November 2, 2015
To introduce Issue 5, members of the GUTS editorial team sat down to a digital roundtable to talk about the FOOD/LAND issue. Rather than creating a cohesive editorial note, we thought it would be more productive to voice our personal thoughts about food and land, making space for the inconsistencies, differences, and similarities that have shaped our experiences. We encourage readers to contribute to this conversation in the comments section below.
Our FOOD/LAND Issue will be released throughout the month of November.
Who taught you how to cook? Who makes the food you eat?
Natalie Childs: Growing up, my dad was the one who did all the cooking, and my sister and I learned to cook with and from him. With my friends, I often end up taking responsibility for organizing and planning meals. For a long time this just made sense to me: it doesn’t stress me out to plan a cheap last minute dinner for ten people, I know how to direct people in the kitchen, and if I do it, I’ll usually be happy with what we’re eating. But after a while I started realizing that even when I wasn’t in the mood to be cooking, and had already cooked a lot that week or month, I and a few other women tended to end up in the kitchen anyways. It started to make me mad that not only were we doing most of the work, but that it wasn’t read as work—just as what we did.
Rebecca Blakey: My mum worked in the home for the duration of my childhood, and even when she worked outside the home in my later teen years she continued to have sole responsibility for procuring and preparing food in our house. As I’ve aged, I’ve enjoyed knowing how to perform this kind of care work well, but am fierce in insisting that it’s learned, not inherent. My current cis dude partner and I co-habitate; he does all the meal planning and cooking and I do grocery shopping and all meal cleanup activities. We ask each other for help or trade-off tasks very competently: during an editorial meeting for this issue, for example, I was on the phone while elbow-deep in a chicken carcass destined for soup because he was working late. This really, really works for me and it’s one of the first arrangements with a partner I’ve had where I feel no resentment about the amount of food-related labour I perform. Sometimes when I talk about this process we have, people (mostly women) are like, “Oh my god, your poor partner! That’s so much work, there’s no way that he can handle that! Don’t you feel so selfish?” And I’m like, NO, BUT YOU’RE UPHOLDING MALE FRAGILITY RIGHT NOW, SO I’M PRETTY MUCH OUT XOXO
Nadine Adelaar: In my house, where I live with Cynthia and another close friend, we share the responsibilities of cooking meals. Our schedules often align in the evenings, which allows us to eat most dinners together. It’s very domestic. I think we’re all decent cooks—we don’t hesitate to try new recipes—but there are a few staple meals that we regularly make, and they’ve become somewhat of a family joke. There’s a collective groan when I say, ever fondly, “I’m making peanut stir-fry tonight. Extra soupy.” I love these moments: laughing with friends at meal times, or just quietly chatting in that familiar sort of way as you prepare a dish. I wager that most of the important conversations in my life have happened in kitchens. Why do you think everyone congregates in the kitchen at house parties? It’s a very intimate place.
Ella Bedard: Wait! Did anyone mention here that we basically fell in love with each other while cooking? That basically, the female coven that we established in college was developed in dirty student kitchens over pots of squash soup and scones in the oven? Although much of that labour did go unappreciated and was the source of much tension, it was also, like, the bedrock of our friendship. And continues to be! We attempt to throw dinner parties but end up abandoning our guests because we are drawn to participate in the cackling in the kitchen. Then one thing leads to another and we forget that we had invited anyone over in the first place. They leave and we eat all the food.
Why is talking about food a feminist issue?
RB: I don’t know guys, I believe that tweeting about my discharge and zits and poops is a feminist issue so like surely talking about food is, too. Food comes from stolen land; the food industry makes its profits on the backs of people who are both bodily and economically dispossessed by their labour and by the forces that make them seek out that labour in the first place; the processing of food is shitty for the earth; food as a final product is not accessible—access to food and food literacy are classed and in many cases racialized privileges; our relationship to food is policed at every turn in gendered and fat-antagonistic ways; the people who profit from my discontent and my exhaustion are white men…? Did I get everything?
Katie Lew: When we resist the naturalization of food as a neutral part of culture, i.e. “we all eat” (we don’t all eat uniformly, of course), and see it as a commodity, produced, harvested, chemically treated, transported, prepared, served at a table, served behind a window, afforded or not afforded, we see a map of who makes food (and where), and who eats it (and where). What are the qualities, both structural and nutritive, of food? To whom is it giving a sense of the communal? To whom is it giving cancer? To whom is it giving recovery? To whom is its production deadly? To whom is its production pure profit? To whom is the factory a home? To whom is the stretch of farmland a theft of home? Answering these questions even cursorily reveals the importance of a critique of food to feminist discourse.
Cynthia Spring: Yes, I think that just about covers it! I would also add, on a personal level, that I think some of my earlier realizations that shit is fucked up came via conversations with other women about food, their relationships to it, their ability to access it, and their responsibility to provide it to others.
NC: Feminist thinking, for me, has often been about trying to reveal the immense amount of labour that goes into upholding and maintaining an oppressive status quo, whether that’s patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, or an ecologically unjust food system. It seems natural, then, to use feminist ways of thinking to investigate food and land: to me, it has so much to do with work, and what work gets seen and valued.
NA: Do you remember reading women’s mags and finding it confusing how chocolate seemed to be the singular vice of adult women? A woman’s very being seemed to be tied up with the consumption of this sticky stuff, the very desire to want food. This isn’t because we make the food ourselves (though we often do), but because our brains and bodies are hardwired to want it more. SEX AND CHOCOLATE—we just can’t get enough. The lesson these magazines (unintentionally) offer is that pleasure comes with pain. Food cravings are glorious, intoxicating, but also must be tamed, regulated with exercise, diet, and beauty regimes.
I remember reading somewhere that if women spent less time focusing on self-denial and dieting culture, we’d have more resources and energy to put towards the struggle, to imagine futures without patriarchy. A great idea, I think. But what it fails to account for are the ways food serves as the backbone of political organization. As you guys have already said so well, so much of women’s work has been involved in supporting and sustaining communities, and so dismissing the physical labour of making food, and the emotional labour involved in thinking and “obsessing” about food actually ends up minimizing the relevance of this work to a feminist politics.
What choices do you make about the food you eat and how is that political (or not)?
RB: I am a fallen vegetarian—I have tried a few times and always get so hungry that it makes me a worse person in other arenas of my political life. I don’t have a moral opposition to eating meat generally, but I do have a problem with the ways that so much meat is produced: animals mistreated throughout their lives, workers in dangerous situations and poorly compensated, environmentally detrimental waste produced. I’ve mostly dealt with this by trying to minimize the amount of meat that I eat and working to source it with more rigorous ethics: local meat, game meat, smaller scale farmed meat, etc. Throughout all this, though, I have also worked really hard not to fixate too much on what and how much I’m eating, because I’m absolutely prone to borderline disordered eating when I regiment myself too much. The rules I make for myself proliferate, triggering the parts of me that are prone to anorexic ideations. All of these thought processes are deeply political to me.
CS: I don’t eat animals. I feel this decision is political because I think eating animals, in most circumstances, leads to exploitative labour practices, to climate change, and, of course, to the mistreatment of animals. I think if we ate less meat and farmed the land in more sustainable ways we could change the grim trajectory of our world significantly. But I rarely voice my real opinions about eating meat to the people I dine with. I don’t want to make people feel bad about what they have chosen to eat, in particular those who are working on their already strained relationships with food.
Ethical consumption can feel apolitical: it gives us a peace of mind about our personal consumption, but does nothing to change the systems in place that allow for suffering and exploitation to occur and persist. But I also know that, when it comes to eating meat, our contemporary agricultural and fishing practices are the result of our demand for eating animals. Yes, it’s my personal (and privileged) choice not to eat meat, and it’s probably not making a huge difference—that would require a change in oversight and policy dictating the conditions of production, distribution, and consumption. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it would be really great if people ate fewer animals. Not eating meat is an integral component of my feminist and environmental politics. I’m tired of apologizing for it.
NC: Yes, Cyn! We have talked about this before, but the idea of the “vegetarian killjoy” is one that comes up in my mind a lot. Like Cyn, I’m a vegetarian; I try so hard not to make people feel like I’m judging them for eating meat, and I tend to avoid or minimize conversations about why I make that choice. I know that there are so many reasons people eat meat, and that judging the choices of others isn’t what I’m interested in. At the same time, it drives me up the wall when people who are faced with the environmental catastrophe directly resulting from our society’s obsession with meat are like, “LOL but I love bacon!” Fuck bacon.
NA: I regularly feel like a crap person because I’m not very mindful of the food I eat. When I dig into a meal, I rarely think about whether the ingredients are local or organic or about the labour practices of the farm that grew them. It’s certainly a privilege to engage with food this way, almost like saying, “out of mind, out of sight.” On paper I know that our current food system is flawed, that it propagates racist, exploitative practices and is irreparably damaging the environment, and that there are exciting alternatives spearheaded by local initiatives across the globe, and yet… when I dig into a meal, I just don’t THINK about this stuff. When I purchase free-run eggs rather than regular, factory-farm eggs, I don’t feel as though I’m effectuating a political stance. I like the idea that I’m supporting a small farm, but this act of consumerism has never felt very radical to me.
Do any conflicts emerge in your daily life because of your food consumption choices? How do you mediate them?
CS: There is the occasional person that wants to tell me that vegetarianism is a disordered form of eating. This is usually voiced as, “oh, so you are on a diet, then?” or maybe, “you know, eating meat is key to healthy eating.” Similar to the ways people used to question (sometimes with justified concern) my eating habits when I actually struggled with eating disorders in high school, I find this policing tactic so difficult to call out for what it is—a public shaming of my supposedly “unhealthy” way of eating. Like pretty much every young woman ever, the competing pressures to be thin and to simultaneously eat in an orderly manner plagued me throughout my teenage years. I remember working on the art of posing with food when I was sixteen, chatting nonstop to divert attention away from my disordered eating. Today I find myself similarly ashamed of my decision to not eat meat, justifying my apparent “abstinence” by explaining I’m getting all the protein and vitamins I need elsewhere.
RB: Your experience reminds me of the agreements I have with loved ones about whether they want me to say anything in situations where they’re being policed. I never avoid conflict, I have it out with anyone, any day, any time. If people really get up in my business, whether it be with overt shaming or concern-trolling, I tend to very firmly say something like, “I trust people to make their own well-informed decisions about their food consumption, and I think you’ll find that trust might work well for you, too.” It’s a kind way of telling people to fuck off.
NC: I eat a lot of chips, and drink a lot of beer. My partner doesn’t eat any sugar, dairy, meat, or much gluten, and he doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s hard for me not to feel gross compared to him, and I struggle with the gendered expectations around “healthy eating.” I feel ashamed sometimes that while he just wants to eat lentils and kale all day long, I’m halfway through a bag of Covered Bridge chips and on my second beer.
What are your favourite foods to make when you need to take care of yourself?
CS: I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every single day: soft boiled eggs on toast with coffee. The ritual of this meal lends structure to my morning and helps prepare me to face the day, no matter what tasks lie ahead. I also tend to worry about my gut flora so I eat unreasonably large bowls of plain yogurt with maple syrup to deal with that.
NC: Whenever I’m feeling lazy, or tired, or PMSing, or sick, or hungover I make some version of “things on toast”—mostly it’s cheese, or eggs, or peanut butter; sometimes it’s sautéed vegetables or pickles. Also bananas, like a baby.
RB: When my sisters and I would get physically ill as children, my mum would always make us what we call “The Concoction”—a chunk of ginger, a sixth of a lemon, a tablespoon of honey, and a quarter-to-half teaspoon of cayenne pepper with boiling water in a mug. The Concoction does not fuck around, and it’s good for truly any ailment. I am a Concoction evangelical once anyone begins exhibiting even the slightest bit of ill-health.
Why are we talking about food and land together?
RB: In the summer, when we were deciding on the subject for this issue, we said that a goal of ours was to really hone in on specifically Canadian contexts. In that sense, it became vital that we take on LAND, because, like, what is Canada if not a violent geopolitical fantasy? How could we possibly hope to locate ourselves as a Canadian publication without attending to what Canada is? We tied FOOD in (I think) because food is an accessible way into understanding the relentless ways in which we are sustained by land. Food is something everyone can talk about; we received more submissions about people’s relationships to food than we did about land, which says to me that this publication, and Canadian feminists generally (if I may be permitted such a broad brushstroke) still have a lot of listening work to do when it comes to tackling our relationship to the land we occupy. Food is more political, and sexier to the popular imagination, than land is: I want to be better at destabilizing this comfort with land as we go forward. A lack of critical engagement with land is not acceptable to me.
CS: And to speak more to that, we hoped that by bringing food and land together, we would be able to make space for politics in a realm that can often feel so very personal and individual: our relationship to what we eat (or don’t eat), our food preparation roles and practices, our relationships with the land we grew up on, our relationship to the places we live now. These aspects of our lives, of course, are part of a broader system, one that has been cultivated for centuries by colonial, racist, patriarchal, and capitalist objectives. Finding ways to expose the inner workings of these systems (and their histories) in the context of our own experiences can be difficult, but it is also an operating goal of this magazine.
Do you own property? How do you feel about that?
RB: I don’t own land. I know that purchasing property is a heavily socially and institutionally sanctioned form of securing one’s future but I don’t like the idea at all. I don’t like the idea of purporting to own stolen land, I don’t like the idea of securing my longitudinal comfort on the backs of violently dispossessed people, I don’t like the idea of people profiting off others’ right to adequate housing, and I fucking hate the civility I have to express with neighbours when they comment on the lawn. It all makes me very cranky.
NC: Owning land seems like a far cry from where I am now, but since I want to be a farmer, it’s something that comes up a lot in my career planning. What is interesting to me, at least on a theoretical level, is how that relationship can go both ways—belonging to a place as much as it belongs to you. So much gets put into caring for land when you’re farming—soil health and ecological balance is a huge part of stewarding land. I also think that farming never lets you forget how little you control, even when you “own” property: the natural world doesn’t respect property lines.
NA: There are obviously a lot of financial advantages to being a homeowner. In the same way that laws are designed to incentivize marriage through tax deductions, health benefits, spousal RRSPs—the list goes on—property ownership is similarly supported by our governmental and financial institutions. It pays to be married and it pays to buy a house. While Harper was in power, a tax credit for first-time buyers was introduced as a way to offset costs extraneous to the mortgage itself, like lawyer and transfer fees. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation have a spot-on description of the tax credit: “Canada’s Economic Action Plan introduces the First-Time Home Buyers’ (FTHB) Tax Credit to… help you realize your dream of homeownership.” I don’t dream of homeownership, I dream of being debt-free and being able to afford rent in Toronto’s core. Maybe you guys should ask me this question again in ten years. By then maybe the revolution will have happened and we won’t even need to discuss the merits of private property.
How do you feel about your relationship to the land/place you are living right now?
CS: Since we started working on this issue, I’ve been learning more about Toronto’s colonial history of naming, settlement, and displacement of Anishinaabe, Wendat, and Haudenosaunee peoples. Unlike the two other Canadian cities I’ve lived in—Edmonton and Halifax—I knew embarrassingly little about Toronto’s not-so-distant past. I still have so much to learn about this history and my own privilege as a settler woman, but I’m starting to attend to the significance of small (and huge) things in the city: when I run up the Baldwin steps, when I ride the streetcar by City Hall, when I cross the ferry to Ward’s Island, I’m moving across land and water that is stolen, expropriated, gentrified—first by the state, and then repeatedly by the city, by the rich. I want to listen to more of these stories and help to make space for remembering them.
NC: I love where I live—the Gatineau Hills in Western Quebec—in a “deep crush” kind of way right now. I can’t talk about it without gushing, but I don’t expect anyone else to understand.
NA: Growing up, my family never went camping or spent much time doing typical “outdoors-y” activities. When my parents did manage to wrangle my brother and me into hiking, we spent most of the time complaining and worrying about bears. My feelings about being outdoors have changed over the years, in no small part because I somehow managed to befriend a strange lot who love being outside—who, in fact, have plans to spend the rest of their lives working outdoors. It’s easy to love being outside, remote and away from the city, when the people you care about find it so alluring, so full of possibility. Most days, when I think about land, about the space that I occupy in Toronto, I don’t think about green grass or stretches of tilled land. Instead, I think and read about the ways the city’s policies and police force continue to disenfranchise and victimize the poor and street-involved folk who lose ground every day to new development projects. I try to hold these two thoughts together: the feeling being outside inspires and my settler privilege.
RB: My relationship to the place I live now is healthier and more political than any place relationship I’ve previously had. I owe the Papaschase Cree in particular, and all Treaty 6 peoples really, so much for allowing me to explore and thrive in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton) for the past four years. I moved here from unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (Ottawa) in a summer of radical upheaval. I left everything I’d used to orient and define myself behind; I felt so strongly that I needed to put myself back into my body, and I did so by learning this city by running. That commitment to embodied knowledge—and to unlearning this bullshit, colonial, white supremacist notion that political knowledge is only real if it’s intellectual or published—has catalyzed a lot of the firsts that have happened here. This is the first place I’ve lived where I’ve reckoned with my settler privilege; this is the first place I’ve lived where I’ve reckoned with how to navigate being a sometimes-white-passing racialized woman of African and Jewish diasporas; this is the first place where I’ve insisted on eradicating rape culture from my intimate relationships and learned how to have friendships where each party performs equal amounts of emotional labour that are acknowledged and validated. I feel like this place has taught me that while I can’t account for existing, I can absolutely account for how I exist, and it has held me responsible for these ethics. I am ferociously grateful for the ways in which Amiskwacîwâskahikan and my relations here have done these things for me and with me; I am so humbled at having been granted this privilege.