Is Veganism an Eating Disorder?

vegan
Photo description: the word “VEGAN” spelled out on the ground using various flowers. Photo credit: “Vegan” by Helen Alfvegren – licensed under CC BY 2.0

Note: a version of this piece was originally published in “Complicating Veganism” (2015) – a compilation zine edited by Nicole Davis and Clementine Morrigan

Content warning: mentions of disordered eating and consumption of animal products

As a vegan who is critical of the vegan movement, I regularly ask and welcome questions that interrogate veganism and challenge its lack of intersectionality or accessibility. Yet when I’m asked the question “Is veganism an eating disorder?”, my initial reaction is to want to get defensive and explain how this assumption is anti-vegan propaganda. However, when I’m honest with myself, I know from personal experience that veganism can sometimes be part of an eating disorder – and I think it’s important for vegans to talk about this.

(Side note: I acknowledge that the term “eating disorder” pathologizes bodies in a way that puts them into a defined box. I use it in order to facilitate contextual dialogue and because it has helped me voice my experiences, but I am open to other suggestions and support those who do not use the term.)

Anything that involves food restriction has the potential to contribute to an existing eating disorder – whether it is veganism, religious dietary restrictions, or food sensitivities. Vegans, along with those who eat an all organic or Paleo diet, are sometimes accused of having “orthorexia” – a lesser-known eating disorder defined as having “an ‘unhealthy obsession’ with otherwise healthy eating“. I disagree with the notion that these dietary choices are inherently eating disorders like orthorexia, but I do think they can sometimes turn into them.

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Defining The Seasonal Body

After a hiatus, The Seasonal Body is back! We will soon cover lots of great topics, but first I would like to dive more deeply into the concept of this project. The name “The Seasonal Body” may not immediately bring to mind everything it encompasses, though hopefully the tagline “connecting food justice, body image and disability” gives you an idea. I would like to flush this out a bit more in this piece, to help ground all the interconnecting topics that will be addressed.

“The Seasonal Body” is twofold: it is both a concept and a framework. First, as a concept, it means that, simply, our bodies are influenced by seasonality and nature. And when there is a disconnect from nature, and especially a lack of interaction with the seasons and with food, issues with our bodies can arise. Thus, an approach to healing and wellbeing is to engage with nature, connect with our food sources, and align our bodies with the seasons.

Some have already discussed the topic of nature disconnection in relation to various aspects of health – which, holistically, includes all aspects of our bodies. For example, the author Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” to describe the phenomenon of humans, and especially children, spending less time outdoors. This can have many effects on our bodies, such as depression, attention issues, and decreased exercise. Others in the ecopsychology field specifically focus on nature connection as a vital part of our psychology and wellbeing, and promote ecotherapy, also called “nature therapy”, as an approach to addressing many health issues, and which can be used as part of rehab programs. Horticultural therapy/therapeutic farming is a specific type of ecotherapy that often includes educational and social elements in order to offer skills-training and community development for vulnerable groups of people, while also providing access to fresh, local food. Keep in mind, though, that nature therapy can also be as simple as spending time in a park in solitude.

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Brain Injury Anniversary

Content warning: brain injury, physical trauma, mental health, depression, anxiety, ableism, pain

How do you commemorate the accident that disabled you? Or should you at all? This is something I had been pondering a few weeks ago, leading up to March 5th – the one-year anniversary of my bike accident that was the start of my current life as a disabled person living with post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

Today – March 18th – is Brain Injury Awareness Day in the U.S. (and March is Brain Injury Awareness Month; though in Canada it’s June). In honour of this, I am sharing with you how I chose to acknowledge the anniversary of my brain injury a couple of weeks ago. On the day of the anniversary, I wrote a letter to my former self (pre-concussion Julie) from my current self (post-concussion Julie), explaining my experience over the past year. I then took the letter to a park, burned it, and rubbed the ashes on myself as a symbol of purification. The whole process was emotional and therapeutic, and I’m glad I was able to honour both the accident and myself in this way.

Before burning the letter, I typed it up to keep a copy. While it is very personal, I have decided to share it here – to help raise awareness about brain injury, as well as to help those around me understand what I am going through. Perhaps other brain injury survivors will relate, though I would also like to express a trigger warning for those who may have had similar difficult experiences.

………………………………………………………….

Dear Pre-Concussion Julie,

How are you? How is life back in early March 2014? I’m guessing swell, as things seem to have been going pretty well for you: you’ve been working a wonderful, new job for the past half year with your dream employer; you live in a beautiful intentional community; you’re involved in various fulfilling volunteer initiatives; you enjoy spending time with friends; you are often found cycling around the city….

Many of these things are going to change for you. You’re about to have an accident that may not seem serious at the time, but will drastically affect you, your abilities, your life. The bike accident will be painful and traumatic, but it’s not the broken nose, cuts and bruises that will change you – it’s a concussion/mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that will have not so mild lasting effects, in the form of post-concussion syndrome. For the next year, and who knows how much longer, you are going to struggle with your brain, your body, your identity. Be brave.

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Introducing… The Seasonal Body!

Welcome to The Seasonal Body! This is a space dedicated to exploring the intersection of food justice, body image, and disability. Working within an anti-oppressive and intersectional framework, you can expect posts from a range of topics that fit within the realms of feminist food studies, local food advocacy, ecopsychology/nature connection, body positivity, ‘Health at Every Size’/fat acceptance, disability activism, and more.

Full disclosure: much of the content here is based on the personal experiences of me (Julie Nowak). So a bit about me! I am a Toronto-based food justice organizer and educator (however, my current full-time job is focusing on healing after a traumatic brain injury from a bike accident a year ago). Many of my interests also revolve around food: I enjoy growing, cooking and eating food – especially with others in community!

My interest in the intersecting themes of The Seasonal Body comes from my personal experience of finding healing from disordered eating through therapeutic farming and increased access to seasonal food, as well as my current experiences as a disabled person with post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

While I think my experiences as a low-income, disabled woman and eating disorder survivor are of value to share, I am trying to be very mindful about my privilege and the space I take up as a white, educated, thin, cis woman (especially given the lack of other important voices represented in the food justice, body positivity, and disability movements). I hope in the future this website can include other contributing writers; but, for the time being, I will work hard at continually checking my privilege and including anti-oppression analysis. I know I may fail at this and possibly say something problematic; thus, I welcome suggestions on how to improve in this area! (If this is language you are not familiar with, I encourage you to learn more about it. Click here for a good place to start.) Also, I’m working on making the website itself more technologically accessible – something that is taking me a while to learn about (especially with my own computer screen sensitivity issues), so my apologies for the delay on this.

The comment sections are disabled on this website (for my own mental health protection), but you can email me if you’d like to get in touch. Because of my personal low capacity and screen sensitivity, I will probably only post intermittently. To stay in the loop, you can subscribe to receive posts by email, as well as keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter (where you can also share relevant resources with me, which I’d really appreciate!).

This became a much longer first post than intended. So I will end simply by celebrating what The Seasonal Body is about:

Yey bodies! Yey food! Yey seasonality!