This is my food story.
Recipes read like window shopping feels to me. I get a picture inside someone’s home, the heart beat, when they write a recipe or share one. The spices they use, the genre they perfect. It’s all just a preface to their dinner table. And I’m curious about the people who gather to eat these tried, true, legendary dishes night after night.
Food has been a friend, in the past, an enemy too. It’s been a revolution, teacher, healer, and condemner. Food is a-emotional – it cannot be either Good or Bad. Food is just food, mostly.
Except for when you drizzle a good-grade balsamic over strawberries. Or maybe you dip steamy, crusty bread in the honey from your backyard right out of the oven. Or the rice pudding, cobbler, or whipped cream manifests from your quick desire to taste something decadent and simple – then, well then … food is a person, it’s a place, it’s a THING.
Food is sustenance. It’s the fuel for our empty tanks – we typically stop multiple times a day to partake in some kind of meal or food in order to energize ourselves to continue.
But food puts a lot of pressure on me. Is it gluten free? Dairy free? Are there GMO’s and was this meat corn fed? Humanely raised? Hormone free? Can I even eat meat? Are carbs going to kill me? Food has to heal me, it has to. That’s its job. Can I eat an apple without protein and still gain the effects of it’s nutrients? Is my gut healthy? Should I take vitamins in addition to all the food I eat? Can I shop at the grocery store, or is the farmers market strictly it. Should I be canning? My garden didn’t grow, what now? Is it 5 o’clock yet? I’ll just have wine instead.
Food has a language of Should’s she shouts at me every time I open my fridge. Every trip to the grocery store is a personal competition to not buy the Reseeses peanut butter cups (I have a 50/50 record) and instead of planning ahead, I generally show up unannounced take a cart like a number and wade in the deep end of aisle surfing until I’ve had enough and need to leave. No one else is going to eat the 14 gourmet meals I thought up as I walked, aimlessly, through the store. I won’t either (since I didn’t write any of it down).
I collect Asian grocery items because we’re “cultured” like that and can make spring rolls. Right now, in my possession, I have more than 2 bottles of Rice vinegar, a back up bottle of Sesame oil, Fish sauce, Hoisin sauce, and red curry paste. Not all the same genre, if you’re following along, but seeing these items in my pantry makes me feel like I can pull something NEW and DELICIOUS off at a moments notice. These bottles of oddly marked liquid give me poise.
But food is communal for me. It’s not a solitary movement. In fact, when no one is around to sit with me or enjoy the labor of love, I often don’t eat at all. Then I crash (because I’m diabetic (food horror)) and resort to the quickest absorbed simple sugar I have on hand. And I chide myself every morning for not doing better. For not losing any weight (yet) – and I muscle up the dignity to survey my fleshly landscape and call her names from the floor length mirror. Then I get in the shower and start my day. Every. Single. Morning.
Food might offer health, but food is anything but healthy for me lately.
Earlier I made the statement “Food is a-emotional, it cannot be either Good or Bad.” And that sentiment was a welcome one the first time I heard it. I had been labeling all the foods I would encounter since I could remember: “Good food!” “BAD FOOD!!!” “Don’t eat (secretly eat more than you should.)” “Eat in public!” “This will be Good if you forgo adding fat, sugar, starch” “This food will never be good for you, it’s always bad.”
I could remove the labels and just see food for what it was. It became a choice to make. I CAN have this formerly BAD FOOD in context and moderation. I can enjoy this formerly labeled “Good food” because it tastes better than I thought. And because I can choose what I put in my mouth, how I make it, and where I shop.
Food went from frenemy to Scholar. I could USE food now, I had knowledge.
But that went from bad to worse when I started seeing my kitchen like a science lab, I was still after the same outcome : more of it, less of me. I wanted to figure out how to create a healthy hall pass so I could languish in the land of formerly No-No choices. And it was all Kosher because I was in charge.
In the midst of all of this I was diagnosed as type 1 diabetic. The first thought that went through my mind was of my sister watching me eat my entire weeks-worth-of-allowence in Airheads and she scoffed at me “You’re going to give yourself diabetes.”
And I took her words and I saved them.
After the diagnosis I felt an incredible release of pressure. I didn’t have to keep it all together anymore. It was what it was, and this was reality. I could indulge a bit from my strict lifestyle because insulin was available should I not be able to manage my cravings. And I started hiding in public. Over the course of a few years I’ve gained most of the weight I lost in an effort to stave off the diagnosis. And I feel deeply ashamed for “letting myself go” and still “being diabetic.”
I’ve been mad at my body since I realized it was mine to keep. Disgusted with my proportions, always leaning over the edge to ALMOST THERE.
And today when I saw the “Welcome back letter” from school and my first response was to avoid everything and cook – I saw food as the bridge between myself and the places, people, things I’m running from.
Food has been so many, many things in my lifetime. Nourishment is rarely a word I would have used to describe my relationship with food but today in the moment of utter vulnerability and change I stood up, went to my stove, and carried my heaviness away.