I like food. I like to think about food. Thinking about food has gotten me into a bit of trouble in my life because thinking about it leads to coveting it and craving it, which leads to an almost ritualistic feeding frenzy where all sense of good judgment is temporarily suspended while I plow through a large plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
My relationship with food is complicated. It is as loaded as a colossal serving of cheese fries. On one side of it there is passion, desire, respect and appreciation. I am a foodie. I love the preparation of food, the careful selection of ingredients, the aroma of a savory saute. My dad was a foodie too. Early childhood memories of him involve his love of eating. He seemed to be at his best when it came time to select and consume good food. This is really saying something because my dad was generally not at his best.
My mom cooked most every weeknight but the weekends belonged to my dad. Mom had an arsenal of tried and true recipes that could quickly be prepared after a long day at work. She was a good cook with four hungry kids to feed. Most of us happily sat down and ate with very little discord, most of us except my brother Mark. Born with a picky palette, Mark was well known for finding interesting ways to hide the food he didn't want to eat. A convenient dog under the table, sneaking food onto other people's plates or ingeniously stuffing food into the cushion of his chair. This wasn't discovered until many months later when the rancid mystery smell was finally traced back to the vinyl chair cushion stuffed with foam rubber and a mountain of peas.
Dad used to complain quite frequently about mom's quick-prep meals. (If we'd only had Rachel Ray back then.) Nothing sat that man off like coming home from work and finding Hamburger Helper on the stove. "Blank-it-e-Blank, Blank, Blank, Blank Joyce, you know how I hate that Blanker Blankin Blankburger Helper". What can I say, dad had a way with words. I suspect that's why the weekend food duties were summarily turned over to him.
One night of the weekend he would cook and the other night he would usually do take-out. He did both with passion and vigor. You couldn't help but get caught up in his excitement. This was the same colorful, grumpy Archie Bunker who sat in that recliner five days a week watching Truth or Consequences; the same man you carefully tip-toed around so as not to get hit with the fallout from his explosive temper. This same man now stood in the kitchen with a smile on his face, zestfully throwing in every kind of spice known to man kind, chopping, frying, stirring and humming as if a tiny cartoon bluebird were resting on his shoulder. Food made the man happy.
On the other hand, mom used food to make the rest of us happy. Cherry cobblers and banana pudding made from scratch were like giant band-aids she placed over our hearts when we were downtrodden. Or if God forbid, she noticed one of us looking a little too thin - she made it her personal quest to pack the pounds on us. This included our poor dogs. In addition to being on the receiving end of all the vegetables that couldn't fit into the vinyl chair cushion, our dogs were subjected to my mother's truest form of love. Here's our portly poodle named Prissy. She looks like a stuffed sausage with curly, white hair. We could decorate her with silly hats and sunglasses because once she was propped up like that, she was like a rolly polly on it's back.
I have continued to use food to self medicate during the low-lows or when life calls for a Sara Lee pound cake and a fork (why bother to cut a slice, just pop off the paper lid and and dig in). I was blessed with a tall frame and for most of my life I have been able to get away with these episodes of stress-induced hedonism. That however, is not the case today as I approach my 46th birthday. If you look closely, you can see the tiny red Sara Lee logo imbeddid in the form of cellulite on my thighs.
I recently realized I have been thinking of food as the enemy, something I need to strategically avoid, something that elicits fear, panic and loathing; both of the food and of myself. Not long ago, my boyfriend and I decided to venture downtown to "split some appetizers". Neither of us were hungry enough for a full dinner so it seemed like a splendid idea. It was late so our options were limited. We ordered what we thought was a serving of 12 small bites of deliciously mouthwatering munchies; however, through a simple math error and a misleading menu, we ended up with a platter containing 36 of my worst nightmares. A strange sort of involuntary nervous laugh was heard at the table and it was me.
Later recounting the experience to a trusted friend, I had one of those ah-ha moments of clarity. She reminded me of my love of food and told me to quite simply relax and enjoy it. Oh yeah, I do love food. The fear and negative energy I was associating with food was the very thing that was causing me to abuse it. I was sneaking around with my overindulgences. Like an alcoholic hiding the empty bottles, I was hiding in my relatively dark living room, dreaming up and then following through with the most outrageously decadent temptations I could possibly imagine.
I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone other than me but I suspect we do a lot of things we know we shouldn't do under the cover of darkness. Sometimes it's literally dark and sometimes it's figuratively dark. I was in the dark in more ways than one. Until I was willing to recognize the fear and guilt and then let it go, I couldn't get back to thinking of food in a healthy, loving, natural way. Now I can nurture myself with food in the light of day, enjoying all of the subtle, palatable nuances, the edifying memories of childhood and the search for decent Mexican food in Milwaukee.