• Fri, Feb 8 2013

I Love My Hippie Health Routine, But I Wish ‘Natural’ And ‘Organic’ Weren’t Markers of Privilege

This is not actually me, by the way.

This is not actually me, by the way.

If I could go back in time and tell my past self what a “health hippie” I’d eventually become, I’d have been pretty surprised. More and more, I find myself gravitating towards the “natural” way of taking care of my health—with all the baggage that comes along with it.

Here are all the hippie health things I’ve done in the past year or so: Started using a menstrual cup. Stopped taking hormonal birth control. Made my own laundry detergent. Made my own kitchen cleaning supplies. Brewed my own kombucha. Made my own cheese. Fermented veggies at home. Bought (mostly) organic produce and products. Took herbal tinctures and vitamins rather than over-the-counter cold medicine. Scented my apartment with natural incense rather than spray air fresheners. Moisturized my body with coconut oil rather than Bath and Body Works lotion. Watched my paycheck disappear at my local health food store and farmer’s market rather than at a big box grocery store.

I’ve always been interested in the “natural” (and I put it in quotes because it’s a very shaky term that means different things to different people) side of health. But increasingly, I’ve found myself making more and more choices that fall into that “natural” spectrum, choices like the ones I mentioned above.  It feels important to me that I be careful about and in control of what I put into and on my body, in terms of preservatives, chemicals, plasticizers and all of the other strange ingredients in the food we eat and the products we buy. It’s something I’ve been willing to spend larger amounts of both time and money on, a pursuit that gives me a sense of personal satisfaction I didn’t even know I wanted.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate conventional medicine or all chemicals or all processed food. I take ibuprofen, I go to the gynecologist, I eat crappy candy and processed food way more often than I “should,” based on the wisdom of the “natural living” world. And I have no immediate plans to go off-the-grid and grow all my own food or make all my own clothes (Although I would like to have some chickens and goats, one day. And I wouldn’t turn up my nose at finally learning now to knit, either.)

It might seem hypocritical, but I believe in a balance between the holistic world and the conventional world. I can have my BPA-free water bottle–but it’s still made out of plastic. I can eat my favorite corn-syruped, Red #3 Hot Tamales candy soon after I finish my vegan dinner made from buckwheat kasha and kale. Those all are conscious choices I make about my own body and my own health.

And that’s what makes me feel lucky and thankful to be living here in the 21st century. With the internet and television and other forms of media, we have the means to become informed about the products we use, the medicines we take, the doctors we see, the stores we shop in, the food we eat. There’s massive amounts of research and instruction available, on everything from chronic health problems to composting to nutrition. We can talk to a doctor about a health issue and also find a online forum devoting to the issue, chock full of people exchanging information. And then we can go to the health food store and buy an herb to treat it. Sure, you need to take everything with a grain of salt, but the amount of information alone is wonderful and gratifying. We’re living in a world where we are free to take advantage of the benefits of modern medicine as well as the folk wisdom people used for centuries before us. naturalhealth

Or at least, I am. I, as a white, able-bodied, educated (read: privileged) woman am lucky enough to be able to utilize the resources given to me to make decisions about my own health: what I want to put into or on my body. The truth is that the hierarchy of the world we live in today doesn’t make it possible for most people to make these kinds of choices: people-of-color or low-income people or third-world people or even just lower-middle-class people are disenfranchised from this fancy, “organic” niche world that I find myself falling deeper into all the time. I have the luxury to spend both the time and the means to read labels, google ingredients, and look up the best way to make non-toxic laundry detergent. Many people do not. And I feel like that’s something that’s often left of out the discussion when people like me talk or write about why they eat Amy’s Kitchen frozen meals instead of Lean Cuisines or use Method products instead of Clorox.

Myself and the other writers for the site were laughing a few weeks ago when discussing all of the misconceptions that come along with writing for Blisstree. Yes, we’re interested in health and wellness, nutrition and fitness. No, that doesn’t mean we live healthfully all the time. We drink too much, we sometimes eat fast food, we sometimes smoke. We skip workouts, we forget sunscreen. We have our vices along with our “natural” predilections. And we’re also aware of the crazy privilege that comes along with being a health writer and having those predilections.

Although it takes quite a bit more work, quite a bit more time, and quite a bit more money, my “natural” health bent has helped to make me a more educated consumer, as well as a more educated health patient. I’m grateful for that, in all areas of my life. I hope this isn’t coming off as preachy. I’m not necessarily trying to advocate anything here—unless it’s becoming an informed participant in your own health (if you are able to do so)—whatever that means to you.

Photo: KOMUnews on Flickr

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  • Camilla Bech

    I’m also one of the lucky ones, to live in a country like Denmark, where almost everybody can afford to buy organic and local.

    I feel sorry for people who have the choice of eating healthy or organic taken away, because they literally can’t afford to eat that way.