culture gets its panties in a bunch over.
But sometimes I go anyway. I refuse to smile, tip, chat. I tell myself that my "impeccable taste" and bitchy attitude gird me - make me invincible - against their hostility. They have the best coffee in the city besides, and I am willing to sacrifice my emotional safety for that perfect smoky cup, apparently.
And if that isn't a metaphor for some deep internalized shit I don't know what is, girl!
Back when this all started, "fine" foods and dining were intimidating. And then they became alluring and almost illicit because they came alongside dating - something I as a fat girl had very clearly been told I would NEVER be able to do. They represented access to a world unlike that of my childhood - a world that was filled with the "food diamonds" (and all the complexity that this metaphor holds) that made me feel like I wasn't on the outside. And then it became a way of accessing and relating, a language that I could master, that didn't scare me. I was trying to understand and learn to navigate a world in which I didn't feel I actually belonged. It became just as much about eating delicious food as trying to prove all the racists and classists and xenophobes and sexists and fatphobes and douchey neo-liberals wrong!
And somewhere along the way this began to hold a feeling of safety for me. It represented things that I hadn't had access to for one reason or another, things that felt bigger and more important and that represented a power I felt I did not have.
As a fat woman of color I sometimes seek to control things about myself that will make me seem less bad or less out on control. And that sometimes means I dip into the same territory that I am committed to fighting against. I have and will probably continue to (at times unknowingly) develop a sense of worth that is based essentially in my attempt to seem less threatening through consuming foods that have been endowed with special moral meaning as a way to arm and protect myself against a fat hating culture, as a way to seem and feel like I am not completely alien to this culture.
For some fatties this same impulse may manifest in the comforting pride of carrot consumption. And for those of us who eschew plates of carrots, it may manifest in the comfort of glutting on fancy pink macaroons or caramel lattes with bacon drizzle.
For me my "special" or "fancy" food means a lot of things. Sometimes it's the momentary respite, the unabated pleasure of a delicious, perfectly made thing that makes me feel completely in my body and free and special and safe. Sometimes it is the myth that I am better than the people who hate me. Sometimes it is the pure bravado of eating a treat that people who look like me were never meant to enjoy.
Today I thought about all these things and that makes me feel a lot of feels. I feel a little bit like an asshole for getting duped by colonialism YET AGAIN. I don't know how to make all the parts of me and my life feel entirely like they're actually mine. I will not be giving up oysters any time soon. But getting lovingly read on Facebook was a really helpful way for me to begin to process why an identity based in exclusivity and access to wealth is not actually a safe one for me.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.