Sunday Poems

SUNDAY POEMS 69: Reviewing Canada’s 2019 Food Guide

There’s a short animation from a computer game I played when I was a kid, called SimAnt, of an ant feeding another through trophallaxis, a mouth to mouth transfer predigested food, with an accompanying squelch that is conjured in my memory alongside the image. If only it were so simple for us humans! Just gobs of food transferred back and forth.

When I was still a young child, we learned in school about portion sizes, food groups, and how many of each to eat in a day from the food guide. I didn’t know how to translate that into what my parents were cooking at home but was pretty sure we ate healthily. Like a lot of kids who ended up tall, much of my growth was confined to a fairly rapid sprint between the ages of 12-15. Preceding this period was a bulking up which gave me a couple of years of a rounded face and a chubby body. I didn’t mind, I don’t think that I really noticed on my own that my body looked any different. But I had people in my life who did, and they convinced me that I should care too.

After I hit my growth spurt and stretched upwards, my body and its weight distribution changed. Unfortunately, I’d already internalized the idea that I was incurably overweight and it would lead to all sorts of problems. Through my teen years, I skipped meals, filled up my hungry belly with water, snuck food to the garbage can, over-exercised and made myself sick with the goal of staying thin. The occasional eating binge when my brain and body were too deprived to resist normal desires for sustenance kept this cycle going, giving me a fluctuating weight I could obsess over.

I fell in love with cooking as a young adult. Through cooking I could build up a positive relationship with food again. I still have a hard time understanding the size of my body or what I see when I look in the mirror, and skipping meals is still easy. I hear similar experiences from many of my peers of damaged relationships to food and their bodies. The numbers bear out: the National Initiative for Eating Disorders reported in 2016 that up to “1,088,700 Canadians will meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.” I took a look at the new revision of the Canadian Food Guide to see if it had any helpful suggestions.

The 2019 revision of the Canadian Food Guide is, broadly speaking, a simplification. First, the iconography. Gone is the food pyramid that I grew up with, and even its shallow 2007 successor, the food rainbow. That’s been replaced by a round, white plate; a new guide to eating. Half of the plate is neatly covered with an array of vegetables and fruit. The other half is split evenly into a quarter of whole grains and a quarter of proteins. There’s a glass of water beside the plate. The summary given is to eat whole foods (and “water should be your drink of choice). This is an improvement over the calorie and portion counting of the old guides. So far, so good. The fruits on the plate look pretty appetizing, by virtue of the natural appeal of a blueberry, or a slice of strawberry. The problem comes when you look to the rest of the plate with an eye for eating. Nothing else is seasoned! There’s nothing that shows a disconnect from eating more than the pile of plain, cooked, whole grain spaghetti with a piece of dry whole grain toast carefully balanced beside it.

The other recommendations are to spend more time preparing food, and to eat socially more often. These are also good recommendations on the surface: an over-reliance on processed quick foods will obviously be reduced if people can spend more time in the kitchen and eating nice meals with friends and family. But I’m immediately skeptical of the usefulness of this recommendation. Most people surely wouldn’t choose to make quick and cheap meals to eat alone if they could take the time to share with others. People don’t make decisions the same way over and over if there isn’t something pushing them in that direction.

In search of a greater explanation, I read the 62 page report outlining the new dietary recommendations to Health Professionals and Policy Makers. It’s a summary of current nutritional science, and is the source for the recommendations for the Food Guide’s website, or as the report calls it, “a mobile-responsive web application”.

The report continues the frustrating trend of just blaming eaters for their poor nutrition. This is a typical example of neoliberal governance: identify a problem which individuals suffer from, research, draw some broad conclusions about what needs to change, and from there abdicate responsibility for implementing any changes to the systems of food production and consumption. Instead, the report suggests that the citizens themselves be personally responsible for addressing their health concerns through entirely their own extra effort. Nowhere is there any consideration in the report of how much more expensive buying raw whole foods can be, especially when you work in the cost of the extra time needed to prepare them. Nor is there any suggestion of how difficult for an inexperienced cook it is to even navigate a grocery store, or to stock a fridge and pantry in a useful way.

I was briefly hopeful when the report brings up “changes in employment conditions (for example, irregular working hours) and to family life (for example, evolving gendered division of household labour)” as contributors to people’s alienation from food. Ultimately, it refuses to take what I feel is the necessary next step to condemn an economy which demands shift work of so many, and refuses to seek or provide a detailed interrogation of the role that a labour market so disrespecting of workers’ time has in being responsible for any crises in nutrition for individuals, families, and communities.

Only two government policy changes are specifically called for by the report. The first suggestion is to change food labeling slightly with the goal of making nutritional information and allergen contents more accessible. The other suggestion is for government snack rooms to lead the way by stocking up with healthy snacks rather than with granola bars. This cannot be enough to deal with the health problems that the report suggests that we all face from poor nutrition. Nowhere is there any mention of the continuing epidemic of eating disorders, which will impacted by the publishing of any new food guideline.

I would love to see a government that took the harmful relationship many have to food seriously as something more than just an individual’s failure through policies such as subsidized cooking classes, public cafeterias, soup kitchens, as well as strong regulations against food and diet marketing of all kinds. In the meantime, we should remember that individuals can let go of the focus on blaming ourselves for our shortcomings and struggles we may have. We are empowered when we come together as workers, students, artists, and parents and strive to organize and facilitate those institutions which our government refuses to make for us.

Sundays are a great day to have some friends over to try cooking something new. Coordinating a kitchen full of people is a big challenge, but extra hands can make following a new recipe easier. Even splitting the grocery shopping and cooking between different people can make a nice meal so much easier to manage. A little chaos is to be expected, but so are full bellies, and jolly cooperation!

Below is a poem. If you like what you read please consider sharing with a friend. As always, I’m here to chat if you have any questions. Have a great week, everybody.


notes for writing

see if there are any relevant books on the shelf

childhood roots of adult happiness et al
physiology of eating of taste
a trout fish swimming
canned cat food

something longer than intended
jumping in the swimming pool together
splash the cat is concerned about us
but runs in the grass, the joy

passing the windows
painted green around the middle, the
frame skeletal approaching
the ghost i love you
in the windows


Theodore Fox is a poet living on unceded Indigenous lands on Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal Island.
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Sunday Poems 68: Who do we ask about what we do?

We're now two weeks into a constitutional crisis in Venezuela where two leaders have both declared themselves president, each with a degree of constitutional justification. The incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, who is the heir to Hugo Chavez's socialist Chavismo movement, inherited an economy in freefall and has attempted to hold on to power through autocratic methods by banning various opposition parties and candidates from running. His counterpart is the head of the national assembly, Juan Guaidó, has called the 2018 presidential elections fraudulent, and with the support of the US has declared himself the president, calling for the Venezuelan military to depose Maduro.

Years of US sanctions against the socialist government have worsened a disastrous the Venezuelan economy which has failed to diversify its output beyond oil production. During the Chavez years, oil was good enough to support expanded social policies, but production problems, sanctions, and a lowered price have led to expanded borrowing and runaway inflation. This has led to years of shortages of food, medicine, and consumer goods. New US sanctions from last week on Venezuelan oil will only further the suffering of the Venezuelan people. The US government has also been overtly threatening military intervention. Canada's Defence Minister has called it "far too premature" to discuss military actions which is a statement which, while at first blush seems reassuring, doesn't categorically deny that Canada would be unwilling to participate in intervention.

The Maduro regime in Venezuela has almost assuredly failed, but we must do all that we can to encourage a negotiated transition that represents the Venezuelan people through democratic processes. No matter how disastrous Maduro has turned out to be, backing an immediate power transfer to a US ally under the threat of sanctions and military force betrays basic principles of national sovereignty as outlined by the United Nations and Organization of American States, is unlikely to lead to truly fair elections, and stands a major chance of putting at risk of retaliation the still substantial base of poor and Indigenous supporters of the Chavismo movement.

Periodically, mainstream news sources will put out articles doing a roll call of which countries are officially supporting each side in Venezuela, with a footnote about those countries who are still asking for an officially mediated negotiation between the two sides without outright supporting one or the other party. The US, Canada, the EU, as well as most of South America (which has been recently swept by a wave of right wing governments) support Guaidó, whereas Russia and China (who both have invested heavily in the Venezuelan oil industry) as well as Greece, Turkey, Iran, and Cuba support Maduro. A map is published with most of these stories, showing in various colours the countries which have declared in support of one side or the other. The maps tell the old cold war story of east vs west, but they also show how much of the world remains grey, without opinion. This grey covers South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and represents more than half the countries in the world.

That majority of countries whose views aren't represented are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), an organization mostly made up of former colonies, which represent just under two thirds of the countries in the world. Initially formed during the cold war as an alliance of independent states against the two world superpowers, the organization has since moved objectives towards strengthening the UN, building unity between developing nations, resolving conflicts through peaceful means, and opposing interventionism. If you put a map of the NAM member states over one of the maps of global opinion about the Venezuelan crisis above, you’ll notice that all that grey is almost perfectly filled in.

We must seek out the opinions of those from nations which have historically been the victims of European and American colonialism and intervention. When the pulse of global opinion is taken but it excludes the opinions of all of Africa, and much of Asia--which accounts for the majority of countries which have historically been subject to intervention and colonization by European and American power--I don't think that in good conscience, we can call that any kind of consensus. For example, in a February fifth article from the BBC called “Maduro and Guaidó: Who is supporting whom in Venezuela?” only four of the top 10 countries by population have their opinions represented.

Articles of this sort are catalogued from prominent statements of national officials. Good analysis of global affairs, especially when it comes to questions of national sovereignty, must go beyond simply printing what the richest and loudest voices have to say. To resist both the legacy and the ongoing project of colonialism requires that we expand the voices that we’re hearing in our communities and globally. These are the voices which know much better than my fellow settler Canadians what it is like to live in and on the other side of situations like those in Venezuela.

Sunday is a good day to practice getting out of the bed in the morning in just the way you’d like. Make sure you’ve had a good start to your day and you’re ready to experiment, then go back to bed. Close your eyes, and when you open them, do just the things you imagine you’d most like to do in the morning if sleepiness wasn’t in the way. What a dream! Go back to bed close your eyes, and when you open them, try again. A few repetitions of this and you may be able to have your ideal morning the next time you have to wake up for real.

Below is a poem. If you like what you read please consider sharing with a friend. As always, I’m here to chat if you have any questions. Have a great week, everybody.


TWO SHORT WINTER POEMS

weasel

a small child and parent on the sidewalk
snowed on, laughing at the apartment below
looking past the staircase.

downstairs cat waiting on the snowy window
hasn’t learned to knock, silent
knows her meow isn’t heard.

kitchen

wrapped up again in two scarves: one
for the neck two for the face, your hat
and gloves in the oven for a minute.

we’re stacked up home on home
and then down the street
hot little baguettes steaming out of the oven.


Theodore Fox is a poet living on unceded Indigenous lands on Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal Island.
website | twitter | instagram

Sunday Poems 67: Donkey Kong says: "Trans rights, OK!"

Hi all, it's another Sunday. Being online is normally pretty depressing. I'm sure you have your own version of this. It used to be a lot more challenging, logistically, to keep abreast of all that is bad in the world. Now, only a little bit too much time spent on twitter reveals the barrage of frightful things rich and powerful people do and say every day. This week brought a new expose on celebrated director Bryan Singer, who has spent decades sexually assaulting teenagers in Hollywood. We had massive layoffs of journalists at Buzzfeed and the Washington Post. Something which at the very least looks an awful lot like a coup is currently in progress in Venezuela. It's a lot to keep up with. It's miserable. It's also our responsibility to do our best to keep up with all of this horror, with the goal of understanding it, so that we can fight, and build a better world.

Last weekend featured a heartening event which was a great break from all of the awful. A video essayist who works on YouTube under the handle Hbomberguy started livestreaming the notoriously bad and bloated video game Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64 to raise money for a UK-based charity Mermaids, which supports trans youth. DK64 is set in a relatively open world, with five different apes you can switch between whose goal is to collect hundreds of bananas which are scattered around willy-nilly, as well as dozens of golden bananas which are the reward for doing various other inane minigames. I was eight years old when the game was released. I loved playing video games when I was a kid, but even the gentlest scared the hell out of me. My memories of DK64 are mostly of wandering around, trying to jump from place to place, mostly missing those landings, and running away from grumpy anthropomorphic lizards.

Hbomberguy, real name Harry Brewis, started his stream with the goal of raising a few thousand dollars for Mermaids, after the charity lost funding due to a letter-writing campaign started by a very disappointing comedy writer. I’ve followed Hbomberguy’s work for a few years, his is an entertaining and leftist example of a medium mostly dominated by reactionary right wing voices on YouTube. When I first tuned into the stream, the donations were at 4000$, already a non-trivial amount for almost any charity. By the time the stream ended after 57 hours, a grand total of 340,000$ had been gathered.

To watch someone else play a game may seem like an undesirable, second rate experience, but watching a friend play was so much of the experience of growing up with games. The text of the game becomes a script, the friend with the controller becomes the actor, and the rest of us, the delighted audience, shout improv prompts, questioning the script, driving the actor and their character onward. The Hbomberguy stream became the largest possible basement room with all of us gathered around the corner small TV. The audience in this case was tens of thousands tuning in at any given time, but also a roster of dozens of guests who would rotate on and off the stream like on a televised charity-thon. The guest list included many fellow YouTubers and others famous trans activists, and those names included Chelsea Manning, Mara Wilson, Natalie Wynn from ContraPoints, and author Chuck Tingle. A few minutes after the American socialist politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the stream an exhausted Harris, tilting and sweaty, in a black tank top, sheepishly interrupts a policy discussion to say, “I’d love to talk more about trans rights and the marginal tax rate, but I would also - I need to ask, do you know how to turn on the power in Frantic Factory in Donkey Kong 64?”

Did the journey of the Kongs to take back their bananas from an evil lizard king become a analogy of the fight for trans rights? It’s possible that investment in the game’s text developed, though I haven’t seen enough of the stream’s 57 hours to say for myself. It’s not really important whether that metaphor works though, because the bringing together of so many progressive and trans voices and the the feeling of ‘anyone could show up’ was enough to make it the biggest and best basement gaming session ever. In an essay from the 50’s, French theorist Roland Barthes wrote of wrestling as a venue where the audience sees the conflicts of their day play out through the archetypes of the wrestlers which suffer, sweat, and battle in the ring before them. Perhaps game streams can be the inverse sort of entertainment, a place where the action on the screen, while entertaining, is just an excuse to gather and talk about how exactly we can build that better world we’re hoping for.

Sunday is a good day to rearrange the bookshelf. There are so many ways to order your shelves. By subject, alphabetical by title, alphabetical by author--I even know someone whose library is organized in order of year of birth of each author. It doesn’t really matter how you organize your books. For me, the value that comes from organizing is that you can find your books quickly, whether I need to loan a book to a friend, check a source, or find some pages to curl up with on any day of the week. I guarantee you’ll come across a book you’d forgotten you had. Maybe you lost track of it for good reason, but maybe it’ll be like running into an old friend again.

Below is a poem. If you like what you read please consider sharing with a friend. As always, I’m here to chat if you have any questions. Have a great week, everybody.


a future drags itself from winded branches

notes from the afternoon:  

a calling  
from the lawn.

letting go of white noise  
a new issue with a broken ornament  
christmas newsworthy

another time of the year  
i'm writing about summer  
tying hair back.

the snow is deep across the windowsills  
a jar of water frozen outside  
snowflakes star shaped  
something glowing  
you can wrap yourself around.

and you almost thaw.


Theodore Fox is a poet living on unceded Indigenous lands on Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal Island.
website | twitter | instagram

Sunday Poems 66: All cats

Last week, I described the biggest change in my life since the Sunday Poems went on hiatus as being that I moved across the country, and that was undoubtedly huge, but I left out something else which surely deserves its place: a few months ago my partner and I adopted a cat.

As a kid, I wasn’t particularly interested in animals. There were dogs around, but I never really understood them. I just knew they were loud, smelled bad and were ‘too licky’. I had a hamster, and a rabbit. Both were cute, but obviously afraid of anyone else, and not particularly playful.

My feelings changed when a succession of cats came into my life in my early twenties. They fascinated me, coy but not disinterested. Boundaries were communicated, and violation of them could mean claws or teeth. The process of learning the language of tails, ears, fur, and meows engrossed me. At this point, I feel that if I were to wake up as a cat one morning, I might stand a chance of being able to communicate with them. Perhaps I’m being optimistic.

Our cat, Handpig, is a small, black cat with tufts of white fur under her collar, like a cravat, and under her armpits or legpits--whatever you call them on a cat. She chirps and purrs like a motorboat. Her main, pleading meow sounds like a small child saying ‘no’, which I’ve come to learn in her case usually means yes. Sometimes she wakes me up in the morning by biting the tip of my nose, which is effective, and unpleasant. I’m careful to make sure that it’s never rewarded with an early breakfast. Hobbies include e-commerce (very cardboard box that arrives at our house is a new place to curl up, especially if brown paper was used to wrap the contents), hiding all of the toys we buy or make for her (check under the couch), and keeping watch at the window to make sure none of the other neighbourhood cats try to make a visit.

Sunday is a good day to visit your local animal shelter’s website. There you should be able to find pictures of animals who are currently stuck in small cages. They are being taken care of by helpful workers and volunteers, but are still probably scared, and not particularly healthy. Dust leads to allergy symptoms, cheap food leads to a host of health problems. Shelters perform the vital function of keeping animals alive, but they are kept in a state of suspended animation, slowly degrading until they can find themselves in a more permanent situation. Many animals return to a shelter several times, as those who adopt realize that they aren't really as into taking care of their new furry purrer after they've scratched a couch, bitten a person, or perhaps peed on the floor. Consider if you have the room in your life and your household to be a more permanent residence for one of these non-humans.

Below is a poem. If you like what you read please consider sharing with a friend. As always, I’m here to chat if you have any questions. Have a good week, everybody.


the smell of a small cat’s tongue on my fingertips

almost dinner time,
a bowl of soup
tuna for a small cat.

i am holding together again
for a small cat
moving around again
for a small cat.

pink noise
a small cat meowing in the hall
cleaning a small desk
a moving truck

again, fresh bread is stiff
hovering against the pan
on a scattering of cornmeal.


Theodore Fox is a poet living on unceded Indigenous lands on Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal Island.
website | twitter | instagram

Sunday Poems 65: Live, from elsewhere

Hi. It's been a little bit. I'm your pal Theodore, and for a year and a half, I wrote a weekly series of blog posts called Sunday Poems. I took a month off because I needed a break, and sure enough that month off turned into nearly two years off. Whoops! The good news is now that I've had my break I feel energized, and ready to restart writing you again each weekend. For new readers, Sunday Poems is my weekly check in, usually sharing some thoughts about something I've read, along with an early draft of a poem.

The biggest change in my life since Sunday Poems went on hiatus is that I moved to Montreal last May, from my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. At twenty-seven years old, this relocation has started what feels like a second adolescence, though with a heck of a lot less energy than the last time. I live five minutes from the best bookstore in the world, and while that certainly brings a new precarity to my finances, I've been happy to be able to find new books I want to read without delay.

Montreal has hot, wet summers, and cold, wet winters. Since the temperatures started freezing, we've had more days of freezing rain than of snow, and the cold takes hours to extricate from my flesh every time I return indoors. In the summer (which feels so distant now) I remember nothing but sweat everywhere. Any restaurant or cafe without air conditioning or a patio might as well be closed, and on the hottest days, the patios themselves empty. But now the kettle is constantly heating. There isn’t enough hot water to fill the bathtub. A few days ago, the lock on our door froze, but some lubrication freed it up to turn again.

Sunday is a good day to make homemade granola. Oats, nuts, and seeds tossed with honey and oil, toasting in the oven. The edges of the parchment paper brown. The granola itself dehydrates slowly. Once golden and removed from the oven, it gently hardens. The smell through the house is comforting like almost nothing else. Even if you aren't making granola today, I hope that thinking of it can bring you some comfort.

On a last note, Sunday Poems was previously supported by donations at Patreon. I might bring that back at some point, but for now, if you like what you read and would like to support me, please check out more of my work at theodorefox.com, and if you find something you particularly like there, consider sharing it with a friend. Have a good week, everybody. Below is a poem.


keeping straight

room temperature water
boiled and filled glass bottles.

the tap's got too much chlorine
my nose has been bleeding
when i drink it.

a single plastic wrapped fruit
a hot coffee followed by a colder one.

we took off in the east,
mostly slept.

in a tailspin before the mountains
our pacific stretches organized
closing down the ports.

kissing on the rocks of the beach
digging feet into the stones
millions of years to find root:

exploring oyster beds
you cut open a heel from slipping
for the honour.

so many moments crawling themselves across the gap
on fire, so many moments together
turning off the lights
turning off the windows
kicking cicadas out of the house.

the pen finds the end of the line.


Theodore Fox is a poet living on unceded Indigenous lands on Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal Island.
website | twitter | instagram