Content warning: This newsletter contains mentions of Islamophobia, antisemitism and sexual assault.
I’ve been waiting all week for someone to talk about this, but no one has, so… buckle up because I am about to go deep on a very niche controversy. (Though I promise it has wide-reaching implications.)
On Friday, Angela Liddon, a Canadian food personality whose brand, Oh She Glows, encompasses multiple popular social media profiles, a website and a slew of bestselling cookbooks, posted this ~wild~ Instagram Story that breathlessly proclaimed her support for the trucker convoy.
“I can’t think of anything else except the @freedomconvoy2022 right now. I get emotional thinking about how this movement has brought a lot of people out of a really dark place,” she wrote. “Our family has had many hard conversations over the past two years. What will our future look like if the government continues along the path of lockdowns, segregation, division/blame, mandates and censorship? Like many of you, that’s not the future we will accept for our kids. I want kids to be able to live freely again…to see their friends’ smiles…to play sports and SING…for ALL Canadians to be equal, free, and to be able to thrive again. I’m curious, @justinpjtrudeau, is this an ‘unacceptable view’?”
A quick, super casual reminder: the so-called Freedom Convoy is ostensibly about vaccine mandates. Back in November, the Canadian government announced that unvaccinated and partially vaccinated truckers would not be exempt from new rules requiring them to quarantine for 14 days before entering the country. These rules—which affect a tiny minority of truckers, as almost 90% of the workforce is fully vaccinated, according to Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra—went into effect on January 15. On January 23, a convoy began driving from British Columbia to Ottawa to protest at Parliament Hill. (As an aside, the U.S. also requires truck drivers to be vaccinated, so this is all theatre. And, it's highly unlikely it was made up of 50,000 trucks, as some organizers say. Ditto the 250,000 claim. Truckers likely aren't even the main participants; according to some reports, there were more personal vehicles in the convoy than commercial vehicles.)
However, if you were paying attention, it was clear from the very beginning that this ‘protest’ was less about vaccines and more about overarching right-wing hate and paranoia. Some of the organizers—Pat King, Benjamin Dichter, Jason LaFace (or sometimes LaFaci) and Chris Barber—have known links to white nationalism. As Global News reported last weekend, King loves antisemitism and racist conspiracy theories, particularly the idea that the government is actively trying to “depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race.” (He's the one who said "the only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets" in December.) Dichter spoke at a People’s Party of Canada convention in 2019, where he said the Liberal party is “infested with Islamists.” According to Global, he went on to say that “despite what our corporate media and political leaders want to admit, Islamist entryism and the adaptation of political Islam is rotting away at our society like syphilis.”
Just saw a truck outside my doctor’s office in Ottawa, as the convoy starts arriving in town. It had two flags stuck into the back of its truck-bed. One was an upside down Canadian flag. The other, a Confederate flag.— Alex Ballingall (@aballinga) January 28, 2022
LaFace is a one-time People’s Party of Canada candidate (already a bad sign) and member of the Soldiers of Odin, the Canadian arm of a Finnish anti-immigration group that “organize[s] events that will try to stop immigration, people who are BIPOC or people who are in LGBTQ communities,” according to Carmen Celestini, a post-doctoral fellow with the Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University. (Other leaders, including Dave Steenburg, have also shared videos that imply an affiliation with the Soldiers of Odin.) And Barber keeps getting banned from Facebook and TikTok for his racist posts, including a video he filmed in front of two Confederate flags. But even if you missed all that, it was obvious something was not quite right by the number of upside-down Canadian flags and Confederate flags that were in full view on their drive—well before Liddon made her post.
In March 2020, healthcare workers were honoured daily with the banging of pots and pans.— Nathan Stall (@NathanStall) February 3, 2022
In February 2022, an anti-vaccine trucker convoy is rolling into Queen's Park, and staff of nearby hospitals are being told not to wear anything that identifies them as a healthcare worker.
Everyone I know was pretty freaked out by the prospect of a white supremacist, unvaccinated, misinformation-spreading gang setting up shop in the nation’s capital to spew hateful garbage. (Not to mention making a shit-ton of noise, harassing staff at a soup kitchen, desecrating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, urinating on other war memorials and threatening women who are wearing masks with sexual assault.) But not Angela Liddon, apparently. And you know what? That’s actually not surprising at all.
Okay, at first glance, Liddon doesn’t seem like she’d be a supporter of far-right movements. She started Oh She Glows in 2008 as a hobby and a way to repair her relationship with food. “After a decade of struggling with an eating disorder and subsisting on low-calorie, processed, ‘diet’ foods, I knew I needed to change my life — and my health — for the better. Gradually, I shifted my diet to focus on wholesome plant-based foods, and I was immediately struck by how amazing I felt eating this way,” she wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014. “I started my blog… to spread the word about my journey to health and the powerful transformation that food can make in our lives. My goal was, and still is, to share my story openly and to hopefully inspire others who are struggling.” Which is lovely and admirable. But what Liddon was also doing—probably without understanding this at the time—was entering the wellness space, which would soon explode in popularity and become a breeding ground for misinformation, exploitation and white supremacy.
Wellness and self-care is not just nice, it's important. But... I'm also skeptical about the industry. I’ve written about wellness quite a bit recently, both in Friday Things and in my journalism, and have often touched on its racist roots and the ways it gets co-opted by nefarious forces. Yoga was probably the first tentpole of Western wellness, and as soon as it took hold, its deep breathing and intentional movement was immediately decoupled from its cultural and spiritual context. Instead, it became a way for (mostly) white ladies to feel better, especially in the face of traditional medicine’s bias against women. From there, wellness quickly grew to encompass other forms of fitness, healthy eating, personal care, nutrition, meditation, alternative medicine, spa services and weight loss. (Especially that last one.)
And its market share increased in lockstep with its popularity. A 2021 McKinsey & Company survey estimated the value of the global wellness market at more than US$1.5 trillion, while the Global Wellness Institute says it’s likely much higher: US$4.5 trillion. It’s also likely to continue growing according to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, which quotes Wendy Liebmann, the CEO of retail strategy and market research firm WSL Strategic Retail, as saying, “what this pandemic has revealed is that taking care and control of your own health—individual, family, home, etc.—is even more critical than before.”
Of course the Oh She Glows vegan cookbook writer is an anti-vaxxer expressing solidarity with a white supremacist lead movement. If you’re a wellness leader right now that’s the whole fucking gig and it’s criminal.— Zoe Whittall (@zoewhittall) January 28, 2022
Unsurprisingly, though, when people learned they could profit from offering a vulnerable group that was legitimately underserved tools and techniques to fill the gaps left by Western medicine, the entire wellness space quickly became one that was open to rejecting Western medicine as a whole, and by extension science, expertise and government authority. There's a term for this: conspirituality, which "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," according to a 2021 Guardian article. "It’s a place where you might typically see a vegan influencer imploring their followers to stick to a water fast rather than getting vaccinated, or a meditation instructor reminding her clients of the dangers of 5G, or read an Instagram comment explaining that vaccines are hiding tracking devices."
At the same time, 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." It all creates the perfect opportunity for white supremacy to flourish—and for the wellness industry to do serious harm.
As a 2021 Vox piece on the rise of conspiracy theories in wellness pointed out, this industry is rooted in cultural appropriation and Orientalism, and that's part of the reason why misinformation has gained such a foothold in the space.
CONVOY-related conspirituality 🧵— matthew remski (@matthewremski) January 31, 2022
We always knew conspirituality was global, and had deep roots. We knew that many of its influencers came from cults and had learned how to lock in new followers by offering fictional terror in one hand and fake transcendence in the other. /1
“It’s ‘New Age capitalism’ at work: A robust system of knowledge is taken apart piecemeal, divorced from any philosophical or religious roots, and transfigured into a commodity, something that can be bought and sold to improve consumers’ lives,” writes Terry Nguyen, who goes on to explain that cherry-picking meaning like this also makes it easier to layer political meaning on to personal choices. This is particularly true when it comes to food and nutrition influencers, who are often rich white women who gatekeep veganism.
(Nguyen also quotes journalist Matthew Remski, who argues there are fascist undertones in New Age beliefs. "Fascist ideas of the perfected body and earth [have] generated enduring cultural memes for holism, embodied spirituality, and health," he says. "Those memes, sanitized of their explicit politics, carry jagged edges of perfectionism and paranoia about impurity. And that double message—your body is divine but it is also under attack—has become standard in the commodification of yoga and wellness.”)
A close read of Liddon’s body of work—and the way media covered her backstory—reveal some of those themes around perfection, and especially the dichotomy of the body being divine/under attack. But honestly, the experience of racial and economic privilege probably played an equally important role in her thought processes here. As well as profound selfishness, obviously.
All of this makes me think about when I first started at Canadian Living. I remember having a conversation with another editor about how we should approach wellness, though I can't remember if we were calling it that in 2016. It was complicated because our readers were very interested in alternative viewpoints, and we understood how poorly the medical system was serving women. But at the same time, we were also being inundated with references to “fake news” and understood that misinformation was already pervasive; I felt really strongly that we couldn’t give a platform to ideas that weren’t borne out by science.
These reflections aren't directly related to Liddon's content, of course—there is nothing controversial about eating more vegetables and/or less meat, so it's not like careful fact-checking would have made us less likely to cover her. But maybe media outlets should feel some sense of responsibility for the platform she has now. She’s been covered by Chatelaine, Canadian Living and House & Home, plus a bunch of places I haven’t worked, including the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Kit, the National Post, Cityline, the Food Network and more. Yes, she built a large and dedicated audience on social media, but she simply wouldn’t have the power she does if she didn’t also get buy-in from media. Now that she’s promoting white supremacy to her hundreds of thousands of followers, though, we don’t have anything to say. (And this is not to mention the other public figures who are doing the same thing. When I posted about her Story on Instagram, Friday’s followers named several other wellness influencers, all of them privileged white women, who were posting pro-convoy messages.)
Obviously, Liddon and her ilk are 100% responsible for their problematic views. Still, the journalism industry has been discussing what it looks like to ethically cover white supremacy in recent years, which means taking a careful look at our own actions. It's essential for journalists to explicitly name white supremacy instead of using 'softer' terms like alt-right, which only serve to rebrand the racists. Some experts recommend avoiding interviewing these extremists entirely. During this news cycle, in particular, news outlets need to acknowledge the differences in how their journalists treat these protesters compared to how they have historically covered Indigenous and racialized protesters. And I think it’s fair to add to that list holding even non-protesters accountable, especially when they're legitimizing harmful rhetoric.
I mean... if we are going to play a role in creating platforms for people who may abuse them, don't we also have a responsibility to at least act as a counterweight to the misinformation they spread? Otherwise we're just going easy on white supremacists.
Pamela Anderson not being involved in Pam & Tommy. I’m not sure how I missed that, but now that I know, my perspective on the show has completely changed.
This cultural history of Mack Morrison’s “Return of the Mack,” which was my favourite song in 1997 and frankly, totally holds up.
This absolute gem of an Ask a Manager question, which prompted five updates over the course of one day.
Bonus: All the Drake jokes this week. His kid prompted a minor existential crisis? His former flame announced her pregnancy? He looked at his phone for like, three seconds while frowning? Memes upon memes upon memes.
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