Ten years ago, when I moved from the Bahamas to Western Canada, I started meeting all kinds of people. It wasn’t the first time–as a child, I travelled with my family to the UK, US, and spots in the Caribbean. At school, though most of us were Black Bahamians, there were White Bahamians, Chinese Bahamians, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Nigerian and East Indian kids. It was, however, the first time I’d been utterly immersed in such a variety. Also, there are few Black people, even fewer Caribbean people, and almost no Bahamians in Vancouver. So even if I’d wanted to be safe (or cliquey) and hang out only with superficially familiar folk, it wasn’t an option. Instead, I made friends and found similarities and overlaps based on more substantial things. And it intrigued me what crosses cultures. Such as body talk.
Backtrack to Nassau. Preteen through adolescence. I’m relatively happy with my body. She does what a body’s supposed to do. She moves about. She holds my mind. She’s reluctant to run when put on the spot in awkward team sports, but she’s a good body. I like her. Then begin the comments and observations. It was an odd trend then, and it still irks me now. People–in particular, older women–seemed to feel that my girl/young woman body was part of the public domain, something, like the weather or politics, which could freely be discussed in an open setting. Commented upon with little discretion and zero tact. One woman, a sort of family friend who I’d favoured as a younger child, was relegated swiftly to the realm of Rampant Bitch when she began to inform me that I’d “gained weight.” Every time I saw her. She was soft and ball-shaped herself (a fact that had always made it nice to hug her, a fact I’d neither thought to comment on nor found distasteful and strange, but which did strike me as ironic). My grandmother quickly joined the Observation Train, and never missed a chance to speculate. I remember her best saying “Look like you put on l’il weight, eh?” or “You gat beeg liimbs, like ya mother!”
In Vancouver, years later, I was intrigued to learn that these types of comments are, both common and cross-cultural. A Chinese-Canadian friend unflaggingly heard family friends comment on her body. A Korean acquaintance received diet pills as a Christmas gift from her parents. A White-Canadian friend had an acquaintance advise her that she was “too skinny”. Blessed be the ties that bind.
Several years of weight fluctuations/crashes and some painfully disordered eating later, I have a low threshold for this unsolicited body chitchat. When a family friend, on a recent trip back to the Caribbean, told me cheerfully “Look like you put on five pounds!” I tried to overlook it. At a buffet lunch later that day, she examined my plate of salad, veggies, rice, and a chunk of avocado and asked “Are you still vegan?” When I confirmed that, yes, I was, she demanded to know “So how did you put on the five pounds?”
A cornucopia of colourful and potentially uncomfortable responses wait just under the sharp tongue, in the face of such questions. Many of those responses are loosely connected to the Caribbean belief that grown-folk lovin’ makes you curvy and fills out your hips. I resisted such responses, but her comments stuck with me. It drove home two pet peeves/points. First, that it is acceptable to comment on a woman’s body, openly, and quiz her about how she has achieved minor size fluctuations. Second, that vegans are guaranteed to be undersized, undernourished, underfed.
Bullshit. To both.
Deep-fried pork chops, lard-crusted chitlins, and Oreo-Snicker-Twinkie-Suet pie can pack on your pounds. So can a vegan diet fueled solely by egg and dairy-free donuts, white breads, excessive quantities of hydrogenated vegetable oil, multiple cupcakes a day, an excess of deep-fried tofu dogs, and too much time sprawled on the couch watching reality TV.
Meanwhile, healthily fatty foods–Omega 3 and 6-rich walnuts, avocados and their high monounsaturated fat count, olive oil, lovingly drizzled over salads and pasta dishes, curries enriched with sweet, creamy coconut milk–nourish both through nutrients and through flavour. Fat makes food taste good, and good fats boost mood, allow absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, improve and maintain skin tone. In an average day, I might have walnuts as a snack several times a day, drizzle oil over oven-roasted chickpeas or potato wedges, down soy yogurt, sautee carrots and broccoli in a dab of Earth Balance. Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat. Vegan lasagna, quesadillas, brownies, waffles, curry, stir fry, yup, all contain fat. And they’re good.
It irritates me that after so many years, so many potluck dishes (including, yes, some vegan cupcakes, which were most certainly NOT fat free, or even particularly low-fat), so many dreary explanations about what I eat–no, I don’t just eat lettuce, in fact, I rarely bother with it–people still retain a good deal of ignorance. It also irritates me that even well after adolescence, people still think it’s appropriate to make direct comments, like peering onto my plate and exclaiming “Wow, how could you eat that?!” Worse yet when it’s my waist, breasts, and thighs that they’re luridly sizing up like loin at the butcher, churning over in their mind how this particular calf became thus fatted on her strange choice of feed.
This collection of recipes is devoted to my favourite rich and decadent food. Foods that, yeah, I might not eat on a nightly (or, necessarily, weekly) basis, but foods that are comforting, tasty, rich treats for me. Foods that, yes, help me keep my extra five pounds.
In honour both of vegans fatigued about questions regarding whether they eat only carrots and lettuce and in honour of women who are done with comments and observations about their bodies and size, I present these
humble hubba hubba offerings to you.