Tag Archives: eating

Of blood and fibers.

It’s weird but when people learn I am a vegetarian, they always ask me why I don’t eat any fish and meat. And I gladly answer their curiosity without making any fuss. I assume they are genuinely interested and I am happy to tell. Generally, regarding food, unless I am asked, I don’t demand anything or bother anyone with my eating. It’s something between me and myself.

However, once in a while, when the discussion lingers on the topic, I venture myself into asking the same question to non-vegetarians: why are you eating meat and fish? Suddenly, I am facing a tide of “I do whatever I want, don’t I? Why do you care?!”, “Give us a break already!”, “Stop trying to convert me to your lifestyle!”, “Like all bloody veggies, a killjoy!”, “Why do veggies always have to question everyone’s lifestyle?”

I just asked…

I guess it’s the making a choice for yourself that will always bring double-standards.

My mother.

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The lump of fat

I met a person. A type of person that I have seen before, watched before, heard of before but never met, or at least never had a full conversation with. An Irish colleague to whom I was introduced before the lemon cupcakes I made that day were. She first started by telling me that it was not the way her mother was doing it, then telling me that, if I were a proper Englishman, I would have added some decorations. I said that as a Frenchman, unlike the Brits, I prefer minimalism and to let the taste speak for the cakes.

Little did I know that, when it comes to looks, it is everything to her.

I was finding her frankly overbearing and went back to my work, she anyway carried on by telling me that she doesn’t eat cakes anymore anyway. So what was all that criticism all about then? She told me that she had “found the way”. She had “realised it” and, putting her hand on my shoulder, that now she helps people lose weight.

I always have good come-backs and I am never speechless but I just looked at her with a blank eye. She said that she can help me, that like me, who is a true baker in the heart (Okay then…), she has another calling and it’s to help people to clear their deep psychological blockage. She was on a mission to make me thin although we had barely met, I never asked anything, I did not complain and she knew nothing but my first name.

That was the first time I met someone like that: the thin proselyte who, like a born-again Christian, has made a mission to convert the fat people to their search for ultimate yet healthy twigginess.

And the whole experience was truly terrible to be honest. I came out of it extremely angry, feeling like shit, feeling like I was beneath her, I was just weak and pathetic because what these people really are is absolute bullying wolves in sheep clothing. At first, they are very nice, want to be helpful, seem understanding and sympathetic when in fact, they are just terribly insulting and their eagerness to shove your own face into the fat-swelling rawness inside of you is disrespect beyond the pale.

My anger came from me being put in a position of inferiority by this “holy” person but also my inability to really fight back. First, I did not think for a second that after everything I have achieved in my life, I would still have to justify myself for looking fat, which I found demeaning at the best of time. But it is also because we cannot attack these preaching bullies without becoming the executioner in the eyes of others. What outside people see is a very friendly, softly-spoken person who is selflessly sparing a couple of very sensible advice for your own good but the intrusion into your private space makes you want to punch them out of it or just tell them to “fuck off!” or even just be cold. But you think: “Am I proving you right by retaliating?”

I was stuck between her friendly claws wrapping closer around me and being unprofessional by bluntly telling her off. And also, she hadn’t mentioned me as such at this point so one could have easily blamed me for being touchy about being fat in the first place. “She was just making conversation; I was the one who made it about me.”

I did not know what to do and let myself being controlled into deeper self-loathing.

“I remove deep blockage” is what she said then. I felt more and more vulnerable and on the defensive side. My brain was screaming “Who are you to presume and question my mental health just by looking at me? How can you stand there and basically tell me that my physical appearance is saying all that needs to be known about my deep self?”

The worst with these people is their phoney empathy. She tried to show that she does understand by attempting to relate to me. The more she was blabbing about her ability to help the fat, the greater my need to dismiss her became so I bluntly said I had been overweight for the past 20 years and frankly nothing would change overnight. That’s when she pulled the relating trick where you show the other you identify with them. You are not yet another thin person who lectures, you suffered as well so she replied:

“Me too. I used to be obese then I found it and went from 68 kilos to 62 in two months!”

There was a silence.

Whatever “it” might be, that attempt to relate to my obesity was once again one of the most insulting thing I have ever been told. If 68 kilos from 1m60 is obese, what am I with my 120 kilos for 1m76?

I am obviously a monster that needs saving asap and that’s why she was here, right now.

In my silence, she started to throw words and phrases like “the teachings of Chinese medicine”, “the rules of Indian philosophy”, “the meaning of Asian religions”. It became more and more vague and the word “oriental” popped out more and more until it was virtually attached to every single of her abstractionisms. She is clearly one of these Westerners who have never lived anywhere near Asia and reduce it to what some pseudo gurus have let slip through our borders and books.

I found myself having to justify that I was indeed not just spending my life on my couch eating burgers. I felt like a child having to prove his parents he was not a total failure. I still cannot believe I ended up telling her I was going to the gym five times a week, was making an effort to only eat cereals in the morning rather that cakes, and that from now on, every morning, I was taking out seven to ten fruits and veg as well as 3 litres of water and a litre of whole milk that needed to be eaten and drunk by the time I go to bed. I suddenly watched myself trying to prove someone that my life was indeed a shameful mess of fat but I was trying to clear it up.

I concluded by saying that I was doing yoga and pilates to which she patronisingly replied that it was good for my condition. My “condition”, that was it. I am sick. In her mind, as long as I need to wear XL clothes, I will never be anything other than a lump of fat. I am just like a pack of butter and frankly I felt like one and became almost apologetic for it.

These thin, know-it-all-about-healthy-living proselytes want to help? They trigger nothing but greater self-loathing and a feeling of failure.

I became so fed up with her self-righteousness and her Christian-like attempt to force her newly-found, perfect way of life through every crack of my life and soul that I eventually stopped working, faced and told her that being fat has never stopped me from making it to where I was today, from leaving France with just a suitcase to live and work for 7 years in a country where I had no friends and no family, to making it as a teacher to one of the oldest and best school in England with nothing.

My being fat is irrelevant. She was not convinced.

Of course, she was not. Her self-loathing when she was “obese” will never allow her to see me as a person. For her, nothing I have and would ever say, nothing I have and would ever think, nothing I have and would ever do, nothing I have and would ever achieve will be good enough to gain her full respect because I do not look the part. I am not thin, therefore not happy nor fulfilled.

Had I been thin, we would have never had this conversation and I would not have had to list my life achievements and emphasise that being fat does not make suicidal and has not stopped me from having a life like everybody else.

The fact is, the self-righteousness she caged herself in has disabled her ability to have actual empathy for people she had made a mission to save. When she did put on weight at some point in her life, she had already digested and interiorised some prejudice about people who put on weight: that we are weak, with no self-control, that when our eating leaves my marks on our bodies despite the XL clothes, it means that we have deep psychological problems that remain unresolved.

Who hasn’t? You needn’t be fat to have problems! There is a brilliant Tumblr that display mugshots of criminals and if you just judge by their looks, they should have healthy minds. I mean some of them are handsome, thin, athletic and yet they robbed, battered, raped and killed. Being fat doesn’t say anything about you or your ability but she cannot see that because when the kilos piled up, she got scared, started to doubt herself and had found “oriental” solutions she is now preaching to whomever looks fatter than they should. Which, by the way, goes against actual Asian philosophies.

Today, she is just projecting on every fat person her personal experience. She has never been able to accept herself as someone with a bit more flesh. She hated herself then and she never managed to respect that person. Now she cannot possibly, truly respect us too and unfortunately, her views are becoming the mainstream in every aspect of our society. We did have Jamelia saying that fat people should be ashamed of being fat. Nice one, love! That’s going to help us move on with our lives…

Like all other thin, smug, Nazi-style or Evangelical-style healthy living proselytes, she doesn’t understand that force-feeding me with her phoney psychological help is not going to make me lose weight. On the contrary, her and her fat-shaming ilk are one of the biggest part of the problem and unlike them, I will never consider being thin a life achievement therefore a life goal.

And frankly, I am getting tired of my being fat being constantly shoved in my face and having to apologise for it, justify and prove myself on that sole basis day in, day out.

When I went back to my lesson planning and we parted, she passed in front of the cakes I spent hours making and, to add insult to injury, said proudly:
“Look, I am resisting. I have not eaten any of your cakes.”

I couldn’t take it anymore and with all the wisdom of a school playground, I replied:
“And I have not cared for anything you have been telling me.”

Mr and Miss Longevity

This morning, on the radio, there was a show discussing obesity and the guy opened with a speech quoting various studies and the first one was “Obese people lose on average 8 years of life expectancy”. The rest of the show was actually very interesting because there was a doctor specialising in dealing with obese people who ridiculed such amalgamous studies, if not their findings, at least their dubious effects.

But that’s not my pet peeves. It’s this obsession with life expectancy. The age we could reach has become the age we should reach and the idea that if we don’t, we have failed.

Everywhere, the first argument against anything considered harmful is that you will not live as long as you should. Everywhere the first argument for anything considered good is that it wold help you live longer but where does this obsession with living longer comes from? What happened to humanity for it to be obsessed with reaching 200 years old? Especially when you are considered irrelevant you after you reach 60…

Is that some kind of world-wide contest we are signed in straight from birth to find out who will be the winner of Mr and Miss Longevity? Who has decided that living as long as possible was to key to a successful, happy life?

The more I hear about it, the more I see people stress about it, the more it sound like a final school exam we have to pass after a lifetime of revisions: will you reach your age goal before you die? If you work hard, you will. If you don’t, you won’t.

But what’s the price? Will I go somewhere special if I live longer than the age I could reach? How do I know that age? Is it fixed or a variable? Is it carved on me somewhere I can’t see? Is my body coming with an expiration date I have to overcome? What happened if I don’t? Then I die “sooner”…and what happened if I do? Will my life really be a failure?

I understand that life expectancy is an important landmark when you see that the average one in some African countries is 35 years old. This is the manifestation of endless plagues. Life expectancy is an index for health and anything affecting the lifestyle of a country. When Russia’s plummeted after the break-up of the USSR, it was a sign of turmoil. But in our everyday, it has turned into a contest and a supposed key to fulfilment.

I was born in 1984 and I am being told I should live to 80. First: no! The baby boys born today could be living to 80 but what about me? I don’t know and frankly no one knows what their life expectancy is, what number was attached to them when they were born so why are we still trying to convince people to eat less, stop smoking and drinking by telling them that they will fail a goal they have never set themselves?

The way I see these studies is that they are trying to play on our increasing hypochondria. They are basically telling me that if I were a bit more responsible with my eating, I could die at 80 instead of 72. Well, I am sorry but I’d rather die at 72 knowing that I ate what I wanted and enjoyed it rather than realising on my death bed at 80 that I spent my whole bloody life depriving myself of my favourite just so I could live a bit longer without it. And what’s in these eight extra years that makes them so special anyway?

And I am irresponsible, reallly? I am putting my life in danger? It’s not like my pleasure is to speed on the motorway hands of the wheel shouting “YOLO!” because THAT is irresponsible as it puts the life of others at risk. If the person wants to kill themselves, be it but endangering the life of others is what is unacceptable and irresponsible. Here, it’s just me eating cakes. Overweight and obese people are not endangering anyone so why are people obsessed with how many years we are supposedly going to miss because of that?

I know where the real issue is because the bogus argument about the fear of dying youngER than one should is fairly new. When it comes to eating, the argument used to be “Don’t you want to be attractive. I mean, look at you, all fat and lonely. People will not like you if you’re fat”. However, this argument is more revealing of the accuser’s shallowness than the accused’s behaviour. It is a terrible image of a society that is ready to exclude people based of what they look like. So, although this argument is stronger than ever in people’s attitude, we speak of another argument that is made to sound more caring: “You’ll die younger, you know. I am just worried about you…” Aw, the pleasure of “healthy” people who are all extremely caring and very pushy too in their desire to interfere in your life to dispense unsolicited wisdom. Is that what healthy does to people?

The second reason is the usual focus on numbers: on quantity instead of quality. It’s the same in every aspect of our lives: age, weight, money, penis size, breasts size, materialism. Some numbers have to be as high as possible, others as balanced as possible, sometimes as little as possible. It’s all about numbers here to quantify our happiness.

Now let’s look at the reality of growing old. My grand-father is 82, he has “beaten” his life-expectancy and when I talk about his age to people they are all so happy for him that he “managed it”, as if he had spent all his life getting ready for it. It’s like he won a race he never intended to run. “He must be so happy!”

No, he’s not! He’s a man who worked non-stop from 16 to 67 and when he retired, the shock was such that he lost every single hair on his body. He took two years to grow back. For the past 15 years, he has been bored. It was fine when he still had the strength to do DIY and make wooden furniture but about ten years ago, he lost his strength, his reflexes, his legs couldn’t allow him to stand for too long and since then he has basically been waiting for death. I see a man who says he sincerely wishes he had died 10 years ago when he could still do something with his hands and think straight.

The society is looking at my grand-father like a winner, a man who vanquished nature by living longer than “he should” for a man born in 1932. I am not saying that all old people are miserable but what I see in him and many older people is that dragging life to an undignified, endless end is not a fulfilment in itself and should not be used to convince people to be healthier. Dying maybe a bit younger but with a feeling that you enjoyed your life all the way, on the other hand, is.

Bottom line is: these studies about life-shortening are mostly irrelevant and bark at the wrong tree. It will be relevant to point out the dangers of death when the risk is extremely high, as it is with highly potent drugs, sexual transmitted diseases or dangerous behaviours. AIDS will not shorten your life by a couple of years but will cut it in half, an overdose or a car accident will kill you on the spot. I am not talking about that because there are no studies about it, they are a fact of life.

But telling me to eat less cakes or telling a 20-year-old to quit smoking otherwise we live less than we should is daft at best. Use the present, make it a fact of life, not yet another study filled with shoulda’s, coulda’s, woulda’s. Make it relevant to us: talk about incidence on sex and our everyday health, our performance in jobs, mention the diseases that are not just going to shorten our life but rather make it very hard to live. I know I am scared stiff of diabetes for instance and that tempers my binge eating sometimes. Tell people who smoke that they are endangering the lives of their loved ones if they smoke in public, for instance. No one likes to be a selfish bastard. Expect John Terry, of course.

The options are endless and these are truly working, not the may-be-missing annual calendars in the bin.

The Fat and Sugar inquisition

My family is somehow a perfect image of today’s society. Everyone smokes except me, my mother and one of my cousin. The others smoke like firemen in training and that’s about 20 of them during family reunions, chain-smoking, the joy!

Well in my family and in society, in general, smoking, drinking and taking drugs are increasingly talked about and frowned upon but as a matter of public health, rarely as a matter of gregarious living. They still have a fairly high status of recognition for reasons I am mentioning below and try to complain about the smoking, drinking of drug taking of someone next to you and you will see the reaction: aggression because these drugs are taken mainly to relax and have fun. Stress = I need a cigarette and fun = Let’s have a drink. The recreational drugs…well the name speaks for itself.

Some will say something but it will require a strong personality as you will have to smile through the usual abuse of being “politically correct”, a “lefty”, “a kill-joy”, a “fascist”, a “Nazi” and within a minute a torrent of abuse will have put you in the same bag as vegetarians who are all “little Hitlers” who “want to force the whole world to live the same boring, funless life as theirs”. I am merely quoting.

In a capitalist society where work is necessary but abusive at best, it is therefore hated so there is some kind of entitlement when it comes to relaxing and hobbies: It’s my freedom to have fun so I am allowed to do whatever I like.

Unless it’s food.

When you dare to eat something between meals or have another serve of food, have two cupcakes instead of one, refuse to share a biscuit…Then you have to put up with a full investigation, which leads to the usual endless lecture from the smokers and drinkers about healthy eating. They will shows their flat stomach (with a grey smile and beaten nails), blow smoke in your face and tell you about the virtuous eating habits they managed to live by.

The unsolicited life-advice is nothing next to the usual patronising sneers that comes with it: “What are you doing? Why are you eating again? You are not really hungry, aren’t you? Are you in a hurry? No, because you were sucking up the food so fast, I thought you had a train to catch. You’re not hungry, you’re just greedy. It’s all about self-control, you know! Do you want to be fat and ugly all your life? Look at us, we’re very healthy, not an ounce of fat. No wonder you’re tired. No wonder you have headaches.” Sure, nothing to do with me working 14 hours/day and with my eyes stuck on two computers or my drunk roommate shouting all night…

It does not matter whether your smoke and force everybody to do the same. Ha, the lovely smell of cigarette smoke flirting with your nostrils as you are eating, the taste of tar it leaves on your pallet and the lovely perfume that runs deep in your clothes for the rest of day. It does not matter whether you drown your heart and brain in liquor up to the point of unspeakable rudeness, sexual insanity, undignified violence and bestiality because it’s only true way to relax and you deserve to relax after such a work week! And drugs…it does matter but two days ago, my mother was trying to convince my grandmother that she should try a joint at least once before she died because that’s fun, isn’t it?

All that drinking, smoking and taking drugs is comparably acceptable because they destroy you from the inside: blackening your lungs, eating you liver, melting your insides but you keep your good looks (longer than with binge eating at least) and that’s what matters, that’s how you judge how healthy is someone and so does my family. I am in the unhealthy one because I am obese. How many models eat cigarettes for lunch? It doesn’t matter because they’re skinny. Wow, look at that actor and that body, so rip, so healthy, and we find out he drinks and smokes…Who cares? Look at that six-pack!

I’ve never smoked, I have not drunk for year (I don’t need it, I don’t have any inhibitions to loosen) and the closest I have been to drugs was staying in a room where my brother was smoking a joint 10 years ago. No praise for this, just bad looks.

In England: “What?! You don’t drink? Are you a Muslim?” No, one needn’t be a Muslim to not drink! The idea that my non-drinking can only be because of an interdiction, not good will.
In France: ” You don’t drink wine?! You’re not a real French then…”

I always say I have enough issues at it is since my drug is food and it shows because I am obese. My weakness is eating and my love of cheese and cakes make me the perfect candidate for the inquisition on Fat and Sugar, the Devil Couple. Therefore I should eat my greens quietly and listening to the lectures of smoking and drinking people because they are here to help me, the thin people with grey skin under the Saint-Tropez tan. Here to help the poor, sick, fatty me out of the hands of Satan.

Also when it comes to drug, one had to sell the poison at some point so looks, image, symbolism and representation are everything. My great-aunt once said to me I should start smoking because it would make me look more handsome. She said having a cigarette help you socialise and holding one helps you never look like you are just standing there. My grand-father pushed my grand-mother to smoke because he thinks women are sexier when they smoke.

These people were born between 1930 and 1940 and they grew up with the images of American movie stars smoking, suave and languidly with sleepy eyes or soldiers strong and powerful holding cigarettes between battles. These people will tell you right now how ridiculous this forbidding of such pictures is but they did work. My ancestors’ brains are full of these pictures and ideas that smoking will make you ultimately attractive. Today, all kinds of poison-based drugs are cool, risk-taking, law-breaking, rule-pushing, sexy. If I don’t drink it’s because “I am social awkward”. It’s the bad boy effect, James Dean with a cigarette not with a doughnut!

Secondly, there is the acceptance of smoking, drinking and drugs as…well drugs! Everyone, but some daft gits here and there, is accepting the fact that they contain poison that are addictive and people who consume them have no problem admitting it because it’s part of the excuse: “I can’t stop, I am addicted, you don’t understand!”. I do! Because I have an addiction: food but it is met with the usual sneer that food is not addictive, it’s just me lacking the will to control myself. “It’s all about self-control”, again.

I used to argue back: “You can stop smoking from one day to another, end the temptation. It is hard but you needn’t smoke, or drink alcohol or take drugs to survive whereas you need to eat to survive so I can’t just stop eating, I have to relearn how to eat properly and that’s harder because temptation is always here. Where you need a cigarette you have the choice between smoking or not, when I need to eat I have the choice between making a salad or cutting some cheese….Guess what I am going for.”

However, there is no point, these people do not want to hear it. It goes against their views of them as victims of terrible drugs against which they cannot possibly fight when I am just a victim of myself and should grow up. It reminds me too much of secondary school to go lengthy on it.

It brings to the final point. My family then – although strongly dominated and ran by women, is like society where patriarchy and its ideas of real and fake suffering do not seem to die away. There is real, suffering, “man” problems that involves “real” cancer from the poison of drinking and smoking, poison you have to take to remain hard man with the “real” sickness from the excess of life and the “real” bleeding from the wound of hard work or war. In Southern Europe, most still consider that a woman who drinks is not sexy because she does a “man thing”.

There are opposed to the “fake” problems of women and “sissy boys”. In France, how many times have I heard “Encore un truc de bonne femme!” – Yet another chick thing? Migraines, headaches, psychological troubles and diseases, heartaches, sadness, depression, melancholy, mania and addictions to something that does not poison the body (“truly addictive” science says). All of these diseases are always the core of eating disorders and are still “women problems”, excuses not to take responsibility, stupid reasons to get out of work and awful sex with bad husbands. They are not taken seriously and therefore are not discussed fairly.

It is changing of course but I am fat because “I am choosing to be”, I am making deliberate decisions everyday to let temptation win over me and give in to the easy run of life of gain without pain. So when I do feel peckish at 3pm and have some food, regardless of what it is, I should stop and inhale the smoke of my next of kin who is telling me off. But I don’t because I am very arsy, strong-minded person who likes to go against that kind of nonsense so I go and take the whole packet of biscuits instead of just one.