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.

While great work and research are happening in the world of nature connection, there is a specific area where I haven’t yet seen much discussion: body image. Thus, I would like to take the previously mentioned discussions further to examine how our disconnection from nature, and especially from food and the seasons, affects our relationship with our bodies and with eating. So what exactly are the effects specific to body image? I think the best way to answer that question is to tell a bit of my own story.

About a decade ago, during my undergrad, I had an eating disorder. (Sidenote: I am mindful of the pathologizing box that this term puts people into. But to help provide contextual understanding, I choose to use the term to describe my own experience.) After a couple years, I thought I was “cured” because certain textbook behaviours had stopped. But I didn’t realize that I was still experiencing disordered eating and that my relationship with food and with my body was tormenting me.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned what true healing looks like. Of course, healing is a journey, and I’m continually working on my relationship with my body now. But there was a big change in my late 20s that set me on a new path with food. I was in the process of shifting gears professionally while in grad school, and ended up in the food justice movement, which included becoming involved in various food initiatives like interning on an organic veggie farm for 6 months. The farming experience and other food involvements ended up being a huge transformational period for all aspects of my life: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, as well as professional. And my relationship with food and my body completely changed. The physical labour, the fresh air and sunlight, the direct involvement in my own food source, the experience of cooking and eating freshly picked veggies, the supportive community – all of these combined fostered a slow-building shift.

It was towards the end of the agriculture season, in the fall, that I realized I was changing in a concrete way. At the time, I noticed I was extra hungry all the time and wanting to eat more than usual, which confused me because my activity level hadn’t changed from the preceding seasons. I was annoyed with myself as that internalized fatphobia crept up on me, fearing I would gain weight. But then it hit me what was happening: my body was trying to store up for winter! Duh, of course it was. As is true for many species, my body wanted to gain weight to help me get through the winter. And I realized this was in line with food in season at the time. Unlike the juicy, refreshing, light produce of the hot summer, the fall produce we were growing on the farm was more hearty, filling, sustaining and warming. The summer tomatoes and melons were being replaced by the autumn root vegetables and squashes – the latter of which are not only calorie-dense to sustain me, but are also the veggies that store the best through the winter. Thus, the seasonal food availability matched my physical needs! I acknowledge, of course, that seasonal foods can vary between climates; but they would similarly meet physical and ecological needs congruently.

This experience of recognizing my body’s shifting seasonal food needs was new to me, and I believe it is because this was perhaps the first time my body was in sync with the seasons. I had actually physically experienced the changing seasons by spending so much time outdoors on the farm, as well as by having access to a consistent local food source to match. This is very different from the typical food we eat in our industrial, globalized food system. When we eat the imported, non-seasonal food found year-round in our grocery stores, our bodies get conflicting messages! It feels cold outside because it’s winter, yet we are eating cooling fruits like watermelon and oranges. To add to the confusion, we spend most of our time indoors, looking at artificial lights that mess with our circadian cycles, and using heating and air conditioning most of the time. Of course, we now need some of these things to survive and function, but you can understand why our bodies may be out of sync and craving nature! And when our bodies manage to fight back and, for example, gain weight in winter, we freak out and shame ourselves, believing that the “winter layer” is bad, instead of a beautiful mechanism our bodies have evolved to use. But if, instead, we embrace seasonality, including eating seasonally and spending time outside in the seasons, our bodies are better able to receive internal signals about food, metabolism, and much more than we even realize. We begin to work in harmony with our bodies, rather than against them.

Thus, food justice and body image are very much related! Our broken food system’s lack of seasonal availability sends us confusing messages and takes us out of sync from the seasons. Reinforcing this are the media’s destructive messages about body image: the media tells us we’re supposed to have the same, thin body year-round, which, intentionally or not, the food system supports by providing us with the same food throughout the year. So of course our relationship with food and with our bodies is tumultuous!

All this being said, I don’t want to demonize non-seasonal food or to shame anyone who is disconnected from nature. While seasonality may help us feel healthier and happier, there should be no moral obligation to be “healthy”, which can be impossible anyway. All bodies, healthy or not, are of value. In addition, nature, and especially local food, are often inaccessible for a variety of reasons: urbanization, environmental racism, food desserts, poverty, and industrial agriculture, to name a few. Often seasonal, organic food is not affordable, available, or culturally appropriate. Thus, I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever eat imported oranges in the winter. What I’m saying is that our communities and municipalities need to work on increasing access to nature and local food and collectively ending oppressive systems that cause inaccessibility in the first place, so that local food and nature can be an option for all. More specifically, I would like to see the food justice movement’s efforts to change our food system join in with the body positivity movement’s efforts to challenge beauty norms and shift body image! These are interconnected on both a structural and personal level. As my access to local food and nature has increased, my relationship with my body and with food has shifted towards healing, self-love, and pleasuring in the food I grow, cook and eat.

As stated earlier, The Seasonal Body is twofold in nature. Not only is it a concept that emphasizes the connection between our bodies and seasonality; it is also a framework for examining the intersections of relevant topics within this realm – including, of course, food justice and body positivity. But as the tagline indicates, it also includes disability, and you’ve probably been wondering how it ties in. Perhaps the initial connection one thinks of is health and disability – i.e. nature connection is good for all aspects of health, including various disabilities. However, I’ve been nervous to include the topic of disability because I want to stay away from the pathologizing, prescriptive way of discussing health. I regret I have already failed at this by using certain terminology and notions about health in this piece, which I’ve done because this language is the way I know how to give context and understanding to the concepts I’m discussing. I will do my best to speak in ways that aren’t ableist or healthist (two topics I hope to discuss in the future), and welcome recommendations on how to do this in accessible ways for readers. I don’t subscribe to the individual/medical model of disability, which states that disability is an individual problem that the individual (with medical help) must overcome. The social model of disability, and other alternative models, state that impairments or lack of abilities aren’t inherently good or bad, and that society is responsible for causing inaccessibility and ableism.

Health and ableism aside, I did not initially envision disability as part of this project. However, after having a brain injury and becoming disabled a couple years ago, I realized I couldn’t separate my experience and identity as a disabled person from my experience of body image and food justice. For example, loving my disabled body and being able to access nature and food when brain injured and poor are struggles for me. I hope to address these and many other intersecting topics, such as how the body positivity, disability and food justice movements perpetuate or challenge ableism, classism and sizeism. In addition to drawing on ecopsychology, disability activism, food studies, and body positivity movements like size acceptance, this project is grounded in anti-oppression, so expect to hear about feminism, racism, colonialism, capitalism, and more.

While this was perhaps a long, essay-like explanation, I hope it has provided more clarity on what The Seasonal Body is all about. I welcome more suggestions on topics to cover! To get in touch or to stay in the loop, you can email us here or subscribe to blog posts by entering your email address into the header/panel. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, where we share links relevant to everything The Seasonal Body encompasses.

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