It’s been a heck of week, hasn’t it?
Like many Americans I’ve spent the days since the election trying to process the brave new world that we live in. For me this campaign season has been about more than politics (don’t worry, I won’t go there). I’ve found myself reacting emotionally in a deep, fundamental way to many of the events that occurred over the course of the campaign season and it has caused me to reevaluate my relationship with several of the core pillars of stability in my life.
Some of the things that came up for me are issues that I write about regularly here at Summer Tomato. These are topics I’ve thought deeply about for years, but suddenly I see them in a new light. And while much of what has changed for me started with a negative emotion, the longer I sit with these feelings the more I realize the shift I’ve experienced has brought me closer to the truth. And for this I am thankful.
With Thanksgiving around the corner (and my birthday on Friday) I want to share with you some of the insights I’ve had. Unlike most of what I write here, this is not intended to be prescriptive advice you should follow. Instead my goal is to simply show the messy process of refining your own values when life makes it necessary.
If you do happen to share some of these values (there are no right or wrong values so don’t freak out if you don’t), I hope you can find something to be thankful for this week as well.
Healthy eating is a means to an end
One of the most significant perspective shifts I had when becoming a foodist was valuing my health. From the ages 11-27 I considered food, exercise and sleep to be necessary evils that took up too much time. My only goals were to be thin and functional in society. Health wasn’t even on my radar. I knew that coffee and cigarettes for breakfast did not do my body any favors (not my finest moment), but I didn’t really care. It made me thinner, and that was all that mattered.
When I first decided to focus on health, if I’m perfectly honest with myself it was an experiment to lose weight. (It’s worth noting that one of the reasons this site continues to promote weight loss front and center as a goal is that I know from experience how motivating thinness is for so many people, and that if I just promised good health at the top of the page the people I need to reach the most simply wouldn’t care.)
Despite my tenuous start I did start focusing on health and it changed my life. I felt better, I looked better, I slept better, I had more energy, I was more focused, and to my surprise and delight, I did lose weight. While weight loss was my initial goal, my quality of life improved so dramatically that being thinner suddenly felt like a bonus prize. This is how I came to value my health as an essential priority. As they say, the rest is history.
Health became so important to me after this experience that I made it my life’s work. I founded Summer Tomato, I wrote a book, I started coaching. Some might call me a health evangelist.
But something shifted in my health value last week. When I woke up Wednesday morning I wasn’t interested in food. I ate when I was hungry, but without joy. I forgot to go to my pilates class. There was absolutely nothing I could write about healthy eating that felt the least bit important as a new reality set in.
The election made very clear to me the difference between ends values and means values. For so long self-care has felt like an ends value for me. I was raised to be a very independent person, and being someone who takes care of myself is a strong part of my identity. For those reasons I think, being healthy felt like an end in itself. It needed no further justification. It was an ends value.
While I still strongly value health and enjoy the process of caring for it, today I see it more as a means value. That is, I need to be healthy and clear-minded in order to fulfill other values that are important to me. If I’m stressed, tired, sick, weak, hangry, or in any other way negatively impacted by lack of self-care then I am less effective at fulfilling my potential. Healthy eating and self-care are wonderful values, but like making money they are only as important as they enable me to do things that matter more.
When I think about this I realize this has always been true. I think when I was younger my ego was more wrapped up in how I looked and so I became conditioned to think of food and a thin body as an end goal. But in reality that was never what really mattered, and this election has made that very apparent to me. I’m thankful for this new clarity.
Caring a lot about how other people view your body is kind of gross
We all saw something pretty shocking this election when Donald Trump unintentionally showed us how certain men talk about women behind closed doors. For myself and most of the women I’ve spoken with about the tape, while his words were certainly horrifying, the most upsetting part was watching him and Billy Bush greet the woman who was the butt of their joke. They were kind and fawning, trying to make her feel special, respectfully asking for a hug.
It was disgustingly familiar.
Fundamentally I think all women understand that we are judged by our bodies (by both men and other women). Had you asked me last year what I thought about that, I might have told you that it was a little annoying but mostly harmless, and that I have enough self-confidence to know that the real me can only be judged by what is in my head and heart.
Still, knowing that you’re judged by your body every day makes it hard not to care. And it isn’t entirely about ego. The better you look, the more doors open. We’ve all seen the statistics of how thinner, prettier people make more money and are considered smarter. We see that reality in our daily lives. So we color our hair, put on makeup and do everything backward and in high heels. More often than not, these behaviors are rewarded.
I knew all of that before I saw the tape. But when I saw Arianne Zucker greet her wannabe assaulter with a sincere smile and hug, I saw a worst nightmare coming to life. She was doing her job. She thought they respected her. I’m sure she appreciated being called “a beautiful woman” and thought that meant she got bonus points, but in reality it made her more of a target.
That was what really struck me. Even though many or most women are willing to accept a certain level of objectification, we hold tightly to the myth that looking better is always best for us. That myth has now been shattered pretty hard for me.
There was a time in my life when being considered an 8, 9 or 10 would have made me happy. Now it just makes me cringe. I’m thankful to be rid of this delusion.
Food and health need our support more than ever
It’s deeply frustrating to me that safe, healthy food is a partisan issue, but it makes sense if you remember how much money is involved. I have a hard time imagining anyone at the grocery store who doesn’t want their food to be safe, properly labeled, and handled responsibly. This seems like basic common sense.
The purpose of the FDA is to make sure the food you feed your family (and pets) is what it claims to be and is safe. The agency already has trouble keeping up with inspections due to lack of funding (remember when half a BILLION eggs were contaminated with Salmonella?), but Trump has vowed to slash funding even more to cripple “the FDA food police”. I’m all for getting rid of needless government programs, but this isn’t one of them.
The last thing we need is to return to a pre-Upton Sinclair era where companies regulated themselves and there were no requirements for food to be safe or properly labeled, and when the good people who helped produce our food had their lives endangered by going to work. I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on how this progresses and if your help is needed.
For now I’m very thankful for the FDA and the essential work they do.
We are all in this together
I’ve had a lot of difficult conversations in the past week with friends, family and strangers. While sometimes it feels like the gulfs between us couldn’t be wider, since the election I’ve found that my deepest desire now is to find out what we all have in common. And in a profound way that makes me feel more connected to my fellow Americans than ever.
At this point it feels like both parties have imploded, the future is uncertain at best, and we don’t have any choice but to decide what we care about as a people and fight to get it. Sure we will disagree about the details, and we will figure those out. But I feel like we’ve been passive about politics for too long and that’s what got us to this point. It’s time to have hard conversations again, and I am deeply thankful to have them with you.
Disagreements are good. When someone presents an opposing view point on something you believe it is a chance to learn and make both of your ideas better. We all get some things right and some things wrong, and how great is it that we have so many different view points in this country that we can draw from? If we can re-learn to be respectful, listen with curiosity and let down our own defenses, I have no doubt that we can make America even greater than it is today.
So I am thankful to all of you for supporting me, for engaging with me, and for challenging me when you see fit. You make me a better person every time.
Please respectfully share your thoughts in the comments.