The Caste System of Healthy

by Jade Fang

Listening to another incredible keynote speaker. I feel like the luckiest woman in the world today. And my mind is filled with how is this relevant for POCA.

The text of the speech isn't available online yet but here is a description of a similar speech she presented in a similar context:

“Venice Williams, Executive Director of Alice’s Garden and SeedFolks Ministry

Outpost’s keynote speaker, Venice Williams, addressed the room on the topic of Food Justice.
She introduced the term, “culinary capital,” referring to the dietary preferences of shoppers who would
patronize a store like Outpost, preferences such as vegetarian, vegan, organic, local, etc. She expressed
concern about those who are left without access to food – those who don’t eat the way we do, who
don’t have access and feel shame. She described it as a caste system that divides us by food. She
explained that we have to talk about food justice, about who grows the food, about money and living
conditions. Venice encouraged everyone to step out of their comfort zones and reach into neighborhoods where
people don’t have access and can’t afford fresh, nourishing food. Be part of the community; help
Milwaukee become a city that builds access for everyone. There is nothing greater than food justice,
and nothing greater than sharing.”

What Venice Williams said today about the courage to challenge the new food caste system applies every bit as much to POCA. It echos what I read from Lisa last night about what acupuncturists are taught in schools about good patients.

Let's change some words. Language is so powerful. Good patients, deserving patients, patients who care about their health. Why do we care about these smoking drinking couch potato eating junk food patients who can't afford us? They don't deserve us.

Let's take a look at this.

The wellness system is also filled with buzz words bring you status (wellness, health, balance, eating clean, vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, organic).

When someone is being lifted up, someone else is being put down. When we elevate some people as good patients, we have conversations about bad patients.

So imagine your favorite patient, Mrs. Smith. She is cauasian middle class. Healthy, conscious, eats well, exercises often, get treatments regularly, never putting up a fuss about cost. She always values your advice and trusts the herbs you recommend. She started a Tai Chi regimine and put her kids on some of your herbs. She bakes super yummy super healthy gluten free stelvia cookies for you.

Then imagine your not as much favorite patient, Mr. Dole. He is a retired working class man. Always too loud, smokes, drinks, overweight, never exercises, works too hard doing whatever hurts him the most, makes a fuss when you tell him he has to come in more. Just wants acupuncture nothing else. Always complains that he's still hurting. Laughs at you about all this new agey fluff. Jokes that you should bring him a beer and steak with your treatment.

We need to be aware of how we're sending a message that the way people live is wrong.

There is no place for shame in our movement.

How the traditional acupuncturist culture feel superior because they live “better”.

Last POCAtech I chatted with some people about how I hate fake conversations with regular acupuncturists.

They're so fluffy, so soft, and so ugh fake. What is your expertise? Who did you study with? What kind of lifestyle do you live? Are you juicing?
*eye roll*

I want real gritty conversations about things that makes me cry in my clinic with frustration, with anger, and with love.

Why do we equate wealthy with healthy? What issues are we hiding about class and race here?

You think that poverty means that people don't care about their health. You think that just because people can't afford to make health a priority and pay $75 a treatment every two week they don't care and aren't worth caring about?

That's fundamentally wrong.

Everyone cares about their health. But in different ways.

Diversity is not about you being a hero, an expert who comes in to save these people who don't know how to live “right”.

Venice uses a beautiful example of how people of color have known about kale for a long time and cooked kale long before it became a superstar super food. And now we have all this food porn about kale and we're going to go into low income communities and teach them how to cook with this new superfood?

Do you treat your “bad” patients with respect?

This is why we need POCAtech.

We need to change the conversation. We need to transform the language. We need to understand that just because people can't afford $75 acupuncture treatments doesn't mean they don't care about their health. Just because they smoke and they drink or they are overweight doesn't mean they need to be educated on the “right” way to live.

We need POCAtech so we can have truthful honest conversations about class and race. We need POCAtech because it's time to change the system. We need POCAtech because it's time to engage all sorts of people as producers of acupuncture. And not only the right sorts of malibu barbie acupuncturists.

Lets create an honest system where there is true respect for the hard lives that our not so ideal patients live. So we can live authentically with each other.

Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. “Diversity is not about you being a hero, an expert who comes in to save these people who don’t know how to live “right”.
    Thank you Jade, I really needed to hear this again today. I, too, am so grateful for POCA and people’s willingness to cut through the *fluff,* as you say, which can actually be a veneer over an awful lot of assumptions and judgement.

    I know lots of very good-hearted people who are trying to change the world through their eating/living choices and I applaud their efforts, but yes, especially when we include making sure these choices are available to everyone.

    I also want room for the everyone else. Aside from the obvious effects of poverty on basic health and decent food, the funny thing about illness is it often doesn’t seem to discriminate between those living “right” and those living “wrong.” I have learned as much about how to really live from the sopapilla-making grandmas and beer drinking hockey fans I know as I have from the health nuts.

    And really, it helps get back to the real heart stuff for me, the way people actually *feel* when they are told how they live is wrong or not valued, and then are left without care or vital resources. I don’t want to be part of any system that does that, ever.

    I love hearing from fearless truth tellers in other arenas, there is always more to learn. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Jade you are so right and as an older practitioner it makes me feel good that you are “feeling” it. As an acupuncturist and ND in Seattle during the 90’s the Bastyr community was still struggling for recognition and acceptance in the medical world. It was then that the Bastyr community had the epiphany “if mainstream won’t recognize this then we will treat whomever comes in the door which in my mind is similar to the POCA philosophy. At that time the Bastyr community was being influenced by its very intelligent large gay and lesbian population who had a sensitivity to those in need and a disdain for the upper middle class who strongly believed in a multi-faceted caste system which included sexual and medical bias so we needed patient contacts and we ended up doing shifts at the community clinics on skid row in Pioneer Square. I remember actually walking the streets of Seattle looking for homeless patients to give medical care to. I do not know if this consciousness still exists at Bastyr, but it set me up for being uncomfortable and having to practice compassion with more well heeled patients later on in my private practice who would openly practice this medical caste system right in front of me. They thought it was a perk they could afford that others could not and they loved making practitioners do tricks like dogs to get their patronage. Things like putting them first over family, dropping everything to take care of their best friend in town for 5 minutes and entertaining them for 45 minutes to earn your pay. Later on when I had my practice at the hospital I was good at what I did but it was wearing me out, consuming my Qi to be with these people and in the end some influential people at the hospital even hinted that I was not entertaining enough for their clientele anymore. When I left the hospital I was replaced by a younger, cooler dreadlocked practitioner who was more entertaining, but I got my mojo back when I started my Community Clinic in 2008 and now I treat everyone who comes through my door and I am quick to let people people know that when they come into my clinic there is no caste system.

  3. I love this so much. It’s one of those posts I wish I had been able to read a decade ago, and also, especially, that I had been able to ask *other people* to read. Thanks, Jade.

  4. I am reading this at exactly the right time because UGHHHH!!!! I just got back for a Yoga meditatin retreat and there is nothing like some white yogis to say things like “there must be no demand for acupuncture there are very few acupuncturists in middle America.” I spoke with an acupuncturist that I have known for years who was so excited to tell me that “We Won in Oregon,” meaning that dry needling has been defeated. I was stunned at her response when I explained that the profession should be using it’s resources to make acupuncture education affordable and it’s really a crime that people are leaving school so deep in debt. She seemed okay with that because it is not her problem having gone to school years ago and before her school became accredited. I let that sink in and I did not respond. On the drive home I talked about it with my husband and we shook our heads. Does that mean she does not care about children in her town or state or world who are starving because her own children are not starving? I am glad I went to that retreat, but now I am so glad to be back in the POCAverse. I am still offering to bake and mail a half dozen vegan berry cupcakes to anyone who donates $50 to POCATech. How about a full dozen to anyone who donates $100. Message me if you are interested.