Rebel Eaters Club Wants You To Break Up With Diet Culture, Host Virgie Tovar Furthers The Conversation

Virgie Tovar is a bombshell—there is no doubt about it—whether she is posting to lift others, posting to validate experiences, or posting to right the wrongs of our countries food and diet past, she posts with articulate intention.

To know Tovar, is to know her many years of activism in weight-based discrimination and body image on all fronts. Amongst her many speaking opportunities, appearances on many digital and television networks, TedX talks, self-written books, her resume is vast and soaked in her commitment to telling stories of her past and beyond. On top of everything, she holds a master’s degree in sexuality studies with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. Tovar is no stranger to the internet, she has led the charge on body image when it comes to voicing herself for the big girls all around the globe. So how does one continue to voice themselves, easy—a podcast.

The culmination of all her accolades seems like a no-brainer to start a podcast, a podcast on food, how food interacts with us on a daily spectrum, and how food is a conduit for larger conversations on race, equity, and history. Rebel Eaters Clubs is described as “a podcast about breaking up with diet culture. One corn dog at a time.” Tovar, a self-proclaimed corn dog enthusiast, chatted with us over email about the second season of Rebel Eaters Club and how the podcast became the catalyst of furthering move conversations.

Q

As a “self-professed patriarchy smasher, corndog enthusiast,” amongst many other accolades, who was Virgie Tovar five years ago and who is Virgie Tovar now?

A

My corndogging and p-smashing abideth. Five years ago I think I was a lot more self-righteous and really thought I had figured everything out, i.e. “the culture is trash, here’s how you fix it, the end, easy-peasy.” I think I put most people into two categories: helping in the way I think is right (they were “good people”) or not (they were “bad people”). Now I’m still really committed to using the talents I have in service to others, but I feel much more humble and my thinking is much less didactic. I’m striving not to hold myself to the standard of sainthood that all women seem to be held to. It’s complicated, but also feels like exactly where I need to be. 


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Photography courtesy of Virgie Tovar. The diva who takes food conversation to entirely new levels.Photography courtesy of Virgie Tovar. The diva who takes food conversation to entirely new levels.

Photography courtesy of Virgie Tovar. The diva who takes food conversation to entirely new levels.

Q

But for the readers who may not know of you, give us the schpeel? You have quite the platform yourself as an individual but now with Rebel Eaters Club, you are soaring even more.

A

The schpeel is I’m a fat woman who spent 20 years trying not to be fat and then read a bunch of books and met some important people who changed my life and now my life is committed to changing how the culture sees weight and bodies. I love neon, bikinis, chihuahuas, obscure theory and tiramisu. I live in San Francisco with two Netherland dwarf rabbits (both named after influential fat people: LuLu—after former country gospel singer LuLu Roman – and John Candy) and one boyfriend (named Andrew). I have written a few books on the topic of body positivity and fat liberation. I lecture all over the country on those topics. I’m a contributor for Forbes.com and I host a food-positive podcast called Rebel Eaters Club that’s about trying to answer the question, “Why is our cultural relationship to food so messed up?” 

Q

What was the nexus birth for this podcast? What was the profound (or not profound) moment where you went, “this needs to be made.”

A

It was kind of profound, actually! I had a meeting with Transmitter Media (the show’s producer) and they asked the question that I think needs to start every meeting: “What is exciting you right now?” This was about 2 years ago by now, and at that time I had been doing the work I outlined in my above schpeel for about a decade. Just like any journey or long term commitment, the work changes over time. I was just coming into the part of my journey that I affectionately call the “post-mortem” period: where I finally had the emotional strength and distance to go back and examine the 20 years I had spent, essentially, starving myself (or at least trying to). Up until that point, I really hadn’t looked at that period. I was like, “That chapter is over, book closed, nothing to see here!” I realized that chapter of my life was about the day-in-day-out grind of being obsessed with food. This is millions of people’s reality. I wanted to make a show that was about that: not just about the individual pursuit of “health” or the “perfect body,” but the culture that creates the stage where that story plays out. This show is inextricably connected to my own journey of discovery, realization, and vulnerability.  

Q

When creating the first few episodes of the podcast, was there any hesitancy with the content or process? How did you unpack that? If not, what made the process so smooth and seamless for you as a creative?

A

I don’t know if there was hesitancy. In fact, I think the problem was the opposite: an over-eagerness that threatened to make the show too intense and overwhelming. My tendency as a person is to go really deep really fast because that’s how my brain works: get to the heart of the issue (which almost always means going back 200-400 years in history to some shocking-yet-strange thing almost always done by a European dude) and from there leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to this moment. As you probably know, that’s not how storytelling works exactly! Haha. I feel so lucky that the production team and the editor at Transmitter are always so patient with me. I always want to tell – what in my mind is – the million dollar a-ha story. This involves the recitation of many facts, which are rapid-fired into someone’s face with a conclusion about Human Life™ wrapped up in a big bow. I’m slowly learning that this type of storytelling is the equivalent of asking a friend to attend a graduate seminar on entomology (read: boring to everyone who isn’t 100% obsessed with bugs). Working on the show has taught me how to slow the fuck down: tell one piece of the story at a time, let the listener reach the aha on their own, don’t try to turn everyone into an entomologist.  

Q

You’ve been one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image—in all of your time working and time speaking / briefing, was their any particular point in your career where you felt the most bliss about what you were doing? Or is it every day you get to do the work?

A

I think bliss comes whenever I allow myself to go wherever the work takes me. I don’t just “teach” body positivity, like it’s an academic subject. This work is integral to my life, to my purpose, and to my own process of healing. I’m on the same journey that the people I’m teaching and talking to are. And because this work is profound and layered, it takes me to unexpected places. Like I just collaborated with a death midwife and we created an online course on the connections between diet culture and our fear of death. It’s a course about capital D death, dude! Many people wouldn’t see that as a natural place that this work might take you, but it was pure bliss creating this course and sharing this course with the students who signed up because it was 100% where I was at with this subject. I was working 12 hour days throughout the pre-launch period, and it was brutal but it was total flow state the whole time. 

Q

We listened to a few of the episodes, like the one with Francis Lam “Food is a Bridge”—and we couldn’t help but just think about how we missed being with people in an intimate setting like cooking together, opening a bottle of wine—how do you make the pod feel like it’s just friends talking rather than something so formalized?

A

I’m still working on keeping conversations ‘casj’ because I do freak out sometimes about the fact that other humans are actually going to hear this thing! But I think there’s a few things at play here. First, the production team and I really decided that this show is about “regular” people—like even though Francis, for instance, is totally a food celebrity babe par excellence, I wasn’t talking to that part of him. I wasn’t engaging with him that way because that’s not primarily how I see him. I think another thing is my natural tendency to get “under the hood.” I’ve always, always been—perhaps inappropriately—interested in deeply understanding other people and I’ve always been the type of person who invites people to have that kind of engagement with me. Finally, I have a huge stake in what we’re doing with this show. I’m all in. I’m not just on a fact-finding mission with no stake in the outcome. I’m always ready to be surprised, to learn, to connect the dots, to be transformed by others. And I think my conversations with our guests reflect that ethos or that invitation: let’s do this together, let’s figure this out together, I’m here for this.

 


Photo of Virgie Tovar on-set. In 2018 she was named one of the 50 most influential feminists by Bitch Magazine. She has received two San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Commissions as well as  Yale's Poynter Fellowship in Journalism .Photo of Virgie Tovar on-set. In 2018 she was named one of the 50 most influential feminists by Bitch Magazine. She has received two San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Commissions as well as  Yale's Poynter Fellowship in Journalism .

Photo of Virgie Tovar on-set. In 2018 she was named one of the 50 most influential feminists by Bitch Magazine. She has received two San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Commissions as well as Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

 

Q

But on the flip side of the coin, you also speak on much more serious topics like “Fatphobia (& Foodphobia) is Anti-Blackness with Da’Shaun Harrison”—as much as we want to ask “how do you find the balance”, we mainly want to touch on how do you make space on your podcast to be multifaceted with guests and yourself?

A

I think the whole show is about a very serious topic, and I think with an episode like Da’Shaun’s we have a moment where we can step back and truly see the stakes. That is, when we’re talking about diet culture we are talking about a system that was borne of anti-Black racism. What Da’Shaun talked about in that episode permeates every part of life in this country: every single meal, every part of the history we discuss in the show. I’m deeply aware that anti-Blackness, colonialism, slavery are the “stage” (which I mentioned earlier) upon which our food systems and food behaviors play out. So to me, Da’Shaun is just naming something that is always there whether we call it out or not. It’s just as real and undeniable as the joy in the show to me. As a writer, I’m aware that I have to give the listener space to breathe, space to integrate difficult and painful information, and space to feel hope. So we spend a lot of time balancing out how to create that space in the show. 

Q

Ok, on a lighter note, tell us all about season 2 of Rebel Eaters Club—tell us all about the process and how the guests came to be scouted for the pod?

A

Season 2 of Rebel Eaters Club is about continuing the show’s tradition of deep interviews and adding an element of social history. Each episode has a history lesson that’s relevant to the show’s themes. I’ve spent dozens of hours researching for this season and it’s been, honestly, the best kind of nerd fun. With guests, we started with the same question: “Who are you excited to talk to?” Thankfully, everyone on that list said yes!

Q

For the pod, if you could have one guest living or not, come and be a part of an episode, who is that person, what’s the subject matter, and what’s THE question you would pose to them?

A

My answer to any historical personal question like this is always the same: James Baldwin. Above all others, he’s my idol. I think I would just be like, “Hello, Mr. B. Please just say whatever you think needs to be said.” 

Q

We think it’s cursed to say that “2021 is our year” but we optimistically want to ask, what’s something you’re excited for that you can share from your work, personally, or just in general in the world?

A

I’m excited about lots of things! I have a new project coming out (in 2022), which I’m still writing and the writing process is just pure fire right now. I’m excited to see my 3-month old baby bunnies become fully grown, which will be happening this year. I am just finishing up decorating my new home office, very exciting!  

Q

Ok, after answering all these questions, we want to circle back to our first question and repose it in a different way. So the question: Who were you? Who are you? And who are you becoming?

A

I think I am, have been and always will be a creative whose life is about pleasure, inquiry, and meaningful disruption. I think I’m secretly a hermit: an extroverted hermit. I think I’m deep in a transformation period right now. It’s the hardest one I’ve ever experienced. Holy shit! It’s like someone stripping my skin off every morning and being like, “good luck.” But I asked for this. I fought for this. I didn’t know what I was signing up for, but I think I’m in karmic and astrological alignment. It doesn’t always feel good, but it usually feels right.   

// Photography courtesy of Virgie Tovar, love our stories? Send us a tip. We want to connect you to our platform!


Rebel Eaters Club Wants You To Break Up With Diet Culture, Host Virgie Tovar Furthers The Conversation
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