Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Losing Weight...This One is For the Girls

My mum came to visit me the other day. She lives five hours drive away so we don't see each other as often as we'd like. These past few weeks, I have had stomach problems and have been unable to eat much in one go. As a result, I've lost a lot of weight. After the usual hug and kiss hello, she stood back and looked at me. "Look at you," she said, "You're losing so much weight! You're fading away!" At first, I felt hurt, but then I looked at her and realised that the comment was meant as a compliment.

In my mind, I can hear her exact words and see her proud eyes clearly even now. I wonder at these words. Why is it considered a compliment for me to be "fading away?" Is "fading away" really such a desirable thing for me to do? Why? I'm not simply coming down on my mum. She meant no ill. But it has occurred to me that whenever I see relatives that I haven't seen in a while, their first reaction after the usual hug and kiss is to step back and make some comment about how my appearance is faring since the last time I saw them. Typically, these comments relate to my weight (or lack thereof) and my age, and to compare these qualities to how they were the last time I saw them. I've also noticed something else -- my brother doesn't receive this scrutiny. They ask him, "How is school?" "Have you got a job?" and things like that. Never "you've lost weight," or "I'll have to fatten you up," or "you've put on a bit of weight since the last time I saw you" or "aren't you looking handsome these days."

Why is this placed first and foremost in the things to say? I've spoken to several friends who can relate to this. If you read Gina's relationships board on VegSource, it's quite a common problem women have with their mothers -- that their mothers nit-pick at their appearance every time they meet.

We all know about the media and its unrealistically thin (for many) images of women. And it's a reasonably well documented and commonly known fact that the average shop-front mannequin advertising women's clothing is so underweight that if she were alive she probably wouldn't menstruate. A fashion designer friend once told me that the reason they use such thin models is because if they used curvaceous women, the spectator would look at the woman's body, not the clothes. Hence the ultra thin model is employed.

But these media images alone don't create women who are obsessed with looks. It is conditioned from the moment we go into the world as little girls. From the moment we go out in the world, people tell little girls how pretty they are, how cute and pink and fluffy they are. Mothers tie ribbons in their little girls' hair and put them in little dresses that making climbing and playing sport impossible without showing their undies to the world. They compete with other mothers over who has the prettiest baby, the prettiest most well behaved little girl. In this way little girls are taught not to participate in these things but instead to sit passively in pretty dresses and play with pretty dolls. Girls are given dolls with fashions and dolls with make up. Why are girls dieting at ten years of age and younger? Because they are taught that their looks are what they're worth.

I am imploring to families and friends -- when you see a female friend/relation, make sure she knows that her looks are not the first thing about her of concern to you. Let her know she is a valuable human being for who she is inside, regardless of how fat, thin or otherwise she may be in comparison to the "norm" (what is normal?). Don't tell your little girl how pretty she is and nothing else -- instead tell her how good she is at whatever it is she does well. Tell her that her spirit is beautiful, and that this is more important than anything. Forget her looks. She's got enough of society focussing on her looks as it is.

I'm tired of the focus of women's health being on weight loss. Women are starving! Women are paying surgeons thousands to actually cut chunks out of their bodies. It is estimated that as many as eighty percent of women in Australia will try to lose weight before they even turn eighteen. And many of these women are losing weight when they don't need to. I believe we need to stop thinking in terms of weight loss and dieting. Instead, I believe health professionals, media, and family members need to shift the focus of women's health, appearance, and weight to a more holistic approach, encompassing healthy eating, moderate (but not obsessive) exercise, building healthy relationships and a satisfying career, and a healthy disregard of the "thin is beautiful" version of health. There is too much emphasis on weight loss. Instead of thinking "I need to diet and lose weight," I dream of a society in which women say instead "I wish to optimise my health. And what steps do I need to take to optimise that health?" This may mean exercising, or including more of one kind of food, or less of another kind. It may be self-esteem counseling or family therapy. It may be community work of some kind. It may mean any number of things.

Holistic health is more than just the body or the fat on the body. In many cultures, holistic health is considered to encompass the mind, body, and the spirit. Indigenous Australians take this a step further, by saying that it encompasses "mind, body, spirit, family, and land." And if any of these is not working it affects all the others, because chances are, it's something outside of the eating disorder that is feeding it. I'll use two famous examples -- Oprah Winfrey and Karen Carpenter. Both women have said that their eating disorders were more about coping with their life difficulties than the food itself.

Trying to fix a food problem by just changing one's diet is never going to work. Before it is possible, other issues must be faced. Why the lack of control with food? I believe that anyone who has a problem with eating -- whether it be overeating, anorexia, or something else, the problem needs to focus less on food and more on the broader, more holistic level of health -- the mind, body, spirit, family, and land.

This I believe: to achieve true health, we must stop focussing so heavily on losing weight and dieting. Health is so much more, it runs so much deeper. All the aspects of holistic health must be looked at, from the inside out. We need a healthy mind, a healthy body, and also a healthy society, which promotes healthy media images and supports healthy family and community systems. We need to be able to eat healthy organic foods from healthy well-maintained and nourished soil, or we need to eat large quantities of food to get all the nutrients we need. How do we gain that society? Well, that's another story.

I'd like to conclude by emphasising the importance of looking past the fat on one's body to looking at the deeper issues of health and well being, in order to achieve and maximise true health. As someone who has been through a private hell as a teenager, dieting obsessively (along with half my friends, might I add) and convinced my thighs were too big, I am only now, several years later, starting to look at the bigger picture -- eating well, looking after the environment, building family relationships, working on my self esteem, going for walks, eating organic food, and avoiding animal products. And you know what? The more I work on these things, the more my weight seems to take care of itself!

Ruby R.
Australia

- n e x t   e s s a y -




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