September 21, 2021

Body Liberation and Fat Acceptance

FoodShare launches new statement: all bodies have the right to exist as they are 

In 2019 when a small group of FoodShare staff started working on a set of guidelines to address and avoid anti-fatness and body policing in the organization, finding an umbrella term for this work was a challenge. “Ultimately, we went with ‘body positivity’ because we wanted to use something people had heard of and would gently open the door to conversations about fatphobia,” explains Katie German, the food justice organization’s Director of Advocacy and Programs.

By 2021, with guidelines shared across FoodShare, trainings, panels and content audits under their belt the internal taskforce was increasingly uncomfortable with the framing. “We’d seen body positivity as a concept and as a movement be co-opted by thin people, white folks, online influencers and corporations. It just wasn’t saying what we wanted it to,” says German.

That’s why she says FoodShare is happy to launch their revised Body Liberation and Fat Acceptance statement. “We’re not mincing words, this is about taking a stand against anti-fatness, ableism, healthism and any form of systemic oppression that purports to tell people how they should look, move or feel about their body. And we’re stating clearly that anti-fatness is rooted in anti-Blackness.” 

German says FoodShare wanted to normalize building living documents that grow and change with the organization. “The statement isn’t radically different than it was before, but the small changes make it way more reflective of where we are today. As a fat person, I’m really proud of it.” 

“All bodies have the right to exist as they are” has become a core tenet of FoodShare’s value system (with the totebags to prove it, all proceeds from the sale of which go to Dashmaawaan Bemaadzinjin – They Feed the People) and German says this has influenced programming in a host of ways. 

“We’ve looked at all the ways we talk about food across the board, especially in our learning programs. FoodShare was absolutely an organization that used to talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’  foods and so we had to make sure every piece of curricula was shifting to focus on food’s role in culture, in comfort, in community-building. Now instead of talking about what to eat we talk about where our food comes from, who grows it and in what kinds of working conditions.” 

For Fateha Hossain, knowing that a taskforce like this existed helped them feel comfortable at their new job as Good Food Markets Facilitator. Hossain joined FoodShare in January of 2021, just as the statement was being revised. 

“It just spoke to the willingness of FoodShare to walk the talk, and that equity at FoodShare isn’t performative, it’s embedded into our culture and policies,” Hossain says, adding that they “wanted to be at a place where we could have evolving conversations of how food justice encompasses so many invisible experiences of oppression in people’s daily lives.”

Hossain says the taskforce that leads this work at FoodShare is “all of us, from different teams, trying to hash things out — in real time — working to incorporate the ideals of body sovereignty in our work.” And it’s not just folks on the taskforce, but across the organization: “we’re all collaborating and all learning. Everyone is at a different stage of understanding around this work. But everyone is open to having the conversation. That’s super necessary.”

German says FoodShare is committed to helping other organizations who are working on these same issues. “We’re not saying we have it all figured out, but we’re making it a priority.” FoodShare has guidelines set out so that partners and funders can be on the same page when it comes to body liberation and fat acceptance and has held information sessions for other organizations looking to address anti-fatness in their work. 

“Working in the food movement I have not heard body liberation being discussed enough. Things like the upcoming panel I’ll be hosting are, to me, so important — we need to dialogue broadly on these issues,” Hossain says. The panel on September 24 will bring together Marquisele (Mikey) Mercedes, May Friedman and Issa Kixxen for a discussion titled: Dismantling Fat Shaming and Weight Stigma in Health and Wellness Spaces.

Friedman is a faculty member at X University whose research focuses on unstable identities including bodies that do not conform to normative tropes of race, ethnicity, ability, size, beauty and health. “I don’t believe you can address racism, or homophobia or transphobia, or colonialism, or other forms of oppression without also acknowledging fatphobia, especially since health policing is so virulently aimed at communities of color, Indigenous folks and other groups who are already targeted,” Friedman says. 

According to Hossain “to have to wrestle with these things is what it means to participate in the food justice movement as marginalized people. We have to be moving away from moralizing health and food.”

Friedman says making food accessible and nourishing is “central to liberation” yet warns that it can be hard to do so without hierarchizing “good” and “bad” foods or otherwise setting up ideas about “right” ways to eat. But she says, “thinking of nourishment in complicated ways that centre community and connection is a great first step.”