Monday, July 7, 2008

Eating Habits

We’ve arrived in Cairns; thawed, partially; discovered the markets and the almost-naked sunbathing backpackers down by the lagoon (we’ll get to that story in later). We’re still having some trouble with food, though. It is true that food is grounding, and it is upsetting that not only are all the people different, the houses, the language, the weather, the airplanes and sandwiches different, but damn it, the soy sauce is different! Vannac is now truly destabilized.

With a kitchen and a chance to unpack, though, Vannac is able to cook his rice again. There is no rice maker, but that is a compromise we can accept, and soon he will be able to eat meat again which is also reassuring. Although still quite opposed to western food, he is beginning to see the appeal: the rest of us walk into the kitchen, pull out our bread and sprouts or yoghourt and muesli and off we go; meanwhile, Vannac is diligently chopping his onions, mincing his garlic, scrambling his egg, boiling his rice, salting his fish, and long after we’ve retired to the living room, Vannac is ready to eat his breakfast. No sooner is he done, he begins on his lunch. A few four-hour asana sessions with Nicky and his hunger might just start to crack this attachment.

I find I’m getting frustrated at his attachment to food. I believe that the basic state of one’s psyche is reflected in the relationship one holds with food. If you guzzle your food, that consumptiveness will be reflected in the way you interact with other people and your environment, and indicates a state of want, or an invisible or feeble self-image. If you are conscientious about how and what you eat, that conscientiousness manifests as care towards other people and things in your life. With Vannac, his intolerance of any deviation in what he is used to reads to me as a belief that “strange = bad,” a principle I believe is opposite to what we do in yoga.

Of course, I understand that familiar food is his touchstone in this upside-down land and certainly don’t condemn Vannac for wanting to eat what he is used to. I am just worried about his being uncomfortable here and I wish that he could be as relaxed as we are. At the same time, leaping into a world so utterly and shockingly different is the best way of severing attachments, of learning to orient oneself on something other than what one is used to, discovering things without knowing if they’re good or bad or ho they work, and moving into a place of not-knowing. This is yoga. But, this is also the hardest part of yoga.

That being said, we had an interesting conversation at dinner last night about this word, “nutrition,” a word Vannac didn’t know. I have some Khmer, but I don’t have the words for “vitamin,” “mineral,” “proteins,” “enzymes,” “calories,” but I wish I did. Priska, the woman who’s house we are in, is very conscious about nutrition and diet and together we explained to Vannac why we eat brown rice and not white rice; why we like to eat fruits and vegetables and not instant noodles; and how we can balance our diets by combining rice and beans, which are very easy to get in Cambodia, instead of eating meat. We also talked about how some people in Western countries can be very fat, but because all they eat is processed and refined foods, they are actually suffering from hunger; that is, nutrient deficiency. Vannac the sponge was quite taken by this idea of nutrients, and thought that maybe he should start using brown rice. I wonder if anyone has thought to write a simple kids-type introduction to nutrition and how our bodies process food; it is something I would like to share with the orphans, also, who don’t have access to a wide variety of food, and could benefit from eating intelligently.

I think a lot about teaching yoga as an ideology and am quite uncomfortable teaching anything that sounds dogmatic. But when it comes to food, I have no reservations about preaching vegetarianism and seeking converts. Am I taking advantage of Vannac’s open ears? But then again, maybe vegetarianism is not an ideology, and is actually as scientific as Nicky’s style of yoga.


saorla said...

We also talked about how some people in Western countries can be very fat, but because all they eat is processed and refined foods, they are actually suffering from hunger; that is, nutrient deficiency.

How incredibly discriminatory! You are saying that us fatties are slobs who can't eat right and that you are the person to educate us. Well Isabelle that is not the typical fattie. The majority of us eat right, exercise, have even attended your classes. I'm amazed that you did not just kick us out directed for the sin of being fat. It may astonish you to know that people come in all shapes and sizes and thin does not necessarily equal healthy. I find your attitude disturbing and I urge you to do some research before continuing your fat hate speech. Feel free to read the following links for your education. Besides, as Kate Harding says, if shaming people worked there would be no fat people in the world.

Now that I know you hate me and my body type, that I disgust you, that you think I'm a greedy slob who lives on junk food, I shall not return to your classes and I'll be amazed that you greet me in the street.

Phnom said...


it may be worth considering how your perspective creates barriers towards others. you’ve compounded a species of billions of people into one reality and presupposed those who have more ravenous eating habits are somehow inferior or lesser in control than you are. it would be hard to imagine someone who touts their eating habits as making them more apt to care for others as actually being more caring, given how reductive and insensitive your comments are in the first place. I would venture to guess that the number of your friends is few….

A well-regarded ethnobiologist made a career of traveling the world and studying native cultures and he said that his “success” was, in part, by winning the trust of others. He said, “It is as simple as willingness to eat what is in front of you. If you walk into certain villages and say, ‘I don’t eat grubs,’ well that creates a barrier.”

The vegetarian barriers that you suggest are one thing, but when you create barriers by defining people’s motivations for food, or peoples control of it, it really turns people off and if there is a message you want to convey, few will listen. They will sense the barrier you’ve unconsciously (or quite blatantly, in your case) established and the judgment and inflexibility that comes with that.

Rather than examining the parameters from their neurological, social, psychological, hormonal and cultural standpoints, you’ve set the parameters for others’ relationship with food from your standpoint. that doesn’t seem like much science youre using to me by dwindling so many complicated variables -- many not fully understood by the scientific community -- into *one* that youre fixated on. (That being *control*).

Maia said...

"But then again, maybe vegetarianism is not an ideology, and is actually as scientific as Nicky’s style of yoga. "

It's naive to think that anything is free of ideology. Science is just a neat way of claiming absolute truth of your ideology. Why not drop the fake relativity in your blogging and just admit that you're a biased vegetarian and that, apparently, you have a hard time accepting people who lead a different lifestyle?
Though it's not a very endearing character trait, it's fairly common among dogmatics...

Barbara said...

Hey Isabelle,

You sound like a really superficial person. Pretty lame that you are a slave to societal constructs to feel better about yourself. Please don’t teach orphans your bigotry and fat hate.

Julia said...

You're a YOGI? I think you should focus more on inflexibility of your mind rather than your body. Sounds to me like you need some serious tutelage in compassion, understanding and observation.

L. Eileen said...

How about the Buddha!!! As a yogi, I would hope that you would display a greater sense of personal enlightenment. It surprises me how much you lack empathy and self-knowledge - yoga is not about the body. Some of the world's kindest people looove food or have food issues. You are a very misguided soul - may you find the way. And may I never cross your path along your way!

doctormonkey said...

As a relative of a yogi, I think an obsession with nutrition and body fat percentage often manifests a preoccupation with a limited definition of self, corporeal form and otherwise...just food for thought ;)

Izzy said...

My first impression was that you must be a very immature and prejudiced person. Knowing the possibilities for misunderstanding things posted to the internet, I read the rest of your blog- which only served to strengthen my initial thoughts.
You show a serious lack of the self reflection and humility one expects of a person calling herself "yogi".
I am sure that logically, you understand what the ego is, and the need to break it, yet in practice, you fail. In your entries, you consistently snicker a the perceived failings of your companions (particularly Vannac) and dismiss them for not doing things the way you see fit. Where you see a boorish pig obsessed with food, I see someone willing to craft a meal, that, despite your biased thoughts, will nourish him. In fact, Vannac's cooking shows more attention to one's self (and by your logic, other people) than your grabbing a sack full of boxed muesli, tubbed yogurt, and bread.
In nitpicking other's habits, you are overestimating your own wisdom and underestimating your ignorance.

p.s. you suck

Christina said...

What a tolerant role model Vannac has been learning from!

No wonder Vannac hounds students about their weight when they come to your studio – asking them how many kilos they are, *what* they could have eaten to be so big, mentioning he had seen them at local restaurants and *knew* what they were eating and even asking them tips on how he too can be fatter, because his *corn on the cob* wasn’t plumping him up to show off being *fat enough* to his rural family. Vannac’s proposals to fat students that they *must* eat cake *every* day were far too common, as was his commentary on what he *supposed* people ate, when he in fact had no clue.

his commentary is certainly NOT appreciated by fat students who (used to) come to yoga for exercise and *not* to meet the misguided Cambodian version of Jenny Craig or Richard Simmons at the sign-in desk!

After reading your post and seeing the prospect that you are most likely without capacity to correct his discriminatory language, if youre not in fact fueling it, im not at all surprised at the sign-in desk welcome he was giving some of you students. its amazing that many of us supported your studio for as long as we did given the garbage we had to hear on a consistent basis when we tried to sign in.

*Amen* to Maia’s comments! You are a Dane of the finest caliber, Maia.

Saorla, *thank you* for being the first to speak up for all the students who felt similarly and were just as affronted by Isabelle’s aloof/discriminatory tone and discourse in this blog. Saorla, please keep us updated if an apology from Isabelle ever comes your way. I wont be at Cambo-Six putting any bets on it!

Om Shanti Om!! Rikitikivasanasa. Om! Dogmaticasanama. Shakti Makti!

Betty said...

you sound like jerk. kudos to those of you who spoke out against this yoga posters superficial posting. very brave of you men and women to speak up to this womans ignorance and hate. it makes my heart shine that people spoke out to the nonsense in your blog posting.

Sophie said...

I have read the article in question. I was really enjoying it and then i got to the feeble self-image bit. I was uncomfortable. Why was it making me uncomfortable? Why was I suddenly feeling such aversion to this article.. and I suppose, then inevitably and humanly… to the author? I wanted to get to the bottom of it because I don’t believe in sending hatred back into things or people just because it arises in me…

The sentence ‘If you guzzle your food, that consumptiveness will be reflected in the way you interact with other people and your environment, and indicates a state of want, or an invisible or feeble self-image’ was the one that did it, of course.

I guzzle my food. I was told by my partner, in fact, only a short while prior to reading this, that she thought I did not enjoy food at all, but enjoyed eating and that I had a long way to go before I could be called an epicurean. Ok, so, that was probably part of why it felt so personal. I identify with food. In my family I was always the big eater, I would have 3rd 4th and 5th helpings, my grandparents beam when I do this. Friend’s parents think of me as wholesome because I am a ‘hearty’ eater. I am a ‘solid’ girl. I have always liked to think it is because I LOVE food.

Here it was again…someone suggesting (though they did not say, ‘you have a feeble self-image, I pity you,’ which was my imaginary first reading.. such is my ego, such is my mind…).. here was someone suggesting that I am not really a lover of food, but a lover of consumption. The author goes on to suggest that I may be in a state of want, or that I have an invisible or feeble self-image.

THIS was further than my partner had gone, and since I had not vented my spleen on my partner when the subject arose (knowing my partner, and knowing she only meant things kindly but still feeling hurt..) it was VERY hard again, to resist directing anger towards this. Anger so quickly breaks free from the source of incitement and forms a head of its own… an ugly, independent one. Once again, I suspended its direction and dug a little deeper. To listen to what this article said would hurt.

I gave it a whirl again. Am I am guzzler? Well, I eat my food quickly, yes. I pour out ketchup and salt on chips when I am already ‘stuffed’, to help force them down sometimes. I don’t always eat lots, but I eat fast and I eat whilst DOING things. I mean, I find it hard to sit and eat and just enjoy the food conscientiously, I like to eat in front of the TV so there is a distraction.. so I can….. well, be distracted and eat as much as I like. I guess I guzzle.. then.

Alright, but reading the self-image part made me angry again… and so on I went, working out my responses. Emotive subject, food, eh? I actually agree now with the first part, but think I disagree that it necessarily indicates a state of want, or an invisible or feeble self-image. In my case, it is probably to with habit and identity performance... well, anxiousness perhaps… Ok, maybe it has to do with a state of want… I will think on it a bit more and I am grateful for you to bring up a new way of looking on something for me. I will let you know what I come up with.

When I am suddenly angry upon reading something I know it has hit a nerve, isnt that an opportunity to look at what’s around that nerve? To shout at the superficial cause is like wailing profanities at the person nearest you when you stub your big toe…it is unlikely to make you a calmer person, you don’t learn about the pain and your lazily lashed out at the person who happened to be there.. potentially hurting that person for your own pain.

So, Isabelle, did you used to guzzle? To me, it is interesting to note, that if you were skinny I would find it harder to listen to these words and also that if you were writing in context of having a problem with weight and guzzling and having a feeble self-image, it would be easier.

Anyway, plenty of food for thought. I have learnt a lot from your article and people’s responses, including my own. Also, I think your other articles are hilarious. I especially love your gentle understanding of Cambodia. It’s so readable and unpretentious and just damned funny. It’s like you really allow the story to speak for itself without putting claim to the funniness of it all in your words. The reader doesnt have to do a thing. Its a picture. You’re talented.

Thanks all


Isabelle Skaburskis said...


Thank you for helping me understand what it was that made people so angry. I will clarify my perspective, and I offer a sincere apology for expressing myself badly. Your tolerance and open-mindedness has helped me learn a valuable lesson.


Maria said...

what a jerk your students must think you are. saorla great post. thank you. maia and izzy your very funny. christina your essay on Barriers was fantastic and
i laughed out loud at your corn on the cob joke c! yoga teacher im disappointed in you and if i was in cambodia i wouldnt feel comfortable n your class.

Jacqueline said...

What a pathetic outpouring of vitriol. You guys are really insecure!!!!! All she wrote was:'We also talked about how some people in Western countries can be very fat, but because all they eat is processed and refined foods, they are actually suffering from hunger; that is, nutrient deficiency.' This is a statement. It is not a judgement. She says nothing about fatties being slobs, she says nothing about fat people not caring for others,she says nothing that could be construed as fat hate. She does not say, which she could have, that within 5 years, 80% of North-American adults will be diabetic. What she says is that people who eat the wrong food might be suffering!!! And you accuse her of not having compassion!!!! What is wrong with you guys? Are you paranoid or what? I am surprised that of all the different topics she has blogged about that this one pathetic non-issue is the one topic you have bothered to make comments on. Get a life!

Jacqueline said...

Sophie - that was a very thoughtful comment, I enjoyed reading it. What you might feel like trying at this point is eating in silence. I am reading the life of the Buddha and one of the first things he both did and taught was eating in silence so you can focus on the food and the tastes, about where it has come from and who helped it get to your plate. I have tried it and it is REALLY HARD! But reading your thoughts inspires me to try again harder, so I thought I would share this with you.

saorla said...

I would like to clarify my point. The statement that fat people are fat because they eat junk food is untrue and incredibly hateful. That is my issue with your post Isabelle.

Maybe your fat hate is unconscious but think about the words you used. I put links in my first comment to provide you with further information if you wish to learn.

I'm sure you can understand how insulted I am when you make sweeping statements about why people are fat and presuming to know better. Do you not think it insulting when people make sweeping statements about sexuality or race?

saorla said...

All she wrote was:'We also talked about how some people in Western countries can be very fat, but because all they eat is processed and refined foods, they are actually suffering from hunger; that is, nutrient deficiency.' This is a statement. It is not a judgement.

It is not true Jacqueline and that is the point. You say it is a statement but it is an assumption, a damaging and hurting assumption. Your statistics are shaky at best and appear to me to be false. Please refer to the links in my first comment and educate yourself. about fat people and why people are fat.

*So irritated by the false, fat = death by diabetes, paradigm*

Sophie said...

Thanks for the advice, Jacqueline, re eating. Actually, what you said made me think of Vannac. Vannac says he has noticed 2 major differences in Cambodian culture vs Western:

1. That we eat with so much noise around us. He postponed his lunch yesterday because there were workmen around. He said it is impossible to eat rice when there is noise all around. When we eat with our friends on the grass, he will go off, eat his rice quietly, then come back for the conversation...

2. In Cambodia, if children do not want to eat food, the parents would never make them - they will come back when they are hungry. He couldn't understand why children are forced to eat their food when young.

It's a good point. If we are relying on others to tell us when we are hungry from childhood, no wonder friends and cafes and brands can lure me to eat when my stomach isnt actually asking for it.