NBSV 130

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Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 130

White supremacy in the wellness industry with Stacy Lee Kong

Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 130. Magazine journalist Stacy Lee Kong is on the show to discuss how white supremacy is embedded in the wellness industry, why it matters that we think about race in the context of our consumer decisions and what you can do to decolonize your wellness.


Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Recently, my dad shared an article with me called the Wellness to White Supremacy Pipeline is Alive and Well in The Monitor, which is a magazine put out by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. The blurb about this article says wellness influencers like Angela Liddon of Oh she Glows threw their support behind the Trucker Convoy and considering the white supremacist origins of wellness, that's no surprise. So after reading this article, which we're going to discuss in today's episode, I knew I had to have its author Stacy Lee Kong on the show. Stacy is a writer, editor, and founder of Friday things, a weekly newsletter about the pop culture story she can’t stop thinking about. As always I'm sharing my guests favorite vegan meal, and Stacy says she’s from Trinidad, so it has to be Trini style Indian food, Channa and Alo, fried Okra, curreid Squash, et cetera. Here's our discussion.


Hey Stacy, thanks so much for coming on the show today. Great to speak with you. I'm looking forward to it.


Stacy Lee Kong: Thank you so much for having me


Karina Inkster: Let's jump right in with a quick intro. So can you tell our listeners a little bit about what you do and about Friday things in particular?


Stacy Lee Kong: Totally. So I've actually been a magazine journalist for about 15 years and a few years ago, I decided I wanted to start my own thing. So in addition to a full-time freelance writing and editing career, I write a weekly newsletter that's focused on the politics behind pop culture. So I try to take a big trending celebrity or a culture story and unpack why it's happening and why we should be paying attention to it in particular. So for example, last week I wrote about Bette Middler talking about a New York Times article, essentially, that was quite transphobic and she unintentionally then amplified these transphobic ideas. So what I try to do is unpack that and explain how she got to these ideas, why it matters, how there's often a long history of in this case, quite privileged, white feminists turning on less privileged people when their rights are under attack. So I'm always trying to find that nugget of why it matters.


Karina Inkster: Hmm. Interesting. I think that's partly what you were doing in an article that we're going to talk about a little bit later on, which got me to connect with you in the first place about influencers and unpacking that a little bit. So that's super cool. So Friday Things is that Fridaythings.com?


Stacy Lee Kong: Fridaythings.com, or you can find us, especially on Instagram @Fridaythings. I try to take a lighthearted, but smart look at what's happening in pop culture.


Karina Inkster: Brilliant. I love that. Very cool. Well, we have a lot of topics to discuss, a lot of intense things where I feel like each of our topics could probably be a series. We're going to talk about white supremacy and how and why it's embedded in the wellness industry, which again, could be a whole series. We're just going to touch on it, go as in depth as we can. We are going to talk about why it matters and why it's important to think about race in the context of our consumer decisions. This is something I think a lot of folks have not been giving a lot of thought to, myself included. This is going to be very important. Then we're also going to discuss what we can all do to decolonize our own wellness practices and maybe a little bit of history there for what the issue is in the first place.


So let's start with white supremacy in the wellness industry, and wellness industry, I think is a pretty broad term. It's anything related to beauty, nutrition, fitness, health, mental health. It's massive. So what is the deal when it comes to white supremacy? Again, this is something that a lot of folks have not thought about a lot, and I think they should think about more, which is why we're doing this episode. So I know that there are things like cultural appropriation, for example, where racialized populations wellness practices are being commercialized and appropriated by Western folks, Western businesses, Western practitioners. Can you give us a rundown, maybe a little bit of background on why there's a connection here in the first place between white supremacy and wellness?


Stacy Lee Kong: So when we look back at how so many of the wellness practices that we practice today came from, it really is a history of cultural appropriation. So yoga is the example I always lean on because it's really obvious. I think it's probably the biggest example, but the way that yoga came here, it actually didn't even come to America first. So there's been this long history of Western populations in the UK and in Europe going to the Far East or going to Eastern lands and bringing back bits of culture that they found exotic or interesting. So we saw huge decorating trends during different periods of British history where I think it was the Victorians who would bring back mummies from Egypt. So there's this long history of using other people's cultures for aesthetic purposes. The other thing that we saw, and I think aesthetics are tied to this, but it was also for wellness purposes. So you might get people coming back from trips to India and saying, this yoga practice made me feel so much better, but it wasn't necessarily Indian people or people from that culture we are talking about who were coming and profiting, they weren't the ones who were making the money. They weren't the ones being set up as gurus. This is probably the most random aside, but if you read any romance novels, you might see this pop up from time to time, because there would be people who are mystics and they would have this connection. These characters would have a connection to the East, but the connection came from having the privilege to go there, taking the things that they liked, bringing it back and reselling it to other Western people.


So that basic principle happens over and over and over again. So the history of yoga in North America in particular, is that it's people who had the privilege to go to an Ashram to experience this culture from teachers in India, then they came back and they started their own yoga studios. Even if the intention was pure, the intention was sharing this thing that makes people feel better. What ends up happening is you're separating it from the cultural, historical, linguistic context that it belongs in. You're taking it out of all of the things of where it belongs and then repackaging it as a commodity to be sold. So there's that part, which you've got with cultural appropriation, but then the other part of that is well then who has access to it now, once it's here?


You'll notice that the people who are running yoga studios, the people who are teaching, the people who are making the money off of it are often wealthier, often white and those spaces that they've created are not necessarily welcoming to Indian people or any racialized people. And this is a huge problem that we see play out over and over again, because from a capitalist perspective, it just makes sense. You target the people with the most money. Those are the people who you can make the most profit off of, but then you end up with an exclusive space that racialized people, but also people with disabilities, people who are fat, people who are queer, the space becomes more and more verified. So it's not just that the history of how we get wellness practices comes from cultural appropriation, often it's also that they aren't necessarily spaces where everyone is welcome. So you get it on both sides, if that makes sense.


Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Yes, it does make sense. It's a really good description and also something that you mentioned in the article that we'll be talking about is access to becoming a wellness practitioner in the first place.


Stacy Lee Kong: Yes. 100%.


Karina Inkster: There's a line here that basically summarizes what you just said from your article. Racialized, indigenous queer, disabled, and poor people rarely have access to wellness spaces as customers, much less the opportunity to become practitioners themselves, even though many wellness trends are derived from their traditional practices, then repackaged as ancient secrets or mystical knowledge. So that's exactly it. It's pretty multifaceted.


Stacy Lee Kong: I wrote that so long ago I kind of forgot, but I'm so glad you said that, because there's also the dehumanizing aspect of it where these things that you practice as part of your religion are part of your culture, the cultural majority tells you that these are magical things and there's something just very strange about seeing something that is very real to you and important to your culture and part of your family dynamic and all of those things sold back to other people as essentially magic.


Karina Inkster: That's a good point. So it's a dehumanizing experience for these populations.


Stacy Lee Kong: Yes, the cognitive distance of that. I'm Indo-Caribbean, but I don't necessarily have the same experience because I'm not Hindu or any of those things. Just because someone with brown does this or says, this does not make it magic. It's actually just a normal thing, so I imagine it must be even weirder if it actually is your culture.


Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I can only imagine. Have you heard of the idea of a Fitness Industrial Complex?


Stacy Lee Kong: Yes.


Karina Inkster: I actually really like the term. I think it was coined by a company called Fitness for All Bodies, which is an amazing group that educates wellness practitioners and coaches. I'm doing a course with them starting on Saturday, actually, which I'm super excited about.


Stacy Lee Kong: It sounds really cool.


Karina Inkster: It is basically about all of these aspects of white supremacy being embedded within wellness. Wellness is such a broad term, but it's an industry, the wellness industry. The fitness industrial complex, the wellness industrial complex, if you will.


Stacy Lee Kong: Absolutely.


Karina Inkster: So these are all super important topics within branches as part of the wellness industry, fitness, nutrition, there's a lot of overlap to a lot of these things, but there's also a lot of specifics when you talk about accessibility to fitness or accessibility to nutrition, or when you talk about like beauty spa type treatments and stuff. There's a whole other area of cultural appropriation that happens there. So I feel like there's a whole series that we could do on specifics.


Stacy Lee Kong: It is true that the more that we package, for example, beauty practices like cosmetics and skincare and those things, the more we package that as self care, that becomes part of wellness as well. I think there's this unifying factor, which is that a lot of the things that we're talking about, even if it is down to the clothes you're wearing, it gets sold to us as a spiritual practice. When we're talking about wellness, I don't think we're just talking about how many sit ups you can do or whatever. The thing that ties all of these things together is that they all end up being positioned as if you do these things, you will have a good life, you'll be a good person. To me, it's even deeper than that. I think it's very easy to dismiss wellness as something that's a little bit self-involved or superficial or about aesthetics. I think aesthetics are certainly part of it. But the thing that makes it wellness and not just exercise is that it's meant to be deeper. It feels deeper and that's almost what makes it harder to examine. We should be examining our consumer choices no matter what, but I think when we talk about wellness, it's not just a consumer choice. It's a consumer choice that is tied up in issues like morality and desire, goodness and success.


Karina Inkster: That's a lot of ties to veganism too. As you probably know, we run a vegan operation over here, which is basically an ethical decision. Not for everybody, but you know, in our business, talking about these consumer decisions where things like ethics are important. Why is race specifically in the context of consumer decisions and belief systems and stuff important?


Stacy Lee Kong: I think sometimes when you talk about race, people think of it as this big political issue, but as a brown woman, race is every part of my life, everything that I do, my race plays into, even if it doesn't seem that way on the outside, I guarantee there's like no day that goes by. I have fairly light skin. I'm ethnically ambiguous. So I have this privilege of being able to move through spaces in ways that my darker skinned family members and friends cannot, so there's nuance even within that. Every store I go into, every person that I engage with in any way, all of those things, my race ends up playing into it. People will react to my race, whether they realize that or not.


Because my race is always in my face, I'm always thinking about race. It always comes up. I think that's different for people who don't move through life as a racialized person, because then things that might seem kind of innocuous to you actually are very glaring to me. So when there's a wellness practitioner who does not take race into account or creates a space that is all white, I notice immediately. If I walk into a space, if I walk anywhere and I am the only person of color, I am intimately aware of that because I'm concerned about my safety. I'm concerned about how I'm going to have to speak a certain way, I am going to be perceived a certain way. So on a very, very fundamental level, I'm always thinking about race.


So that has to infuse my consumer choices. I don't think it's fair. I don't want to always be thinking about race. I want to be rewarding the places that are more inclusive and more welcoming. On a very basic level, I think we should all be doing that. We work and live and exist in a capitalist system, which means that sometimes the strongest thing we can do is spend our money in particular ways. This is not a perfect system and certainly political engagement and community involvement are incredibly important as well. But sometimes it feels like the only way that I'm empowered is to decide who I'm going to give my money to. But in reality, when we think about that, then I want to belong to the yoga studio that is welcoming to everyone. I want to buy the ale that is made ethically. All of those things are actually intertwined. So it's even more than just thinking about race when you're making consumer choices. It's thinking about what an ethical society looks like. How can I spend my money in ways to make that goal come closer versus pushing it further away? There's so many issues to this too, because when you think about issues of accessibility, sometimes we're talking about financial accessibility and the only way that you can buy yoga pants is to be able to shop at a big store, like a huge multinational conglomerate, which is probably not our most ethical choice.


I don't want to make it sound like I have all the answers or I know exactly what to do, but to me it's almost like a matrix. It's almost like, how can I make the choice? That is the most ethical on all of these different levels and how can I pay attention to what these companies are doing? It's not just how am I going to spend my money today?


After Roe vs Wade was overturned in the US, a lot of different companies made these statements about how they were going to make sure that their employees had access to this healthcare and if that meant that they needed to travel to another State, they were going to make sure that they were going to be covered in their healthcare. So to me, that is a really lovely gesture, but we shouldn't just take those gestures at face value. So first of all, that means that you have to disclose a healthcare need to your employer, that you maybe don't want to disclose, so that already is a bit of a problem. You also might have a corporate policy that doesn't match up with your actual manager's beliefs. If you are a vulnerable person, if you are racialized, if you are disabled, if you are poor, if you are queer, then maybe you don't feel comfortable doing that. But even more than that, it's important to think about from a corporate perspective where their corporate donations are going. So if you work for a company that has told you that they're going to cover your travel expenses so that you can access abortion, if you need to, but that corporation also donates to Republican politicians, then what that was, was like pink washing or feminist washing. I think pink washing is more about LGBTQ causes. So whatever the terminology is, you can't move through the world without engaging deeply with these issues, which I know is exhausting. I feel like your audience in particular is already primed for that. You're already thinking about the ethics of how you eat. You're already thinking about the ethics of what kind of businesses you support and what restaurants are you eating at and all of these different things. It's essentially that exact mindset, just wider.


Karina Inkster: There's some parallels here too, again in having an effect with how we spend our money, even though there should be other things happening at the same time, but as a non racialized person in our society, where could I, or our listeners who are in a similar place, start with this in particular? We have a lot of experience with looking into food companies and ethical practices around agriculture, that kind of stuff, but when it comes to spending our money in ways that align with our values in terms of diversity and inclusion, where could someone start who doesn't, or maybe has little experience being racialized themselves?


Stacy Lee Kong: I actually think part of it is just being a little suspicious, but I do think that's a big part of. So when a lot of companies are already making these announcements about diversity and inclusion, a big part of it is just saying really like, are you sure? And trying to go back and see what else you can find about them. The good thing is a lot of people are writing on these topics right now, in fact. So maybe step two is being suspicious. Maybe step one is curating your media diet a little bit more because it makes it so much easier. When you start to see something and then you see it everywhere, that's essentially it. You can't get mad at yourself for not knowing things because we can't all know everything.


So instead what I think is actually better is to go and seek out that information and spend that time reading and listening and consuming. This is also a good way to seek out people who are speaking on these topics. So there are wellness practitioners who are black, who are Indigenous. Find those people. Google Indigenous yoga instructors, Google black yoga instructors or black wellness and follow those people. If you're on Twitter, follow them on Twitter, follow them on Instagram, seek out the spaces that are already working on decolonization and already working on inclusion. Once you start to see people saying things that resonate, you'll see them across multiple platforms, because some of the experiences, even though they are individual experiences, often racialized people will point out similar things because they're impacting us in similar ways.


So go and seek those people out, see what they're talking about. Then you will also start to notice it. Then the second thing is when a company tells you they've done this amazing thing, you know, if Peloton says I've done this amazing thing for diversity and inclusion, you're already primed to be like, I'm just going to Google that, before I get excited. I'm just going to do a very quick Google search or a quick Twitter search and see what people are saying. So that's a big part of it. And then I also think it's translating that learning that you're doing and that listening and that paying attention into action. So who owns your yoga studio and where is your yoga studio? Where do you do Pilates or, is your personal trainer, someone who is talking about fitness for all bodies? Is your yoga instructor fat, those kinds of things. I do think you wanna be careful because you don't wanna enter a space and make it less safe. Certainly there are some places that actually just aren't for everyone and that is a fact, but if you can seek out places where the racialized people are in charge, then that also sends a message and that also is a way to spend your dollars.


Karina Inkster: Absolutely. We had Chrissy King on the show who’s a black fitness professional, who does a lot of speaking on diversity and inclusion in particular. Two things, she said, one was, she's been writing about this for years and years and only recently is she being amplified and sought out for this. So that's a problem in itself, right? She also said part of what we can do as non racialized fitness professionals, for example, and I mean, this goes for anybody, is to seek out Indigenous or other racialized folks, not because of their ethnic background and to get them to talk about diversity, but for what they're actually experts in.


Stacy Lee Kong: Right


Karina Inkster: So the yoga instructor who can come in and do a session at your corporate office or the writer who wants to contribute to your blog or the podcast guest, who's going to talk about veganism. So they're not on the show or on your website or in your office to talk about diversity and inclusion, although that's important too. We have more decisions than we think every day about this kind of stuff.


Stacy Lee Kong: Absolutely. That's such a good point because I should have been more clear when I'm saying go to the yoga instructor who is Indigenous for yoga classes.


Karina Inkster: Right.


Stacy Lee Kong: Go take yoga from those people. Put your dollars towards those communities and those people. Because of their lived experience and because of the spaces they're trying to create, you'll end up absorbing things about race. You'll end up absorbing things about gender, about colonization, about ability, because we're human beings and we're interacting with one another and we're going to learn things about one another. Even if someone doesn't specifically say, you know, as in my experience as a racialized person, you're just going to get it and you're also going to get a fantastic yoga class, a great Pilates class, and a great personal training session. Their values will infuse what they're doing and you will often get a more complicated or even a wider experience than you would have otherwise. But really the core thing you're going there for is the same thing you would go to anyone else for.


Karina Inkster: Absolutely. So you mentioned decolonizing our wellness practices and this goes in the same realm of making our own decisions and taking individual action, things like that. So I'd love to hear your definition of this. To me, part of it is decentering whiteness in the wellness space, but there's, you know, as a fitness person in this realm, I think it's also a lot of other things like there are black origins in body typing and this kind of like fatphobia and why that is racist. Origins of fat phobia are very racist. So I think there's a lot of pieces here, but what do you mean when you, when you say decolonizing our wellness practice?


Stacy Lee Kong:I feel like I would love to have a really snappy definition, but instead it's this idea that it's not just about how whiteness plays into things. It's literally how colonization is a political force. It shapes the way that we move through the world and its entire purpose is to subjugate. So it is, as you say, partially about whiteness, but it's partially about who has political power and who is believed. So these things filter into everything. When you think about it, Canada is a colonial structure, which says that there's a particular way you should eat because we have a food pyramid and the food pyramid says that some things are better than other things. So if you are a dietician and you are following Canada's Food Guide, what you're also following is a Western Canadian idea of what good food looks like.


But there are other cultures that eat tons of carbs and tons of grains and tons of legumes or whatever, and we are often told that curries, for example, are too rich, or if you eat this type of food, it's not actually good for you, it's hypoglycemic. Or if you eat meat, it's not actually good for you, even though when you try and actually look at how different people in different places eat, that's the type of food that they are actually made to eat. So this is a big conversation in terms of veganism and Indigenous people. I'm not Indigenous. So I can't actually speak to this with all of the authority. I can just tell you what I've read, but it's really interesting to me because it is the same thing happening over and over again, in many different places where we're trying to apply one way of doing things, this colonial structure over everybody and we don't take into account nuance or culture or history or any of those things.


This is a side note, but I have this great Twitter thread that I read probably around six years ago that I go back to all the time and it's an actual scientist of some sort and she goes through and she explains why there's this particular group of people who actually should not be eating vegan. I can't remember what the reasoning for it was, but she went through and said, biologically, it doesn't make sense. Or a more recent example too, is if you're talking about people from anywhere who are from a land that is prone to starvation, or if there's starvation happening there, then your body actually changes. You can't apply the same rules from a wealthy country with ample access to food, to people who aren't from a wealthy country where there's often droughts or where there's been many, many years of starvation because our bodies don't react in the same way. I think sometimes that can be challenging to think about, because we want this simple story that everyone is equal and everyone obviously is equal in value, but our bodies do not function the same way all the time.


Karina Inkster: Exactly.


Stacy Lee Kong: That is true even within one race or one community and that's why I think it's actually really important, because trying to apply the same dietary restrictions to everyone can just hurt. It can hurt you, even if you are part of the dominant culture. But that's a very long winded way of saying that as soon as we try to apply the same rules that work really well for one group of people to all groups of people, there's this element of political control, but it's not always as obvious as laws. It's something that's actually seemingly very innocuous when we're talking about, you want to make sure you eat all of these vegetables and it's our food guide and we're teaching kids about it, but we don't always understand that what we're teaching people is literally just one tradition.


Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I think the same could be said for any fitness professional, any dietician, any voice out there who's like this is the one answer. It's the be all and end all and if you're not doing this, you're doing it wrong.


Stacy Lee Kong: Exactly, and the same thing applies to beauty standards too, like the way our body should look, the way that our body should feel. The ways that ableism infuses everything that we do. So when you think about what your goal is for a workout or what your goal is for a diet, how often is that actually tied up with really ableist ideas about what a body should be. I don't have all the answers because I am also trying to learn and unlearn tons of things. I think that's where the nuance comes in, that we are all going to be at different points of this journey, and if you are only just realizing that the way we move through the world is drastically different based on our race, that's fine. There's so much out there that you can read about. There are lots of resources to help you get further along in that journey. I would rather you be thinking about that than pretending otherwise


Karina Inkster: Absolutely. We had an episode with two black vegan influencers, if that's what you want to call them, and we actually talked about a lot of this stuff and there's no easy answers, no access issues of cultural history. There's appropriation. I mean, veganism, we all know, I think or should know that it's very whitewashed. It's very privileged. So I think within veganism itself, here's another podcast series we could do, even just within the plant-based movement itself, which is a 100% small niche of the wellness industry in general.


Stacy Lee Kong: Exactly.


Karina Inkster: So the reason I connected with you in the first place was actually my dad who showed me the article you wrote in The Monitor. I realized you probably wrote the article a while ago, but it came out recently. It's called the Wellness to White Supremacy Pipeline is Alive and Well. Basically the whole point is wellness influencers, like Angela Liddon, who is huge in the vegan world, by the way, she runs Oh She Glows, threw their support behind the Trucker Convoy and considering the white supremacist origins of wellness, which we just talked about, that's no surprise. So I think at this point, our listeners are pretty familiar with why white supremacy is embedded within the wellness movement. I'm 99.9% sure that everyone knows by now about the Freedom Convoy, but in case on the off chance I’ll go over it.


So it was a large group of mostly white, mostly male, mostly truckers blockading downtown Ottawa, originally protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates. There was a time where truckers crossing the Canadian border had to be fully vaccinated. So that was the original thing that they were protesting, but it morphed into protesting all the public health measures. It morphed into a whole bunch of right wing groups, latching on general criticism of our Prime Minister. It just spiraled and ballooned. So it kind of stands for a lot of things, including racism and white supremacy to those of us on the so-called outside. So what's the problem with this so-called freedom convoy? What makes it a bad thing?


Stacy Lee Kong: Well, I mean, it's not really about freedom, right?


Karina Inkster: Right.


Stacy Lee Kong: Just saying something is about freedom doesn't actually mean anything. What it really is about is anxieties. It is a group of white people's anxieties about being replaced. So there's this whole thing called the Great Replacement Theory and it's essentially a super racist white supremacist talking point. This idea that racialized people are coming in and they're going to replace white people in all of the places where it matters. So in politics, in leadership positions, influencers and celebrities and even though what was ostensibly the purpose of this convoy was about protesting vaccine mandates on the surface, underneath when you look at who was actually organizing, it's a whole bunch of white supremacists who support or who believe that they're being replaced. So if you looked a little bit closer, you would see that.Some  of the organizers were people like Pat King, Jason LaFace or Chris Barber, these are people who espouse antisemitism, racist, conspiracy theories. In fact, Pat King in particular has talked about how the Government is trying to depopulate the Anglosaxon race, while Benjamin Dichter spoke at the people's party of Canada convention in 2019. He said that the Liberal party is infested with Islams. So the language these people are using is really racist and it's not about vaccine mandates at all. It was more of a strategy. How do I delegitimize this Government? How do I delegitimize this? Like multiculturalism, this value of multiculturalism that Canada espouses by saying, oh, they're infringing on our freedoms and from there, it's very easy to keep taking steps into white supremacy. So that was the problem to me with influencers like Angela Liddon, but she certainly wasn't the only one talking about these infringements on their freedoms and how, what Liddon said in particular, I'm just going to read it because it drove me kind of bananas.


On her Instagram story she talked about getting really emotional because she felt like the Freedom Convoy had brought a lot of people out of a really dark place. She said she doesn't want a future for her children where there's lockdown, segregation, division, blame, mandates and censorship. She wants her kids to be able to live freely again, to see their friends, to smile, to play sports and sing for all Canadians, to be free, and to be able to thrive again. To me, what was really problematic about that language was it was taking language that applies to real discrimination. There is real segregation in Canada but it is not against people who didn't want to get the vaccine or who don't want lockdowns or who didn't want to wear masks. These are not people who have actually lost rights and freedoms. So it's really sticky. It makes these issues confusing and it conflates these issues in people's minds and if you don't have any lived experience or any close family or friends who actually have experienced real discrimination, then it's really easy to be like, oh, this inconvenience of mine, this thing, that's making my life a little bit more annoying, that's discrimination. It ends up simultaneously de-legitimizing what Indigenous people have faced in this country, what black people are facing in this country, what Indigenous people are facing. I want to be clear that this is ongoing. We’ve had huge rises and hate crimes against East Asian people because there was this whole wave of blaming individuals for COVID. All of those things get delegitimized and instead this white lady's feelings got prioritized.


Karina Inkster: I saw a really good line, you're privileged when community responsibility feels like oppression.


Stacy Lee Kong: Exactly. That's such a good line and that's exactly what it is. I think if you go through life thinking of the people who are around you as a community who you have a responsibility to, then it becomes a lot easier to be like, listen, I too do not like this mask, but I don't want to risk someone else's life. I feel responsible for the people who are around me and I hope they feel responsible for me. If you go through life that way and honestly, if more of us were going through life that way, I think we would be better positioned to build a more just society. Instead there's this whole subset of people who don't feel that responsibility who feel entitled to community care, but who don't want to give community care.


Karina Inkster: Oh, that's a good way of putting it. So it's pretty clear that there's roots here in white supremacy. When we talk about this subset of the population, which is a minority, by the way, what exactly is the pathway from the wellness industry to the Convoy or the other way around? My dad actually had a really good point in thinking of things that I could ask you. He said at first sight it seems like the idea of wellness actually doesn't fit with the Convoy's opposition to public health measures like wearing masks in crowds. They use a lot of carbon heavy tactics. They all drive trucks and they're super disrespectful to folks who live in Ottawa. We already know that there's a lot of racism. That's not wellness, but in this article you do see a pathway from the wellness industry to the Convoy. So what is that and how does it work?


Stacy Lee Kong: It's misinformation. I think the plague of wellness is that there are all of these people who are trying to talk about legit ways to feel and be better, but I guess it's important to understand that the way that wellness exploded in popularity had a lot to do with wealthy white women and it's because wealthy white women in particular were experiencing things and being ignored by the sort of mainstream medical community. So you could say, well, I'm feeling this pain or I feel anxiety, or I'm worried about this thing or something is wrong with me. When your doctors aren't taking your pain seriously and are telling you, oh, you're just hysterical or you're just imagining it you start thinking, okay, well I am desperate for help, who are these other people that can help me? I think it is the pathway to misinformation because while at the same time, people are increasingly desperate, sometimes we just don't have an easy solution to why we feel stressed or why we feel sad or why we feel whatever. So there are no magic fixes. So there's already a limit. On top of that, there's a medical community that is very male, very white and for a very long time, really did legitimately ignore women's pain and ignore women's experiences. So you have these two things coming together, creating a perfect storm and sending the people with the most privilege and the most resources towards someone who they thought could help them.


That's where I think a lot of entrepreneurs saw an opportunity. It was very easy to say, I have the vitamin regimen, I have the workout regimen, I have the restrictive diet that will make you feel better. I think Timothy Cofield says this a lot. He talks about how wellness feels nice because you are being listened to, you are given a soft place to land, and you're told that your pain is real. Those are all really important things that actually the mainstream medical community should be doing as well. So you've been conditioned to mistrust traditional medicine and to trust someone who we don't actually know what their credentials are. We don't know how much they've studied. There's no real parameters or expertise necessarily from a regulatory perspective and in some ways, those structures are colonial structures as well. So it's not like this is perfect in any way, but you're going towards people who can very easily take advantage of holes in systems and then they're starting to tell you, well, I don't know about these vaccines. I don't know about this mass mandate, I don't know about this other thing. They are invested in doing that because they need to be able to solve your problems because you pay them to solve your problems. There's actually a financial benefit to them to make sure that you are trusting them, that you believe that they can give you the steps or the resources or the combination of things to eat or do or whatever to keep you healthy.


Karina Inkster: Right.


Stacy Lee Kong: I think this is really just coming back to being suspicious. When people tell you something, you have to ask what are they getting out of it? I find that sometimes, especially when you're talking to someone who buys into the conspiracy theory side of wellness, it's that they're really looking for motivation, like complicated motivations for Governments, for example. So why is the Government asking us to take these? They're getting something out of us all taking these vaccines. What they're doing is reducing the amount of tax dollars they have to spend when we all get long COVID and our lungs don't work, but that's not necessarily the motivation people are saying, they're like, oh, there's got to be something deeper. But then when someone else tells you that they have a water fast that will make you feel better, you should have the same kind of credulousness I would think. You should wonder what are they getting out of this? Is it my dollars? That's where the connection is. What they're getting out of it is your dollars. Anytime someone tells you that there's a very easy, simple solution, if there was a simple solution, none of us would be sick.


Karina Inkster: Exactly. I think misinformation and pseudoscience is rampant in the wellness industry, and so it's probably more than just misinformation. It's full on conspiracy theories. It's pseudoscience. It's going into some pretty intense territory that isn't just information that happens to be inaccurate. So in your article, you actually mention the term conspirituality. So this is a combination of some of these ideas, including the conspiracy theories. So what, what do you mean by that term?


Stacy Lee Kong: So that's not my term. I can't remember exactly who invented it, but I read it in a Guardian article from 2021, I believe, where it describes the sticky intersection of two worlds, the world of yoga and juice cleanses with that of new age thinking and online theories about secret groups, covertly controlling the universe. So that's how you get someone to say, I'm worried about 5G or that vaccines are hiding tracking devices. It's the simultaneous rejection of Western medicine. In that rejection, it's rejecting science, expertise, Government authority, all of those things instead to embrace the money making process of selling you things that will solve those problems. It is like a combination of two worlds.


Karina Inkster: So is this just misdirected skepticism then? Can you use that in a more useful way?


Stacy Lee Kong: I think we could absolutely use the skepticism. I think we should be more skeptical of a lot of things, but it's also a bit deeper than that. Maybe this goes back to that idea of wellness as a spiritual practice. It's not just that people are skeptical, it's that they become invested in this belief system. I obviously really think vaccines are important and I think public health is really important, but there's a part of me that understands that the world is very scary. Navigating COVID is very scary, so there is a part of me that understands why people want an easy answer. The problem is that skepticism is not evenly applied.


We're not skeptical of the white supremacist motivations. We're not skeptical of why someone would tell us that the most important thing is not vaccines and public health measures, but you know, buying my course or doing my meditation or whatever. Then this becomes a belief system. I was searching for something else today and I saw this tweet that was like, every time I see the word misinformation, I know that I'm going to get the truth. And it's like, well, no, because that's actually not what words mean. I think what we're up against is a very vocal minority. These are people who find meaning in these messages, they're people who become really deeply invested in it. It's like when you're talking about QAnon, it's really hard to pull people out of those things because the belief system reinforces itself, and if you argue, you're not arguing in a logical way. It's not like you're coming up against someone who is going to take what you say seriously. Instead it's much more insular than that, and I think it is much more problematic than that. It's also like also a little bit cult-like.


Karina Inkster: Again, we could do a whole series on how to get out of this type of mindset, even if we're not fully invested in conspiracy theories. How do you know whether something is legit? How do you find out what someone's motivations are? How do you look into a company and look at their practices? That could be a whole hands on series at some point.


Stacy Lee Kong: I will say as a professional journalist, I always start with Google but then what I do is I think about what credible sources are. So it's not necessarily someone's sub stack. Friday Things is a newsletter. I'm trying to build this brand. I want people to really think of it as a credible brand, but you have to also then look at well what is she quoting? And what is she linking to? And it's almost like a whole system of trying to figure out if something is credible. Obviously the news outlets aren't perfect and Governments aren't perfect and all of these things aren't perfect.


But the Government of Canada or Health Canada has more credibility than a random YouTube video, especially if the random YouTube video is only citing other YouTube videos. So there are already things you can do and a lot of it is just applying that skepticism to try and figure out what you think of each thing, what is this person's motivations? What are they trying to get me to do? What are they trying to get me to believe? Why are they trying to do that? I tend to side with the people who aren't selling me things.


Karina Inkster: I know we're nearing our time here, but one more question, which is actually a two parter, from my dad again, because he had brilliant ideas for what to ask you. Part A: Do wellness influencers like Angela Liddon reflect negatively on the wellness community in general? And part B what could those of us in the community who recognize the destructiveness of things like the freedom convoy do to counteract that?


Stacy Lee Kong: I think she definitely does, especially because the general public is not invested in the minutia of this community. So the loudest voices are the ones who shape people's perception of it, and when you see something like a person with hundreds of thousands of followers, espousing a fairly fringe viewpoint, it makes it seem, and because we know that there are these real widely established issues within wellness that you're already talking about and thinking about, that's the perception that people have and that's unfair and unfortunate, but also a fact of life. So the second part of your question, I think this is where speaking up really matters. It really matters to say if you follow her, then you should tell her that you don't like this type of thinking, but also in your communications with other people, if someone says, oh, did you see this thing? you should be like, yes. and it's weird, you know, I disagree. It’s actually not just when people have misconceptions about wellness, we should acknowledge that there are real problems within this industry. I acknowledge there are problems within journalism all the time but also just like when you are seeing things that are racist or ableist or homophobic or transphobic within the community, I think the way we change our communities is that we speak up about things that aren't working to each other and also to outsiders. Like we really honestly acknowledge that even though we are getting something important out of them, they aren't perfect, they need to change, they need to evolve, they need to get better. That's the way that we do that.


Karina Inkster: Brilliant.


Stacy Lee Kong: I think that's an internal and external conversation.


Karina Inkster: Well, Stacy, thank you so much for coming on the show. Fantastic speaking with you. I think these are all extremely important topics that our listeners are really going to think about. It’s so much appreciated. Do you have any last minute thoughts for our listeners?


Stacy Lee Kong: The last thing that I want to say is I think I'm quite critical of wellness and I have covered it from a journalism perspective. I've covered it with Friday Things, but I think it's important to acknowledge it's not that I dislike wellness, I actually quite like it. I like the idea of self care. I like the idea of doing these things to lessen our impact on the world to be stronger and healthier. All of those are really good, important goals. The reason I'm critical of it is because there are so many ways that I find it quite fascinating, the way that it intersects with disinformation, because you're right, It's not just misinformation, deliberate, but also with injustice. I'm really just personally fascinated by the ways that these things that are so close to us, like the domestic sphere, but not just like cooking and cleaning, but actually how we live our lives, the way that those things intersect with injustice.


I think it's often in some ways like easy to miss, but also really important. These are small decisions that we can make on a daily basis to make life more just for people. That's politics. We could only do that by changing our society completely, but you could actually start just by changing where you spend your dollars and how you talk to one another and what kind of bodies you think are beautiful, the things that we can do to make the world better. So many of them exist in wellness. I know I was quite critical and I don't want it to sound like I'm critical because I don't like it. I think it's a space to be critical because there's a lot of hope for change and potential for change there.


Karina Inkster: Oh, I'm glad you brought that up. I think it's important for us to be critical of our own industries, my coaching team, and I do whole podcast episodes on what is fucked up about the fitness industry and we're part of it.


Stacy Lee Kong: Exactly.


Karina Inkster: So I think that's super important.


Stacy Lee Kong: When we talk about feminism, we want dudes to speak up too, because dudes will listen to other dudes. So we want our peers in wellness to listen to us and to hear what we're saying. You are the person people are far more likely to listen to within the industry than to me, because I'm this external critic, but you're someone who loves it and believes in it and still sees that there's room to get better.


Karina Inkster: Exactly. Which is why we had this conversation and why I so appreciate that you came on the show and we could have this talk. I'm super excited to bring it out into the world. I obviously will let you know when that happens. Please go to Fridaythings.com. We will have show notes as well, where folks can connect with you on all of your social platforms. It was so great to connect with you, Stacy. Thanks so much.


Stacy Lee Kong: Thank you so much. And thanks to your dad!


Karina Inkster: Yes. Thank you to him for sure. Thanks, Bob! Stacy, thank you again for this important discussion. I really appreciate it. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/130 to connect with Stacy and to check out Friday Things. Thanks so much for tuning in.



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