The Whole30 in Africa and Privilege

I could say that doing the Whole30 reeks of privilege. Because it does. Kale, avocado, salmon, organic, local, free-range, coconut oil…this stuff is expensive and inaccessible not just to me in Djibouti but to people who live in ‘food deserts’ in the US or who don’t have margins in their budgets. People who can only get to the corner store where everything is overpriced and over-processed.

But you know what? Almost every meal I ate before the Whole30 reeked of privilege when I compare it to what many in Djibouti eat. This is something I wrestle with a lot.

My running clothes, ancient iPod, armband, headphones, and my shoes cost more than many of the people I run past will earn in months. I eat three meals a day. I live inside a house and it has walls and a roof and locks on the doors and screens on the windows. I have running water and electricity and a car and a computer.

This is abundance. Nothing, not one single thing about the Whole30 forced me to acknowledge my wealth any more than I am forced to acknowledge it every day. I could eat avocados or rice and beans until camels fly and it wouldn’t change one thing about the reality that the gap between me and someone living on the street is nearly infinite.

I’m not going to pretend that a month of eating this way changed how I think about food, community, or wealth and poverty and privilege. It simply gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on something I reflect on a lot.

Getting all high and mighty and condemning people who whine about how hard it is to drink coffee black while there is a homeless man on my street who has worn the same cast on his leg for months and months and months and who cries when I give him bananas would be manipulative and, ultimately, dishonest.

The Whole30 and Privilege1

I could say I felt so guilty eating my swiss chard nutrient dense salads or that I struggled with the reality that while some people have to fight to lose weight, other people in the world are dying from not having enough to eat. That would be the whole ‘eat your carrots because there are kids starving in Africa’ argument.

But the truth? I didn’t feel guilty eating swiss chard. I just ate it and felt thankful. And dropped bananas by the homeless man’s head while he slept in the shade. And felt thankful.

Another, contradictory truth? I feel guilty all the time, at least when I let myself wander down that path. Too many calories consumed – guilt. A non-generous response to a beggar – guilt. A new (used) iPod – guilt. A friend who can’t pay her daughter’s school fees – guilt.

My guilt or not guilt had nothing to do with the Whole30. It has everything to do with my plenty. No – my abundance, and what I do with it.

But I can’t live in that place all the time. I want to be aware and sensitive and generous and wise. But I also want to feel gratitude and joy.

Here is something I already knew but doing the Whole30 helped me think about how to apply it to food:

Intention is key. Living, and eating, with intention is something I increasingly value. Instead of running willy-nilly through my days and decisions, I want to be more reflective, more purposeful, more filled with intention with what I do and what I eat. For me, that might mean buying an extra kilo of bananas or keeping a package of dates in the car to hand to hungry people. It might mean biking more instead of driving or taking the time to help a friend move. It might mean speaking up about injustice – not on Twitter but in real life, when I see it in front of me. And it might mean choosing, intentionally, to eat certain foods with gratitude.

My point is that the Whole30 shouldn’t make anyone feel guilty. Going on this food cleanse does nothing to change your status or position in society.

But if it makes you more aware, if it makes you more grateful, if it makes you more generous, excellent.


My other Whole30 posts:

A Runner’s Journey

Learning (again) to Cook

A Reluctant Food Post

What is the Whole30?