Photos of my herbalist as counter-irritant world takeover.

Recent class at Northeast School of Botanical Medicine, photo by Molly Hagan
Recent class at Northeast School of Botanical Medicine, photo by Molly Hagan
group photo, Radherb 2014 in RI
group photo, Radherb 2014 in RI
Radical body image class, Dandelion seed conference in Olympia WA, photo by Orna Izakson
Radical body image class, Dandelion seed conference in Olympia WA, photo by Orna Izakson

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Renee Davis, Traci Picard, Sean Donahue, afterparty hijinks. Photo by Howie Brounstein "Sorry about your head, Sean"
Renee Davis, Traci Picard, Sean Donahue, afterparty hijinks. Photo by Howie Brounstein “Sorry about your head, Sean”
Amazng keynote with Sean Donahue "We evolved in living dynamic conversation with the world around us."
Amazng keynote with Sean Donahue
“We evolved in living dynamic conversation with the world around us.”
Discussion of the Olympia free Clinic with Renee Davis and Thea schnase
Discussion of the Olympia free Clinic with Renee Davis and Thea schnase
Pedicularis with Howie Brounstein
Pedicularis with Howie Brounstein
Party time
Party time
Dynamic opening with Ga Ching Kong
Dynamic opening with Ga Ching Kong

Thank you to the organizers, support people and attendees of these events. Thank you to those who move us about the country. Thanks to my co-parent for backup at home.

Radherb revival weekend 2014

And on a more cheery note, some photos fem my recent adventure at Radherb 2014. Radherb is a loosely knit group of healthcare providers with a health justice focus who meet and share information occasionally.

Larken Bunce of VCIH, Mary Blue of Farmacy, Traci Picard of Fellow Workers Farm and Lauren Giambrone of Good Fight herbs.
Larken Bunce of VCIH, Mary Blue of Farmacy, Traci Picard of Fellow Workers Farm and Lauren Giambrone of Good Fight herbs.
Group photo
Group photo
My booty from the marketplace!
My booty from the marketplace!
Mr. 7Song
Mr. 7Song warms up the crowd for “Herbalism Jeopardy”
listening to a first aid class
listening to a first aid class
The lovely Ms. Anna
The lovely Ms. Anna

Thanks to the organizers and support crew, hostess and boss lady  Mary Blue, presenters and all those who came together with an open mind!

Food as medicine in perspective

I have heard food is medicine, and medicine is food. Books and blogs tell us how important food is to our health, and it can’t really be argued that our food has no effect on our body and its health. However, sometimes the medicine we need isn’t able to be broken down into a list of ingredients, into a table of nutrition facts.

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Sometimes what we eat feeds the soul, or feeds the memory or the need for comfort, the need to eat quickly or the need to eat cheaply. The need to explore a new cuisine or taste a freakin deep fried Oreo. And that is OK.

I keep harping on this topic over and over because I see so much judgmental talk about food, bodies, class, culture, alleged health and weight status. I see many people who think they have it al figured out. YOU DON”T HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT. And neither do I. “Experts” don’t have it all figured out. Paleo food isn’t perfect. Raw food isn’t perfect. Vegan food isn’t perfect.

And who needs perfect anyway?

It can end up looking like self-centered overthinking without enough focus on the big picture. It can end up looking like a focus on personal choice, without nods to informed choice, access to choices, problematic systems of food production and distribution,  the right to  express one’s (possibly politically incorrect) identity through food and the basic fact that some of us are choosing between gluten and non-gluten cookies while others are literally subsisting on dumpster gruel.

Without food justice there can be no food choice.

Without food security for everyone I don’t want to hear that there aren’t enough dairy-free low-carb options on your international airline flight.

Food is evolving, medicine is evolving. Increased access and informed choice for ALL, not just the chosen few, is medicine. Food is and is not medicine, but sometimes a Whiskey sour and a plate of Poutine is just what the doctor ordered.

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The crushing Weight of Guilt and Shame

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I noticed this sign recently at a Trader Joe’s market. I read it and felt like it stabbed me in the soul. “Reduced guilt”  macaroni and cheese. My first thought was–who the hell are you, oh colorful sign-maker,  to decide what should and should not induce guilt? But on further reflection I just feel very sad at the idea that macaroni and cheese induces guilt at all. Because food is not something we should feel ashamed to want or need.

Just like exercise is not a punishment for having a body.

It’s not that I don’t believe in guilt. I used to say that, but I have since read too many bad news stories to make that claim–if you are committing murder, spilling nuclear waste or harming kittens, please, take a little more guilt on.

BUT THERE IS NO SHAME IN EATING FUCKING DINNER.

Is making better choices a good idea? Sure. But whose better choices? Who decides what is and not “bad” and “good” in terms of food? And on what planet should occasional less-healthy-for-us choices make us feel guilt?

Has anyone considered that the ongoing guilt and shame around food, eating and our body contribute to ill health in a way that a bowl of macaroni and cheese just doesn’t warrant?

And perhaps those who use marketing and advertising to manipulate our feelings around food, using wildly emotional words like clean and toxic, guilt-free and natural in ways that really don’t hold up under scrutiny are part of the problem?

So people, let’s stop seeing every single bite of food as a choice in a way that implies the future of humanity rests on it. I support a diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats, protein and complex carbs and low in refined sugars and Cheetos. BUT. I also support eating the foods of your culture, the delights of the County fair and the real-ass macaroni and cheese with as much joy and delight as such things warrant, with no pangs of guilt, no shame, no fear and no post-weiner period of fasting or punishment to atone for the “sins”.

Sometimes a bowl of macaroni and cheese is JUST a bowl of macaroni and cheese, and nothing more or less.

NOTE: I am NOT referring to people with severe food allergies here, as that is a more complex subject that requires more caution but still doesn’t warrant guilt.

Coconut oil miracles, fallacious thinking and building foundations.

So, let’s say we are looking for a new home. Can you imagine buying one without opening the basement door, walking down the stairs and peering at the foundation? (Imagine you live in a basementy bioregon please)

Would you take a realtor’s word for it that the foundation is fine? The person who is trying to sell you the house? I wouldn’t. I’d bust out my headlamp and see for myself. And I certainly would never suggest that others on the internet should buy that house without that information. Would you buy a car without looking under the hood, or at least kicking the tires? (Which…I don’t know, do people think the tires are going to explode or what? But anyway–let’s just imagine. It’s a thought experiment.)

So why are we taking overdramatic statements which have not been backed up from people who are selling the product or have something to gain as fact in the world of natural health, repeating these claims as if we’ve looked in the basement, when in fact we often haven’t even opened the front door?

For example, I frequently hear that oil pulling is miraculous, but you absolutely must spit out the oil after swishing as “it is FILLED with toxins”. What are all these toxins? How does coconut oil pull them out? Where did they come from? Come on, people. The reason why this is a problem is that it turns many more realistic people off, makes it much easier for them to dismiss alternative medicine in general, and allows us to live in unexamined delusion. Additionally, it obscures the basic idea that coconut oil may have some basic benefits in helping to reduce certain types of gum and skin inflammation.

If a claim is true but the foundation of it is fuzzy logic or magical thinking it is no better than a beautiful home built on a termite-infested base. It is easily knocked over.

If a claim is exaggerated it shows an inherent under-confidence in the claim. I often feel like IF the solutions alternative types are bringing to the table are so great THEN we do not have to use words like “miraculous”, “magical”, “the one solution” and so forth. LET THE REMEDY SPEAK FOR ITSELF. Because plants and foods have properties, they will stand or fall on their own merit in practice, and do not need fallacious thinking to promote them.

We in the natural health community often give those who dislike us on principle a proverbial box of ammo to use against us by failing to use logic, relying on fear-based tactics, denying basic scientific principles and/or  failing to call out absurd marketing claims. Perhaps we should reconsider this approach?

Let’s stop trying to get blog clicks at the expense of reason.

Let’s stop fear-mongering.

Let’s recognize that integration may be more valuable, long-term, than separation.

Let’s recognize that some of our promotional materials make us, as a community, sound like judgmental douchebags.

And let’s let go of the naturalistic fallacy and open our minds to helping to discover what works best, which I believe includes plant-based medicine in many cases, as well as standardized medicine, movement, community-building, nutrition, addressing systemic and environmental  issues which contribute to health outcomes and, occasionally, just letting people be heard.

Ultimately, let’s examine our motives. Are we trying to advance care for our community? Or are we trying to be rock stars? What unfolds as we build this house will depend in many ways on whether to not we are building our solutions on a strong foundation or on a slidy pile of sand, so let’s consider that next time we combine our hands, a laptop and an idea, eh?

STOP AND THINK.
STOP AND THINK.

Addendum: Please don’t think I am against case studies, narratives or personal stories, but I think they need to come with FULL disclosure and I think “It worked for me, I don’t know why but you could look into it and try it of you want” and  “I heard it cures cancer” and “It is a miracle and you must use it now” are extremely different types of statements. Words have meaning, people.

Why ask why?

Why do we, as a culture, need alternative medicine? Why do we need alternatives to anything? I don’t believe it is merely to provide choices. In fact, I believe too much choice is just confusing and not always helpful at all. But I do believe that all entrenched systems need alternatives.

So we have this model, some people cal it “allopathic” medicine but I prefer standardized medicine. (Because allopathic is by definition the opposite of homeopathic and I am not talking about that binary at all here.) So we have this model, and we have this alleged “alternative” model…actually many different models that fall under the umbrella of alternative medicine, some of which are great and others of which are suspect in my opinion.  What role does the alternative serve in this culture? It is here to provide questions and expose holes in what could otherwise be the only hamburger joint in town.

Someone needs to point out holes in the fabric of culture, whether it be a political culture, standard education, fitness culture…someone has to be the Green party, the Charter school, the anti-globo-gym….in order to change giant beauracracies we need curiosity, questioners, humor, we need to know that different paradigms do exit and are possible and this can potentially make those behemoths better.

So a punk outfit questions a standard fashion outfit.

A differently abled body questions the standardized body.

Natural hair questions productized hair.

Queers question gender binaries.

Herbalism questions standardized medicine.

We may not be providing the answers, and maybe there are no answers to life’s endless cycle of questions. But if we fail to ask questions or suppress these questioners, because it makes us uncomfortable, feel challenged or squirmy or awkward,  many will live their lives without even realizing that the most popular paradigm is a paradigm!  By providing an alternative we point out that there is something standardized, and ask if we are okay with that. We are adding to culture, not taking away from culture by our asking.

diet food from hell
diet food from hell

Just listen.

I am finding myself reading yet another book about power written by men and clearly FOR men. The examples are men, they use HE and HIM exclusively throughout.   Multiple otherwise great podcasts and interviews about math, science, sports, business, drugs are often aimed at a male audience.  HE HE HE. It makes me wonder if there is a place for someone like me, or if they just want me to go away, to dwell in Mommy blogs and chick lit……

And I am finding myself defending my feelings, again, about the constant barrage of sexual harassment on the internet, in this case within the fitness industry. “But men get harassment too!” Sure. And by speaking  up, I don’t aim to harm men, but to bring us ALL to an equal level of safety in this culture.

We have been objectified in such a ubiquitous way that we have to tune it out to even get through the day. Our bodies have been used to sell every fucking thing, abused, controlled, shamed and ogled. It’s OK to say “I don’t know how that feels.”

And I am seeing people claim that food deserts have been solved, that poor people need to just make better choices, that positive thinking will solve ALL of your problems and attract money to you. Nothing against making good choices but why not just listen to people’s stories? WHY NOT JUST LISTEN? Maybe there are things out there that can’t be solved with a vision board alone. Maybe you don’t know how it feels to be the  other. Maybe you don’t know how it feels to get your breasts grabbed on the bus. To be looked down upon.

How easy it is for someone to say “don’t get offended”.  To make a joke. To blame the victim for feeling bad. Offended? Hell, no. Offended is like annoyed and people I am angry. Because this is not just one isolated person being annoying.  It is other-ing. Dirty-ing. It is a long-term pattern of harassment, abuse, violence, systematic oppression and suppression and privilege  which has worked to keep us separate, afraid, broke and confused for fucking millennia.

Look, it is not a contest. We all have problems. We all deal with judgement. But when you exclude women or harass women, you push us away. Most of us, anyway.  And maybe we have something to add!!!

When you judge women, immigrants or people dealing with poverty you aren’t helping….When we include and integrate “the other” into our words, deeds and places we all benefit. OK? Let me say that again. Including women, as well as people of color, poor people, those with other religions, different abilities, LGBT people, basically any usually marginalized population into our words, communities, works of art and writing, we ALL benefit.

Stop shaming. It doesn’t work.

I am not too sensitive.

Women gaining power doesn’t mean men losing power.

Jut say “thank you for sharing your story. ”

And you won’t drop dead from saying SHE.