For this year's Autistic Acceptance Month, Autistics United Fort McMurray chapter organizer Christopher Whelan has written a series of short essays on autistic rights. We have selected a few of our favourites to share!
[Image description: a plate of chicken nuggets, fries, and two dipping sauces, one golden brown and one white]
Safefood: The Medicinal Properties of Chicken Nuggets
Every culture in the world recognizes the healing power of food. The confidence and optimism for the day you feel when you eat a breakfast full of nutrients. The emotional healing that a bowl of ice cream after a bad day brings you. Families growing their connections to each other by eating dinner at the table together. The comfort of your favourite meal, cooked by your mom. There is nothing in the world so disastrous to a person that good food cannot help you heal from, if only just give you a temporary break from all your other stimulus.
Autistics have a very special connection with food. We develop personal relationships with it. Our favourite foods are not just comforting to us; they are as important to us as every other comfort item we fall back into when our world becomes too overstimulating. Our favourite foods are our stability and our safety.
Autistic culture has coined two terms to describe our relationships with our favourite food: safefood and samefood. Safefood is a food that brings us joy, comfort, and peace when we eat it. Samefood is a food that we have grown so attached to that we can, or do, eat it every day. It is very normal for safefood to also be samefood.
Because different autistic people have different sensory profiles for what we can tolerate and what excites us, safefood is not universal. An autistic person who has a low tolerance for stimulation might prefer food with soft textures, like Kraft Dinner, mini pizzas, and chicken nuggets. An autistic person who needs lots of stimulation to feel anything may enjoy a bowl of mapo tofu, hot wings, or kimchi more than most people and have that as their safefood/samefood. But once we have developed that personal connection with a dish, that bond is hard to break and really should not be tampered with as it is a mental health support.
The dish, once we find one that comforts us, should always be prepared in the same way. It should be the same brand, the same ingredients, and the same chef. If this routine can be maintained, the highest comfort for an autistic person follows. Nothing is worse than our safefood/samefood having its recipe changed, or it being taken off of grocery store shelves.
Right now during the COVID-19 state of emergency, I have relied on my safefoods, like teriyaki rice bowls, cheddar broccoli pasta, and mini pizzas for emotional support as the lockdown has interrupted nearly every other one of my comforting routines. Having this food is directly tied to my mental health. If something ever interrupted my ability to make cheddar broccoli pasta, that is my brain's signal that the world is ending and I am in danger. But if I can make a cheesy, fresh bowl of creamy pasta any time I want, my brain knows that everything in my world is going to be okay. I am safe.
Other select essays:
Christopher Whelan is an autistic social worker living and working in his home community of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Christopher is a founder of Neurodiversity YMM and Autistics United Fort McMurray – Cree, Dene, Dane-zaa, & Métis Territory. After months of consultation with autistic self-advocates, Christopher published The 95 Theses of Neurodiversity in April 2020. You can read more of his work on his blog, AutisticRights.net.