ProcessWork

Not navel gazing, but foot gazing.

I braved a visit to a local ProcessWork group as I’m always keen to learn new ways of facilitating discussion, and helping groups find ways of working and communicating together. Even looking back at that sentence I’m not sure if it might already be a little bit wanky. Anyway.

ProcessWork is:

“.. a dynamic orientation and method of working with the challenges of your inner life and outer life events. Its methods are also useful for facilitating organisations and communities dealing with conflict, recovery and social change” taken from ProcessWork.org.uk ‘What is ProcessWork?’

Right?

So, I don’t know, I was up for it. I like creative facilitation using things like forum theatre and I think it’s important to acknowledge and include the emotional baggage we’re bringing to the table in group work, even if just to know it’s there and try to put it to one side, for the moment. Again, I’m second guessing myself for evidence of wanky language and it’s really hard to not be a bit wanky about this topic – maybe groupthink isn’t such a problem as groupwank when it comes to navel gazing approaches to facilitation. It’s all getting a bit meta.

So, I joined the group and tried to be super, super open minded and all non-judgy and aware and accepting and all the things. The minute the facilitator started talking to explain what ProcessWork was, and her co-facilitator responded with a feeling statement about being grateful that we were all present, I could feel myself getting completely uptight about how wanky I was finding it already – but this was my response and I was trying to own it. I did own up to it, at any rate.

I’m glad I went – our discussion about whether we had met our expectations, what our expectations were and whether we could let go of having to achieve something every time we did something, if we could put down our desire for measurable outcomes and just do, was interesting and completely wanky at the same time, but was worth the admission fee alone. And as much as I sometimes think this reinventing of language to match a new arena of discourse (such as this arena and the need for people to be always ‘resonating’ or ‘showing up’ with a particular ‘energy’ and being ‘present’) can make it harder to communicate, not easier, maybe it is an important part of working out how we related in groups. And why do I hate it and always go back for more? It’s like a dreadful co-dependent relationship from my twenties – do I never learn?

Theory of Change

Can’t post out TOC so here is the shepherd at Glos Cathedral delivering serious side eye

After my first efforts with Theory of Change for the NHS last year, I was really keen to have another go and to see if some training would help me do any better – I have a feeling that there is only so much theory you need before getting better is just a case of getting more experienced.

Courtesy of my current role (and a charity bursary, hurrah for working for a skint organisation) I attended the day long Theory of Change workshop delivered at Gloucester Cathedral by the VSCO and supported by Gloucestershire Rural Community Council. It was a fantastically taught day and we all got a whip through of the theory, plus a chance to throw together a TOC for a project of our own.

As a follow on, I was invited to deliver a session on TOC for our organisation’s away day that would be suitable for everyone from the house keeper to the board members. I was under strict instructions not to call it Theory of Change for fear that this would put off some of our less strategic staff members. Personally, I thought that might be expecting too little of our staff but sub titled it ‘Is this the way to Amarillo?’ in the hope of demonstrating (with music) that a TOC should work as a road map of sorts to where we want to go.

The session went down a storm and every team produced a TOC, bar the useful arrows that help make sense of it (not bad for a 45 min session). As before, the most useful and most challenging parts seem to be sequencing the events/activities that need to take place to achieve the long term goal and identifying the assumptions we’re making along the way. One of the problems with assumptions that we make is that they are so deeply embedded in the attitudes/approaches of the sector we work in that they become invisible, so finding a way to make them more visible is important if you want to check that they are reasonable assumptions. We’re told that this is why it can be great to involve as many stakeholders as possible in writing your TOC as service users and so on can bring a new perspective and help flag up the assumptions we’re all blind to. There was a discussion about the merits of involving our service users in helping us write a new TOC, so I’ll wait and see…

 

WordFEST

Just a quick thank you to the lovely Crawley WordFEST folks to say thank you for having me and thank you to the lovely audience who braved the swelteringly hot loft room just to have biscuits and gin thrown at them! As ever, it’s the after show natter where I learn the most and this was no exception. It’s a privilege to be allowed in to people’s private thoughts about their bodies and appetites, and you can’t beat a bit of creative practice (and wrapping yourself in clingfilm) to facilitate the process.

That time of year again…

 

Sugar free! But full of smug.

Sugar free! But full of smug.

It’s that time of year again. The one when everyone feels compelled to give up X or start doing/eating/being Y. Despite my best intentions I am as susceptible as the rest; reading about how amazing you’ll feel when you start juicing thirteen unpronounceable fruits, adding just a spoonful of £45 per ounce whateveritis powder, how anyone can be running 15 miles a day and getting up at 4.30am looking like they’ve just come back from a beach holiday and not like they’ve been lying awake terrified about getting up at 4.30am and fantasising wildly about Dairy Milk.

I did once give up sugar for a period of time. I like to give up things for Lent mostly so I can enjoy eating them again after Lent. Last year, I gave up processed sugar, including alcohol (sad times), dried fruit and most other fruit things. It was hard and I gave up giving up the minute that I got run over and had to spend 12 hours nil by mouth in Lister Hospital in a badly tied gown and compression stockings.

However, for a few weeks I did quite well. But did I feel better, people wanted to know. And I did! But after a while I realised that I felt better, but I couldn’t tell whether I felt physically more well or whether what I actually felt was just more smug. It was really hard to distinguish between the placebo effect of knowing that I was now a morally superior being because I was being so splendidly abstemious and thusly a better person or whether my digestions etc really was more efficient and less full of wind.

To this day, whenever I have tried to change my diet (usually in response to feeling morally bad because I am a fat, greedy failure, but disguised as wanting to ‘feel healthier, look after myself better’ or whatever fatuous gumph I had lately fallen for) I still can’t tell if I feel better or if I just feel smug.

 

 

 

 

A titbit from Renee in Ullapool

When Meet and Two Veg were up in Ullapool we were lucky enough to get to interview some of the wonderful people up there about their knowledge of local food and their own food histories.

There are too many stories to relate here and we ran out of funding too soon to be able to complete the editing before Thalia went off to America to start her PhD, but one of these days we’ll get round to finishing them and hope to have them kept as part of the collections at the Ullapool museum. Just as a taster, here is a short clip of Renee…

Women Who Eat Wherever the Fuck They Want

Well now.

face

 No absolutely, I feel treasured, like a kingfisher, when you snap an illicit shot of me snarfing the escaped scraps of my tortilla-based lunch out of the recesses of my sleeve and then post it to a webpage so the trolls of Appetite Police UK can gurn and cackle over my parted lips and visible mucus membrane. No, you’re right, I just need to get a sense of humour (this is a joke, yeah?) and then I’d realise that shaming disguised in a perve hat and a moustache and calling itself ‘art’ is actually just harmless fun. You can call me a frigid harridan and I can say you’ve got a tiny cock and everything will be equal in gender politics. Huzzah.

 I’m learning to get good at taking constructive criticism so, here’s me, getting light-hearted about policing women’s behaviour and joining the protest against the bit-of-cheeky-fun-turned-shit-throwing-rumpus that is the Women Who Eat On The Tube facebook page. I turned up at Kensington High Street tube station, clutching my grub of choice in a paper bag (a change from the usual can of Stella), to join all the others waving lunchboxes and napkins, ready to demonstrate that Women Who Eat On The Tube Are Aggravated And Will EAT CRISPS IN YOUR FACE. I’m making it sound militant, it wasn’t really, it was perfectly good-natured with people dangling precariously from handrails and listing in time to the train to share their sandwiches. Apart from the jostling media battling over the banana-in-gob money shots (and the odd male journalist who seemed keen to make us all look stupid, like we hadn’t noticed that cramming together in the arm-pit smelling, life-sapping, tube-fug to wedge Tesco jumbo-choc-chip-of-shame-cookies in our mouths for the cameras in the name of equality was verging on the laughable).  But still.

 It was fun. It was silly but it was still a protest.

 To explain, for anyone in the UK who has been in a box/abroad for the last two weeks, the WWEOT facebook page invites its members to snap illicit shots of women eating on the tube and post them to the group to be commented on. Since various articles surfaced last week, the debate has raged over whether the (now closed group) page is ‘observational art’ (like my arse) as described by its founder, Tony Burke, or whether it’s a misogynistic hotbed of creepy folks getting a kick out of shaming women. Joining the mobile picnic gave me the chance to chat to some of the people there, whilst throwing my lunch all over myself as we lurched towards Hammersmith.

 Despite Mr Burke reckoning that feminism was ‘not relevant’ in this debate, most people at the picnic felt that his opinion was ‘bullshit’ (I’m paraphrasing) and their problem with the site boiled down to the fact that it was shaming women for eating in public – Burke had claimed in an interview that he’d chosen to focus on women because he needed a niche and saw more women than men eating on the tube so considered it would be a ‘richer vein’. We considered that what he really needed was probably a wank but he didn’t want to say ‘wank’ on BBC Radio 4.

 Pretty much everyone picnicking reckoned that this was the man-guilty-of-self-serving-policing-of-women’s-bodies version of an embarrassed cat scraping fluff over its shit on the carpet. This kind of social control of women’s behaviour is so normalised now that it’s become invisible and almost acceptable. What I found truly disturbing is not only how Burke claimed ‘the story’ was what was really important about the images (what story? Woman gets hungry, women eats food… man imagines her baguette is his cock?) but how many people defended his behaviour as totally fine and normal. He tried to make it a question of privacy in general but there’s an unmistakable whiff of gender politics about the whole thing, however he might try to frame it. He’s pretty much already pissed in his own chips by writing this fantastically gross intro to the site, totally killing any suggestion that this isn’t about male gaze, power, shaming and eroticising women:

 “Everywhere I go, I see women eating on Tubes. Like little mice hiding packets of crisps and biscuits in their bags and purses. Slowly, secretly, guiltily raising each bite-sized morsel to their salty lips in the hope that no one’s watching. Well, I’m watching. And I’m photographing, documenting the fascinating world of the Women Who Eat on Tubes

 Way to go, Burke, absolutely no one thinks you’re a creep now. Why not liken women to exotic London fauna and your efforts to ‘wildlife photography’? Oh no, wait…

 In his defence, I don’t think he ever intended to mortify loads of women or horribly objectify them, I suspect that he just thoughtlessly took snaps of the slightly titillating topic of women eating but it went ‘radioactive’ and bit him in the arse. Likewise, I can understand people who think that this is a massively overblown feminist hissy fit over something minor when we should be agitating for world peace. But this beautifully illustrates what happens when men and women clash over gender politics in the public realm – when women get angry they’re told to lighten up and get a sense of humour (a la Burke stylee), when they retaliate with something humorous, they’re dismissed as stupid or silly. In any case, the chastised man doesn’t apologise or accept that his behaviour is any less than absolutely fine and makes up some spurious nobbery in defence of his absolutely fine actions.

 I accept (aren’t I big?) that there is a big question here about how easy it is to snap and shame people now, broadcasting our mockery to millions in just a click or two. Whether it’s people drooling on themselves on the bus (we’ve all been there), the awesome combo of shorts held up with string and leather jacket that you haven’t seen since your dad quit his band or a hot guy on the tube that you just had to capture, our small-scale objectification generates a low-grade poison that affects us all. Burke and his followers cite Tube Crush as an equally galling example where people post sneaked images of men they fancy on the tube, as some kind of justification of WWEOT because, chuh, people are totally, like, objectifying men too.

 Firstly, the fact that that person over there is poking that person in the eye does not make it ok for you to do it to me. Secondly, it is not my place to speak for all those hurt and humiliated men that have not come forward to complain about the site (or maybe they have? I don’t know) because they don’t like being objectified and referred to as ‘The Straddled Kindle Reader’. Finally, this site is explicitly about men blah blah stuff about balance of power blah blah as much as I don’t condone rape culture in any variety (scary ladies threatening to ‘pin down’ Mr Pin Up is not the badger’s nadgers) or sexual objectification, this site is banging on about how hot they are, not shaming or insulting them and it’s about men. It’s still not great. That doesn’t make WWEOT AOK.

 But what really gets my rabbit about WWEOT is it demonstrates how unacceptable it is for women to have, much less satisfy, their own appetite. As a woman who has always been a little bit fat, I’m pretty aware about the inferences made about my appetites based on my size – that I am insatiable, greedy, all-consuming, of food, sex, men, control, whatever, that I will eat the world and still be fat, ugly and unworthy. I read once that ‘man is jealous of woman’s pleasure’ and a woman, alone, eating on the tube, is nourishing only herself, something that seems to be viewed as unforgivable when she should be satisfying only others. Women are not immune to this conditioning and can be equally harsh about other women eating. But by taking her photo and posting in on WWEOT, whoever does it is it taking away that personal moment of pleasure or sustenance, and making it all about the viewer, eroticising or shaming the subject to switch up the power. 

 This need to oppress women in this so-subtle-it’s-almost-acceptable fashion doesn’t help anyone. Insisting that women need to be controlled or stripped of power suppresses their ability to contribute fully to society and places men in the precarious position of always having to be powerful to demonstrate their manliness. The huge majority of suicides in the UK are men –  we don’t teach them how to manage feeling weak and ask for help, just like we don’t teach our women to take what they are entitled to. A newspaper lady asked me what I thought about the new privacy laws and I said laws probably wouldn’t be as helpful as trying to build a society where peoplemight just be a bit more respectful and a bit less likely to photograph a gaping cake-hole for the sake of a snicker.

 Which left me with one major question – what do I take to eat? A cream-filled chocolate eclair or a banana to inspire the euphemisms? Or am I trying to make the point that women should be allowed to eat without it being a sexual performance? Whatever, I wasn’t eating any calorie-policed salad. I went with the beef sandwich. Bring on the meat gags.

 

The Biscuit Chronicles Goes to Manchester!

Here is the next instalment of the fun and games that is The Biscuit Chronicles! Lucy and I will be heading up North to do a double biscuit whammy of show and body respect workshop on April 10th at the Anthony Burgess Centre. Here is the poster – come along! You could even take advantage of the bulk-ticket-bargain – 5 tickets for £30. Biscuits, love handles and body respect. What’s not to love?

Bisquit Chronicles April2014 final

Introduction to HAES in London

Next week Dalston will be hosting a double whammy HAES event – firstly a brief introduction featuring the ever-marvellous Lucy Aphramor 6-7.30pm and then a HAES UK meeting 7.30-9pm to talk business and where we’re going in 2014 and beyond – £5/£3 for the night, everyone welcome!

HAES leaflet copy

HAES leaflet

HAES’d and confused

Obscure photo indicating the fragile but beautiful butterfly of HAES against the impenetrable wall of dieting mentality..

Obscure photo indicating the fragile but beautiful butterfly of HAES against the impenetrable wall of dieting mentality.. yup…

At the end of my Health At Every Size Facilitator training last week I was in Coventry in a room with no windows, having as close to a religious experience as a totally heathen non-believer like me could possibly manage. Like a beam of light through a glass of water, my world-view had been all bent out of shape and was refracting at strange angles, breaking up into tiny shards before my very eyes. Even surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals, the world seemed new and bewildering. At the end of the day I trailed silently down to the station and got on the train home feeling emotionally bruised, unsettled and more than a little bit overwhelmed.

Health At Every Size (HAES) might be an idea you are familiar with – it incorporates elements of mindfulness, such as intuitive eating, something Susie Orbach writes about so clearly and beautifully in her book On Eating. HAES is a philosophy on health that steers us away from assumptions based on appearance and suggests that a little more compassion for ourselves, and then others, could do wonders for our well-being, as individuals and on a wider scale.

So far, so manageable. These are all ideas I felt comfortable with – ya, ya, self-acceptance, listening to your body, blah blah, compassion – I was down with all that stuff. I couldn’t exactly completely do it, but I got the idea and I thought it was a grand plan in theory. I knew the basics, I had the t-shirt and I was ready to learn how to teach the good word to the rest of the world: “Being fat is fine, people!” I thought I was prepared.

  As you can guess, it doesn’t go well. I wasn’t prepared at all. I wasn’t prepared to face myself with such honesty. I wasn’t prepared to give up the “ideal me” that I had been striving vainly towards for virtually my whole life. I wasn’t prepared to be moved and challenged by the Health At Every Size philosophy, the enormity of its meaning and its powerful argument for change, awareness and acceptance. I wasn’t prepared to be pulled apart, pummeled and reformed, a new, more resilient me

So, I know that it sounds a little like I just got smacked out on a heady combo of mushrooms and Marxism or signed away my first born to a fantastical cult – philosophy, you say, profundity and ideals? All that can ever lead to is a terrible come down or stockpiling for Armageddon. Well, yes…. And no.

In some ways, HAES requires such a shift in world-view that it is comparable to gaining or losing a religion. It encourages the kind of switch in perspective I associate with the fuzzy, fishbowl views and sudden epiphanies of being high.

It’s not just understanding the science of why diets make you fat, it’s asking you to abandon the binary system of good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, right/wrong that we have grown up with, and grown into, that forms the basis of our ability to categorise and understand the world. It’s asking that you not only throw out all the pots and pans of the BMI as a tool to measure health, it’s asking that you burn down the kitchen and rebuild from scratch our concept of what health is and the ways in which we affect changes to it. It’s not just re-evaluating which nutritional expert is the best. It’s insisting that we interrogate the way we value information, and make a system where different forms of knowledge, such as lived experience, are just as valuable as biomedical or academic knowledge, where teaching and learning are one and the same. It’s not just about size, it’s not just about food, shit, it’s not even just about health – it’s huge.

Here is a really, really good article, just to get you started on the science and here is the UK HAES website to give you the idea.

But on the other hand, HAES is also the small fry, the every day. HAES is having a bad day, eating a whole packet of biscuits and, crucially, not feeling bad about it. Because the problem is not eating the biscuits, the problem is the judgment that leads to the cycle of shame and guilt that follows. HAES is being able to tune in to what you need right now to enable you to do whatever it is you’re doing, to begin to unpick the difference between a tool that serves a useful purpose for you and a learned behavior. For me, part of HAES is beginning to understand when I’m mistaking a non-food need as hunger. I might think I’m hungry for cake but I might just be feeling angry and have learned to self-soothe always with food. It’s also reassuring to know that food can serve many purposes including nutritional, social and emotional, all of them valid. HAES is a tool that can help you to choose whether it’s ironing, or running or cheese that you need – whatever it is that nourishes you and helps you fill the needs you have. HAES  is keeping the faith and staying open to possibilities. More than anything it’s giving yourself options.

It’s not easy. Sometimes I wish that I hadn’t set my feet on this path and that I could return to the comfortable discomfort of knowing that all I needed was the right kind of hair to be happy. It’s been a grieving process to give up the perfect me I knew I could become one day, to let go of the familiar smokescreen of fat as the root of all my unhappiness and my old friend, the cycle of dieting that I knew I could fail at so successfully. It’s hard to meet yourself where you are. If, as HAES suggests, your socio-economic status and your environment have as much impact on your health as lifestyle choices, then the problem with people’s health is as much the massive inequality in the world – in education, income, rights – and what the hell do we do about that? The day after I took the course came a crash and burn into despair at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of social injustice.

But I have recovered and am putting the pieces back together, renewed and hopeful. HAES gives us the tools to be proactive at every level – at a personal level, at a peer level and politically (with a small ‘p’, y’all). It gives us agency and the ability to understand why agency is crucial to health and making positive change. HAES is a philosophy of health that is relevant to everyone and it gives us options outside of hating our bodies, beyond competing fruitlessly against ourselves or each other, and the chance to be connected with others in a powerful, compassionate way. If you can just sit with the discomfort until it settles, the future looks bright.

I’m only halfway through my training and there’s a long way to go. Accepting that you are a process, a messy, non-linear process is key. To take your eye off the physical perfection that seems tantalisingly just out of reach and to fix instead on the distant goal of equality and the broad expanse of horizon, is no mean feat. But it can make the process more pleasurable in realising that, with a switch in perspective, your ultimate destination is the path you’re already on.

I’m still afraid that if I begin to believe that this really is a genuine shift in my relationship with myself, with my body and with food, then it will escape and disappear into dust like any previous dieting ‘successes’. I am terrified, and exhilarated – the possibilities for joy and pain are all too real – but for now I will just keep putting one foot in front of the other, be brave in my contentment with myself and hope that this one, this time is for keeps.

Streetwalking the Meet and 2 Veg way

A few weeks ago, the sun was out, the commuters were commuting and Meet and Two Veg were kicking up some breakfast fun times at Liverpool Street station. Armed with folding tables, frocks, teapots and a bundle of home made goodies we set up shop just outside the station, got the tea brewing and set about interfering with some people’s days. Our first visitors were the police, who clearly didn’t know what to do with us and wouldn’t have a muffin so in the end, they just pretended they didn’t see us.

After a slow start we had bankers, businessmen, the chap who was cleaning the station, pensioners, day trippers and even some railway staff join us for tea. ‘What are you promoting?’, they asked and we just smiled and said ‘Talking to people’. People’s smiles and willingness to join in and chat pretty much made our day – we hope we made theirs a bit more interesting too… thank you Silvio Palladino for the beautiful photos – your talents (and hairy chest) know no bounds.

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