I've been thinking a lot about food lately.
Particularly, I've been thinking a lot about my relationship with food. We've been seeing each other for over 30 years now, and I think it might be getting serious.
We pretty much threw away the first year because I didn't have any teeth and, once I did, my post-infant palate was hardly refined enough to appreciate the intricate flavor profiles of a perfectly roasted Brussels sprout or a delicately layered tiramisu.
As a kid, the very act of eating was a burden. It annoyingly interrupted rousing bouts of street games with my neighbors, fort-building in the stairwell, and pretty much any other interesting engagement whose sole purpose wasn't to fuel my active little body. "Your daughters eat like birds!" my parents' friends would exclaim, grabbing our scrawny wrists and flailing them wildly through the air. "Tell them to eat more."
The truth is, I knew we didn't eat like birds. Birds had to work for their food, and ours just appeared, magically on the table, and our natural instinct was to eat until we were satisfied -- not until we were full. Except on special pizza nights, my family always ate around the table. Sure, the tiny kitchen television was tuned to the evening news followed by a stimulating episode of Wheel of Fortune, and while I would often eat as quickly as possible so I could excuse myself, clear my dishes, and run back out to the empty lot behind our house to meet my friends and skin my knees and use that fuel for fun, our family eating format still forced me to slow down, at least a little, and experience my food.
In college, the relationship turned abusive.
Meal plans and dining halls and snack bars and bar bars compelled me to take advantage of food in a way I'd never thought possible. I marveled at its quantity. Its selection. At the fact that I could sneak my reusable coffee mug into the dining hall for that extra creamy cappuccino and a Tupperware container for a second helping of breakfast cereal, mashed potatoes, or chicken parmesan. Food, no longer a burden, provided a heady break from all-night term papers. A hangover prevention with a 3 a.m. drunken stumble to the on-campus Taco Bell. A bonding experience at sorority meetings and social activities and, whenever a friend was kind enough to invite me to her family's home for the weekend, an excuse to binge on the tranquilizing effects of a home-cooked meal.
If Food felt beaten by my vicious attacks, it didn't let it show. It hid the bruises behind the preservative-laden wrappers of "healthy" granola bars and the deceiving boasts of "low-fat" peanut butter and dammit, if Wheat Thins are supposed to be full of grains and grains are supposed to be good for me, why am I still gaining weight?
Food's stealthy counterattack was swift and perverse. I gained 30 pounds my freshman year, and when I went home for the summer, no one compared me to birds.
Except maybe a puffin.
I hated Food.
And obviously, Food hated me.
We didn't speak for at least three months while I drowned myself in supplemental Slim Fast, the occasional piece of fruit for a snack, and a between-the-two-waitressing-jobs lunch of popcorn chicken and a peanut butter shake from Sonic. Surprisingly, the pounds melted away, but Food was not a pleasure. It was a burden once again, to be choked down between two nine-hour shifts, and my few solid staples of fast food fried chicken or some starchy pasta from one of the restaurants where I worked did nothing to make my admittedly slimmer physique feel the least bit healthy.
It wasn't until I moved in with Justin, now my husband, that I actually wanted to start learning about Food. I approached the kitchen of our tiny, wood-sided duplex the way one might approach a nest of wasps -- with a healthy dose of caution and an ample amount of fear. Our meals, at first, were what we remembered from home. Cheesy hamburger noodle casserole, sweet 'n spicy sausage spaghetti, and boxed Betty Crocker Sour Cream 'n Chive potatoes with ground beef. We were a makeshift family now, and this was what families were supposed to eat.
But I got bored. It wasn't for health reasons that I started changing my approach to food -- the chocolate, butter, and cream could attest to that -- it was the fact that there are so many choices, and I can't make a decision to save my life. I started reading food blogs and buying cookbooks. We splurged on a nice set of stainless steel pots and pans, and then a cast iron Dutch oven and a Wüsthof knife. I'm still not sure how it happened, but eventually Food became a nightly event. We still enjoyed it in front of the television, but the prep work was significant and the flavors diverse.
Though I'd bought lots of new toys to spice up our relationship, Food and I didn't get really serious until recently, when I realized I still wasn't quite happy.
I would eat something "healthy" and then stress that I wasn't losing weight. I'd steal a cookie off the tray someone brought into work and berate myself for the rest of the day. I'd eat a "low-fat" meal in front of the tube and feel drab, lifeless, and flabby. And I'd ask myself the question:
If I have to eat to survive, why does it make me feel so terrible?
Well. There's no easy answer. But my theory is, like any unhealthy relationship, I give Food too much credit. The truth is, most of the time, I wasn't even eating real "food." I was inadvertently digesting hormones and toxins and other nasties while eating boxes and jars of highly-scientifically-refined substances with 37 different ingredients that were just posing as food. This "food" never loved me. It was faking it the entire time.
It's no wonder I felt disgusting.
It's not easy sharing my history with Food because it forces me to admit that I've wasted far too much time on an abusive relationship. But that's starting to change. No more faking it. I'm starting to eat more Real Food. Organic veggies and fruits. Fatty butter that makes me feel full when I should feel full. This is not a fad diet or something I've been convinced to try by an industry now banking on organic products. In fact, if you shop local, it's possible to find farmers raising clean crops who can't afford to become organically certified. There's still some sugar in my diet. And there's still some wheat. And there's definitely still a little meat. Because I enjoy the diversity of food -- Real Food -- too much to quit anything. But the bread I eat will come from bakeries and have only a few ingredients. My chocolate will be rich and indulgent and come in the form of brownies I bake myself.
Because if I have to work for it, I won't abuse it.
I'm taking more time to relax. To sit at the table and enjoy my Food. We're getting to know each other again and starting to feel things we haven't felt in a really long time.
Already, my body feels better.
My mind feels better, too.
There will be cheating, of course -- restaurants and potlucks and little indulgences that make life so grand.
And that, my friends, is kind of the point.
The original version of this post appeared on Domestiphobia.
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