Food is NOT Medicine
In the spring of 2012, two major events happened in my life. First, I went vegan. Then, about two weeks later, I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Since I’m lactose intolerant, cutting out dairy helped with my symptoms, but since I started being treated with real medicine around the same time as I went vegan, I don’t really know how much of an effect cutting out animal products had on my body.
My doctors applauded the fact that I was going vegan, but reminded me that I should still avoid certain foods, specifically those high in fiber. I’ve been vegan for two years and I don’t think I’ve eaten a salad that entire time, which is why I always laugh when people assume all I eat is salad. Of course, I went vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, not for health reasons, so I don’t feel too bad that I’m missing out on salad. While
I absolutely love being vegan, there is something about the vegan community that has bothered me since day one: the pseudoscience. Veducated is one of my favorite vegan documentaries, but just yesterday, they shared this fear mongering picture (from NaturalNews.com, of course) on their Facebook page. As a disabled vegan, this is devastating to me. Veducated isn’t alone in sharing this kind of sentiment. I see it all over the internet…my friend’s instagram feeds, on Tumblr, even on doctors’ websites.
I shared the story of how I got diagnosed when Skeptability first launched, but in case you didn’t read it, I wasn’t treated at all for Crohn’s (or any intestinal problems) until I was 23. Though I was very ill throughout high school, my parents kept chalking up my symptoms to me not eating well enough. So I’d go on health food kicks where I really tried to nourish my body, get enough sleep, exercise…only to end up sicker than I had been before (at which point I would go back to the bland, simple foods I had been eating, because they were they only foods that didn’t make me feel awful). Know what happened after eight years of not treating my autoimmune disease? They had to remove a foot of my bowel because the tissue was dead.
No amount of “healthy food” would fix my diseased intestines. You know what did help? Actual medical care– surgery and medications.
I’m not trying to downplay the effects of food on the human body. Is eating healthy food generally better than eating badly? Sure, for the most part. Are there health conditions where doctors advise a dietary change can seriously improve your quality of life? Definitely. But images like this ignore serious issues that hinder people’s abilities to eat healthy. For example, as I mentioned, I cannot eat traditional “health” foods, like salads or fiber-rich vegetables. Not to mention, most days, I don’t have the energy to make a complicated meal (sometimes even making pasta is too tiring for me). Most health food is also perishable, requires a significant amount of preparation, and costs more than processed food. I read an article a few days ago by a woman who went shopping with a homeless mother, and one quote that stood out to me was:
“Here’s the thing,” she explained. “We can’t have anything perishable in the shelter. So, the girls never get enough fruits or vegetables. We don’t have a stove or a fridge. I don’t want you to think I’m buying bad things. I just don’t have a way to keep the good things.”
That’s one of the dilemmas lower-income people face. If you don’t have a steady living situation, how are you supposed to be able to store and prepare health food? (Both Daniel and Ania have written about some of the intersectional issues of poverty and disability.)
Is eating healthy generally a good thing? Of course. But images like this only perpetuate the idea that our disabilities are our faults and make people feed bad for being sick. If you want to eat healthy, great, I’m happy for you. But if you want to make me (or any other chronically ill person) feel bad for taking medicine that is literally keeping us alive, then you’re an asshole.