Archive for May, 2012

“I’ll take a side order of rack, rib, rump, and shoulder, hold the obesity, heart disease, and high cholesterol, please”

When Heidi Witmer came to lecture our class on her work with the food justice movement in Carlisle, I found her approach informative and optimistic. She painted a portrait of her growing up in Pennsylvania from her adolescence to her college years that gave insight to how her upbringing inevitably led her down the path of community-building by way of the food justice movement. While her story compelling, my mind seemed to wander away from her narrative and towards her initial question she posed to our class: ‘What’s the difference between nutrition and nourishment?’ (in which she later defined the difference between the two: nutrition is often based solely on what someone’s opinion of “healthy” is whereas nourishment holds a more personal connection and addresses the question of, “does this meet a need for you?”) Prior to Heidi’s distinction between the two, I had used the words synonymously, never aware of the vast discrepancy present. As Heidi continued to talk about how the misinterpretation of nourishment and nutriment play out in the nationwide fight in ending obesity), specifically among children (as seen with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative), I couldn’t help but think of the plethora of families in socioeconomically deprived inner city communities where nourishment often takes precedent over nutrition.

 

 

 

 

Thinking out of a Carlisle context, consider inner city communities that lack the financial and emotional support to gain access to resources to fresh food and are blindsided by the government, who continuously inundates these communities with fixed programs that provide members with short-term, unsatisfactory results rather than options to pursuing long-term, fulfilling results. With a food system concentrated on consumption rather than production, the quality of food has decreased and consequently, community health becomes an issue but often overshadowed by crime and gentrification in these inner city communities. It is especially difficult to voice the dangers of food choices to a community that is more concerned with violence in their neighborhoods and are just grateful to have the means to purchase groceries at the nearby grocery store, never mind organic or ‘sustainable’ produce.
In our fast food nation, because food choices are accepted as temporary and quick, many people are unfamiliar with the long-term effects these ‘practical’ yet impulsive eating choices can have on health. Part of this unknowingness stems from the lack of civic education provided for residents of these communities; thus, they resort to what’s familiar to them, whether that me the dollar menu at the local fast-food joint or the inadequate produce available at the nearby convenience stores or limited-assortment supermarkets.

With all this said, I found myself conflicted with Carol Adams’ argument in “The Feminist Trafficking Animals” on our society’s consumption of animals. Throughout the chapter, Adams argues that eating “meat” cannot be considered a personal choice but rather the mere act becomes a debate between the “political” and the “natural”. While I commend Adams for her firm (but at times frighteningly aggressive) stance on the cycle of oppression animals face by women, I do not think it was in her favor to make general statements about the need for all communities to adapt a vegetarianism lifestyle regardless of finances. Such statements like “vegetarianism has often been the only food option of poor people,” reinstates the ignorance often exuded by those who simply write about the oppressed and have little or no experience of being oppressed. I’m still a bit unclear as to whether Adams identified as an ecofeminist or not, but based on her outright claims and disregard for the deeper socio-economic implications behind why individuals follow certain ‘diets’, I’m gonna go ahead and say negative. But perhaps such a situation is too deeply rooted in the experience of certain individuals within these oppressed groups that an ecofeminist analysis would prove to be irrelevant, vague, and misguided. Perhaps a womanist view would be more appropriate in breaking down the layered intersections of people, nature/environment, and the welfare of human life and planet earth.

In no way am I trying to belittle Adams’ main argument, but my goal with responding to her chapter was to shed light upon the gaps and holes that are overlooked when discussing our meat-eating culture. Education and activism outreach, political engagement, policy-making, assessment of nourishment vs. nutrition are all just a few steps that should be integrated into the building the future of inner city communities in hopes of reducing daily trips to the fast-food corner store among residents and thus, alleviating widespread community health problems.

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Man’s Best Friend?

Let’s be real – most of us, at some point or another in our lives “hated” our parents. Don’t even try to deny it. We disliked them so much that we swore that whatever happened we would not act like them we were parents. Lord knows I was one of those children and even though I critiqued my parents for millions of things, there was one thing that upset me more than anything else. No matter how much I begged and promised to be the best daughter ever, my parents refused to get me a dog, or any pet for that matter. So cruel. Although I am now way past my rebellious stage, I still say that I will never forgive them for not allowing us to have a pet – growing up pretending my stuffed animals were alive was just not normal.

For someone who has loved animals for as long as I can remember, not having a pet felt wrong. However, it was not until this last week in my ecofeminism class that I began to think about animals and their relationship(s) to humans on a much deeper level. Throughout the class we read several texts that explored this topic, but it was Lori Gruen’s essay titled “Dismantling Oppression: An Analysis of the Connection between Women and Animals,” that resonated with me most of all. Like the other essays in Greta Gaard’s book Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature (1993), Gruen attempts to analyze the connections between women and animals, the most prominent of which seems to be their similarities as foci of oppression systems within our society. According to Gruen, the connection between women and animals it two-fold; it is both innate and socially constructed. As human beings, women are of course also animals and like all species, they are fertile and have the ability to reproduce. While this relationship is biological, there are other connections between women and animals and how they are both regarded within our patriarchal society, that have been constructed by that society itself. For example, Gruen argues that through the development of hunting within the early human race, men were able to exert their superiority and dominance over the animals they hunted. In turn, hunting further forced an association between animals and women; already physically smaller and weaker than men, women were not typically very involved in hunting, leaving the men to exert power over the powerless animals. This tie was only exemplified with the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Not only did agriculture lead to the need of a larger population, solidifying the place of women within the home bearing children, it also led to the domestication of animals in the fields and the home. Therefore, the development of agriculture allowed men to take agency away from women by limiting them to the home and to the act of child-bearing, as well to take power further away from animals by bringing them into the home only to kill them for food later.

As most people would argue today, the domestication of animals did have the positive outcome in the establishment of pets within the home. I, myself, would agree with this of course. However, when reading this essay, I could not help but feel bothered with the fact that this same process led to the oppression of animals in the long run. Even though having pets within the home has allowed humans to develop meaningful relationships with animals, I had never considered the other effects that domestication had in the overall power balance between humans and animals. Can there be something inherently wrong with people having pets even if they are “man’s best friend”? Are we supporting the system of oppression against animals in some indirect way? After pondering these questions, I came to the conclusion that the relationships humans have with pets today are radically different from the superficial and often cruel relationships that people had with animals when they first became domesticated.

What if this was your best friend?

Nevertheless, Gruen’s article also highlighted a way in which humans and especially men within scientific fields do oppress animals, through the testing of chemical products and medicines. This semester, I took my first psychology class on animal learning and although I was fascinated to find out how humans and animals learn information, I could not help but feel uncomfortable with the means by which scientists have learned about these methods. As I saw everyday in class, scientists run experiments on animals such as rats and pigeons to figure out how they learn, in the hopes that they can address cognitive and behavioral issues in human beings. At first, the idea that “testing on animals can increase the longevity of human life” sounds reasonable and appealing. Hey, if testing on animals means that we will get to live longer and healthier lives, why would it be a bad thing? At least we are not testing on other people, right? That would be clearly immoral, plain and simple. However, on second thought, who are we to decide that testing on animals is not equally as immoral? Why is it that we have no problem killing millions and millions of animals every year in labs to improve our lives…are their lives not important too? Unfortunately, it is clear that to most people, this type of relationship with animals is justified, as long as it serves a greater purpose for the human kind. But just think about this for one minute: would you want your dog sitting with you right now to be shocked or drugged in repeated trials just so generations down the line can possibly live longer? Yes, I know that it is important to learn about humans and other aspects of our world through science but I also know that when I finally get my pet, the last thing I would do is abuse it in a lab. In my opinion, there has to be a middle ground, some sort of solution that will allow us to do both. What is that solution, you ask? I don’t know now but I want to propose the challenge for us to figure it out. At the end of the day, we test on animals mostly to see how man-made substances affect our health….why should animals have to suffer in the expense of our other mistakes?

Fight for our animals!

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Ecofeminism Start to Finish

At the beginning of taking this class, I knew nothing about ecofeminism. The name is pretty self explanatory, so I knew that it must combine some form of feminism with something about the environment. As I have said in my earlier posts, my interaction with the environment was similar to a Subuaru commercial where venturing into the unknown natural world was done from a safe distance, within the confines of a warm and toasty (spider-free) form of transportation. Look, don’t touch was my motto. Over the course of the class, not everything was exactly interesting to me and sometimes I would shake my head and think a lot of it was silly or pushing it to be quite honest. I like to think of myself as my own form of feminist, but never much of an environmentalist so it was hard convincing me of the issues at first. The guest speakers are what really changed my view of ecofeminism and those people didn’t turn up until the end of the course. Seeing real people take on an ecofeminist lifestyle illustrated to me that these were real life problems, within our community and not just ideologies that affected people far far away from me.

The final icing on the cake, again coming at the end of the class, was the connection the class drew between the oppression of animals and women. The parallel was so obvious to me, that I truly believed it was a miracle for not realizing it before. I began to research PETA ads and almost every single one of them featured a naked woman celebrity who was thin and fit the standard of beauty. Although the articles we read related to animals, ecofeminism and women went much more into depth about the parallel and gave more serious examples than PETA ads, it still really struck me about how obviously an animals rights company was in turn choosing to objectify women for their cause.

Ecofeminism and I have had a long journey, but are finally crossing paths in a mutual understanding. I now know what it means to care about the land and am alerted to the fact that there are real issues that are jeopardizing the land and women.

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A Blessing in Disguise

Virginia is home to a large fan-base of hunting clubs because of the ideal landscape that provides for many foxes and other game. Fox hunting has taken a large role in my life because of my passion for horse back riding. Since the age of 4, I have been riding recreationally as well as competitively. One of my favorite events that happens every Thanksgiving is “The Blessing of the Hounds”.  Every year, people from far ranges of the East Coast, sometimes even Great Britain, come to this traditional ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick, Virginia to watch the Keswick hunt club bless their fox hounds. Fox hunting is a popular pastime of some of Charlottesville’s oldest citizens. Locally, fox hunting is recognized as a highly regarded sport and many people participate in the weekly hunts that happen between the months of October and February.

The Blessing of the Hounds has been a tradition for decades now and it is something that the Charlottesville community looks forward to. But before I get into detail about the ceremony and the connection it makes to religion and animals, I feel that it is important to outline the objective of the fox hunt. Fox hunting started in the United States when Robert Brooke, a British huntsman, imported his hunting horses and hounds to the United States in 1650. The objective of the hunt originally was to start the hunt and end with a kill of the fox. However, throughout the years, there have been modifications to the tradition because of the Animal Cruelty societies and the objective of the hunt is to now trap, and release the animal without any harm. The way a hunt is structured is that there are three main individuals. There is: the hunt master, who precedes over every individual during the hunt and makes sure that everyone follows the path to the trapping of the fox; there is the “first flight” individuals who choose the paths less taken, which means they go over rough terrain, unsteady jumps, and streams with their horses – this is for the more experienced riders. And lastly, there are the “second flight” individuals who bring up the rear of the hunt pack and travel on the paths that are less rugged. The fox hounds always lead the hunt.

The Blessing of the Hounds ceremony is only performed in 4 established hunt clubs in the United States, and it is usually more common in Great Britain. The idea of the blessing is to pray for a profitable and exciting hunt to begin Thanksgiving and to give appreciation to the fox hounds and the horses of the hunt. I chose to focus on the Blessing of the Hounds for it is a ceremony so highly regarded in my community because it brings the animals onto the same stance as human individuals. Throughout our readings we discussed the dynamic relationship between the oppression of women and animals, and the similarities between the two with: medical and scientific technologies taking advantage of animals for testing, trafficking for commodification, the domestication of animals as a model of oppression, etc. Although we can look at the domestication of the foxhounds and their training as well as the domestication and training of the hunt horses, however, it is important to note that with this religious acceptance into the church, these animals are now on equal par with their domesticators. The priest goes along to each horse, and every hound with a blessing for each one. The morning of the Blessing is very special because this day symbolizes an appreciation for the animals, which eliminates what we defined as “alienation” or speciesism (79, Gruen) through the social roles.

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BRB, I’m Going Shopping.

This past Tuesday was the last Ecofeminism class of the semester, for me at least.  What I will remember about that specific class is when Professor Bartlow asked how many of us have spent more than 2 hours shopping.  Sadly, only the women in the class were the ones to raise their hands.  I do admit, I have absolutely spent more than two hours shopping.

Shopping for clothes is not the only form of shopping that came into my mind when the question was asked.  Interestingly enough, the form of shopping that I thought of immediately was grocery shopping.  Have you ever walked into a grocery store, no shopping list, and just strolled with your cart exploring the isles? It is honestly one of the most relaxing pleasures I have had the privilege to experience.  It’s hard to explain, but something about walking aimlessly through an enormous room full of food, delicious and mine for the taking, allows ones mind to go free and just think.  In a stereotypical family, the father goes out and works while the housewife does chores, goes to the supermarket, and cooks dinner.

It couldn’t be more than a year ago that I discovered the magic of grocery shopping.  I was sitting in a friend’s house and their entire family was throwing a fit because Theodora (the mother) had left for the supermarket and was gone for 3 hours.  “What could she possibly be doing?”… “She’s probably not even there and went somewhere else, she forgot about us” were the questions being thrown around the house while a bunch of angry Greeks with empty stomachs waited for the return of the cook.  When she finally came back, they were perplexed to find out she indeed was in the market the entire time.  She told them to fuck off, said it was relaxing, and proceeded to cook dinner.  So I tried it.

Mind blowing.

Surrounded by mothers, the occasional middle aged man picking up a few things for the house, and whoever else was there that day were all witnesses to my new found love of supermarkets.  For the people who are balancing 4 kids, a job, and maintain some shred of sanity… maybe going to the supermarket is the last thing they have to squeeze into their schedule before they can finally go to sleep and I understand.  But for those of you reading this who have the time, I dare you to go to the supermarket, get a cart and just stroll… You wont be disappo

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Eat. Learn. Love.

The most recent opinion poll in The Dickinsonian asked students if they would consider adopting a vegetarian diet in order to eat more sustainably. An overwhelming 100% of respondents said “no.”

Well, that seems a little harsh at a school like Dickinson. Obviously, this survey was by no means scientific, and meat eaters must have felt very compelled to display their continued support for meat consumption. But still, why the strong opinion?

Pink Slime. Yum!

What we eat has become a huge issue lately. At Dickinson, the newly formed Sustainable Food Committee recently sent out a survey to the student body asking their opinions on local foods and meat served in the Cafeteria. The news has been filled with stories of pink slime and concern over fast food. I can only imagine what constitutes the White Castles that I shamelessly crave.

Giving up White Castle is a bit of a sacrifice, I admit.

Those unwilling to give up meat consumption- and I don’t blame them, because let’s admit it, meat can taste pretty damn good- are looking towards sustainable options, such as locally raise, grass-fed, free-range beef.

However, James E. McWilliams in his New York Times OpEd article, “The Myth of Sustainable Meat” claims that “grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows” because of the extensive land needed to raise cows on grass.  So now what? Should small farms raising cows sustainably just give up and make way for huge factory farms?

But the questions and answers are not that simple. In a response to McWilliams’ article, Joel Salatin claims that McWilliam’s above claim is false and ignores other benefits such as solar-grown biomass that makes grass-grazing more sustainable.

Clearly, the debate is complex and ongoing. With so much uncertainty over the environmental impact of consuming meat, the easiest decision for me was just to cut meat out of my diet. The reasons for going vegetarian/vegan are different for everyone. Carol J. Adams in “The Feminist Traffic in Animals” proposes refraining from consuming meat because of the similarities between the treatment of women and animals, such as the trafficking of animals bodies in the meat industry. By drawing parallels between the commodification of women’s and animals’ bodies, it is shown that both are treated as”disposable” and “usable” objects. Personally, after hearing statistics from WorldBank environmental advisors and reading articles such as this one showing that meat contributes 51% of global emissions, I became a vegetarian because I saw that it was the easiest thing I could do to substantially reduce my negative impact on the environment. Additionally, eliminating meat from my diet has many health benefits, such as reducing exposure to dioxin. Surely an ecofeminist view sees the multiple benefits arising from this conscious life choice.

Being a vegetarian or vegan at Dickinson is pretty easy, thanks to awesome resources such as the KOVE in the caf. I have met many students who have chosen this diet, and others who are making conscious choices to limit their meat consumption. That is part of the reason that I was so surprised at the responses to The Dickinsonian‘s Survey. Perhaps with all the recent media attention, meat eaters feel like they are being attacked. I believe at this point, the biggest change in American society needs to come from culture and behaviour. Currently, too much emphasis is placed on meat as the main course and main source of protein, leading to overconsumption The change can start small, as simple as Meatless Mondays  or just cutting down portion size and seeking out other sources of protein. There are a whole range of options, and little contributions can add up to make a huge difference.

-Amber McGarvey ’15

 

Photos courtesy of takepart.com and myself.

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“Mom……….. I think it’s stuck.”

The first time I got my period, I got a tampon stuck in me. I was horrified that blood was suddenly coming out of me to begin with, and then I was being rushed to the clinic because of it. Very few of my friends had gotten their’s yet, too, so one could actually say I was beyond mortified. I will never forget the ride to the Emergency clinic with my Mom in her indigo Kia minivan. The doctor came into the room and I was shocked that he was so calm; he acted like 12 year olds got tampons stuck in them every day. I had just found my vagina hours earlier, so I could barely say the word vagina. I’ll never forget how he said it, “vagina,” with such confidence. He put my feet in stirrups and I remember staring at my red sweatpants on the chair about four feet away. I wanted nothing more than to put them on. I did not want anyone to see me “down there,” let alone fish a tampon out of me.

I would not call my parents conservative, but they never really talked to me about my vagina. Before I got my period, it was probably the most neglected part of my body. I was forced to come to terms with the fact that my vagina and I were going to have to acknowledge each other on a leather medical bed with a doctor sticking cold foreign objects inside of me.

If you could not tell, I am a little bitter. I know my experience at the clinic would have been better if I knew about menstruation, my vagina, and tampons. If I was taught how to use a tampon properly before I tried it myself, maybe I would not have gone to the clinic at all! The stigma involving menstruation and vaginas needs to stop. I am sick of guys getting grossed out when I say I have my period. MY PERIOD IS THE REASON THAT YOU HAVE BABIES. It is unusual and can be dangerous not to menstruate.

The main way to break the cycle of ignorance regarding menstruation is to educate. I, for example, was not educated, and I thought that periods were gross and unnatural. I did not touch a tampon until I absolutely had to. All schools should integrate sex education into their curriculums at all levels. Parents should also play a role and educate their kids from an early age about their bodies. Kids should be taught that menstruating is a beautiful, natural cycle that every woman goes through.

Menstruating should be seen as a beautiful part of womanhood. It is a cycle that sets women apart from men and should empower us, not humiliate us. Our society is filled with gender-based taboos that are oppressing women like the fear and anonymity of menstruation.  Education and awareness are the key factors to show and illustrate to people that periods are natural, normal, and here to stay.

Sarah Maple's artwork: Menstruate With Pride

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Occupy Wall-Street Movement in depth.

On May 1st, 2012 the police in various states arrested several hundred Occupy Wall Street protesters particularly in New York where the protests began in September 2011. Using the words of Robert Alan Sessions in Ecofeminism and Work, it can be argued that people burdened with “compensatory consumption”, the dichotomy of work and leisure and mainly unequal distribution of wealth has resulted in this movement that totally opposes capitalism in the birthplace of capitalism itself (Sessions 181,182, 183). One of the major themes of the protests is 99 percent versus the 1 percent highlighting the great income inequality in the U.S. where the wealth of 1 percent has steadily risen whereas the income of the bottom 80 percent has remained the same or even decreased since their highest in the 1970s. From 1970s onwards, corporations have took hold of both political parties in the U.S. and has greatly reduced the rights of the people.

The police has been very violent towards the Occupy Wall Street protesters showing the real intentions of the government.

The Financial Crisis in 2008 and the immediate bail-out that followed that led to hundreds of billions of dollars being handed to chosen banks in Wall-Street shows the strong influence Wall-Street banks have over the White House and the Federal Reserve. It is as if the main purpose of the U.S. government is to serve not the people but the Wall-Street banks. The banks in Wall-Street thanks to government money are bigger and stronger than ever and are back to paying huge bonuses to their employees where as ordinary Americans find it hard to find a job with a good pay and keep their house. The result is people are working two or even three jobs at the same time to maintain their standard of living or even worse are borrowing against their house or using credit card. Also add with the rising cost of attending college that creates a significant barrier for people to attend college. The result has been protests across America especially in colleges and universities in California where the government decided to increase the tuition. But generally police has been very violent towards protesters using force which has questioned the true intentions of the government regarding human rights and proves that the Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the worst nightmares of the government. After World War II, the cold war helped to polarize the capitalistic spirit in America by branding communists as enemies of the state.

The protests have attracted people from all walks of life. In the image it can be seen that women along with men are participating in the protests on May 1st, 2012 in NYC.

The sheer uniqueness of the protesters adds something to the Occupy Wall-Street protests. The fact that the protesters are not bound by gender, race, class or age but unified by the movement is amazing. Also the protests have questioned the ethics of recent graduates going into a financial career. Many previous financial career enthusiasts are now changing their plans to other fields. Capitalism and patriarchy can be traced as the two root causes that result in great income inequality and also destruction of the environment. Since the Industrial Revolution, economic growth has been co-related with environmental destruction (Sessions 176).  The fact that patriarchy puts man above nature and women leads to exploitation of both. Also the capitalistic intentions of profit play a big role as systemic inequality generates big amount of money for the people at the top. Only time will tell what the protests will lead to. But we can all hope for a better society and a better environment.

Works Cited

Sessions, Robert A. “Ecofeminism and Work.” Ed. Karen Warren. Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. 176-92. Print.

 

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Vegetarianism: an Identity or Choice?

After our discussion on Friday about vegetarians and vegetarianism I got to thinking about the way in which food consumption governs our personal and political identity.  Is being a vegetarian/vegan simply about food choice?  Does the choice to eat meat end after the waitor takes orders at a restaurant?

Vegetarians can be  “pesco-vegetarian” , “pollo-vegetarian”, “vegetarian”, “lacto-vegetarian”, “ovo-vegetarian” and “vegan”.  Phew!  What choices one has in food consumption!  If we’re discussing political identity as an extension of personal choice, how is a “lacto-vegetarian” percieved as opposed to a “pollo-vegetarian”?  Is the consumption of any feminized or animal proteins enough to make your political identity as a vegetarian invalid?  Or does the line of acceptable consumption lie with “meat” consumption- aka “peco/pollo-vegetarians”?

Adams argues that the term meat “others animals”, and acts as a force that “naturaliz[es] animals as intrinsically consumable”.  She makes the argument that “to be a pig is to be pork” “to be a chicken is to be poultry”.  Thus, humans as a group with almost complete hegemonic power over animals feel entitled to treat them as simply a means to the end of meat consumption.  The thinking behind the process of meat-eating extends beyond the agro-industrial complex.  The choice to eat meat becomes a point of personal identity and the process of “othering” extends beyond the realm of meat production to human relations.

Let’s explore some potential intersections of politics and personal identity.  When asked “why are you a vegetarian?”  there are a variety of answers given.  Some common ones include: the opposition to animal cruelty, the disapproval of the energy used to raise animals for slaughter, the need to eat healthily, and cultural/religious reasons.  Let’s be real: some people hop on the vegetarian bandwagon because it’s trendy and fits in with their hippie-inspired boho-chic wardrobe.  Plus all of the Celebrities are doing it!  By stating these reasons, I am not trying to invalidate them or the decision to abstain from meat-eating trivial.  I am simply trying to point out that the desire to eat a vegetarian diet stems from a number of reasons.  Are some of these more politically-driven than others?  Who decides?

Perhaps it’s the outward declaration of vegetarianism that allows for political identity to become involved.  If one says that they are a vegetarian, then they are claiming an identity as determined by another person.  While this certainly exists within this context, it is a concept that can be more broadly applied.  Any personal choice can be subject to subjective classification by another.  The choice to perform as a woman, the choice to appear or pass at heteronormative, the choice to wear certain clothes and speak in a certain way all have connotations attached to them that we cannot escape.  While it may seem like a personal choice to purchase and wear a certain shirt, in a small way you are claiming an identity and asserting political power with that purchase.  When you wear that shirt you will be perceived in a certain way and may be able to mediate access to things you would otherwise not be privy to (meetings with people, ideas, opportunities etc.).  You are using your buying power to support (or not support) equitable business practices.

In a more abstract way, this concept can be tied back to any assumed identity (race, ethnicity, gender performance).  As a person who is of a minority status within a majority culture their actions and choices can viewed through a politicized  lens.  This is problematic because a personal choice becomes political (or racial or gendered) without the individual muttering a word.  Thus, by simply existing one can be viewed as self-identifying with a group (as determined by the individual in power!) and thus subject to all biases the person who is making these connections has previously determined!  It seems to be an abstract link, the process of  “othering”, whether it is in the context of glamorizing a vegetarian or placing racist assumptions on an individual is rampant.  It takes different forms and masks its self in different “identities”, but ultimately acts to subordinate any group which does not adhere to the majority’s conception of the “norm”.

 

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Healing Comes From Within

Contrary to popular belief, Voudou is not a bloodletting and cannibal practice that scary old women perform in the dark. By combining medicinal, spiritual, and psychological aspects, it takes a holistic approach to treating a person. By recognizing the body as an entity that is related to a person’s identity, society, and history, voudou healers are not just able to treat, but heal their patients. Although there is more personal interaction between a vodou priest and his or her client, the relationship gradually develops overtime. Unlike Western medicine, Voodoo draws from a person’s personal experiences and emotions to solve their physical and social problems.

The humility and versatility that encompasses voodoo makes it a female dominated field. As child bearers, women are more easily related to the earth and cycles of life and death. For this reason, “priestesses have more flexibility” to interact with their patients. Women, especially black women, have played the role of child rearer, peacemaker, and breadwinner. Because of their diverse roles, women are more prone to realize the ways in which different facets of a person’s life may influence their mental and physical health. Consequently, priestesses are able to relate religion, the body, and one’s emotions into a comprehensive web. This web is one they are able to read and decode for their clients.

Prominent Haitian Vodou Priestess, La Belle Deesse Jr.

Unlike, vodou, Western medicine is a very distant, hierarchical process. Science is governed by laws and evidence that only few have access to. So, there is an immediate separation and elevation of the medical professional, whereas, vodou priestesses can best treat their clients because they have had similar life experiences that help them to make connections and better address their clients’ problem.  Using their personal experiences, vodou priestesses are able to enhance their human connection and deconstruct the air of mystery and esteem that surrounds Western doctors. Voudou healers use their konesans, or sacred knowledge, to heal their patients. This knowledge includes their knowledge of herbal medicine, theology, and communication with ancestors and spirits. What separates this knowledge from the power of Western doctors is that Western medicine is that healing power implies ownership of knowledge. Through diplomas, licenses, and lab coats, Western doctors distinguish themselves as more educated and resourceful than the common man. This approach to healing leaves distances Western patients from their physicians and caregivers.

Images that come to mind when I think of "Western medicine."

Mock vodou altar in a Dutch museum.

Yet, the practice of vodou calls into question the potential for self-healing and self-medication. Brown points out that during the diagnostic process, “the client is free to answer yes or no to the healer’s probing questions without prejudice…thus the client is active in the diagnosis yet does not dictate the description of the problem (McCarthy Brown, 129).” As a science student and aspiring obstetrician, it is hard for me to grapple with the idea that the health professional, in this case, the vodou priestess, does not ask her client to explain what is wrong with him. Instead, the priestess is proactive in figuring out what the issue or ailment is without the patient telling her their particular issue. This pedagogy of diagnosis seems like the approach of a psychologist. It is almost as if the client solves his own problem as the series of questions progresses. In this sense, the priestess is more of a facilitator of dialogue between the client and his spirit rather than imposing her beliefs on the client. Through this observation, it is obvious that Western medicine does not acknowledge vodou priests and priestesses as medical professionals and do not believe in the legitimacy of vodou practice. Instead of the priestess demanding to know what is wrong with her client from the beginning, she asks her own questions, formulating a diagnosis that might not always be in harmony with what the patient is feeling. This is a better approach to healing as it allows the patient to engage and interact with their caregiver to reach a goal.

Nevertheless, vodou healers can and are able to join the forces of the internal and external to not only prescribe a temporary solution to their clients’ issue, but to dig deep and isolate the root of the problem. And by addressing a person’s inner and spiritual dilemmas, a vodou priestess might alter their actions and consequently their health.

Source: The Power to Heal

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