Privilege

It has been almost one year since J.L. and I decided to change our eating habits. Looking back on where we started and where we are today is a fascinating exercise.

In April of 2017, I burst through the dietary gate chomping at the bit. “No more added oils or high sodium content,” I declared. “Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Period. Anything else will just not be available in our house”.

I’m smirking as I write because, needless to say, my fervent declaration did not stand. But this is not an altogether bad thing. Today, there is still no meat or dairy in our house.

So, while I may think raw kale and whole wheat pasta is disgusting – and I may enjoy Earth Balance, soy “chick’n tenders,” and homemade vegan cupcakes – we have accomplished what we set out to do: eliminate meat and dairy from our household. If we can accomplish and maintain that change for a year, what can we do in two?

I have learned that there is a difference between a plant based and a vegan diet – and that it’s possible to be a “junk food vegan”. I tried the unpalatable cheese substitutes and the large assortment of mock meats… and I got 90% of it out of my system. However, when I look at our dinner menu this week – as compared to a year ago – it’s completely different. A year ago, I would have needed four pounds of cheese and a carton of heavy cream to prepare for our meals. This week, we’re having roasted cabbage steaks and turnip (a belated nod to St. Paddy’s Day), chipotle tofu burritos, Mediterranean chickpea-veggie wraps, and cajun cauliflower pasta (sans the heavy cream and cheese!) Most of the ingredients will come from the produce department.

I’m not a vegan. I don’t know that I ever will be. That being said, I would like to continue to grow. What’s next for us on this food journey? Well, we’ve drastically reduced our sugar intake, but this year we’d like to push that envelope further. Most of the candy I enjoy isn’t dairy free, so that was easy to give up…I don’t even crave it! However, there are still some surprisingly delectable vegan treats. I guess I’d like to see dessert reserved for holidays. I’d also like to persist in steering away from the meat and dairy substitutes, and the frozen convenience foods. We have our go-to frozen meals – vegan pizza, arrabbiata pasta, and chik’n – but I don’t want to add anything else to that rotation. I tried everything under the sun. Now it’s time to move on and continue to build our growing repertoire of healthy homemade recipes.

When we started this process, I wrote about how even considering these changes denotes an incredible amount of privilege. The subject of privilege is something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately.

I remember a time in my life when I prayed for even a quarter of the things I have today. I can vividly recall crying in a Kmart parking lot because I couldn’t afford a $5 package of underwear. This week, my greatest dilemma was whether or not I wanted to splurge on a reduced-price satellite radio subscription. Since I find today’s mainstream music to be revolting, I decided the subscription was worth it. This is a testament to how far my recovery has taken me, but also a reminder of the advantages I enjoy. While I decide which stations I like best – and delight in the fact that I can listen to 40s jazz, opera, and reggae in the space of ten minutes – many of my fellow humans spend their time wondering where their next meal is going to come from, nevermind if it’s “organic” or healthy. I haven’t forgotten the day when I shared that very same anxiety.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs demonstrates that people must have some very basic needs met before they can even contemplate the ultimate human aim: self-actualization. The task of self-actualization goes hand-in-hand with societal progress. Unfortunately, many of the people who are primed for Maslow’s uppermost tiers are too busy pursuing “more” to reach their full potential and, therefore, further societal progress. These same people expect those who don’t even have their most basic needs met to improve themselves. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Since my job is to focus on me, regardless of what I perceive other people to be doing wrong, it’s important that I don’t forget how privileged I am to have my basic needs met… and to pursue Maslow’s uppermost tiers: love & belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Some of you already know that I love the Frugalwoods blog – and that it inspired me to make some big changes. I’m certainly not in the same realm – by any stretch of the imagination – but I am debt free and only just starting to invest about 55% of my weekly wages into savings. One of the greatest criticisms of Mrs. Frugalwoods is that she is misleading about her privilege. I find this to be curious. One of my favorite things about her is the way she directly confronts the benefits she has enjoyed in all aspects of life. Moreover, she is doing things differently from her well-appointed position.

For some, the intimation of privilege is an affront. I used to feel that way. How dare you presume to know anything about me? Today, however, I firmly believe that we’re not going to change our broken systems until the defensiveness stops. Recovery requires a willingness to embrace constant self-evaluation – no matter who you are. I had to learn that lesson the hard way (sadly, most people do.) And recovery isn’t just for addicts. It’s for all of mankind. It’s a reclamation of our best and healthiest selves. Acknowledging privilege isn’t akin to accepting an insult. It’s acknowledging where we have been blessed abundantly (and it may not be in every arena!), exercising gratitude, and accepting an invitation to use our stature (whatever that entails) as a launching point for benevolence and mindful living. To me, mindful living means recognizing that some people don’t have their most basic needs met…and evaluating how I might be unwittingly complicit in that. Over the years, I’ve been surprised and dismayed to discover the ways I am participating. By constantly working toward being the best person I can be, I hope to become less and less complicit.

No matter where we fall on the privilege spectrum, our natural reaction as human beings is to become defensive when confronted by someone who lives in a way that challenges our belief systems. We resist looking at ourselves. We dismiss the skills we could apply because some of them don’t apply. We instinctively view the idea of any kind of change – the slightest suggestion of improvement – as a direct attack on our value as a person. We buck the idea that we could possibly share common ground with someone who isn’t exactly the same. This is an ancient kind of wiring…and it has lost its usefulness to our evolution.

Growth is one of the very things that makes us human. Change is the only constant. I have come to believe that the more we resist, the less human we become. Recovery has allowed me to stop running from my humanness – or to at least slow down and consider my pace and direction. I used to see being in recovery as some kind of deficit. It meant there was something “wrong” with me. Now I view recovery as it truly is: a privilege.

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