A Response to “Veganism is a Form of Disordered Eating”: Why the Vegan Community Needs to Take Accountability

Recently, I was interviewed for an academic publication that sought to debunk the myth that veganism constitutes a form of disordered eating. Having lived in a state of ongoing ED recovery for the past five years now — and having experienced veganism as a profound mechanism of healing — I emphatically support the work my interviewer was attempting to do. Indeed, as a proponent of veganism, I no longer understand animal flesh and secretions as food, so likening my veganism to an eating disorder would parallel someone being concerned about my eating habits because I wasn’t chowing down on my carpet.

During the interview, my interviewer asked whether or not I felt anger toward folks who mask eating disorders with vegan consumption habits, only to subsequently speak out against veganism for the struggles it caused them. The question stopped me. Of course I wasn’t angry at such folks — I was one of them, after all, and I couldn’t possibly feel animosity toward someone solely for their destructive internalization of Western false ideals of beauty and body. But I understood where the question was coming from: there has been much backlash in the vegan community against ED-provoked former vegans — a backlash that I believe targets the wrong entities.

Instead of blaming people who hide eating disorders behind vegan consumption habits for giving veganism a bad name, perhaps we should engage in a critical analysis of how we who support vegan consumption habits tend to construct veganism in discourse and practice in such a way as to prompt folks to use vegan eating as a mask for deeper destructive dynamics.

While as I mentioned above I completely support efforts to de-link veganism from eating disorders, I can totally grasp the tendency to connect the two, since for many — including myself while in the depths of my ED — vegan consumption habits can serve as a method of justification for refusing certain calorie-dense foods (even though there’s an animal-free version of basically any dish these days) or loading up one’s plate with veggies. This linkage, however, depends at least in part upon constructions of vegan consumption as “the healthiest diet,” which serves as one of the main arguments for adopting vegan eating habits among vegan activists.

In vegan health arguments, I can identify a number of problems that serve to lend vegan consumption to a masking of eating disorders.

For starters, vegan health arguments construe veganism as primarily a matter of food choice. They thus equate eating with morality–an equation that has played a large role in my own struggles with disordered eating. For example, if I ate something I perceived as unhealthy, failed to include a leafy green vegetable in one of my meals, or ate more than my body needed at any given moment, I would feel a profound sense of guilt and disgust with myself. I based my self-worth primarily on how, when, and what I ate, so eating became a major marker of how I perceived my morality.

I can also see this dynamic play out in health-oriented vegan circles, which tend to lean toward no-oil/soy-free/grain-free/low-fat/etc. diets and equate such supposedly “healthy” eating styles with morality. Indeed, a number of my colleagues have experienced backlash from such circles for publishing recipes perceived as “unhealthy,” receiving such ludicrous comments as “you’re not really vegan if you cook in such-and-such a way” (which is totally false unless that way in which you cook involves animal products). Veganism thus becomes a path by which to achieve the “purest” form of eating, which many forms of disordered eating also seek to do.

However, if we understand veganism as one among many attempts to question the default ideologies – in this case, speciesism – that infringe upon our ability to coexist with others, practicing vegan consumption habits becomes but one action taken in accordance with a larger political orientation. Emphasizing vegan eating as one of many means rather than the end can help to cultivate an understanding of veganism as much more than just one’s eating habits, which can in turn promote a de-linking of veganism and eating disorders.

Additionally, vegan health arguments work to uphold capitalist, statist ideologies that delineate what count as “normal” (and thus acceptable) bodies–exactly the ideologies that help to foster a proliferation of eating disorders in the first place. I think that our conceptions of what counts as a “healthy body” are largely constructed by the capitalist economic system in which we live, which seeks to constantly accumulate more and more wealth. In order to achieve that constant accumulation, capitalism needs to employ as many people as possible in the service of profit-making. Since profit-making depends upon maximized productivity, the capitalist state can only thrive if it creates maximally productive (i.e., “healthy”) bodies — i.e., “healthy” bodies. Virtually all of us internalized a capitalist ideology that conditions us to see productive/”healthy” bodies as normal and superior to all others, so I understand what we tend to perceive as self-betterment as actually in service of the capitalist state. 

This construction of “healthy” bodies is also profoundly ableist — if we understand ableism as a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value to people who live with developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities — since they imply that thin, fully mobile, muscular bodies are the “best bodies.” 

I’m not saying here that we shouldn’t strive to feel good in our bodies, but I am saying that we should strive to dissociate what feeling good means to ourselves from what constructions of a capitalist, statist society tell us our body should look and feel like. For example, currently and for a long time now, I’ve only been able to “feel good” in my body if I can perceive it as thin, thanks to Western societal ideals of body size. So, for me, dissociating feeling good from societal constructions would mean assessing my body on how well it can support me in everything I need and love to do, rather than on its size.

So yes, it’s very disappointing to see veganism employed as a front for eating disorders. But I think that instead of getting angry with individual former vegans for having internalized Western societal conceptions of “the ideal body” and grasping onto what is presented as a food-centric, “health”-related philosophy, we as proponents of veganism should work to challenge these capitalist/statist conceptions of “healthy” bodies by emphasizing eating as but one of many political actions in the service of anti-speciesism.

In solidarity, Ali.

{A Belated Observation of} National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2015

Hey, ya’ll. These past couple of days and the coming ones have provided me with ample amounts of schoolwork to manage, so I haven’t the energy to devote to a full post today. I do, however, want to share a number of resources in (belated) observation of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2015, which took place last week from  February 22 to 28. If you’re interested, you can check out this post about why this issue is near and dear to my heart.

Photo via NEDA.

Photo via NEDA.

First, two videos that I found to be inspiring and helpful in fostering a healthy, ongoing recovery process:

Years of Hating Her Body and Then One Simple Choice Changed Everything
Via Caroline Rothstein at Greatist

Photo via Caroline Rothstein.

Photo via Caroline Rothstein.

5 Common Questions About Eating Disorder Recovery Answered
Via Melissa A. Fabello at Everyday Feminism

Photo via Everyday Feminism.

Photo via Everyday Feminism.

And, because the face of eating disorder awareness is a white, upper-middle-class woman, I want to pass along a couple of resources that speak to the eating-related struggles that women of color face, as well.

Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia
By Stephanie Covington Armstrong

Photo via Stephanie Covington Armstrong.

Photo via Stephanie Covington Armstrong.

A Hunger So Wide And So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems
By Becky Thompson

Photo via Amazon.com.

Photo via Amazon.com.

The #MarginalizED Project
Via Melissa A. Fabello & NEDA

Photo via Melissa A. Fabello.

Photo via Melissa A. Fabello.

In solidarity, Ali.

Thoughts on Food as Identity

Hello and happy Monday, all! I hope you’re doing well. Lately I’ve had some thoughts swirling about my head regarding veganism as an identity. I’ve written briefly on the topic before, inspired by bell hooks’ attempts to de-center the self, challenge our culture’s prevailing individualism, and emphasize feminist struggle as a political commitment by using the phrase “I advocate feminism” instead of “I am a feminist.” Perhaps applying this linguistic and conceptual shift to veganism would help to re-frame vegan consumption as something practiced as an extension of a political consciousness of anti-speciesism, rather than as a practice of consumerism designed to benefit human vegans by shifting the market in their favor.

This notion of conceptualizing veganism not as an identity but as a practice has prompted me to reflect upon my identity as it relates to food in general. Throughout my long-fraught history with food, I gauged my worth as a person by the amount I ate (or, perhaps more accurately, didn’t eat), how “healthily” I ate, and the manner in which I ate (at certain times of day, slowly or in a rushed state, etc.). Exceeding the arbitrary caloric limit I set for myself, consuming minimal amounts of refined sugar or white flour, and eating dinner at 5:50 instead of 6:00 resulted in feelings of unworthiness, and lack of willpower and self-discipline. These self-hating feelings suggest my internalization of a Western form of governmentality that seeks to produce healthy and fit bodies able to act productively in service of the state, and that does so by encouraging a mode of self-policing in its citizens through institutions such as schools, hospitals, the criminal legal system, and beyond.

I now actively stray from labeling myself in food-related terms like “salad-eater” and even “vegan,” largely because I seek to define myself beyond what I put into my body, which is exactly what I did for years to the severe detriment of my physical and mental well-being.

All of this is to say that I currently view the conceptualization of food-as-identity as potentially harmful to developing a more broadly articulated politics of anti-speciesism (as opposed to consumer-based veganism), as well as to my own holistic health (and perhaps others with histories of disordered eating can relate).

However, I do want to also emphasize the importance that food has had for the identities of marginalized people throughout history. Indeed, such peoples have used “[r]esistance to and through food as the exercise of power […] [in] spectacular public displays of starvation or everyday actions,small gestures of rebellion located in (un)authorized or (in)appropriate spaces where they did not quite fit” (Cooks 94). For example, in much of African-American culture, “food-centered gatherings are a forum wherein the history, wealth, spirit, creativity, resilience, and collective ethnic identity of the community is perpetuated” as a testament to the “wealth” that food provided to slaves when “it was available for them to share and enjoy when no other tangible resources were truly their own” (Liburd 161, 162).

This food-based form of maintaining cultural integrity and autonomy in the face of white supremacist racial oppression contributes to my immense discomfort with issuing blanket statements that frame vegan consumption practices as “the most ethical” or “healthiest” form of eating (for challenging white racial superiority by maintaining connections to cultural heritage through food that may involve the consumption of animals could certainly also constitute an ethical matter, while health conceptualized holistically may take the maintenance of such connections into account). This lack of cultural sensitivity that I often see in vegan rhetoric I think also points to the need for advocates of other animals to focus on speciesism as a social justice issue, rather than on vegan consumption as an end goal and moral imperative. In this context of food-based cultural connections, I see the latter focus as continuing to suggest that people of color are morally inferior to white people, and thus perpetuating the colonial mindset that began and proliferated the African slave trade.

So, while I no longer wish to define my own personal or political identities by what I eat, I understand that others of different life experiences may seek to establish food as an integral aspect of their identity in order to maintain autonomy in the face of white supremacy. And I, as a white vegan of upper-middle-class status, want to find ways to advocate for anti-speciesism without de-legitimizing such identity-based struggles. The best way I can think of to do this is to support the leadership of those at the margins of advocacy for other animalsthe vegans of color, the queer vegans, the trans* vegans, the differently abled vegans — and to let them define the trajectory of our movement.

No recipe for today, but hopefully enough food for thought.

In solidarity, Ali.


Bisogni, Carole A., Margaret Conners, Carol M. Devine, and Jeffery Sobal. “Who We Are and How We Eat: A Qualitative Study of Identities in Food Choice.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 34.3 (May-June 2002): 128-139. ScienceDirect. Web. 8 February 2015.

Cherry, Elizabeth, Colter Ellis, and Michaela DeSoucey. “Food for Thought, Thought for Food: Consumption, Identity, and Ethnography.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40.2 (April 2011): 231-258. Sage Journals. Web. 8 February 2015.

Cooks, Leda. “You are What You (Don’t) Eat? Food, Identity, and Resistance.” Text and Performance Quarterly 29.1 (January 2009): 94-110. EbscoHost. Web. 8 February 2015.

Liburd, Leandris C. “Food, Identity, and African-American Women With Type 2 Diabetes: An Anthropological Perspective.” Diabetes Spectrum 16.3 (2003): 160-165. Web. 8 February 2015.

Sneijder, Petra and Hedwig te Molder. “Normalizing Ideological Food Choice and Eating Practices. Identity Work in Online Discussions on Veganism.” Appetite 52.3 (June 2009): 621-630. ScienceDirect. Web. 8 February 2015.

Stead, Martine, Laura McDermott, Anne Marie MacKintosh, and Ashley Adamson. “Why Healthy Eating is Bad for Young People’s Health: Identity, Belonging and Food.” Social Science & Medicine 72.7 (April 2011): 1131-1139. Science Direct. Web. 8 February 2015.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {1-16-15}

Farmers Market Vegan’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which prove necessary in fostering a society that prioritizes the well-being of all creatures (not just the rich, white, or human) over the continuous striving for profit/resource accumulation.

Welcome to your third Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews) of the year! This one’s got some mouthwatering grub featuring the almighty Crispy Potato and a ridiculously fast, simple, and flavor-packed side dish. For stories, I’m focusing on the hypocrisy and anti-Muslim racism rapidly circulating in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre (which was obviously an awful, awful attack, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t critically question how we respond to it). Then! An ahhh-maaa-ziiing project that highlights the voices of those with marginalized identities who also have histories of disordered eating. Today’s a good one, folks!

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Country Hash
Via Everyday Vegan Eats by Zsu Dever, republished at Vegan Heritage Press

Photo via Vegan Heritage Press.

Photo via Vegan Heritage Press.

Crispy potatoes. Chewy tofu. Savory herbs. All cooked up in one cast iron skillet for a seriously satisfying brinner (breakfast for dinner, if ya’ll don’t know). Plus! This recipe provides an optimal venue to experiment with my newly acquired black salt (an Indian salt, actually tinted pink, that lends a sulfurous flavor to foods and thus makes them taste “eggy”…without all of the reproductive exploitation).

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Brussels Sprouts with Onions and Pecans
Via In Sonnet’s Kitchen

Photo via Sonnet Lauberth.

Photo via Sonnet Lauberth.

A phenomenally simple, 5-ingredient dish bursting with succulent flavor from caramelized onions, tender brussels sprouts, and buttery pecans. Try this one on for size on those nights when you can’t bear to think about spending more than 15 minutes in the kitchen.

Must-Read News Story

Unmournable Bodies
Via Teju Cole at The New Yorker

Photo via Dursin Aydemir / Anadolu / Getty

Photo via Dursin Aydemir / Anadolu / Getty

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a ton of hypocrisy and anti-Muslim sentiments have been circulating among various punditry venues. This brilliant article by Teju Cole unpacks the event’s fallout, and reminds us that we must “defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech.” Additionally, Cole points to the longstanding attack on journalists by such Western countries as the United States as indicative of our propensity to blame the Other (in this case, followers of Islam whom we’ve long targeted) before taking a good hard look at ourselves.

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

“‘Circus of Hypocrisy’: Jeremy Scahill on How World Leaders at Paris March Oppose Press Freedom
Via Democracy Now!

Photo via Democracy Now!

Photo via Democracy Now!

More on the hypocrisy rampant in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, this time from The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill.

Book Recommendation Awesome Projects That You Should Totally Check Out

Via Melissa A. Fabello & NEDA

Photo via Melissa A. Fabello.

Photo via Melissa A. Fabello.

I’m in love. I love this project. Please spread this project far and wide.

“When you think of eating disorder stories, most of them are told from the same perspective: young, white, able-bodided, middle-class women living in a Western, English-speaking country who suffer a restrictive eating disorder, eventually seek in-patient treatment, and find the road to recovery.

“And while these stories are important and absolutely need to be told, they simply aren’t giving the public (including the professional eating disorder world) an honest account of how eating disorders are experienced by a wide range of people. …

The #marginalizED project is a joint effort between the National Eating Disorders Association and writer, activist, and Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, Melissa A. Fabello. Disparaged by the lack of diverse voices in eating disorder memoirs, they decided to join forces to curate an anthology of narratives speaking to marginalized experiences in eating disorder suffering and recovery.”

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {1-2-15}

Farmers Market Vegan’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which prove necessary in fostering a society that prioritizes the well-being of all creatures (not just the rich, white, or human) over the continuous striving for profit/resource accumulation.

Happy New Year, all! On today’s edition of Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews), we’ll get into some stories regarding the destructive dieting & detox culture that inevitably crops up around this time each year. But first, an ode to carbs (how do I love thee?) with matzo ball soup and potato salad. Also, don’t miss the three exciting projects in need of support that I’ve highlighted at the very end of today’s post!

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Pumpkin Matzo Dumpling Soup
Via Bittersweet

Image via Hannah Kamisky.

Image via Hannah Kamisky.

As the winter weather moves into bitter territory, this bowl of rich broth studded with dense golden orbs of chewy goodness seems so inviting I might just bathe in it. I didn’t think that matzo ball soup could be any more comforting, but leave it to vegan cookbook author and photographer extraordinaire Hannah Kaminsky to accomplish such a feat by adding pumpkin into the mix.

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Potato Salad with Coconut Bacon
Via Divine Healthy Food

Image via Susanna at Divine Healthy Food.

Image via Susanna at Divine Healthy Food.

Coconut bacon, caramelized onions, vegan mayonnaise, and potatoes all mashed up into one dish? You might as well just call this salad “Mouthful of Happiness.”

Must-Read News Story

With all the detox, dieting, and New Years’ resolution rhetoric flying around this time of year (which has definitely addled my mental health recently), I wanted to highlight a couple stories that serve as important reminders of self-love, body acceptance, and inner kindness. Two of my favorite bloggers – both of whom write often, inspiringly, and supportively on the topic of disordered eating – have offered just such stories this past week.

Coping with Eating Guilt, Toxic Comments & Triggers
Via Raechel at Rebel Grrrl Living
The Two Phases of My Recovery
Via Gena Hamshaw at Choosing Raw

Photo via Rebel Grrrl Living.

Photo via Rebel Grrrl Living.

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

Time for a New Year’s Revolution: How Diet Culture Upholds Capitalism
Via Melissa A. Fabello at Everyday Feminism

Photo via Everyday Feminism.

Photo via Everyday Feminism.

While I feel that the first portion of the video gets a little victim-blamey, I think that the majority of it does a great job of pin-pointing the social structures behind the common and super destructive phenomenon of the diet/binge/self-hate cycle. One quote I pulled from the video that particularly resonated with me:

“We think we’re unhappy because we don’t look ‘good,’ but the truth is that we’re unhappy because consumerism needs us to be.”

Book Recommendation Awesome Projects That You Should Totally Check Out

Instead of highlighting a book this week, I’d like to point you toward three exciting endeavors currently in need of support. The first is seeking contributions to a supremely important conference taking place this March, while the last two are asking for financial contributions to support meaningful projects.

Call for Presentations – East and South Asian Voices Challenging Racism, Colonialism, and Speciesism Online Conference
Via Hana Low with the Institute for Critical Animal Studies–North America

Image via conference Facebook page.

Image via conference Facebook page.

New Sistah Book Project & 2015 Conference
Via A. Breeze Harper at GoFundMe

Photo via Sistah Vegan.

Photo via Sistah Vegan.

Support the Femmes de Chermaitre Women’s Co-op
Via Vassar Haiti Project

Jeanne Saintulis, President of Femmes de Chermaitre / Photo via Vassar Haiti Project

Jeanne Saintulis, President of Femmes de Chermaitre / Photo via Vassar Haiti Project

A specific note about this last project: while I’m usually hugely skeptical of campaigns spearheaded by Western actors to “benefit” folks in non-industrialized societies (*cough* white savior complex *cough*), my good friend and fellow Vassar student who heads up the Vassar Haiti Project assures me that “this isn’t really a ‘typical’ do good-y non profit type thing. All the initiatives in the fundraiser came from the women, and will be fully implemented by their co-operative….we just put their ideas onto a webpage so that it can hopefully can the support it needs.” My more general reservations aside, I wanted to honor my friend’s request to help spread the word about the fundraising campaign.

In solidarity, Ali.

The (Vegan) Triple Bacon Salad | Why “Farmers Market Vegan”?

Over the course of the past four years of my blogging endeavors, my understanding of and relationship to food, veganism, social justice, and, yes, farmers markets has shifted considerably. Indeed, way back in 2011 when I first conceptualized my blog, I held rather naive, perhaps even romantic notions of all of these entities, and hadn’t even begun to realize the coalescing forms of structural subjugation rampant in our society.

Today, after a turbulent four years involving enrollment at a progressive college and eating disorder recovery, I’d like to think of myself as harboring more nuanced views on all of the above (though I certainly don’t purport to understand them in all their complexity). As such, this past summer I penned a new draft of my ever-developing story and blogging “mission statement” of sorts. Though I made this piece of writing available on the “About Me” page of my blog a couple of months ago, in an effort to share more broadly the new meaning behind my blog (and to free up some time in my hectic college-student schedule), I’d like to republish my “blogging autobiography,” if you will, in a separate post today.

Waiting at the bottom of this story is the recipe for an indulgent-tasting amalgamation of richly umami flavors and a satisfying contrast of hearty and crisp textures…with three shots of bacon (vegan, of course!). A bed of bacon-flavored salad greens (who knew that sesame oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder combined to create an eerily accurate bacony taste?) forms the base of this salad, nearly charred roasted cauliflower and shiitake mushrooms provide bacon’s crispy-chewy juxtaposition, and succulent tempeh bacon tops the dish. To offset the richness of these three salad components, a drizzle of bright and tangy “ranch” dressing finishes everything off. An impressive meal-sized salad, if I ever saw one (and I’ve seen many).

vegan bacon salad (2)

Birth of a Farmers’ Market Foodie

My relationship with food and activism began as early as childhood, when I would perch upon the kitchen stool alongside my mother as she prepared dinner that my family would share each evening. This youthful connection with food grew into a full “foodie” identity by age twelve, when my mother and I ogled at the culinary masterpieces showcased on Iron Chef and Top Chef every week. As a freshman in high school, I began planning, shopping for, and cooking my family’s weekly dinner menus. Having become quite the make-from-scratch-er, I soon began to disdain packaged convenience foods, due to both their low quality and ability to completely separate individuals from developing any sort of meaningful relationship with their food.

Naturally, my interest in high-quality, homemade, unprocessed food as well as its convivial nature led me to my local farmers’ market, where I first inhaled the succulent aroma of fresh heirloom tomatoes and gawked at rainbow-hued carrots while befriending the farmers who produced them. Though I had hardly begun to understand the full extent of the problems surrounding America’s current food system (and beyond), I still sought haven at the farmers’ market from the few predicaments I had already realized. My weekly interactions with devoted purveyors of organic produce, as well as with fellow shoppers who too became a bit verklempt over a particularly aromatic cantaloupe, provided me with a (rather naïve) foodie utopia of sorts.

Disorderly Conduct

Come sophomore year of high school, however, my enthusiasm for food had morphed into an unhealthy obsession after an amalgamation of factors—constant judging of young women’s bodies on my gymnastics team, pressure to perform perfectly in academics at my highly competitive high school—led to the development of a fierce eating disorder. With my thoughts constantly fixated on calories—both in terms of eating fewer and burning more—my life suddenly lacked joy and passion. All of my consciousness was focused on waiting for my next meal, as these were the only times when I would allow myself to actually partake in the act that saturated my every thought.

About a year and a half into my eating disorder, a classmate introduced me to veganism, to which I soon clung as a tool of further restriction. Lending less than a second thought to the ethical implications of a vegan lifestyle, I latched onto the diet for an unsuspicious reason to reject calorie-dense foodssuch as traditionally made baked goods, cream sauces, and ice cream (the vegan versions of which I now regularly enjoy). Conscious of this misguided and harmful reason for adopting a vegan diet, I felt uncomfortable every time I called myself a vegan—I knew I was a fraud.

A combination of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet began to pave my path from a depressed, waif-like, phony “vegan” into an inspired, healthy, committed animal rights activist. Introducing me to the intense injustices humans perpetrate against our fellow beings, Colleen and Alicia unflinchingly explained the forced insemination of female cows in the dairy industry, the pulverizing of live male chicks in the egg industry, the role of animal agriculture as one of the most significant contributors to the world’s most serious environmental problems, and a plethora of additional shocking truths.

Previously indifferent to anything unrelated to my obsessive eating habits, I now found a fierce passion ignited inside of me, a drive forceful enough to expel me from my zombie-like state and to shift my mental focus onto something vastly larger than myself – fighting the dominant, violent ideology of carnism.

Suddenly faced with the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation, I somehow managed to forget about preventing my thighs from meeting in the middle and not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day. I realized that directing all of my energy toward adhering to arbitrary, self-imposed rules would contribute absolutely nothing to the movement of compassion for all beings. I disposed of my calorie-tracking charts, replacing them with animal advocacy leaflets. I ceased to Google the most effective ab-toning workouts, and instead launched this blog as an educational resource for my classmates who had never before encountered veganism. I even yearned to (and successfully did) gain weight to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as gaunt, frail, and unhealthy. The only unyielding imperative dictating my once laughably self-restricted food choices was now not to consume anything that promotes the needless suffering of sentient beings.

Utopia: Shattered

In the midst of this profound (and life-saving) transformation, I continued to patronize the farmers’ market—to this day, I still revel in my Saturday morning jaunts to the market. However, while after adopting a vegan lifestyle I still viewed the farmers’ market as an aspect of a potential reformation of America’s broken food system, I began to view many facets of the farmers’ marketas antithetical to what I perceived as its primary goal of broadening access to good, clean, and fair food. While I certainly couldn’t argue with the qualitative “goodness” of the market’s impeccable produce, I questioned the market’s tenets of “clean” and “fair” in terms of its support of animal agriculture.

Consumers who understandably reject nonindustrial animal agriculture due to the huge threats it poses to the environment often opt for animals raised in small-scale free-range, grass-fed, and cage-free operations. These seemingly more sustainable farming methods, however, still effect the environment quite negatively. For example, pastured organic chickens affect global warming 20 percent more than do caged hens. Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. If each grass-fed cow requires an average of 10 acres for grazing, and if we all 100 million of the cows in the U.S. on grass, then we would have to devote the entire Western half of the country’s land to cattle (this doesn’t even consider the space required of pastured chickens and pigs). As author, journalist, and author James McWilliams reminds us, “It’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.” A truly “clean” farmers’ market would eschew the sale of animal foods.

To describe the “fair” aspect of its goals, Slow Food nobly affirms that, “we believe that food is a universal right.” I wholeheartedly agree, especially considering the inexcusable food deserts largely concentrated in America’s communities of color, or the 870 million people worldwide who do not have enough to eat. If we agree also, though, that autonomy over one’s own body functions as a universal right, then with animal agriculture we infringe upon this liberty while misguidedly seeking to ensure that advocated by Slow Food (I say “misguidedly” because if all of the crops grown to feed livestock became available for direct human consumption, the available food calories worldwide would increase by up to 70 percent).

Indeed, animal agriculture ensures the exploitation of non-human animals’ bodies while jeopardizing the health of the human animals who consume them, as well as the amount of crops available for direct human consumption. While we may not often hear tales of animal cruelty on small-scale farms, the treatment of animals on such operations often parallels that on factory farms.

The cage-free label, for example, only stipulates that hens live uncaged among up to thousands of other birds in barns or warehouses, generally without access to the outdoors; it also permits forced molting. Additionally, I learned on a trip to the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary during the summer of 2013 that every single one of the sanctuary’s cows—all of whom the sanctuary rescued from cases of intense abuse—came from small-scale, family farms.

Most importantly, however, I truly believe that supporting non-industrial animal agriculture inadvertently supports factory farming, since it does not question the notion of eating animals in general. As long as this carnist concept remains unchallenged, factory farms will always thrive, seeing as demand for meat will not decrease—and let’s face it, factory farms produce meat most efficiently, to the immense detriment of the nearly 10 billion land animals Americans consume each year. A “fair” farmers’ market would include non-human animals in the pool of beings whom they grant universal rights, especially if doing so meant that it would render the universal right of nourishing, plant-based food accessible to many more people.

Growth of an Activist

Coming to terms with the fact that the farmers’ market and the foodie community in general would probably not fulfill my idealistic notion of sparking a large-scale shift in America’s corrupt food system, I looked to strengthen my animal activism, becoming a devoted member of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) immediately upon entering my first year at Vassar College. Little did I know that freshman year (and beyond) would introduce me to a multiplicity of societal oppressions that existed among the speciesism that had kindled my activist flame. Suddenly, I found myself seeking to combat not only the exploitation of non-human animals, but such harmful “isms” as capitalism, colonialism, racism, sexism, ableism, neoliberalism, homophobia, and more.

However, this well-meaning intention first manifested itself in a questionable manner as I began to draw links between these newly encountered social justice issues and the ones I knew well: veganism and animal rights. I found myself thinking: “Women’s reproductive rights are violated…just like female farmed animals are artificially inseminated! Black and brown bodies are systemically exploited…just like the bodies of non-human animals!” Veganism and animal rights provided me a basis for understanding the social justice issues about which I hadn’t read extensively, yet I soon realized the problematic nature of this framing.

During the summer following freshman year, I and my close friend and VARC co-president found ourselves (as Vassar students often do) discussing intersectionality — a social theory suggesting that the various aspects of one’s identity intersect in complex ways, as do the ways one is treated by society because of such aspects. My friend said something hugely profound that day: “It’s not enough to appreciate social justice issues based on how they relate to the one in which we’re most involved. For real change to happen, we must understand the importance of such issues in and of themselves.” That statement has guided my activism ever since.

While I will never forget that veganism and animal rights opened the door to my commitment to advocacy, I’ve since begun learning about and contributing to other social movements — not because they relate to veganism, but because their fights prove necessary in fostering a more just society. I think that all activists must work to recognize the confluence of inequities prevalent in our world, for disparate activism has the potential to create animosity between the feminists over here and the animal rights activists over there. We must realize all of our fights as intimately connected, and commit to individually understanding all of them.

For me, an integral aspect of my intersectional activism involves challenging the problematic aspects of the current vegan movement, including its racism, sexism,ableism, and focus on capitalist, consumer-based strategies. Because these oppressions would exist even if I were not vegan, and my giving up veganism would enforce another very real oppression, challenging such exploitative facets of today’s vegan movement does not involve dismissing veganism altogether.

Instead, I try to engage in a number of actions in the hopes of combating the privileges (access to a bounty of plant-based foods, an income to obtain such foods, and a social circle that won’t disown my non-mainstream lifestyle) that allow me live a sustainable vegan lifestyle. Such actions include supporting admirable organizations like Food Not Bombs and the Food Empowerment Project that work to make nourishing vegan options accessible to marginalized communities; working to free myself of the capitalistic mindset of nonstop accumulation of material goods; working not to reinforce my various privileges in my daily interpersonal relations; and educating myself about the histories and current manifestations of various oppressions by devouring anti-racist, feminist, anarchist, etc. literature and following progressive news sources.

Veganism is only the first way in which I hope to challenge the capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, speciesist, etc. society that makes it super easy to thrive as a white, straight, cis-gender individual with an upper-middle-class background like me.

So…Why “Farmers’ Market Vegan”?

And thus, you have the long, convoluted story of my development as a vegan and an activist. The name of my blog—Farmers’ Market Vegan—serves as a nod to the origins of this story, as well as a reminder to all that combating systemic oppression in all manifestations involves much more than simply buying a bunch of kale at the local farmers’ market.

vegan bacon salad (1)

The (Vegan) Triple Bacon Salad

Serves 2.


2-4 oz tempeh, relatively thinly sliced
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp tamari
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch of cayenne

1/4-1/2 medium-sized head of cauliflower, cut into florets
6 large shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprkia
1/2 tsp liquid smoke

2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (Just Mayo and Vegenaise are my favorites)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp fresh chives, minced

2-3 big handfuls of mixed salad greens, washed and dried
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, liquid smoke, tamari, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne (in the first grouping of ingredients). Toss the tempeh slices in the marinade and allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the salad components.

Toss the cauliflower florets and sliced shiitake mushrooms with the coconut oil, smoked paprika, and liquid smoke (in the second grouping of ingredients). Spread out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the veggies are crispy.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the vegan mayo, water, apple cider vinegar, garlic, dill, parsley, and chives (in the third grouping of ingredients). Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Place each slice of marinated tempeh in the skillet and sear until browned, 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat.

While the tempeh cooks, in a large bowl, toss the mixed greens with the sesame oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder (in the fourth grouping of ingredients).

To assemble, place a bed of half of the dressed salad greens on two large plates. Scatter half of the roasted veggies over each bed of greens. Place half of the tempeh bacon on top of each salad. Drizzle half of the ranch over each plate. Serve.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Winter Squash Soup with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Basil | Where Did the Recipe Labels Go?

Congratulations to the winner of my Vega prize pack giveaway: Andrew Rogers!

When I launched my blog way back in August 2011, I had only just begun my journey of recovery from an anorexia-like eating disorder. (I say “anorexia-like” because, similar to most all individuals suffering from disordered eating, my experiences proved much too complex to neatly pathologize). While both my weight and comfort with eating/food in general increased – the former steadily, the latter sporadically – I still harbored a fear of putting foods I deemed “unhealthy” into my body. Essentially, as my anorexia-like disorder subsided, my orthorexia-like disorder endured, masking itself as a well-intentioned desire to make food choices that would nourish my body, but basing itself in the pseudoscience and trends that circulate among food blogs and Pinterest recipe boards.

squash tomato soup 2

Recovering from this aspect of my eating disorder required re-imagining food outside of the false dichotomy I had created that categorized food into “good” and “bad,” as well as understanding that truly healthy eating involves both physical and mental wellbeing (read more on this subject in a previous post that also contains an awesome recipe for Ranch Potato Salad!). Removing these categories helped me to avoid seeing foods both as the effect I presumed they would have on my body (i.e., kale would turn me into a superhero while sugar would slowly dissolve my insides) and as a measure of my self-worth. It also helped me to re-root my veganism in a consideration of and respect for the bodies and minds of non-human individuals, rather than in an oft-touted belief that one can only achieve good health on a vegan diet – an assertion that erases the many cultures that have enjoyed long histories of vitality while including animal flesh and secretions in their eating habits.

squash tomato soup

Since de-categorizing my food choices served as an integral tool of my recovery, it seems only fitting that I also de-categorize the recipes on my blog. Previously labeled as “Low Fat,” “Low Sodium,” “Oil Free,” “Gluten Free,” “Nut Free,” and more, my recipes now only fall under one category: food. Of course, while I recognize and respect the reasoning of other bloggers to apply such labels to their recipes (allowing folks with food allergies to more easily find appropriate recipes, for example), doing so on my own blog now feels antithetical to my past and continued efforts to fully reconcile my relationship with food and eating.

squash tomato soup

To usher in this era without recipe labels, I’d like to share with you a creamy, full-bodied soup ideal for bridging the summer and fall as we undergo this period of seasonal transition. In late September-early October here in the Northeast, we’re seeing winter squashes popping up alongside summer’s fading basil bounty, and it only feels natural to me to follow the earth’s logic and combine them in a warming concoction to enjoy on the chilly days starting to weave through the waning heat. Sundried tomatoes provide richness and umami, while a touch of vinegar brightens the soup at the very end.

Is this recipe low in or free of anything? Only fear.

Winter Squash Soup with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Basil

Serves 2-4.


2 tsp coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium winter squash such as butternut, buttercup, or acorn, cubed
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (the kind not packed in oil)
1/2 of a large bunch of basil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

In a large soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion for 5-7 minute, or until it turns translucent. Add the salt and garlic and saute for another minute. Add the squash cubes and saute for another minute. Add the sundried tomatoes and broth/water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then partially cover, lower the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Stir in the basil.

Puree the soup either with an immersion blender, or (carefully!) in batches in a standing blender. Add water to thin, if desired. Stir in the apple cider vinegar. Bring back up to heat on the stove, and serve when the soup has reached your desired temperature.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Ranch Potato Salad | Enjoying Food, Enjoying Life

Before I get into today’s post, I’d like to point you toward Episode 234 of the Our Hen House podcast, where you can hear all about the top five most fabulous vegan eats that I enjoyed during my two-week trip to Italy back in March. The rampant vegan-friendliness of Italian cuisine might surprise you!

I also want to thank you all for the outpouring of positive feedback on my recent post on vegan privilege. Thank you all for your kind words and willingness to engage in a tough yet hugely important issue.

If you checked out the latest installment of my Vegan Chews & Progressive News series (#NewsandChews), you most likely noticed the tantalizing plate of food featured in the “Best Recipe I Made This Week” section. Along with a pile of buffalo tempeh and a sweet wilted kale salad, the featured dinner included a mound of young, multicolored potatoes dotted with verdant sweet peas and coated in the ubiquitous childhood favorite veggie dip: ranch dressing. Though, probably unlike the mayo-based ranch of your youth (definitely of mine), the making of this particular dressing did not contribute to the dumping of live chickens into trash pits, the gassing or grinding up of male chicks, or the forced molting of hens (but those are all just “standard industry practices,” right? No biggie?).

ranch potato salad (1)

While my switching from egg-based ranch dressing to a vegan, oil-based version in part represents a desire to foster a kinder world, my new-found enthusiasm for vegan mayo represents an act of kindness to myself. Back in the darkest days of my eating disorder, I abided by all sorts of  self-imposed, nonsensical food restrictions based on nutrition pseudo-science: no peanut butter because it’s susceptible to mold, only minute amounts of tofu and tempeh because processed soy causes breast cancer (actually the opposite), no maple syrup or agave nectar because even minimally refined sweeteners are the devil’s handiwork, etc. Policing my every bite of food for its “purity” of health, eating became an act of stress (that my food was optimally “healthy”) and self-punishment (if it wasn’t or if I ate “too much” of it). Because my disorder consumed my identity, this stress and self-punishment permeated the vast majority of my everyday life.

ranch potato salad (2)

Fast forward through a ton of psychological healing involving the refocusing of my attention off of food and onto a cause larger than myself (read: animal rights), as well as the cultivation of self-respect through a now approaching six-year yoga practice, I found myself able not only to enjoy the singular act of eating, but to enjoy the continuous act of life.

Life! That once-unhappy phenomenon through which I struggled throughout high school in irritable, depressive, static fashion became an interactive cornucopia of opportunity, action, and joy. My utmost goal transformed from achieving optimal “health” through “pure,” absolutely unprocessed diet, and to bettering the world by fighting against multiple societal oppression while finding pleasure in the everyday.

ranch potato salad (4)

Okay, so what does this have to do with vegan mayo? Well, my now-beloved Vegenaise once existed among my extensive list of forbidden ingredients (it was a processed product that contained soy protein, for pete’s sake!!!!). Though it may appear inconsequential to the unknowing witness, my ability to consume and absolutely revel in enjoyment of the foods on my past taboo list—including maple syrup, vegan cheese like Daiya, vegan meat products like Field Roast, and non-dairy ice cream like DF Mavens—constitutes an enormous positive leap in my psychological health and relationship with food.

Back to that Ranch Potato Salad. Bursting with freshness from a hearty dose of herbs and tanginess from that much-adored vegan mayo, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be able to enjoy this perfect-for-summer salad without even the slightest twinge of self-hate. Here’s to enjoying food, and enjoying life.

ranch potato salad (2)

Ranch Potato Salad

Serves 4.

Ranch Dressing Ingredients (loosely adapted from Betty Goes Vegan):

3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise (Organic Vegenaise and Just Mayo are my favorites)
8 oz (half a package) silken tofu
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp tahini
2 tsp nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tsp tamari
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp freshly group black pepper

Salad Ingredients:

Sea salt for the boiling water
1 lb fingerling potatoes (I used a mix of yellow, red, and blue)
2 cups green peas, fresh or frozen

Scrub the potatoes and place them in a large pot. Fill the pot about 3/4 of the way full, sprinkle a generous amount of salt into the water, cover, and bring to a boil. Keep the water at a rolling boil for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork. Add the peas and boil for another minute. Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle the potatoes.

Meanwhile, combine all of the dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and blend until very smooth.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice each potato in half (or in quarters, if larger) and place in a large bowl. Add the peas, then add about 1 cup of the ranch dressing, or enough to coat the potatoes and peas to your liking (you may not use all of the dressing. Oh no! Leftover tangy, creamy deliciousness! Whatever will you do?). Stir the mixture until the potatoes and peas are evenly coated with the dressing. Serve warm.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Becky Thompson on Multiracial Veganism & Healing from Trauma through Yoga

In my time as a burgeoning animal and social activist, I’ve had the immense honor of meeting a plethora of hugely inspiring individuals who engage in the difficult yet necessary work of striving for a more just society. Among these admirable folks, those who actively seek to combat oppression in its innumerable forms, in part through a holistic understanding of systemic inequality, most inform my own activism. Recently, I was introduced to one such individual, whose activist outlook and practice I aspire to emulate.


This individual is Becky Thompson—a well-published author, professor of sociology at Simmons College, longtime yoga instructor, and activist focused on issues of social and racial inequality. Striving to mitigate the systemic violence wrought upon people of color, the consequences such violence enacts upon the very bodies of such peoples, and a parallel violence perpetrated against the bodies of non-human animals through carnist eating habits, Becky is truly a multifaceted activist working in innovative ways.


Becky’s most recent activism takes the form of her upcoming book, entitled Survivors on the Mat: Stories for Those Healing from Trauma (North Atlantic Books, 2014). Inspired by Becky’s continual witnessing of individuals employing yoga as a profound mechanism for healing from trauma (and undergoing of a similar experience herself), Survivors functions as an anthology that recounts the stories of pain and resilience of a multiracial group of individuals. I had the great pleasure of chatting with Becky about Survivors, and she generously shared with me a sneak preview of some of the stories included in the book. One entry recounts the experiences of Black & Cherokee male detective who served in Iraq as a Marine and now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Through yoga, this individual found balance, and pressed through five days of an intense court trial by practicing yoga every morning. Another entry comes from a Thai female farmer who works with homeless children and who is also a rape survivor, detailing how yoga has helped her to understand her reality and to reclaim her body. Becky’s own stories, woven throughout the anthology, speak to a similar redemption of bodily autonomy. For her, talk therapy could not adequately address the trauma she experienced in sexual violence; she felt that since she held the violence in her body, she needed to work through it physically, and yoga provided an ideal venue through which to do so.

Survivors brings to light the enormous power that lives within all of us to challenge the violence—interpersonal, institutional, systemic, and beyond—experienced daily by we not among the upper echelons of society. When Becky first explained the book to me, its enlivening message immediately resonated with my own experiences of using yoga as a tool for eating disorder recovery. In my yoga practice, I began to discover kindness and respect for my own body and mind, and to develop a sense of self-worth not tied to how much or what I ate. Though Survivors does not include a substantial number of stories regarding eating disorder recovery through yoga, Becky’s 1996 book A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems focuses exclusively on the topic (definitely next on my reading list!).


Of course, during my conversation with Becky, I simply had to ask about another of her practices: that of veganism. In my time as an animal rights and social justice advocate, I’ve noticed an increasing number of activists including non-humans in their realm of concern, and was thrilled to discover that Becky is among such activists. What’s more, she brings a compelling perspective to her practice of veganism. Her vegan journey began in part when she heard the story of a protestor of the Vietnam War who abhorred the destruction of completely anonymous peoples, and connected such destruction to that enacted upon exploited non-humans who have no idea why must experience perpetual torture. Growing with her yoga practice, Becky’s veganism came to represent a spiritual practice, offering a chance to expand her consciousness at least three times per day.

Tweet from Becky to me while she was at the Race & Yoga Conference in CA this April.

Tweet from Becky to me while she was at the Race & Yoga Conference in CA this April.

One of my primary concerns with the contemporary vegan/animal rights movement involves its predominant whiteness, and on this point Becky provides some intriguing insights. Just as Becky pays homage to yoga’s centuries-old indigenous origins in order to combat the modern yogic stereotype of white fitness junkies clad in Lululemon, she celebrates the vegan communities led by people of color, such as Japanese followers of a macrobiotic diet, many Buddhists, and Afrocentric spiritual practitioners of raw diets and holistic healing (like Queen Afua). Importantly, Becky also notes that while veganism ceases to be a moral imperative when one does not have access to the foods that make a nourishing vegan diet viable, those of us who live in a context in which we can thrive without eating animals have an obligation to do so. I think that this point proves necessary to remember, both by vegans who insist that everyone—regardless of context—must go vegan immediately, and by non-vegans who point out the inaccessibility of veganism to certain people as an excuse to not go vegan themselves.


Survivors releases on September 9, but you can pre-order copies in the meantime. Also be sure to follow Becky’s meaningful work on Facebook and Twitter.

Until next time, Ali.

Digestive Woes of Eating Disorders and Why I’m Not Gluten-Free Anymore

Hello again, dear readers! After a much-needed month-ish-long break from the blogosphere, I’m thrilled to return to the good ol’ blog, especially because, boy oh boy, do I have some exciting posts, reviews, and giveaways lined up for all of you. For the next two weeks, my posts will come to you from Florence, Italy—a city near and dear to my heart, where I’ve visited my aunt every other year since the age of three. This year, I’m fortunate enough to spend my college’s spring break there with one of my very good friends and my parents. Rest assured, I’ll be providing you, dear readers, with plenty of reports of Florentine vegan eats and adventures, intertwined with two super fabulous giveaways. Moral of the story: keep a close eye on Farmers Market Vegan for the month of March! (And beyond, of course).

The post to break my blogging hiatus, however, does not concern Italy or free vegan products. Rather, it continues the conversations proliferated by National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week 2014. Though the event concluded a couple Saturdays ago, I feel it hugely important to make an ongoing discussion of this highly stigmatized topic.

As so often happens, the inimitable Gena of Choosing Raw planted the idea seedlings for this post. Two weeks ago Gena featured three highly thoughtful posts in light of NEDA Week 2014—a mention in the first of which particularly caught my attention. In her post “Five Reasons to Embrace Recovery,” Gena lists the fact that recovery can save your life (a notion I touch upon in my narrative on Our Hen House regarding my recovery through veganism). In addition to the immediate physical symptoms of eating disorders, Gena notes the significant long-term health tolls EDs can take on one’s body. For me, the most notable of these are digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

If you’ve followed Farmers Market Vegan for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know that I’ve battled digestive stress for about three years now, very much in conjunction with my ED recovery. I chalked up frequent abdominal cramping, gas, and less-than-happy trips to the restroom to my assumed consumption of insufficiently washed produce, spoiled leftovers, and certain hard-to-digest foods. To mitigate these supposed culprits of digestive woe, I incorporated any and all foods touted as digestives into my diet—fermented foods; spices like ginger, fennel, peppermint, and their teas; etc. I joined in the recent widespread condemnation of gluten. I supplemented with digestive enzymes and probiotics. I developed a short series of yoga postures known to facilitate digestion. Nothing significantly improved my symptoms.

This past December, I finally decided that something beyond food choice and sanitization proved responsible for my ongoing digestive troubles. Indeed, a visit to my internal medicine doctor provided me with a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)—a functional disorder of the large intestine that affects bowel contraction, resulting in cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and other fun symptoms. Every case of IBS is highly individualized, meaning that there exists no one medication or treatment for the disorder. Luckily, IBS does not affect long-term health or cause other health complications, but can significantly impact daily quality of life (and oh boy, does it). While it’s difficult to know that I’ll have to deal with IBS symptoms for the rest of my life, I’m super happy to give a name to my digestive woes, rather than to worry at every meal about how my stomach will feel afterwards, or to hypothesize about other more severe health complications that might cause my symptoms.

Interestingly, a number of women I know who have a history of disordered eating also now suffer from IBS which, according to recent research, proves a common correlation. Out of 73 ED patients involved in a 2010 study, 97% suffered from at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) (a category that includes IBS). Another study prior to this one found that, out of 89 respondents, 87.6% had an onset of their ED prior to IBS symptoms, 6.7% had an onset of IBS prior to their ED, and 5.6% had an onset of their EDs and IBS the same time. Additionally, the latter study noted that those who suffer from EDs and IBS tend to share certain personality traits—perfectionism, negative self-evaluation, self-blame, chronic stress— and early developmental factors—childhood trauma, physical and sexual abuse. They also overwhelmingly tend to be women.

I find it the fact that there exists such a correlation between EDs and IBS fascinating—and completely logical. On a rather obvious level, disordered eating behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and restriction all but guarantee digestive complications. Less conspicuous, though, are the psychological similarities between both disorders: EDs and IBS prompt a “hyper-vigilance to internal sensations” and eating behaviors, as noted in research by Perkins et al. As I mentioned above, I first attributed my digestive complications to certain foods I consumed, demonizing gluten, peanut butter, and other foods known to cause digestive troubles. Such a habit reminds me of Steven Bratman’s definition of orthorexia as “a tendency to assume that every single physical symptom is a direct result of something we’ve eaten,” and thus signals to me a severe hindrance in my recovery largely inspired by digestive ailments. Developing a similar mindset towards food as that which plagued me during the most intense periods of my ED, I became essentially scared of certain foods due to my perception of their responsibility for my digestive troubles. To me, it comes as no surprise that many other women have experienced this phenomenon, especially considering the common advice given by internal medicine practitioners to keep a food journal to help identify “trigger foods,” or those that tend to cause an individual digestive upset.

Thankfully, with a clear plan of how to deal with my IBS came the much more relaxed mindset toward food that I had worked to cultivate throughout my recovery. Since I consume such a wholesome diet, it seems nonsensical to me (and medical practitioners to whom I’ve spoken) that treating my IBS would necessitate a dietary shift, or a naming of “trigger foods.” Instead, I’ve started taking a prescription-strength probiotic as well as a teaspoon of psyllium husk (a portion of an Indian plant that is essentially all soluble fiber) stirred into my morning smoothie everyday. These remedies have worked marvelously since I began employing them, and have considerably aided me in shunning the “food is enemy, food makes your gut unhappy” voice inside my head.

With this foregoing, I’ve re-embraced the foods that I perceived to upset my digestion. Most notably, I’ve begun eating gluten again, and with vigor. Both my body and soul have responded with amazing positivity towards bread, sandwiches, and other glutinous foods—my goodness, does it feel good to bite into the chewy-crunchy-creamy layers of a chickpea salad sandwich again! Though dubious at first that a reintroduction of gluten would not cause me digestive upset, it makes sense to me now, especially considering the fact that “dietary variety also helps to help bolster digestive strength,” a fact that Gena has witnessed first-hand from working with a GI doctor. So, dear readers, you can expect to see some glutinous recipes appearing on the blog from now on (though I’ll be sure to include gluten-free substitutions for those of you who suffer from actual gluten/wheat intolerances).

I think that the connection between eating disorders and digestive complications both emphasizes the long-term health detriments of EDs, and suggests a more understanding approach to treating digestive disorders. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, and/or if you’ve had similar experiences.

And with that, I’ve got a plane to catch! My next post will reach you from Florence, Italy.

Until next time, Ali.