living underground in the real world

the question

I want to post this sort of rough draft of a post I want to post over at the official Lagusta’s Luscious blog here.

So many people ask me the damn skinny question that I HAVE to discuss it, lest I explode (every time I get it I almost start frothing at the mouth, to the honest. I think I downplayed that in the post below), but I don’t want to alienate my customers or anything. And I think we can have a more productive discussion about this irksome thing over here, then I can take the insights I’ve learned to tighten up the post over there. Sound good?

Herewith, the ramble:

I’m skinny.

I have endless energy, almost no muscles, flabbiness galore, long limbs, wrists and hands that are so weird a friend calls them “elegant claws,” bad circulation that means I’m always cold, knobby knees, and, in general, 5 feet 8 inches and 106-110 lbs of fried-food-lovin’, protein-hatin’, salad-obsessed 18-years-vegan fierceness. Why do I have the body I have, this bundle of contradictions that carries me through my life? Who knows. My mom is skinny/I energetically move around for 8-15 hours a day/I’m vegan—pick one, or none. I suspect genetics most of all, and an absurdly high metabolism probably pays a part, too.

I’d like a firmer butt, plumper lips, and knees that aren’t weirdly sharp. I’d like muscles. I’d really, really like muscles.

But, for the most part, we get what we get.

And what I’ve got is people saying things like “how can you be a chocolatier and be so skinny?” at least once a week.

I really struggle with how to answer this seemingly cute question in a way that encapsulates my both feminist politics and business owner’s need to keep the conversation light. Let me ramble about it here and see if I can come up with anything.

I’m not especially healthy.

I mean, I am healthy, but it’s sort of a coincidence: as much as I love caramel, I love salad much more. I really am that vegan who just wants to eat salad all day long. On the other hand, I probably put twice as much dressing on my salad as the average salad-eater. I love greens, and I love oil. In cooking school I learned a bit about the Indian theory of Ayurveda, which divides people into types, called doshas. My dosha (vata pitta) specified that lots of healthy fats and oils are best to keep me running at top speed. I’d always felt guilty about my love of fat, but after Ayurveda class I made my salad dressings with a classically French 6:1 ratio of oil to vinegar, ate as many avocados as my food budget would allow, and generally just let go of the idea that fat is bad. I began to feel better and better. I had more energy, my skin looked better—I’d begun to learn how to eat.

I’m healthy because, after many years of trial-and-error eating, I’ve figured out what makes me feel good, and feeling good feels so good that I don’t want to eat crap that will make me feel like crap. You know? It’s the secret of everyone who’s stopped struggling with food: eating good feels good. It sometimes takes years of stripping away cultural biases against lettuce and beets and brussels sprouts to realize that chips and dip aren’t actually as tasty as, well, lettuce and beets and brussels sprouts.

I think I’m getting off track here.

I think, actually, I’m wandering into territory I don’t mean to cover at all, stuff that should maybe go into a different blog post.

First of all, I’m trying to say something so obvious: skinny does not equal healthy. I’ve always been skinny, but until I started training at a health-supportive cooking school I wasn’t really healthy—I didn’t know how to feed myself. And even today I would love to be stronger, to feel a power in my body that I suspect friends of mine who work out feel. But I’m doing OK. A few years ago, on a lark during a routine physical I decided to get everything checked out: protein, B12, iron, the whole thing. All my numbers were great–even the B12, even though I never take any supplements (don’t follow my example–take your flax seed oil and your B12, vegans!). (I suspect the B12 was because I eat so many fermented foods.)

I guess here’s what I’m trying to say: there have been times when I’ve been healthy, and times when I haven’t been—and my body has always looked the same. It seems like such an obvious point, but: someone’s weight is not a reliable indicator of their overall health.

But health is not what someone is talking about when they offhandedly say, “How can you be surrounded by chocolate all day, and be so skinny?”

They are saying a lot of things, and one of them is that old saying about never trusting a skinny chef. How can someone angular and vaguely sour (I’m afraid I’m a bit of both) create true indulgences? Being skinny is all about self-deprivation, right? And good food is all about indulgence?

I’d say no to both—good food is about nourishment, on shallow levels (it’s needed to stay alive) and deep levels (good food feeds the soul). A square of dark chocolate to round out a farm-fresh home-cooked meal, a caramel or two or fifteen after a stressful day—these are everyday treats that make life wonderful, not secret indulgences that we have to keep in check and make ourselves feel guilty about, lest we become gluttons.

But back to trust. There’s something about trust in the question, isn’t there?

I trust food.

We’ve gotten to such a sad place in our society that so many women, women chronically on diets, assume that to be around food means wanting to eat food. I don’t want to eat when I’m not hungry. In fact, it’s my least favorite activity. I love eating so much that eating when not hungry seems somehow treasonous, like getting a love letter and not even reading it.

But I understand the temptation to eat when food is there (an inclination I suspect may dieters have) because it’s an inclination I had for many years for the opposite reason: as a kid I really didn’t eat very much at all, because sometimes there just wasn’t that much to eat. We ate a lot when we had food, because we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. It took me years and years to realize that food insecurity is, hopefully, not coming back into my life any time soon. I don’t need to hoard food or eat like there’s no tomorrow. Food is safely here, and the food is a world of warm, sheltering arms holding me. Food has always been my friend.

Getting back to the question. I feel like I’m subtly trying to answer the question (I only eat when I’m hungry!) when the answer isn’t what matters (and that answer would be wrong anyway, since I suspect I’m just one of those people for whom what I eat and how I look are not too connected).

The question, and where the question comes from, is what I’m ramblingly trying to get to here.

It’s a cute, light-hearted question, but it always brings me down, as you can see.

And not just because I have a degree in Women’s Studies.

OK…maybe that’s partially why.

Maybe I’m rambling so much because I’m not really sure how to talk about this subject. I come to it with a lot of weird privilege. I’ve never known what it felt like to hate my body (though I certainly had my awkward years, like everyone else), and I know that for many, many people, that feeling is an everyday companion, and it saddens me so much I almost can’t stand it.

I don’t want my joyful little chocolates to make anyone feel bad about themselves, or guilty, or naughty (except in a kinky way.). I want my chocolates to be a celebration of life, of diversity, of happiness and wonder at what the earth can produce.

I don’t want my chocolates to have anything to do with patriarchy. The “why are you so skinny” thing is, at its root, about the commandment we all have in our society, women more than men, but men too, to be skinny at all costs. That old chestnut.

What I want to say is: hey, your question implies that skinny bodies are a superior standard, and I reject that assumption! Hooray for size diversity, for health and happiness in all forms! It’s a coincidence that I’m skinny, just as it’s a coincidence that other women aren’t, and we all deserve chocolate! Your question implies, also, that chocolate is a forbidden treat to be rationed out, and my dark chocolate, with its savory edges, with its stone-ground goodnesses and nibs and chilies and gingery bits and corn-on-the-cob-bar-nesses and all the rest, is more akin to ancient Aztec chocolates that were a savory part of a meal, rather than the gross sugar bombs that are mainstream contemporary American chocolate! Chocolate for all! Here’s to health and diversity and loving who we are! Here’s to self-love! Here’s to DESSERT!

So….how can I compress that into one sentence?

14 Responses to “the question”

  1. India-leigh @ aveganobsession

    Hey..I thought that was a really interesting and though…yes rambly..or perhaps better described as meandering…it is full of very relevant information and observations…these are my thoughts, for what they are worth. Yes, people in the West are in a funk about food, fuelled by their belief systems. This may have stemmed from post war attitudes to ‘feeding up’ and ‘treats’ and ‘spoiling’ children. Using food to placate, console, appease and ‘love’ them too..this all through lack of parenting skills (a problem of ‘disconnected families and a desparate need for EVERYONE to be given parenting education). Then, in the 80′s the buzz word of no fat, coupled with people growing up using food to comfort and relate, and this created discordant belief system in many peoples minds of …comfort v guilt. Perhaps when people come into your store and ask a very personal question ‘why are you skinny when you are a chocolataire?’ upon seeing your small frame, they then believe you are lying (because they believe chocolate = fat..in their eyes). Or they could just be saying it as they lack confidence in themselves and say the first thing that comes into their heads (its a knee jerk – get it off the shelf – question or thing to say in this circumstance…you know like when you sometimes say something because a 1000 other people have said it, like repeating a well known phrase or finishing the end of a verse), like talking about the weather, people want to connect but sometimes are not very original. I thought what you wrote about oil, your doing away with society held beliefs about food (all cake is delicious and nicer than greens) and realising what you like which is much more in tune with what the body needs was very insightful and there in lies your ‘present’ in all these gifts (annoying effing questioning…) is perhaps the seed of knowledge that needs ot be fed back to people in general. If something stops being a ‘treat’ people stop self medicating themselves with it and can just have a small amount and also they can get off the bandwagon and ask themselves if THEY really do like chocolate, cake, beer, cigarettes or whether it is a peer pressure and a belief that helps them to fit in. I cannot tell you how many people treated (and still do) me with disdain because I dare to say I don’t drink, smoke, eat a million tonnes of sugar or dead flesh. I see their anger at what they deem to be me being an anarchist, a picky eater and doing it on purpose just to annoy them. But what you can do here with the truth of what you discovered (seems to be a very French attitude to food, moderation and quality not quantity) to turn the tide and help people to see that food is their friend. I have read many books that helped me to open my eyes and ‘see’ for the first time the reality of a situation and it was put in such a supportive, facutal, straight-forward way, that I wised up (…Allen Carr, the only way to stop smoking permanently..genius). Perhaps you don’t want to go down the route of writing a book as you are having too much fun making chocolate but perhaps the ‘gritty’ questions that are bieng raised in your shop could turn into ‘pearly’ gifts. Also, you could just say..I’m God damn lucky I’m naturally thin and I dont believe in food being a sin so I eat what I really feel like eating..or I am from a distant planet that fuels its citizens with cacao and the printed letter T….or more simply…I’ve always been this way. end of.

    So, I seemingly have gone into quite a long diatribe and still don’t think I responded to everything you said but in a nutshell (even though I would like to follow and believe it more) when one is educated about food and stops fearing it, it helps us to flourish. If you have time..share your wisdom (actually, I guess that is what you started doing today) or market it. Just a though…Make chocolates with wise food messages written on them so they make people take a moment to stop and think/question and savour instead of scoff, wolfing and hoovering. They can then ‘digest’ new food paradigms. A one-a-day supplement – chocolate wisdom – and far better than ‘horse tablets’ that make your wee radioactive yellow or even worse chemicals to mute their body’s attempt to communicate.

    As you say with your healthy attitude towards oil and chocolate, when you surround yourself with what you love you no long crave.

    Ok, I’m really am going to stop writing now (though I have so many thoughts on this subject I’ve not shared I think I could write a bloody book!), in light of you being a stranger I hope I have not said too much.

    Don’t take it personally, it’s all about them…so perhaps give them what they really need when they walk into your pretty little shop. x

    Reply
  2. christythedoula

    I have a similar issue with being a mother of two and being on the skinnier side of things. The thing I get stuck on is that there seem to be certain markers that make people feel like they can comment freely on our weight. One of them is that we are not fat. It’s the main reason, I think. Being vegan goes on the list, and so does being a mom (for me) and being a chef (for you). But, if we were a fat mom and a fat chef, people would mention it FAR less often, if at all. So. I tend to give people one of two answers depending on what type of relationship I am trying to cultivate. You know, person on the street gets a little snark, person I am trying to stay in the good graces with gets a more tactful answer. Snark: You only feel comfortable commenting on my weight because I am slender, but I assure you that it is inappropriate regardless of my size! Tact: I actually eat a lot more than many people I know who are twice my size. My metabolism is overactive and is trying to kill me at all times. Plus, I am a lactating woman and my child is sucking the life out of me. Honestly, the less I nurse these days, the more booty I get.
    Speaking of rambling! One of the things I used to say more and should reintroduce! I used to look forward to childbearing, in part, because I had this notion that pregnancy would permanently transform me into a curvy lady with tits and ass. Because, to me, that is gorgeous and healthy-looking. I wanted to birth 10 pound babies and buy a new wardrobe of tight skirts to show off my booty. But alas, body type is related to genetics more strongly than diet. I still work every day to be a chubby vegan. Maybe it’ll finally come to pass when we wean.
    So, in answer to your question… I would not answer it directly aside from saying veganism doesn’t necessarily make you slim. Vegans think more about nutrition than most non-vegans. Most carnivores I know think that as long as they eat protein and don’t disdain vegetables, their diet is balanced. I think a simple statement about being confident that you eat a balanced diet should suffice. I would then find a tactful way of talking about weight/genetics and fat-phobia. Your statement on the website can be slightly less tactful because you are putting it out there without a prompt. In person, in response to a question, you can be tactful and then refer people to your statement on the website. In doing so, people will have the opportunity to realize that they are being so annoyingly typical for asking you such a obvious and inappropriate question.

    Reply
    • Saracious Chbl

      Body talk is common everywhere, I am pretty sure fat people get told they are fat all the time. For them, it’s just couched in terms of being “concerned for their health”, when it’s not being yelled by a stranger from a passing car.

      I think the best thing to pull off IF POSSIBLE would be with a smile, a casual, “Hey, there’s nothing better about being thin. Bodies are bodies, y’know?” But that’s hard to say in a lighthearted way.

      It’d be nice to get across the point that bodies don’t need to be justified, period, including the body of the asker!

      Reply
      • michael

        Ummmmm…. let me enlighten u a bit, being fat or politically correct (OBESE) is disgusting and is seen as being lazy and uneducated. Lazy that u can’t make an effort to live a healthier lifestyle and uneducated because u just can’t see the benifits of ordering somthing non-fat verses the big mac. I personally don’t like skinny women, I like curves and something to hold but my likes are very far from being even slightly overweight. Love sexy curves and those r the women that can pull off tight pants.

      • lagusta

        I don’t think…you understood my post one bit. I’m simply saying that skinny women aren’t necessarily healthy, and that women of all sizes should be respected.

      • micheal

        FAT PEOPLE ARENT HEALTHY!!!!!
        I guess u didn’t understand my responce.

    • Stephanie

      Christy, you totally made me laugh. I, too, was the skinny vegan (who also happens to study community nutrition and worked in West Africa where having “body” was seen as a sign of happiness and a good marriage) who wanted to gain lots of weight during pregnancy. My midwife made me get rid of my scale and only weigh in on my monthly visits. I’ve always eaten more than most people I know and except for when I was in Senegal, eating a less than ideal diet of oily rice, did I ever gain weight enough to not be called skinny. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight before my first baby (8lb 10oz – not a small baby by any means) was a month old. Loving to cook, I’ve always been partial to savory treats rather than sugary, fat-laden fare. My body has changed a bit since baby two weaned, but still on the slim side. I’ve just had to face the fact that this is my body, and probably being vegan helps in that I’m eating things that are easy to digest and contain lots of fiber! My perspective has definitely broadened, though, by seeing how other non-Western cultures define beauty.

      (My husband, on the other hand, who virtually eats the same food I do, has definitely learned that his genetics are kicking in as he ages and his once skinny body gained all the baby weight for me! For him, being able to bike commute makes the difference so he can still indulge on all the yummies being cooked at home!)

      And Lagusta, think about the difference between your intense, ethical, amazing chocolates and the crap that most people consider “sweets”. It would be really hard to eat a whole box (although I’m sure people do). I’ve always found that one bonbon from you can last a long time and satisfies both the sweet tooth and the soul. One can be indulgent without being overindulgent. Not sure if that can be massaged into some sort of one-liner to give those nosy customers…

      Reply
  3. Deb

    Honestly, I’d say “genetics” and leave it at that. I think it would likely be the most accurate answer in any case!

    Reply
  4. Jenny

    I’ve been reading and loving your blog for a bit now, but this topic has finally moved me to comment because I’m also a vegan feminist who thinks a lot about the ways our culture effs up women’s relationships to food and their bodies. And because I’m also a woman with some lingering effed-up-edness of my own, I have seen the pictures of you on your blog and felt flashes of envy at you — your apparent ease in your body, your total embrace of truly good food, and, yes, your skinniness. And I hate that I feel that stupid envy, even for a second, rather than, I don’t know, inspiration or general good will or other more productive feelings that would do me more credit and everyone more good.
    I haven’t had an eating disorder, but I know you’re right when you say that body hatred is a daily companion for many, if not most, women. I wonder if the questions you get about your body aren’t a reflection of people’s sheer surprise at observing a woman who’s proving a body can be something other than one’s own worst enemy? It seems to me they’re really asking, “how can you love ‘bad’ food and still appear healthy and virtuous?,” since health and virtue/discipline are the qualities we assume thin people have. I say the best response is one that will gently challenge people to ask themselves what they’re really asking when they ask you about being a skinny chocolatier, to see that they’re really asking, “Why can’t I also love good food and feel healthy on my own terms?” And even though I imagine it must suck to have to field these kinds of invasive questions, I’m really glad it’s you they’re asking, since you’ve got responses to give that are way more, well, nourishing, than what people usually get when they (however accidentally) question dominant beauty standards and diet laws.
    I have been following a series of posts at Gena Hamshaw’s blog Choosing Raw that is about the connection between ethical veganism and eating disorder recovery. I’m not sure it’s totally relevant, but it might be worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.
    This topic seems to have inspired some rambling in me too — feels presumptuous as a new commenter, but I’m just really glad to see you talking about this stuff…

    Reply
    • Randal Putnam

      “… I’m really glad it’s you they’re asking, since you’ve got responses to give that are way more, well, nourishing, than what people usually get when they (however accidentally) question dominant beauty standards and diet laws.”

      You are right (and a hell of a writer). Thank you.

      Reply
  5. Mary

    (I think your friend said that thing about the elegant claw in reference to one photo that was taken somewhere at some point, not about your beautiful fingers and hands in real-life! i heard her say it only about that one picture. just to clear things up. and she didn’t mean for it to stick in your mind forever!!)

    Reply
  6. zoe p.

    I love this discussion.

    I’m big and people are always surprised when they hear that I exercise. Or they look in my cabinets and don’t see junk food. I guess I’m lucky that I can smile sheepishly and say, “I like to be healthy.” But it would sound different coming from someone noticeably slim . . . and I never thought of that!

    Reply

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