When it Comes to Food, are you a Classist?
In 1948 Reginald Little made a visit to a Massachusetts state prison to visit his brother Malcolm. In an act of blind faith, Malcolm stopped eating pork on Reginald’s advice. After all, Reginald told Malcolm he could get him out of prison. In 1950, Malcolm started signing his name as Malcolm X, someone you have no doubt heard of before. That’s just one example of using food to subvert a classist paradigm.
One aspect of our lives that people don’t take into account nearly enough is the role of food. Yes, we know weddings and funerals often culminate with a feast of food and spirits. But more than that, your social standing influences what and how you choose to eat. And in that context, food can also be used to either subvert your values, or you can use it to your advantage. Most importantly, it can be a tool for your own autonomy.
Long before that, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad led a movement of sectarian Islam that appealed to the black community in America. Why? Because Islam, unlike Christianity, afforded more equality to black people. It didn’t pay lip service to false ideas that allowed the enslavement of Africans in America. And it subverted some of the ways they believed white people were holding them back. Namely, with food.
From there, came the Noble Drew Ali, founder of the Moorish Science Temple of America, who took Masonic teachings available to white people, and basically said they were incomplete and therefore, bullshit (my own unique paraphrasing). And after that, came Wallace Fard Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Malcolm X’s movement up until he converted to the Sunni orthodox in the final part of his life.
Esoteric origins aside, if you ask a living Black Muslim about these movements, they all have a few common threads. Having met with several current and former members of the Nation of Islam, they tend to agree about this: religion was a great way to unify people where politics couldn’t. This, of course, was why Malcolm X was more popular, and to J. Edgar Hoover, a huge national threat that culminated in Malcolm’s untimely death in 1965. But the dietary practices were just as important for social bonding and unification.
So while the individuals of the movement may have varying levels of belief in the doctrine of the day, and even some differing political beliefs, their unification under the banner of their unique syncretic movement lead to a focus on fixing the community from within, and not relying on someone else to do it, something the modern-day Democrats might want to take note of.
The Holy Writ
The Old Testament informed what you read in the Qur’an, and wasn’t nearly as well written, but it’s important to understand a few things:
- The horrific Qur’anic verses people are quick to cite in their moronic diatribes have Old Testament tribal roots, including the hundreds of commandments, to the practice of denying the faith in times of duress to avoid persecution
- They worship the same god. Christians who speak Arabic pray to Allah, just like Muslims do. The reason all Muslims pray to Allah is that they believe Arabic is the only language in which you can pray and read the Qur’an
- Muslims and Jews share a strict set of dietary restrictions, specifically against pork
- As a result, the slaughter of animals in Judaism and Islam are very similar in respects to their performance and purpose, with some differences along the way. However, the spirit is still there.
According to NOI doctrine and myths, white people fed slaves pork and other types of “soul foods” to ruin their lives in terms of disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. Ergo, the members of the NOI, with their bow ties and fezes, sold bean pies made from navy beans on the streets as a way to market their message.
Moreover, Malcolm X often stated that controlling the desire for food was more difficult than controlling the desire for sex. So, in addition to their religiously dictated food commandments, what did they do? Long before you heard about it on Reddit, the devout adherents of the Nation of Islam practiced intermittent fasting. They had a big meal with their family at night and they drank water during the day. So in their own way, they subverted the Christian, racist, and classist messages of the day, by subverting their diets.
When it came to prison sentences, refusing pork was another way to subvert the racism and classism they faced. By refusing pork as part of their converting to Islam, they got noticed. They got noticed for refusing the food, not practicing violence, and being well behaved. It also afforded them a network both in and out of the prison, which is partly how Malcolm X quickly became a minister at Mosque Number Seven in Harlem.
So, as you can see food has a lot to do with class. Not like “class” as in “classy” but as in whether you are rich or poor. And this is reflected in the individual taste, as well as the seemingly limited options people might be faced with depending on where they’re located, or their social stature. Food, it can be said, is serious business.
Food for Thought
Recently, my friend Leigh recounted a story about how a fit bro said if you eat hot dogs, you’re disgusting. Let’s get one thing out of the way, first. This person clearly never had hot dogs with macaroni and cheese. The salty, high-calorie goodness, enmeshed with the cheesy high-calorie Kraft creation. Not only that, hot dogs were a poor food, generally speaking. A cheap way to get protein for people who couldn’t afford it.
Everyone, rich or poor, knows that eating well and exercising are keys to good health. But nobody can even tell you what “good health” means, outside of objective lab work, and the subjective feelings you have.
So this means good health is relative, like it or not.
It’s worth noting that if you can follow any named diet, you probably don’t have to worry about being poor. Looking at you, preachy vegans, because you’re among the worst offenders of dietary classism. And while it might seem like I am poking unnecessary fun at the vegans, it is not the case. If anyone advocates a ketogenic diet for someone in dire health AND in poverty, they don’t have a clue as to what “health” is, and at worst, they are unempathetic sociopaths. Perhaps, they’re in the middle, and just clueless. Same for juice cleanses, Atkins, or what have you.
What Can We Do?
This is a good question. Food, while sustaining, is more than just that. It’s social. It’s religious. It’s pleasurable. It’s more than just fuel, despite what people on Instagram tell you. But it’s also that, too. In order to figure out what you need for good health, you need to prioritize your life.
- What are your ethical standards? Are you ok with eating animals? Animal products? No animals at all?
- What is your budget? Growing up, my father and I were poor. But he was a 90’s health nut, so he spent a lot of money on food at the expense of other things. It meant I ate a lot of fish and vegetables. I also had good friends who fed me calorie dense foods whenever I wanted (like macaroni and cheese with hot dogs). All those calories helped me get fat.
- Do you care about organic food? Is it an evidence-based care, or an emotional reaction that you got conned into?
- Do you like to eat?
- Do you have a family to provide for?
All good questions. For some, eating is the only enjoyment they get after a long day of existing in the world. This will factor into your food choices. So the first thing you have to do is to figure out what you’re capable of. If you are on a budget, there’s a hierarchy of food choices, ranging from cheap to pricey. With that in mind, there are key points to consider:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are cheaper than frozen vegetables
- Canned meats < fresh meats
- Chicken < steak < fish (these are dependent on the types of each)
- Bone in with skin < boneless, skinless chicken
- Dark meat < white meat
- Eggs & milk < meat products
- Dairy in general < meat products
- Regular dairy products < specialty stuff like kefir, Fairlife, or raw milk
- Conventional < Organic, which has no significant health benefits anyway so don’t by the hype
Not only that, but staples like beans and rice (cheaper and better tasting than quinoa, mind you) are also inexpensive and happen to be calorically dense. You can feed a lot of people with those staples, too. And now, this will really blow your mind. What do you like to eat? A lot of my colleagues tend to miss out on this important facet of human eating. People are generally happier doing stuff they like, so force-feeding someone tilapia and broccoli all the time isn’t good. At all. Even if we get to the more privileged area of competition prep, it’s still a bad option because I have yet to meet one bikini competitor who said, “My god, I love eating tilapia and broccoli every day for multiple meals.” And by acting like this, it is engaging in unconscious classist behavior.
Food, as you have seen, has a lot of power. The choice is not an easy one when it comes to what you must eat. And that list of questions isn’t an easy one to run through. But it’s a start. So ask yourselves the hard questions, and make your diet fit you, not the other way around. And don’t buy into any classist, overblown, nonsensical hype. What is the purpose of your diet? There is no wrong answer. Are you using it to subvert someone else’s imposition? Using it to feel better about yourself? All great questions with no wrong answers. The overarching goal, from Malcolm to you is about self-discovery and autonomy.
Need to find out your macronutrient needs? What about the difference between good carbs and bad carbs, or how you can enjoy doughnuts while still maintaining a healthy diet?