A Civil Debate About Vaccines

conflict-clipart-CLIPART_OF_ProcessI don’t write about vaccines much anymore. The reason is simply that I had read more than enough (several times over enough) to completely convince me that vaccines were a bad idea for both humanity in general and my children specifically (which, contrary to popular press, are BOTH very important to me). It isn’t my passion anymore. Unless someone is talking about “anti-vaxxers” going to jail or having their kids sent into foster care. It is only when you seek to infringe on my right to body integrity that I engage. I no longer play the show me your research and I’ll show you mine game.

I am disheartened that, from my perspective, so many people believe the vaccine propaganda without digging deeper behind these recommended substances being injected into our most vulnerable population. However, what really pains me is how impossible it apparently is to have a civil discussion about the topic.

Last year I was kicked out of a feminist group for, “promoting child abuse” after having a rather civil discussion on vaccines with other members. The group admins believed so strongly that vaccines are an inarguable benefit to children and humanity that they not only couldn’t have a conversation with me about bodily integrity and the right of the state to force medications on autonomous human beings, but that to even bring it up promoted child abuse.

Damn, that is some seriously strong cultural indoctrination.

I *get* that I’m the minority. I know you think I am straight up wrong. I get that you can’t believe I don’t get it. But what I don’t get is that you are going to shame and demean me in your arguments. Honestly, when you notice yourself so vociferously defending a point of view, which is fine, but feeling hot under the collar about it, then maybe you want to examine where feelings that strong are coming from.

An emotional response that strong comes from one of two places. Either you have a personal experience to draw on (for example, you have a child injured by a disease that has a vaccine and you feel the unvaccinated were responsible) or you’ve been subliminally and overtly indoctrinated to feel something by someone else. Who is that? Why did they do that? I’d want to know. And why do they need to use influence and marketing to “sell” this idea so hard? Why don’t the vaccines speak for themselves?

Maybe you feel you have examined these issues and you still feel vaccines are for you. That is great. I’m happy for you. Perhaps you even think that unvaccinated individuals are a danger to others. I imagine that is a painful feeling to have. I know how I feel when I see transphobia against little kids just trying to be comfortable in their skin. I just know I have to speak out – and do so loudly – to give voice to a group that I know is so often silenced. If you truly feel that my choice not to vaccinate my children puts infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised people at risk then I empathize deeply with the compassion for those people that drives your passion. Namaste. That place in me that feels compassion sees the same place in you and I respect your voice in this argument.

Can you see me for one moment? I do care deeply about people for whom measles or chicken pox are deadly. I would never, never have made this decision without researching that aspect of public health and vaccines. I know you think I haven’t researched enough, or in the wrong places, or that I simply don’t understand enough to make what you consider the right choice. I’m not asking you to understand my choice. I’m asking you to see the place of compassion inside that my choice comes from.

The fact is I am not a shitty person. I’m not uncaring. I’m not uneducated or swayed by celebrity worship or an irrational hippie (I’m a quite rational hippie thankyouverymuch). I am a very kind person. If we met in person I’m sure we’d like each other.

You’d undoubtedly call me weird, or crunchy. You most definitely rolled your eyes when I said “vaccine propoganda” (ha! my side uses subliminal bias too.) My medicine cabinet has more brown, glass jars with droppers than things you’d buy at Walgreens. I’m a peace-freak who doesn’t spank her kids or send them to the local schools. I’m a “femi-nazi” and I’ll tell you, at length, why you should never say that. But I’m friends with many people who don’t believe the same things I do. And I think at least some of them would vouch for me being a decent human being. I’m not asking you to *get* me or agree with me.

I’m just asking that you can stop for a moment and not see me as an “antivaxxer.” I’m not your enemy. I am a friend. My life isn’t like yours. My choices aren’t like yours. But I worry about my kids all the time just like you. I think about their health and do things to make them as healthy as possible. I also care about humanity and I care very much that babies die around the world, just like you do. I think deeply on issues like white, western privilege and how this discussion would be different if I didn’t live in a place with access to healthcare, sanitation, and nutritious food, just like you do.

Do you want to send the police to my house to put my kids in foster care? Do you want them to be held down and injected against their will? I am such a pariah to you that you want me HURT and ROBBED of dignity and my own children? If you had to be the one to hold them down after ripping them from my arms would it change your answer?

I hope you answered no. If we can’t look past our own thoughts and, even briefly, see the humanity in each other then what is all this even for?

Good Food v. Bad Food

Photobuckethostess_20120111064640_640_480Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!  I have two follow-up posts: Big Fat Myths About Fat and this one.

Many commenters had problems with #6 and #13 in my list;

  • Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
  • Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).

For example, one commenter said, “I think this is ignorant regarding food options. It is highly important to educate your children about proper food intake & nutrition.”

So, let’s talk about why you don’t want to label foods as good and bad and then I’ll look at if there actually are good and bad foods.

Why You Shouldn’t Call Foods Good/Bad

The dichotomy of Good v. Bad is one that children learn very early on.  If you have a preschooler you’ll hear them talk about the good guys and bad guys in tv programs.  My daughter has even said “my good” when she helps pick up toys and this is with a very strong intention on my part to NOT label her (or her behavior) as good or bad.  When she is “good” I’ll say “thank you! You were so helpful.”  And, when she does something “bad” I’d say “If we rip pages out of a book then we can’t read the story any more.  Let’s tape it back in.”  This isn’t a post about gentle parenting but needless to say labeling kids with value judgments is not a good thing.  Even good labels are bad (ha!) for two reasons; 1) kids know the opposite of good.  If you say they are good then they know that they have a capability of being bad, and 2) placing a value judgement as vague as good becomes an external pressure on your child.  If you want to read more about this concept you can start here.

What does this have to do with food?  Before we can get there we need to look at another aspect of child development called moral reasoning.  The pyramid on the left is Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development.  Children start at the bottom self-preservation and move up to adult moral reasoning at the top.  Up to age 10 children fall into the three lowest levels while middle schoolers tend to be very black and white in a “law and order mentality” it is only in the later teen years (or older) that principled morality, recognizing shades of gray, is developed.

A young child can clearly understand good and bad based on the effect it has on those around them but they can not differentiate between a good person and a bad deed.  The idea that the bad guy on Monday can do something very good on Tuesday is too complex.  You are either good OR bad.

When you say “Twinkies are bad” and your child thinks, “I think Twinkies taste good and Twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad.”  And, even worse, “well I’m bad so I might as well just eat bad foods.”

And don’t think just sticking to good works!  If you say “fruits and vegetables are good” they are going to deduce that other foods are bad.  AND they won’t eat their veggies.  Oh, and don’t think trading another word works.  Kids know the opposite of healthy is unhealthy and the connotation intended.

It is too important to me that my kids develop a self-image that is positive for me to label them even indirectly.

But Twinkies ARE Bad!

Twinkies are horrible.  They aren’t even food they are “food-like substances”.  I don’t want my kids to eat Twinkies.  I want them to eat fruits and veggies and lean protein, etc. The fear is that if you don’t scare your kids with “DOOM for all Twinkie eaters!!” then they will eat nothing but Twinkies forever and ever.

But the opposite is true: Research has shown that creating forbidden foods actually increases poor eating habits in kids (see twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad above).  Other studies have shown that authoritative feeding styles in caregivers increases children’s consumption of healthy foods.

How To Encourage Healthy Eating Without Labeling

Authoritative Feeding is a style of parenting the eating relationship with the ultimate goal being your child making healthy food choices.  Parent-controlled feeding (Authoritarian Feeding) has the opposite of desired effects (as in the forbidden food research).  If your goal is to make your child a good choice maker then you need to give them choice.  There are 3 great ways to do this:

1. Have a Division of Responsibility.

You are responsible for providing options, a place, and a time to eat.  Your child is solely responsible for what they eat and how much.  SOLELY RESPONSIBLE.  That means stop with the nagging or commenting on how much they eat or what choices they made.  Remember that children learn food likes and dislikes through nurture not nature.  They eat what they see eaten; what they see served.

2. Provide Choice.

With young kids a choice between two things is best.  “Do you want an apple or grapes for snack?”  This gives them control over their food choices. A caveat here that drives some parents batty: kids waste food.  My daughter eats half an apple a day…and leaves the other half to rot.  This drives my husband crazy!  But what are you going to do?  Tell them they can’t have an apple for snack?  Yell at them to finish their apple?  Anything you can do is counter intuitive   You could maybe give a sliced apple but my daughter likes to eat whole ones like a big girl.  I chalk up wasted food to the cost of raising a healthy eater.  Let it go.

3. Give Trust and Control When Possible.

I recommend having a “junk food” stash that your kids can get to.  Talk to them about how much candy they should be eating in a day (negotiate don’t tell) and then let them decide when to eat it.  With little kids it might be a “now or later” choice but as they get older it can be a weeks worth of candy that they are responsible for.  They can binge in one hour or make it last all week.  Little kids and those new to this control will always choose NOW and ALL but they won’t forever.  They will learn to delay gratification, space out treats, and trust their gut.  Stick firm to the limit and discuss the choice they made (“honey, you ate your candy for today this morning.  Maybe tomorrow you want to make a different decision and keep some for after dinner?”).

It is difficult to trust children when everything about our culture says they can’t be trusted and need to be controlled by adults.  But, remember, you are raising an adult not a child.  That means you want to nurture their strong decision making skills and they can’t do that if you control all the decisions.  

 But Are Some Foods Bad?

A Twinkie really is a bad food in my book because it isn’t food at all.  I’d rather make a fattening, sugary confection from real food and let my kids eat it than to let them eat a bunch of chemicals disguised as food.  My kids will learn from me about chemical dyes, artificial flavors, etc.  That is much more important to me than their ability to count calories or fat grams.  Humans can learn to trust their eating instincts – you won’t eat yourself to death with butter – but chemicals are like any drug in that they trick your body into thinking you need that non-food.  I trust humans but not drugs and that’s what food-like substances are.

I still won’t use labels of good and bad, and with all my kids being under 4, I don’t talk about this explicitly much but I will as they get older.  And even then, I will trust them to make their own choices.  (as long as they don’t have a dangerous sensitivity) I will let my kids pick the Twinkie if that is the choice they make.  Why? Because I’m not afraid.  Because bad foods don’t make bad people.  Because they love apples and eating is joy for them not a landmine field.  But mostly because their relationship with eating is so much more important than what they eat.

This concludes my follow-ups to the original article.  I know that our culture is firmly entrenched in;

a. fat is unhealthy
b. shame helps people get skinny
c. losing weight is easy with diet and exercise

so I’m probably not going to change anyone’s mind with three posts.  However, if you look at the research I’ve linked to and maybe read a few books you will see that the evidence is overwhelming in favor of intuitive eating and against the dangerous mentality we currently have toward food.  I hope I’ve piqued your interest to learn more.

Raising a Family on Food Stamps (SNAP)

The most surreal thing happened to me last week.  I was asked to participate in a live, online discussion on HuffPostLIVE called Faces of Food Stamps.  You can view the 1/2 hour program here.  It is so awesome that my post I’m a Welfare Mom has generated so much discussion here and on Everyday Feminism.

The HuffPostLIVE segment was prompted by a woman in Georgia who was harassed at a grocery store for being on Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP).  The guests were myself, Sandi Bachom, who is living on Food Stamps in NYC, Jojo Rhines, who is living on food stamps in South Carolina, and Mayor Greg Stanton, Phoenix, AZ Mayor who spent one week living on a Food Stamp budget (and limitations).  It was a wonderful discussion that brought up a lot of good points about how we treat people on “welfare”.

Is it Hard to Live on Food Stamps?

It was universal the dehumanized way people on Food Stamps are made to feel so in that aspect it is difficult to live on Food Stamps.  One thing I found interesting was that the other guests were talking about how difficult it is to eat on a Food Stamp budget.  A single person seems to get anywhere from $16 to $37 per week.  The national average is $133.14 per month.  I had never broken it down like this and that is a small amount to eat, let alone eat healthily. That’s $1.47 per meal.

I have to admit that I have found Food Stamps to be more than I used for groceries prior to Food Stamps.  I originally got $768 a month – that sounds like A LOT! – but is $153 per person per month.  The thing is you get economy of scale when you are cooking for a family.  If I make a pot roast I don’t have to buy 5 roasts, 5 pounds of potato, etc.  I can reduce my overall cost by combining and sharing.  Of course, my kids are small so I’d hate to estimate how much a family with 3 teens would need.  However, I still think the amount is high and perhaps the SNAP program could fund increased single-user benefits by calculating in an economy of scale decrease for families?

A couple other things to keep in mind with regards to Food Stamps: it is easy for me to cook from scratch and that is a very privileged position.  I have time, a plethora of tools that I had before going on Food Stamps, and the knowledge from a mother and grandmother that cooked from scratch.  This is not something that all Food Stamp recipients have at their disposal.

I’ve always disliked the image above because it makes a huge white, middle class privilege assumption.  If you are going between two jobs or working double shifts you don’t really have time to cook.  Do you have a functioning oven? A functioning refrigerator to grocery shop in this manner?

I think it is important to realize that everyone does not start with the same tools and opportunities.  We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know.

Are Food Stamp Recipients Lazy?

The other take away I wanted people to get was that many Food Stamp recipients do work.  The Georgia woman can’t work because she’s on dialysis.  Sandra Bechom is on assistance due to disability/age.  It is fitting that the guy who harassed the woman in Georgia gets to live with judging her as lazy when in fact she’s dancing with death.  Judge not, huh?

Here’s the thing though, I don’t like the idea of “well that’s ok because they deserve Food Stamps” implying that others do not.  At no point in our Food Stamp journey has my family been jobless.  Yes, I haven’t went back to work because I’m staying home with my kids instead of working only to afford child care.  My husband worked a retail job during our 5 months of Food Stamps.  He wasn’t lazy he was the working poor.

Food Stamps are available to families making at or under 130% of the Federal Poverty Line.  In 2012 the Federal Poverty Line for a family of 5 is $27,010.  That means you are considered underemployed and eligible for SNAP up to $34,032 (gross) for a family of 5.  Note, at that annual income a family of 5 would get less than $20 per month in Food Stamps so the sliding scale approaches zero quickly at the higher end and definitely does not cover a substantial portion of the needed food budget.

So why should an employed person get help?  For me, the obvious reason is everyone deserves a meal.  Especially kids (note that able-bodied adults without dependent children are normally only allowed Food Stamps for 3 months).  But, Food Stamps and other working poor entitlements like EIC, are often touted as alternatives to increasing the minimum wage.  These programs are designed to make living at a less-than-living wage possible without requiring businesses to shoulder the whole burden.  That is a Republican idea.  Don’t put it all on business and the minimum wage.

The fact is that the majority of Food Stamp recipients either can’t work (elderly/disabled/primary care givers for children or disabled) or are in fact working.  According to Forbes only 16% of recipients are non-working and without children.  A full 30% of SNAP households are working at below a living wage and use Food Stamps to offset the deficit in wages.  The US ranks first in amount of people on Food Stamps and I think this is why: other countries invest in living-wage policies and thus require less food supplementation.

Are you wondering now if you know someone eligible for SNAP who doesn’t even know it?  I bet we all do.  The USDA estimates that 1 in 4 eligible people don’t receive SNAP. During the Bush Administration commercials actually ran to increase enrollment – which worked – increasing participation by 63% (source).  I don’t see any rational reason for avoiding SNAP.  This overblown idea that American’s are “bootstrappers” who “built that” is total bs.  If your country says that increased wages are not possible for x business but this program can supplement your income then why avoid that?  You don’t avoid public schools for those that can’t afford private; you don’t avoid middle-class tax credits like the mortgage interest deduction.

I mean think about it: The government is saying that homeownership is difficult and they want to help people make that happen.  Instead of sending everyone a check for a down payment they decided to allow an interest deduction.  Does anyone say “well I’m not going to take that because I’m a self-starter and can do it on my own!”?  No way!  So if you are working in one of the millions of jobs that the government has decided is not paying a living wage and they are pointing you to this program to help you why is that stigmatized?

Well the stigmatization ends for me.  I refuse to hang my head for supplementing my husband’s income with SNAP.  My husband does an important job keeping the electricity running in this country and the government says we get a little help based on the pay he gets.  I’m taking it!  We aren’t lazy.  We aren’t irresponsible.  If he didn’t do that job then someone else would need to.  They should be able to have a family too.  I’m taking the mortgage deduction.  I’m taking the EIC if I’m eligible.  Maybe some day everyone will get paid a full living wage.  Until then I’m using the programs that are available for me and my children.

Big Fat Myths About Fat Part I

Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!

I’ve been reluctant to talk about some of the naysayers because I’m not primarily a size-acceptance blogger and there are so many great bloggers out there already doing the work.  However, I haven’t been able to reply to every comment so I figured it was time for a clarifying post.

First, the post in question was a revisit of a previous post “I Don’t Think of You As Fat!” Raising Size-Accepting Children where I provided a little more background on why shaming doesn’t work and how close most kids skate to an eating disorder.

  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives[1. Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat!. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.]
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner[2. Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.]
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat[3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets[4. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]

Several comments left are completely off base and lacking in a factual basis.  For example,

Fat = Unhealthy

 the fact that you refute fat=unhealthy is completely off base. This is not just some beauty myth. Being overweight truly is unhealthy. It taxes our joints, our organs and every part of our body.

It’s absurd to think being overweight is as healthy as being ideal or average weight.

Uh, no. Sorry.  Not true.  This is an idea promoted by the diet industry not science.  Researchers at Case Western Reserve studied the idea that “fat” taxes our organs when in fact “the idea that fat strains the heart has no scientific basis“.  I recommend this series of articles from Junkfood Science for more information: 

Fat – aka adipose tissue – is not a disease.  It doesn’t cause disease.  It has even been shown to be healthy.  I love this quote from Kate Harding at Shapely Prose;

In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes.

Losing Weight is Easy

 Weight control is pretty simple – eat less and exercise more if you want to lose weight. Maybe they would do it if told/shown how…If I had an overweight child I would help them lose weight and it WOULD happen.

The hubris here defies logic.  Three words: Minnesota. Starvation. Study.  You can read about it here or here.  Of course scores of other researchers have found the same thing like this for example which has a fascinating follow-up where they tried to get thin people to gain weight;

subjects were prisoners at a nearby state prison who volunteered to gain weight. With great difficulty, they succeeded, increasing their weight by 20 percent to 25 percent. But it took them four to six months, eating as much as they could every day. Some consumed 10,000 calories a day, an amount so incredible that it would be hard to believe, were it not for the fact that there were attendants present at each meal who dutifully recorded everything the men ate.

Once the men were fat, their metabolisms increased by 50 percent.

They needed more than 2,700 calories per square meter of their body surface to stay fat but needed just 1,800 calories per square meter to maintain their normal weight.

Within months, they were back to normal and effortlessly stayed there.

So, no.  Losing weight is not easy, simple, or even beneficial in some cases.  Everyone’s body has a healthy size and trying to alter it is nearly impossible and a bad idea.

But I know a fat person that got skinny!  No, you probably know an out of shape person that got in shape.

Stay tuned for part II where I”ll look at the myths of Good vs. Bad Food and the myth of Nutritionism.