The first episode of Rebel Eaters Club starts with Virgie Tovar explaining she just dropped some cream cheese on her lap. She proceeds to clean it off with her finger and eat it, while her guest, sculptor Mia Feuer, laughs it all off. It’s the kind of candid interaction people are supposed to have while enjoying a meal. But, as Tovar explains, that’s not always the case.
“Eating is something I’ve always been told to hide, especially as a woman,” she tells Emperifollá. “There’s a real taboo of eating on audio and I wanted to confront that.”
In the six-episode podcast, Tovar, who’s of Mexican and Iranian descent, talks to people about their relationship to food and how the $72 billion weight-loss industry impacts their daily lives. Guests include food critic Soleil Ho, transgender model Shay Neary, and activist Deb Burgard. “To me the show is about inviting people into the experience of reclaiming their relationship to food,” Tovar explains.
As an author and activist, Tovar has eight years of experience under her belt. Her introduction to the topic started when she was in grad school and found little to no literature about the topic. Since then, she’s authored a book called “You Have the Right To Remain Fat,” edited an anthology about fat activism called “Hot and Heavy,” and spoken at her own TEDxTalk, titled “Lose Hate Not Weight.”
But her lifelong fear of the word “fat” is what drew her to study it. “It’s very powerful because that was a word used to silence me for so long,” she says.
Tovar recalls being afraid of the word since her childhood, when she’d get angry at her grandmother for making delicious tamales. As a kid, she’d enjoy eating the traditional Mexican dish but would soon fall into a rabbit hole thinking how “fattening” it was. “I was so mad at my grandmother for tempting me,” she recalls.
It’s a story that resonates with millions of Latinas in the United States. At least 30 million people in the U.S. live with an eating disorder and 50-80% of the risk for anorexia and bulimia is genetic. Research also shows Latinos are more susceptible to eating disorders that often go unreported because of societal taboos and lack of coverage in these communities.
In Rebel Eaters Club – a Transmitter Media production –, Tovar dives into the dynamics of shame, power, and self-love that surround people’s relationships with food – from eating disorders and trauma to the politics of food. At the end of each episode, she offers a journal prompt for the audience to reflect about their own journey to self-love and are invited to share their writing on Facebook, Google Voicemail, or email. Listeners can also download badges to check their Rebel Eater progress along with the prompts.
“People think that the worst thing that happens is that you become fat,” Tovar says. “What I’m trying to say is the worst thing that can happen is that you can live your entire life hating your body. That’s really the worst thing.”