Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blaming the Victim in the Environmental Movement

I finally bought Deanna Duke's "The Non-Toxic Avenger" book... and read the first few paragraphs this afternoon. I know it's gonna be great, I've read many reviews (don't worry, this isn't another one) and I have my pen ready (I like to scribble notes while I read).

In the back of my mind, though, I've had growing suspicion that something wasn't quite right. Unlike Deanna, I started my eco journey for both health reasons and the environment. Maybe it was the countless relatives who've suffered or died of cancer, maybe it was the increasing rates of autism that I saw on my caseload, but I really got the toxin+health connection with a heavy dose of mistrust in "The Man" right from the beginning. I was an ingredient reading fool (still am).

I kept thinking to myself, why don't other people get it? Won't *they* feel so upset if later in life they develop an illness that could have been prevented (or perhaps it was exacerbated) by cutting out the countless chemicals in products, cleaners, foods, household furniture that they ingest and bioaccumulate every day?

Prevention is key, we all know that. So when people get sick and the toxin-health connection is brought up we think of all the "what ifs" and changes are made now... but it's assumed that if those changes were brought on earlier perhaps it could have been a) prevented or b)mediated.

The problem, unfortunately, is like many unpopular left-ist movements, there hasn't been enough research yet into understanding causes of serious illnesses such as cancer. Funding research into whether we've been slowly poisoning ourselves with our technology and plastic isn't exactly popular. Funding research on drugs that can help prolong life (and make the pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars) is.

So we don't really know what these eco changes can help prevent. Now, please be clear that I am in the boat of "toxins=health problems". I'll continue onward on this eco-fying journey because the thought of dousing myself in toxic chemicals and having them bioaccumulate is scary. I don't need yummy smelling moisturizer enough to risk further illness.

But what if after all these changes you get sick anyway? What if you do all the "right" things, like cut out alcohol and coffee, work out regularly, eat locally non-pesticide, mostly fruit and vegetable foods, only use natural, chemical free beauty and cleaning products, no VOC paints and non-offgassing furniture and you still get sick?

Does that mean that you've failed? That you weren't "eco" enough?

Of course I know that's not what it means. I have enough physiology and anatomy background to understand that some disorders and illnesses are genetic. However, there's such a discourse around placing the prevention oneness on the person. Just listening to the vocabulary around breast cancer in "Pink Ribbons, Inc" was enough to drive this home. The "Survivors" (i.e because they "fought hard enough") and the "fight against cancer" (implying that it's something that can be won if fought hard enough)... what about those that "lose"? Was it something implicit to them? They just didn't fight hard enough? Of course not.

I believe, like so many other aspects of our culture and what vocabulary and phrasing we choose to frame our thoughts and opinions, that a large part of the environmental movement is this "fight+prevention" philosophy. It underlies almost all we discuss and recommend. If you do this eco-change it will help improve your health and remove another risk for potential illness- clearly implying that illness and health just might be in your own control.

I know it's hard to think of this way, but consider it the next time your hear a discussion around, say, cancer prevention. Or Alzheimer's. Or Parkinson's. Or even giving birth to a child who is diagnosed with Autism. The discourse is there, either an undercurrent or an obviously veiled statement.

Instead of these extremes, I feel it's important to acknowledge what we may be contributing to without even being aware, with our language, our vocabulary choices, and finding a balance of responsibility and letting go of control.

If I end up having something broken within my physical body, and it could be partly linked to the toxins accumulated in my body, it was beyond my control. I need to accept that even if I control all the chemicals in my immediate environment, that there were 24 years of bioaccumulation to account for. Aspects such as the air I breathe and water I drink that are beyond my control. And pure, straight up genetics.
(Me and Flat Stanley circa 2007 in Vernon BC- when Lulu was still Made in Canada)

Accepting a release of control is difficult for a movement that is all about control...

article and photograph copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. really excellent post...i was just having the 'pink ribbons' chat with a friend as i'm not a fan of how Komen runs their organization with chemical companies etc sponsoring them a la "pinkwashing". good writing!

  2. OMG, you used the "A" word!

    Autism. Both my kids are diagnosed with autism. Obviously I was either Hitler in a past life and totally deserved it, or I spent my chidlhood eating Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

    *snorfles* And no, I didn't. I was organic vegan (but can't comment on the Hitler thing).

    We're good at blaming victims in our society. How many fat people have we blamed for being fat? Slow people for being slow? Poor people for being poor (and, yes, I'm pointing the finger right at the Good ole US of A with THAT one!)

    What about blaming starving people for being starving (they have too many kids of course!), and disabled people for being disabled (damn them and their wheelchair demands!). And gay people - how DARE they demand to be treated as equal citizens!

    Isn't it about time we remembered how to love and care for one another? And to not judge until we've walked a mile in someone else's shoes? And to be compassionate?

    Just my 2c.

  3. Thank you for this post. The language you refer to is eveywhere, in every conceivable platform that says they are "helping" a group of folks that are vulnerable because of illness, oppression, or other circumstance.

    Again. Thank you


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