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Food is an ableist issue

FoodableistRather than assuming that having a disability and being environmentally aware are mutually exclusive, we need to re-examine and update ideas on what constitutes ‘sustainability’, and how it can be worked in with the lived reality of a disability, writes Nyx Mathews.

13 February 2011

Environmentally sound eating habits are a big issue, and everybody’s meant to be in on it. Core steps to sustainability are widely publicised: eat organic, eat local, eat raw; more vegetables, less meat; more seasonal produce, less frozen food. Sounds easy, right?

But when you add in a disability, eating to sustain yourself and the environment gets more complex. The issues range from not being able to get further than the local supermarket, to requiring regular computer access for online grocery shopping or imported dietary supplements.

As a result of such constraints eating 'sustainably’ might be tricky, if not impossible, for someone who lives with a disability.

Rather than assuming, then, that having a disability and being environmentally aware are mutually exclusive, I think we need to re-examine and update ideas on what constitutes ‘sustainability’, and how it can be worked in with the lived reality of a disability.

I don’t believe sustainability is an exclusively environmental issue; I think it’s a human one as well. More specifically environmental impact ought to be measured in the positive as well as negative effects we have on the world.

When the current cultural obsession is carbon footprints, it's hard to imagine that your own well-being should be put 'before’ that of the planet. It's hard not to feel guilty when you have to drive to work, buy something new and environmentally costly in order to communicate effectively or maintain a network of relationships, or purchase food pre-packaged.

It would be easy to allow guilt to loom large in those of us who require more resources than the next person in order to sustain a reasonable standard of living.

However, it's important to view this consumption in context. Fuelling our bodies – so that we can build relationships or just make it out of the house – enables something vital not only to the individual but the society around them.

Without adequate resources you can’t function, and if you can't function you certainly can't contribute; but the rhetoric of carbon footprints and sustainability fails to take into account the differing needs of those of us who do not meet western cultural standards of what is 'able.'

When someone with a disability is made to feel guilt about requiring more resources than somebody without, part of this guilt is grounded in a widespread belief that those of us with disabilities are not so much differently-capable as incapable, and that what we could contribute – given the resources we need – is of less worth than the goods themselves.

I refute this notion, and part of my active resistance to it is an act of self-value that begins in the supermarket, or my internet connection bill.

I do not take these resources lightly, but I have come to realise that without them I would be stripped entirely of my ability to make a substantive contribution to the greater sum of things, and though it's a big call – and not without substantial pressures – I believe that what I have to contribute is worth the cost.

Nyx Mathews loves art, aeroplanes, and stomp-worthy boots. She can be found at DiVine and her blog Designs on Fragility, where she tends to write about aesthetic theory, politics, femme-ness and disability. This article was originally published as ‘The Cost of Being Green’ here.


0 #1 pfft 2011-03-08 01:26
An excellent article and well written. I would say my perspective as someone who maintains veganism as a basis of much of my social and environmental impact reduction, that the idea that people who live with disabilities are to be denigrated for ANY choice they make in maintaining their health (be that physiological health, mental health, social health, political health whatever) is vexatious. To my mind, those who are more privileged have a responsibility to not only 'pick up the slack' of those who are limited in whatever way, but to UNDERSTAND that that is their responsibility, and not to hold those with a reduced capacity (or access) to the same standards as those with privilege.

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