Optimal Health as Biopolitics: Revolution Grows from a Barrel of Organic Kale
As a person with an obvious disability, I am always aware of how human bodies are positioned physically in society, and how those positions manifest in highly stratified political configurations. I internalized my own position down at the bottom, which limited my ability to see what I was physically capable of. This behavior had a negative effect on my food choices and I now realize that, in many ways, the supermarket is like the voting booth. The maze of shelves held only the veneer of choice and the patina of democracy. The colors, the labels, the mascots, the slogans – all so enticing and all so deceptive. All of the food candidates that were giving their store-shelf stump speeches were all financed by the same few wealthy corporations who didn’t care whether my nutrient needs were met. I thought I was paying attention but it was all a distraction from the true political state of things.
Regrettably, I had no idea that the actual politics were going on inside of me, or what I like to refer to as biopolitics. My process of turning away from feeling trapped and sorry for myself, and toward a firm belief that I could be cured, was a product of research, introspection and meditation that seriously tested my patience. But once I reached a certain threshold of awareness, a new menu of opportunities began to present itself, a menu crafted with organic ingredients that held the prospect of emancipation from my illness. I made a purposeful decision to become commander of my healthy future rather than an incompetent, paranoid dictator whose choices would only lead to eventual self-destruction.
Understanding the Politics Within
For me, the biopolitics of optimal health operate on two levels. The first is biological and its politics are located in your gut. In diseases like mine, there is a war going on in your small intestine. Ideally, your gut should be a pristine society, with the correct balance of bacteria that allows your health to flourish. The “good” flora keep the “bad” in check, so that no faction grows sufficiently powerful to disrupt intestinal harmony. However, for most people, years of eating the standard American diet feeds the anti-democratic opposition, fomenting (fermenting) its plans for regime change through a quiet creeping coup. Their goal is monopoly of the gut-space, institutional consolidation of its dominance, and complete control of the means of production of the hormones and enzymes that sustain a vibrant and robust body politic. This gradual microbial seizing of power results in a chronic infection. Its intentions are totalitarian, genocidal and terroristic.
Food of Mass Destruction
Think of it this way. The high fructose corn syrup you get high on all day is like napalm, a thick jelly incinerating your gut’s defenses, baking your good bacteria and burning ulcers in your intestinal lining. The preservatives are Agent Orange, defoliating your gut’s delicate ecosystem, razing the intestinal terrain and promoting malabsorption so that indigenous populations of bacteria can no longer sustain themselves. The result is a disenfranchised, disfigured and disabled populace so deeply diseased that the neurological, respiratory, and cardiovascular effects may cascade through generations to come. The hormones, steroids and antibiotics in meat are guns, tanks and planes, and with every pull of the trigger, roll of the tread and blaze of the afterburner more and more destruction is being inflicted inside you. Finally, think about all of the atomic bombs of fear and stress you consume when you eat meat from a caged, factory-farm animal. That radiation from fear and stress mushrooms upward and ripples outward, affecting the composition of your microbiome, causing confusion, complacency and panic to proliferate among your gut’s good citizens.
Not only are you supplying the oppressive regime, but you’re also starving any potential rebellion by any remnants of good bacteria that may have survived the infection’s purge. You’re starving them of the key micro-, macro- and phyto-nutrients needed to grow their ranks and fertilize their movement. Like humans, bacteria are communal and rely on chemical communication to accomplish specific tasks. Nutrient deficiencies – whether they be from inadequate intake, malabsorption or inefficient cellular metabolism – are essentially a technological blackout depriving good bacteria of the channels of disseminating their propaganda of liberation amongst the masses of bacteria that inhabit your gut. Nutrient insufficiency not only inhibits communication, but it also effective blockades the flow of raw materials needed to build a movement to supplant the long-established dictatorship. All of this oppression is occurring in your gut all day, every day, and most people don’t even notice. So, in ignorance, they continue to feed the war machine, making it more firmly entrenched and more difficult to get rid of.
Ending the Never-ending War
The second dimension of the biopolitics of optimal health lies within your consciousness and it must be addressed before any change in your gut politics can occur. Distended and disabled bodies, and the rituals of mindless food consumption that manufacture them, have become normalized, routinized and expected, almost to religious proportions. This is the myth of the “perpetual war” of health, where the tyranny of the “disease management” paradigm attempts to assassinate any hope of a shift to “cure.” The only chance is awakening to the fact that you are your own colonizer, you are your own despot, you are your own terrorist, and that the person ordering and then justifying the mass killing of your good bacteria is, in fact, you. Eventually, you arrive at a point when you realize that cure is possible, and you become willing to make the changes necessary to protest against your own occupation, move against the authoritarian regime and take your health destiny into your own hands. This is the moment when the incrementalist approach necessarily fails because the prospect of a free, optimally healthy you simply cannot wait. This is the moment you become a health revolutionary. This is the beginning of the end of the war.
The Revolution of Expectations
The most important revolutions are those of imagination and expectation. Contrary to popular belief, revolution is not an expletive. Health radicalism is and always must be synonymous with love radicalism. How can one profess to love another if one doesn’t even love oneself enough to eat unadulterated food? And if my language seems violent and provocative, it is intended to be. Breaking the shackles of previous bad behavior can be difficult. For many people, as long as they have basic freedoms – going to work, spending time with family, etc. – they don’t realize how dire their situation is. This is the epitome of “politics as usual.” Politics as usual in your gut, and in your health more generally, can no longer be an acceptable state of affairs. Whether you know it or not, there is an infection in your intestine, and it is ready to be overthrown by a new optimistic regime, with a radical new vision of cure as the overarching objective and a radical new constitution that makes your commitment to loving your body politic unquestionable.