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bell hooks, comfort food, dealing with racism (internalized,overt, and institutional)

There is a quote that I ran across , while reading the book Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life

by bell hooks and Cornel West:


“We deal with White supremacist assault by buying something to compensate for feelings of wounded pride and self-esteem…We also don’t talk enough about food addiction alone or as a prelude to drug and alcohol addiction. Yet, many of us are growing up daily in homes where food is another way in which we comfort ourselves. Think about the proliferation of junk food in Black communities. You can go to any Black community and see Black folks of all ages gobbling up junk food morning, noon, and night. I would like to suggest that the feeling those kids are getting when they’re stuffing Big Macs, Pepsi, and barbecue potato chips down their throats is similar to the ecstatic, blissful moment of the narcotics addict.” (hooks 1993)

This quote made me think about MANY things. One of them is that rarely do I encounter mainstream literature about “eating problems” that investigate how these problems can be rooted in one’s way of coping with internalized racism, pressures of racialization, and whiteness as a system in the USA. As a matter of fact, most of the vegan mainstream stuff that gets published that is doing well in terms of sales, tend to assume that the expected audience is white middle class folk. Now, I’m not hating on these authors, just pointing out the “gaps” I see simply because of my experience as a black female and because I tend to look at food and health issues through a critical race, critical whiteness, and black feminist analytical lens. I do understand that one’s book can’t cover ALL issues when trying to write a bestselling book about veganism and diet… so, these authors write something that will appeal to the mainstream which, by default in the USA, is the collective white middle class experience. Yea, it’s marketing and trying to reach out to the largest audience. I’m just wondering about books like Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven, which I read last year. I got the feeling that the expected audience are married straight white pregnant females who can “easily” transition into a whole food vegan diet during pregnancy, if they just “cared enough”. In addition, the authors are very direct about their feelings about “eating right” while pregnant and if you don’t, then you’re being an “asshole” to your body and your baby. Seriously, that is how they talk. I am thinking of how many women of color are trying to eat “right” while pregnant, and many may not necessarily find the transition easy if a) they don’t have access to salaries and stores that allow them organic foods (as it’s been shown the black and brown populations in the USA, at least, have the worse access to ‘healthy’ food), and b) they deal with racism and classism so frequently, reaching for junk food is their comforting way for dealing with surviving through a society that is still in denial about the stresses and pain caused by continuing racisms, classisms, and sexisms.

I CLEARLY remember feeling that I had to be “silent” about the racist-sexist experiences I encountered on a weekly basis, K-12, in my 98% white working class rural New England town. And I clearly remember using junk food (mostly animal based) as a way to deal with what I was not ALLOWED to bring up to my white peers and teacher: racism and expectations of Whiteness on my black female body and mind. When I was stressed about this, I reached for Chicken McNuggets; not broccli or whole grains.

Does anyone think about these things when they’re reading mainstream vegan rhetoric that “yells” at people for not “easily” transitioning into an “ethical” animal-free diet ? Has anyone read literature or other types of rhetoric that ignore how trauma from racism and expected Whiteness influence one’s relationship to comfort “junk” food products? (I put “junk” in quotes because I’m assuming “junk” is subjective). For this post, I am not looking to bash or be hateful toward “white” folk who may not “get” what I’m talking about. Nor am I looking to be judgmental against people of color who eat “junk” food. I’m seeking compassionate and understanding dialogue around these issues, simply because I don’t READ about this stuff in the mainstream vegan and AR literature or see it in vegan outreach campaigns… but know it needs to be talked about.

Source: hooks, bell., and West, Cornel. Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life

Boston: South End Press, 1991.

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