Saturday, September 11, 2010

An Open Letter To The Woman Sitting At The Table Next To Me At Olive Cafe Last Weekend:

Dear Mystery Woman,

I don't mind that your table companions turned around to stare, breathing over my shoulder, when my breakfast arrived. I know that they were just trying to decide what to order and it seemed like you were out on a family outing, and you can choose your friends but you can't choose your eggs-florentine-oogling family. I even quite liked it when your brother/cousin/alternate male family member asked the waitress for a Coke, because it gave me the smug satisfaction of knowing that they don't serve that kind of beverage (because this is Cuba Street) and that he would have to settle for an organic Phoenix Cola. But what I did mind is your comment that you couldn't order the halloumi that morning because it is "dangerous stuff".

Just quietly, cheese is generally thought to be less dangerous than a lot of other things. Knives, for example. Or bombs or sulfuric acid or baboons or pedophiles. I can think of a few situations where perhaps halloumi could be considered to be dangerous, perhaps if you are deathly lactose intolerant, in which case this blog post is largely irrelevant but I have always been an over thinker and I am okay with that. Other situations could include if a tonne of halloumi was about to fall out of the sky and you were about to be pelted with many little cheese sized bricks. I'm trying not to think about the dangerous implications for all of the little animals who have miserable lives because of the dairy industry, because I already can't eat porky things or chicken and giving up cheese would be as hard for me as giving up lipstick. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that that's not what you meant because you ended up ordering something with chorizo in it.

Cheese is not dangerous. Cheese is delicious. Sure, it might be dangerous if you ate cheese and only cheese for every meal for a whole year. But it would be dangerous to only eat carrots or chocolate or watermelon for a year. Alone, a food can not be dangerous. Food is just food. It does not have ill intentions or moral attributes. Food can not be 'good' or 'bad'. Foods have different nutritional components, yes, and eating everything in moderation is really great but labelling a food as 'bad' only contributes to a weird, fucked up belief system around eating. A belief system where business women can't buy chocolate off my friend Izzy without commenting on how 'naughty' they are being. Where a human being can't go to the gym without being told they are 'being good' or that they are being 'virtuous' if they eat some grapes, even though they might just like going to the gym to punch things and eating grapes because they taste delicious. A belief system where this kind of stupid Facebook status update is normal and 'liked' by four people:


These words, the "good" and the "bad" and the "virtuous" and the "naughty" are so insidious. They are body shame and blame, tied up in little adjective parcels. They are body surveillance culture, hidden as offside remarks. They are the words that say it is okay to be fat, as long as you are dieting and running up a hill every five minutes, because God forbid you love your body the way it is. Those words are about as stupid as this annoying commercial, because this is how chocolate biscuits have to be advertised:

I'm not sure what I am most bothered by here. Am I offended that Tim Tams are supposed to be a naughty illicit secret or that talking about openly about sex like this is such a NAUGHTY GIGGLE?

Mystery woman, you are a grown up. You control what you eat. You are in charge of eating what will nourish your body and what will make you feel amazing and what will taste delicious. If you think cheese is dangerous because it might make you fat, then you should learn to love yourself. Your body is going to be with you for your whole life. It might change. It might get fatter or thinner or hairier or sicker or stronger, but it's yours and you are stuck with it, so you better love it and nourish it and make it feel wonderful. Your body is not your enemy. Cheese is not your enemy. Neither are Tim Tams or Leeks or Muffins. If you want, you could read some of this stuff by the Fat Nutritionist or learn about intuitive eating. But most importantly maybe you should trust your body, stop worrying and eat whatever the fuck you want. And even more importantly if you want halloumi you should go to Aro Cafe instead of Olive, because their portion size is actually worth sixteen dollars.


Ally Garrett, cheese defender extraordinaire.


  1. HERE HERE!!!

    My coworker feels he has to ask me permission to eat his lunch. I'm not quite sure if he asks me because I'm fat and you know we're such decadent overeaters but he'll be receiving this printed out in his box tomorrow morning :)


  2. I really liked reading this while I had my danish and my energy drink for breakfast because it is MONDAY MORNING and I am HUNGOVER.
    Mmmm, halloumi..

  3. HALOUMI HALOUMI HALOUMI that is all that I have to say (but it is definitely an endorsement).

  4. Ally, you are so amazing. I check your blog almost every single day to look for updates and when there is one, I am so happy. I'm a huge fan of reading blogs about all sorts of things, but had never thought to look for blogs are fat acceptance or size positivism. The thought provoking and pretty damn awesome things you write about and links you've hooked me up with have been amazingly informative and beneficial to me. Can I just thank you for loving your body, and telling me that it's OK to love mine. I'm size 18 on top, 20 on the bottom and I'm one of those rare cases who is not in a hurry to change. I tried the odd fad diet that temporarily cost me my sanity and made me paranoid about what passed my lips. I tried eating tiny portions by only eating off a little plate but I got sick of being hungry. So instead I concentrated on changing my mind set instead of my measurements. I never apoligise for myself, or my size, or for eating everything on my plate. In fact, I was reading this whilst eating a Memphis Meltdown Gooey Raspberry that I loved every mouthful of. I only wish my two miniscule flatmates who, instead of icecream, ate cottage cheese and honey out of a tiny cup for pudding, were as comfortable with themselves as their flatmate twice their size. Oh well. Ally, you're amazing. I'm starting to WANT people to offend you so you can share your opinions and eloquent musings with all of us! Thank you x

  5. Thank you everyone for your lovely comments on this post. Anonymous, your comment made me just grin in a really big way! I am so glad you like what I am writing about and have been reading other awesome stuff. I am so seriously inspired by some of the more established fat acceptance bloggers. So much fierce body love. Now I feel like an ice-cream.

  6. Hi Ally I love reading your post - you are a fabulous writer.

    One thing to ponder perhaps -

    Did you think maybe the lady at Olive might have been pregnant? then the comment about halumi cheese makes sense...not so safe to eat when someone thinks they might be pregnant.

    Also, when travelling I chose not to eat soft cheeses (and yogurt) because the bugs in these foods vary from place to place (even within a country) and often cause stomach upsets.

  7. Thank you Emily!
    I think although it is possible she might be pregnant, it's probably not that likely. Like on a likeliness ratio I would 'chances of body policing' over 'chances of pregnancy'.

    My travel tip when I go places is to always eat yoghurt first because it acclimatises you to the buggies that are in all the food in a different place! Interesting! YOGHURT POWER!

  8. But I also think I could write an equally enraged post about society views women's pregnant bodies as public property, haha!
    Thank you for commenting and hope to see you soon!

  9. I really hate to do this, because I really do love your blog so so so much and have agreed with every single thing you've posted so far, but I have to make one point about this.

    Food can be dangerous. Not for us, the ones consuming it, but for the animals that provide it. The meat/dairy industry hurts animals. There's no way around it. I openly acknowledge that there are many 'ethical' meat and dairy production facilities in New Zealand, but a large portion of their product is shipped overseas (more profitable than selling locally), so a lot of the animal products people buy (often under the impression they come from 'happy' animals in 'nice' slaughterhouses in NZ) is actually from overseas, where standards regarding animal welfare are practically non-existent.

    You say you 'try not to think about' the effect your consumption has on animals. Unfortunately, in an educated society I really feel like this bury-my-head-in-the-sand attitude won't cut it. The information is freely available, and people actively choose to ignore it because it makes them feel uncomfortable, and maybe it's a bit harder to tuck in to a steak when you know how much that animal suffered to get to your taste buds.

    The parallels between this and modern feminism are quite strong. Ignoring a problem because it makes you uncomfortable - whether it be exactly how your dinner got to your table or a misogynistic, discriminatory rape culture bubbling beneath the surface of society - will do absolutely nothing to aid its eradication. In fact, this kind of willful ignorance is often the most enabling factor in allowing this kind of behaviour to continue.

    Again, I hate to be so confrontational - although an oft-offended lady should understand the feeling ; )

    I'm putting my name on this because I don't want to hide behind an 'anonymous' label. Also, I 100% remember you letting me have a big bitch and moan at you over facebook a few months ago even though we practically haven't spoken since high school, and I appreciated that so so much at the time (and now). You're my sweet bitch of the week.

    Lastly, apologies for the tl;dr. Love, love, love your work <3

  10. Hi Alex! Thank you for commenting. I think that for me, something I really struggle with the guilt that comes with eating animal products, and trying to balance this with my life. For me, giving up pork and chicken and most meats as already been quite a huge step, and only buying free range and ethical beef. One day, I really do hope to be completely vegetarian and to only be buying completely ethical and free range dairy products (which I try to do with dairy right now). But for me as it is, I can't do that right now. I have been trying to eliminate this stuff slowly, and I feel like by acknowledging the pork and chicken thing in my most was my way of saying that actually, I am thinking about where my food comes from. Because the main part of the post was about GOOD and BAD foods, but I wanted there to be some acknowledgement of where animal products come from, so I think that the burying head in the sand thing might be a little unfair. Especially because most other FA stuff I have read has never mentioned the correlation with a bad food, and a food that is bad ethically. With me, I have found that it is when I try not to eat any animal products at all I will crave them and go mental and then eat something I don't want to, so it is way better for me to only eat on occasion, and buy humanely produced when I can. Because otherwise I end up feeling way too over-whelmed and WHAT IS THE POINTish.

    I think it is really excellent that way that you can vocalize and express your views so strongly, and I totally admire the conviction that you have with your veganism. I would love to be at the place that you are right now, but it is something I struggle with. Like a couple of months ago when I ate some free range bacon, I had to come home and donate to SAFE because I felt so guilty. Maybe you should write some kind of guest post about how animal products or their adverstising or something someone has said totally pisses you off? Even if you wanted to turn this rant into a thing? I would be totally into posting it.

    Anyway, you are awesome and we should totes have a drink sometime when we next find ourself in the same city.

  11. NB - For anyone who is looking for more expertise discussion about veganism and animal rights, Alex has now started a blog which you should check out.

  12. Fabulous post. I'm often sickened by advertising for food. Ice-cream adverts drive me nuts the most. I just want to scream "It's ice-cream!! Just eat it, don't fuck it!"

  13. GUHHHHHH haloumi is so good. Life is too short and food is too enjoyable to bother with bullshit food morality.

  14. But what if I love my body the way it is and the way it is very skinny because I choose not to eat haloumi or other high fat foods? I get accepting our bodies at whatever level is comfortable for us but I don't get why that equals eating whatever you like all the time, with the associated weight gain. Or why loving your body the way it is seems to exclude those who like to be skinny.

    I have been all over the weight spectrum. I'm currently 35kgs lighter than I was at my largest. I like being really skinny. I like that my hip bones jut out and that you can count my ribs. I just wonder if this counts as body acceptance too or if I am seen as a victim of or sucker for body policing because what I like and accept is very thin?

    (ps. I really enjoy reading your blog.)

  15. Dear Anonymous - I am super glad you love reading my blog. I love comments like this because they totes make me think over my main points. Here is just me 2 cents.

    That is totally fine for you to LOVE YOUR BODY however you love it. The main point of this post though was totally about the stupidity of labelling foods as 'good' and as 'bad'.

    I am really pleased for you that you love your body. But I just hope that loving your body doesn't depend on what your hip bones or your bones are doing, or whatever numbers or figures you have quoted here. Body acceptance and fat acceptance both are underpinned by the idea of accepting bodies at every size/weight/ability/race/gender. You should check out some of my other posts, like An Open Letter To James and Would A Rose By Any Other Name, because there I have talked about how much I hate the REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES bullshit that is often touted as size acceptance. It totally isn't! All women are real! And celebrating one type of body should not be about tearing another type down.

    I would encourage you to check out some stuff by a blogger called The Fat Nutritionist (google her!) and the intuitive eating and the Heath At Every Size movements, because I firmly do not think that eating what you like is associated with weight gain. I think eating what you like could be eating salads and grains and awesome things. But there is NOTHING to be gained from only loving your body when it is skinny and from labelling high fat foods as BAD.