Coping with Abundance: Thoughts on Eating at BMC

by dean spade

Over the past four days of sharing incredible food with my new friends at BMC, I've been troubled to hear an almost constant commentary from everyone regarding concerns about the abundance of food. There seems to be a very vocal shared concern about weight gain and perhaps some other aspects of health, and a general fear of inability to control or restrict enjoyment of the bounty of the BMC kitchen. In each of the half-dozen conversations I've had that included these concerns, I've felt unable to intervene-never sure how to best interact with people's invidualized experiences of broader coercive frameworks about food, body image, gender and consumption. So, being that I'm here to write, I thought I'd offer you all some food for thought on paper. I cannot guarantee that it won't be fattening.

From my experiences here so far, I get the sense that we share several core values, many of which inspire the work we're each here to undertake. I've gathered a shared sense of opposition to systemic oppression, a deep concern with the the violent consequences of ruthless capitalist economic arrangements, and an interest in building thougthful community in which we deepen global understandings of human suffering and joy. Folded into this, I've also seen reflections of a deeper theme of rejection of the requirements of a capitalist economic system that each of us be constant consumers, driven to achieve an impossible perfection, motivated by false notions of scarcity and insecurity. Many of us also seem well-versed in feminist politics, and the vital analytic move developed there which allows us to see the manifestations of oppression both in the day-to-day of our personal lives as well as in global maldistribution of wealth and power. Further, I have picked up from each of you in our interactions your desire to maintain and share a space that is as safe and comfortable as possible for all of us (which I have been particularly attuned to and appreciative of, perhaps, being the only openly trans person here).

Given these shared values, I think we should reconsider the harshness with which we all often approach our own bodies, and also the impact that can have on others around us. As I think we are all aware, the production of a uniform and false notion of what constitutes a "healthy" or "normal" masculine or feminine body is a means of coercion in our culture, designed to maintain a sense of personal insecurity and inadequacy that drives us to buy more products, internalize hierarchical values, and undervalue each other. Further, these notions are a core part of the naturalization and maintainance of a socialized binary gender system that has severe violent consequences and has always been and continues to be valiantly resisted by people of all genders.

One of the most concrete methods by which these coercive systems are reproduced is by our continual repetition of their messages, and enforcement of them upon ourselves and each other. Daily practices in lunchrooms of every business and school across the nation of reciting judgments about our own consumption of food or the consumption of food of others are essential to upholding these core understandings of our bodies as flawed, our needs excessive, our gender expressions forever inadequate. Of course, there are urgent political critiques of our food consumption and production that we should be and are engaging here: about the use of pesticides and GMOs in growing food, about the value of eating locally, about the impact of US eating habits on environmental and work conditions worldwide. That is not the dialogue I'm hoping to request your deeper critical analysis of. I'm thinking, what would it be like for us all to be truly grateful for the abundance of nutritious, organic, and even fresh-from-the-garden food here at BMC, and eat it with love for ourselves and one another, without bringing into the room recitations of standard methods of policing our own and each other's bodies. I think that would be an interesting month-long practice for each of us, and would also provide for the greater safety of the space of our shared table. Many people here, I'm sure, especially those socialized as women, are likely to have spent their lives being targetted by messages that they should eat less, take up less space, and be ashamed of their bodies. It is a lifelong process to unlearn these lessons, and one best supported by not hearing the recitation of those messages nearby continually. All of us here, though, I would guess would feel a difference if sheltered from those messages about the need to curb eating for a month.

I hope that you all receive this message as one of love for you as well as for our collective health and this incredible opportunity we have to share space and be supported in finding solitude. From everything that I can see, you are each utterly perfect as you are, different from one another, different from who you once were and who you will soon be.

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