Lesbians, Food and Politics

February 26, 2016 in General

As a gay man with type 2 diabetes myself, and a veteran political activist, I wonder sometimes at the amount of time that I spend discussing food with people. Back during the eighties and nineties, it was the issue of animal rights as large numbers of my fellow leftists converted to ethical vegetarianism and veganism in order to avoid consuming other sentient beings. Unfortunately, I liked processed meat too much and kept consuming battered sausages, hot dogs, savs and cocktail sausages, even though my mother was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and it ran on her side of the family. Happily, at 82, Mum is still with us, and exercises iron self-discipline over her diet, exercise regime and medication. I kicked myself in the backside when I was diagnosed, given I’d inherited the gene and should’ve known better. Accordingly, I changed my lifestyle to eliminate processed meat, sugar, non-trim milk and excessive amounts of bread. Admittedly, sodium’s been somewhat more of an ask.

In the latest issue of the US lesbian magazine Curve, its editor asks on what basis lesbians are attributed as being obese. There have been only two studies which have had such fundings. One was from the National Center for Biotechology (2007) and the other originated from the US National Institutes of Health (2013). In the case of the latter study, Merryn Jones comments that there are some questions about the relatively small sample of lesbians within the study- 87 lesbians, compared to 5460 straight women, to be exact. How generalizable is this study, then? Why are such studies given funding or contracts? On the other hand, is it the case that some lesbians and bisexual women live obesogenic lifestyles? Why do we never read about issues like diabetes within the LGBT media, with the odd exception? And can there be such a thing as healthy eating for larger-bodied women? In another article in the same issue, Jasmin Singer relates her experience of vegan gorgeing. Because it’s possible to consume junk food and still be vegan, which does little for your weight. Singer notes that shame about her body and eating drove her obesity. Is denial of problematic eating a denial that there might be something ‘wrong’ with specific lesbian bodies? Because, of course, untrammelled obesity and diabetes do lead to cardiovascular risk, kidney failure, visual degeneration and neuropathic pain. However, then there’s the other side of the coin.

What about lesbians with anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders? It used to be the case that lesbian feminist alternative culture had an emphasis on women’s bodily diversity, but the erosion of that alternative culture may have left some younger lesbians susceptible to bad messages about their body image and consequent vulnerability to the same eating disorders that affect young straight women and young gay men. And unfortunately, due to runaway neoliberal slash and burn attacks on health services, eating disorder NGOs and services are chronically underfunded and restricted. As a diabetes activist, I’ve recently become aware of an horrific condition called diabulimia, in which young women with Type 1 diabetes use their condition to lose weight- but also risk damaging their heart and kidneys as well as their pancreas.

How do lesbians deal with both of these constituencies? It’d be interesting to hear from anyone with personal experience on either ‘side’ of this conundrum.\

Source: Merryn Johns: “Sizing Things Up” Curve: March/April 2016: 4.

Merryn Johns: “The Whole Story” Curve: March/April 2016: 45.

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