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A friend gave my husband Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday cookbook for Christmas this year. We’ve both been big fans of the man since I first caught Mexico – One Plate at a Time on WTTW shortly after moving to Chicago. For my first birthday in Chicago, my husband and another friend took me to Frontera Grill, which was immeasurably delicious. Unfortunately, given the popularity of the restaurant and their no reservations policy, we’ve not been able to go back since but we eat at Frontera Fresca on the seventh floor of Macy’s once every couple of weeks. And sometimes if we’re lucky, as we were on the night we ate at Frontera Grill, we’ll see the man himself, smiling and just as weird and lovable in person as he appears on TV.

In the introduction to Mexican Everyday, Bayless talks a little bit about his philosophy of eating and health. Apparently a chubby kid who grew into a chubby adult, Bayless took up yoga as “a nice antidote to [his] fast-paced, late-night restaurant life.” Eventually he began to feel that the size of his body was interfering with the progress of his practice:

Which led me, in an uncharacteristically weak moment, to fleetingly consider the question, Is it possible for a person to sensibly get rid of extra weight without going on a diet?

Diets are something I’ve loudly railed against having seen too much hype, too many unrealistic expectations, too many failures. I oppose them on (as least) two grounds–one nutritional, the other social. Most diets, after all, restrict what the dieter eats in quantity or variety, or both. Unrealistic quantity restriction frequently provokes the fear-of-starvation backlash (aka gorging), and narrowed variety not only becomes unsustainably boring, but it can be nutritionally unbalanced, even dangerous–unless you’re treating a serious medical condition, which I’m not. Our species developed as omnivores, after all.

From a social perspective, diets can be isolating. I’d venture a guess that we’ve all known people who’ve used their diets as an excuse for not eating with family, no going out with friends and, in extreme but sadly frequent cases, not partaking in holiday feasts. Food may be the fuel for the body, but it’s also glue for the family, for the community.”

Amen, Rick Bayless. Amen.

As anyone who has seen the episode of Mexico – One Plate at a Time that opens with a shirtless Bayless repelling into an underground cave, he has certainly met his fitness goals (also demonstrated with a photo of him in the forearm balance pose, which I am here to tell my non-yogically inclined friends, is no freaking joke). His approach was to cut out what he called “empty calories” found in beverages, and listen to his body to determine exactly how much he needed to eat to stay at the weight that felt comfortable to him. He then took up weight training because that way he could eat more (no surprises, the man loves to eat) and also get up into that forearm balance.

My favorite part of his philosophy of food, though, is his celebration of feasting as concept and practice. After criticizing “bleak” diets “that lead us to judge everything we put in our mouths as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ that cause us to say that a break with their dietary prescriptions is ‘cheating,'” Bayless questions our “blind faith in the wisdom of the relatively young field of modern nutrition” that has led us to discard the concept of feasting “into the same dustbin as malnutrition and poor sanitation.” As a result, “many of us just eat defiantly. Willy-nilly and all the time.” Basically:

[C]uisines that have healthily nourished generation after generation have a pretty brilliant–but basic–way of putting essential foods together in the right proportions for everyday eating. Call it their foundation dishes. Yet those same cultures also realize that feating is essential for a culture’s aesthetic development, encouraging cooks to reach for new culinary heights. And that feasting is essential for cultural unity, brining groups of people together around the table to share sustenance, culinary art, related history. And that feasting is essential for the health of our bodies, allowing us the satisfaction of feeling thoroughly, completely full–with no need for midnight Häagen-Dazs raids.

A feast can make our spirits soar for days, while our bodies are regenerating themselves on everyday fare. In other words, no one ever got fat on a weekly feast, but missing that feast can leave you with strong cravings (both physical and spiritual) all week long.

Who can resist a strong craving?

I am absolutely delighted with this concept: eating simply and healthily, listening to and responding to what your body wants and needs, and then regularly gathering together with your community, whether that’s family, friends, neighbors, or a combination thereof, to tear the roof off this sucker with a feast.

It’s resolution time. The gym is about to get wicked crowded. I’ll see a whole host of new faces at my yoga studio next week. Weight Watchers and its ilk are about to increase their membership numbers. I usually don’t bother with resolutions; even when I was in the thrall of all those bleak diets I would usually count among my resolutions a firm commitment to start smoking again, or to read less and watch more TV. But I feel a sense of joy and liberation in the idea of everyday food and feasting that I honestly haven’t felt about eating in years, maybe ever, or at least not since the first time I connected eating with guilt and shame. So this year, I resolve to relearn the joy of eating, to embrace the concept of feasting.

And while the odds of my getting up into a forearm balance are about level with the odds of my waking up one morning with a complete understanding of differential calculus, I might strive toward executing a decent upward-facing dog with minimal grunting and squeaking.


I got into a discussion at work the other day about reverse racism and reverse discrimination. Now personally I think “reverse racism” is a load of shit, and under US law, “reverse discrimination” is just discrimination and, thanks to the white people on our Supreme Court, is just as illegal as the whites-against-everybody-else historical kind. I also think that some white people like to throw that “reverse” in front of “discrimination” to scare other white people into thinking that there is actually a difference and that it is a mounting problem and that MINORITIES ARE WORKING COLLECTIVELY TO TAKE AWAY OUR STUFF OMG RUN.

My coworker posed a question to me, basically, “Don’t you feel bad when somebody treats you different because you’re white?” The answer is yes, I do feel bad when that happens, because while I don’t need to be liked (so much as I like being liked or enjoy being like or have to be liked (ahem)), being disliked or unfairly treated for any reason hurts my feelings. But just because somebody hurts my feelings doesn’t mean I get to be righteously racist in response. The way I look at it is I either did something, unconsciously or not, that could be interpreted as racist and so I ought to take the opportunity to look at my own behavior instead of kicking and screaming like a petulant toddler, or the person who treated me ill really does dislike all white people, in which case, who the hell am I to declare such dislike unjustified or unfair? I don’t know what kind of experience that person has had with other white people, and I don’t feel like it’s my place to challenge the legitimacy of any person of color’s beliefs or experiences relating to race. Basically, I pretty much strive to take Magniloquence’s advice about What I Can Do and How Not to Be An Asshole to heart.

So yeah, pat me on the back and give me a fucking cookie, right?

But yesterday (more like last week, now) I was walking to the bus and I walked past some dingaling mall punk Hot Topic type of white kid, probably in his late teens. He was wearing a sweat shirt that said, “I am sick and tired of white girls.” And I got really irritated. Like, really irritated. Irritated enough to start this post, save it as a draft, and then actually come back to it later (twice!) anyway.

What is it about this shirt and its essentialization of white women that bugged me so much? Sure, there’s the misogyny but tragically, that doesn’t really stand out above all the other daily misogyny to raise my feminist terror alert level much above “junior absorbency.” It’s definitely the combination of “white” and “girls,” two parts of my own personal identity, that made me take that stupid t-shirt personally. It made me think about what sort of insipid stereotypes this asshole kid assigned to white girls and internally rail against all the ways that I defy these stereotypes, and all the ways all the other white girls I know defy these stereotypes. It made me want to ask him where the fuck he got off declaring that he was “sick and tired” of an entire segment of the population, the segment that I happen to belong to?

This also got me thinking about how my feelings might change depending on who was wearing the shirt. If a man of color were wearing the shirt, I’d be less irritated by the race aspect but my feminist terror alert level would increase to super plus. Same if a white guy who didn’t look like he was running to meet his mom for a ride home from the mall was wearing it. If any woman were wearing the shirt, I would just feel sad. I think the kid wearing the shirt was just trying to be clever, plus he was with someone who looked like she could be white (although I know that doesn’t necessarily mean she identifies as such), so maybe it was just some racially provocative ironimisogyny.

When I was searching the web for more information on the shirt (I sort of figured it came from T-shirt Hell or one of those stupid places), besides a lot of spam blogs and an old post on a Detroit-specific board about the shirt’s creators, the only discussion I found about the shirt itself was on a white supremacist message board which, you know, doesn’t make me feel any more conflicted or anything.

According to this cleverly named post on Chicagoist:

River otters are making a comeback in Chicago waterways. According to the Chris Anchor, chief biologist for Cook County (jobs we didn’t know existed: that one), “Almost all the watersheds in Cook County have otters. They’re everywhere…there’s definitely otters downtown.” No one’s sure exactly why the otters have re-emerged, but the Brookfield Zoo and Forest Preserve District will be tagging and tracking the furry critters, so information should be forthcoming.

I am telling you right now. If I’m walking along the river and I see an otter, I am going to just straight up die of joy. And then the opportunistic otters will eat my joyfully dead corpse, and the cycle of life will continue.

Another I learned from that Chicagoist post? SIX-FEET LONG GIANT OTTERS.

Oh, hell yeah.

Kitty Wigs.

That is all.

I don’t know how many readers of this blog have ever dieted, but I suspect a fair percentage of you all have tried, at some point, to lose weight. Some of you may have even lost weight. I sure have, a number of times. One unifying characteristic of myself during these times of dieting “success,” besides being hungry and food obsessed, was that I was cold. I mean C-O-L-D cold. Between dropping body-insulating fat and constantly drinking water, I could barely function in the summer in the US south due to overzealous air conditioning, or in the winter, due to cold. Cold cold cold cold cold.

When we first moved to Chicago in August of 2004, the city was in the middle of a freakish cold snap with overcast days and temperatures barely into the 60s. Although being “cold natured” (read: uninsulated), I had lived in the south for five years and therefore had a southerner’s wardrobe, and was convinced that I would end my time on earth by October, probably looking something like this:

Frozen Jack Torrence

As I’ve said here before, I’m done dieting. As a result, I am fat. I’m working on being okay with this, but it’s not always easy. But I’ll tell you what, when the forecast highs for the week barely crack the 30 degree mark, and I’m looking at a looooong* morning walk to the train through a Real Feel** temperature of eight, I am not only okay with my fat, but I love it. I want to hug it, take it to the movies, and buy it some of that insanely rich and delicious hot chocolate from Starbucks*** so that it will stick around and keep on keeping me warm. I mean, I work at a desk next to two poorly-insulated windows and I haven’t even had to bust out the $1.99 Walgreens gloves with the fingers cut out of them! I felt the cold wind on my face this morning and I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stand around outside for more than five or ten minutes, but I was reasonably comfortable and I am only wearing one each of the following garments: socks, pants, shirt, and sweater.**** Three years ago, leaving the house with any less than four shirts (I am not exaggerating), two pairs of socks, and long underwear under my pants would have been unheard of.

So, in the spirit of Good With Cheese and her admonitions to not just tolerate but actually enjoy and appreciate our bodies, I’d like to say to my body: Thanks, fat. Thanks for keeping me warm. Good job.

*Not really that long at all. It just feels like it when it’s cold and windy out.

**WTF is Real Feel anyway? Isn’t how we experience temperature too damn subjective to make how the weather actually feels part of a supposedly objective and scientific forecast? I mean, come on! At least with the “wind chill” you’re factoring in measurable variables insted of like, people’s opinions.

***I’ve actually never had this delicious hot chocolate due to always being on a God damn diet, and after a web search to find out what it was actually called I learned two things. One, it’s called Chantico and two, Starbucks isn’t making it anymore and so the life lesson learned here is this: Get the stupid hot chocolate while you can. Duh.

****The shirt is really a soft warm fuzzy short-sleeved turtleneck and the sweater is also of the soft warm fuzzy variety because I’m fat, but I’m not a total idiot. It’s twenty-one objective degrees out there!

I’m involved with a feminist activism group. In our meetings, attended almost exclusively by white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class women, talk often turns to how we can be more “diverse.” This conversation is always framed as a question of “How can we get women of color, queer women, women with disabilities, women who aren’t middle class to join our group?” I think the problem is right there in the question: why is it “our” group and why should other people “join us”? The assumption that the goals and priorities of our group of privileged women should be the same as the goals and priorities of all women is the very essentialism that mainstream feminism gets accused of perpetuating, and in our case, rightly so. As women of privilege, I think what we should be doing is offering our assistance to women without these same privileges who want allies and joining their groups, if they want us there. We ought to let go of the leadership, let go our “our group” and offer up our privilege as a tool that other groups of women can use as they see fit.

I’ve been kicking these thoughts around in my head lately, but I was inspired to try and write them down (not very well or very fully, I admit) by two blog posts:

Teaching Full Frontal Feminism from brownfemipower


Perspective: Getting Into a Feminist Disability Rights Frame of Mind… from AmberFRIDA

That’s all. Just some thoughts.

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December 2007
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