Thanksgiving, Autism, and Postcolonial Food Politics

One of the most obvious symptoms of my daughter’s autism is picky eating. We’ve watched her weight stay the same for over a year while she grows taller, and though my doctor reassures me she’s still doing fine my husband and I panic weekly about how little she has eaten. Bread and cheese, or sometimes not even that, just crackers and pretzels. If she has a very exciting or a very stressful day, she may not eat more than a few crackers. My husband will stay up with her till the stress or excitement begin to fade, just to try to get a chunk of cheese in. And if she eats a chunk or cheese or a spoonful of butter, it’s a relief.

We’ve had support from a dietitian, and interestingly her advice was well-aligned with unschooling principles. So much of picky eating is due to stress, so we’ve made an effort to reduce stress as much as possible and offer–over and over again–healthy options so that she can experiment with them: stare at them, poke at them, taste them until they’re not so scary anymore. This results in, for example, the reassuring fact that she ate two red pepper slices yesterday! And two mushroom slices the day before!

Of course, even our most mainstream doctor gives us information about autism and digestive issues, and I’m well aware of the gluten-free and casein-free and GAPS diets. While strict diets are not for us, we do have a list of goals to help with digestion: probiotics, hydration, high-fiber whole grains, antioxidants, and avoiding sugar and preservatives.

Last night my daughter and I both had bowls of popped amaranth–hers mixed with honey, and mine mixed with olive oil and salt. I need it because I’m seven months pregnant and must eat right before bed but this is the only thing I’ve found that doesn’t give me heartburn. She needs it because it’s the only healthy thing she’d eaten all day (other than the two mushroom slices!!!). So I ended the night feeling grateful.

I am grateful in part for Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel and the work they are doing with the “Decolonize Your Diet” project (website, facebook, and book). They are the only reason I know about amaranth. And they know about it because despite the fact that this indigenous, sacred grain was banned from the Americas by Spanish colonizers, indigenous people worked and often risked life and property to keep it as part of their gardens and their diets. So as a white woman with a daughter on the autism spectrum, I have a whole lot of indigenous Mexican people to thank for the healthy dose of protein, lysine, fiber, and minerals my daughter and I were able to eat last night.

All of this is not to mention that Latino/a people–labeled migrants though they are indigenous Americans–do a majority of the work to bring me the healthy food choices I try so hard to get my daughter to eat. And contribute to the economy. They grow the food, for $9/hour on our CSA’s farm which is better than others but still not enough in California. When my family eats this Thanksgiving, we’ll have a lot of people to thank.

And as a white person, I’m feeling grateful not only for the labor people do to put food on the table, but also for my privileged movement through the world with my daughter. When she’s feeling stressed, my daughter screams at other children who say “hi” to her. The other day she scared me by trying to kick a baby out of her way on the playground stairs. She’ll tell me that she wants to scare kids away, and approaches it very logically, testing out what works. Of course we are working on this, but I am extremely privileged at the amount of tolerance other parents show so far. Because if she were a Black boy on the spectrum, I’d be really really scared knowing that those two factors could so easily and so quickly–even in preschool–put her on track for prison and/or police violence. So I am grateful for my privilege, but also know that for the sake of all the other kids out there–in particular kids on the spectrum–I need to support Black Lives Matter.

I’m also grateful that I live in Silicon Valley–a diverse area with every kind of food option and a booming economy. The booming economy built the brand new, special-needs friendly park where my daughter thought about kicking a baby off the stairs. I’m grateful that my husband and I can take our pick of excellent South Indian restaurants here, which means I’ve gradually realized that dosas are a healthy, fermented mix of rice and lentils. And since they are beige and look like a pancake, perhaps my daughter will eat them!

Many many people are coming to Silicon Valley for the jobs. We migrated here (from not too far away) for a job. And so did the white couple from Virginia I met the other day. And so did my neighbors from China with their little boy, and luckily they could have his grandpa come stay for a while. And even though his grandpa spoke no English we could have fun at the park together. So did the parents of the Indian family that organizes my homeschool meetup group, and the parents of the Indian community organizer who keeps me informed about environmental politics in my city. So did the Muslim women who have shared holistic mothering tips with me. I’m grateful to live in Silicon Valley because I’ve learned so much from all of these people. I’m grateful for my daughter’s friends, all of whom moved from somewhere else. And I’m grateful that no one has every told me to go back to where I came from.

Silicon Valley is painfully divided, and I encounter primarily a class-privileged segment that can afford to stay home with children here. But even the tech workers who come from India and China face racism here. And I’ve been shocked as a white person at how other white people feel it’s okay to express and support each other in that racism. It comes across most commonly as complaints about housing (the insane rent increases), traffic, and going to the mall or the park  and not seeing white people or hearing English. Apparently these problems are due to “all kinds of people coming here where there’s not room for them.” Ironically, this kind of statement mostly comes from property owners, especially older property owners who are directly benefiting in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from the booming economy as their property values double. I had an unschooling mother tell me that when they bought a house they looked for an area with more white people. And liberal people claim that their racism stems from lowered wages due to hiring cheaper labor from abroad. These people sound just like the white union-labor rioters who persecuted Chinese immigrants in California in the nineteenth century.

There is a lot of talk since the attacks on Paris about refugees. When I read about Syria, I think that I would also run. And if the violence didn’t kill my daughter the stress would because I don’t know how she would ever eat. I cannot imagine parenting under these conditions. As Breeze Harper points out, the deaths in Paris are heartwrencNotAcceptingRefugees.pnghing, but the deaths of black and brown people by direct police violence (or the indirect violence of excluding refugees) evoke nowhere near the same kind of outrage. These kinds of violence are “not called terrorism and the brown bodied victims are not seen as ‘innocent.'” I cannot watch this video of Syrian refugees without crying because of the girl my daughter’s age, sitting on the ground in front of armed police after such a long journey and so much violence.

I am grateful that I have housing, a place to call home and not be treated as foreign, food and even medical care, and access to so much knowledge. Grateful because all of this undergirds my ability to provide my daughter with the healthiest, least stressful environment possible. These are some key reasons we can make progress with her development. I am grateful for the indigenous peoples who have survived colonial violence and continue to fight it and carry their traditions forward. I am grateful for the struggles faced by migrants in my own family’s past as well as the families around me, and for the way we bring our cultures together to enrich and learn from each other. Families do not make the decision to migrate lightly, whether they are fairly privileged tech workers or refugees from Syria or refugees from Central America or migrant farm laborers or the Scottish mine laborers of my husband’s family history or Black families brought by slave traders who have been cooking with kale and sweet potatoes long before there ever was Whole Foods. These families and their children deserve not only welcome, support, and safety but also gratitude for their fight for survival and for what they bring to their communities.


About Kaitlin

I am primarily a stay at home mom. I also have a Phd in Eglish. Everyday I’m learning about myself, my family, and my community. I write about parenting, childhood, education, autism, homeschooling, politics, anti-racism, and feminism. Critiquing coercive and damaging cultural norms like misogyny, racism, sexism, capitalist exploitation, ableism, and childism helps me seek out a life of peace, justice, and empathy.
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