One of my favorite wedding gifts when I was married was not my Kitchen Aid mixer although that’s a staple in my kitchen because I love to cook and I love food. My favorite gift was a book entitled “Fork Me, Spoon Me: the Sensual Cookbook” by Amy Reiley. The book’s cover has a beautiful naked woman sitting on the floor with a glass of wine licking something off her fingers with the fridge wide open in front of her, offering more of its bounty. Even though I owned the book, I didn’t actually make the recipes as a newlywed all that much although I’m sure my husband would have enjoyed the “Moist Mango Meatloaf” or the “Creamy Milkshakes with Malted Milk Ball Rims.” I simply enjoyed reading it. The idea that food, especially in a cookbook written by a woman, could be celebrated in such an unapologetic and sensual way seemed like a really good secret I should keep, like an NC17 movie in my kitchen cupboard.
I felt refreshed reading the book because it was so unique to have a woman showing us how to love food unabashedly. Celebrating the contrasting and sometimes risque characteristics of spicy, juicy, creamy is a pleasure to be experienced in life, and I realized how rarely we see that. Although I might feel a little awkward cooking the “Hard Tacos with Hot Guacamole” at a dinner party, I am happy that this book was written and wish we could all have a little more “Breakfast in Bed Triple Gingerbread” in our lives.
And therein lies the rub. Food isn’t difficult to love, what’s difficult is allowing ourselves to love food. Yes, really love it, and not mar the experience with thoughts of “oh I shouldn’t…”
To me, this is one of the reasons why the women’s movement has a ways to go: we can’t really be completely evolved if we are still trying to find ways to control what goes in our mouths for the sake of our appearance. The complex relationship we have with food continues with a vengeance, and is sometimes indistinguishable from our bodies. To love food we have to love our bodies. For many women, the relationship with food is ripe with “shouldn’t’s,” guilt and discipline. Which is not at all sexy, or even palatable. But we rarely question this, instead this is the norm and no one really questions it. We don’t think of food as a real relationship. More likely, food is one more thing we have to control or otherwise risk feeling controlled by. If this relationship were with a person, would you define that as healthy?
I’m guessing most woman can’t imagine a world where every bite is soul satisfying and without a trace of “I really shouldn’t, but…” This distraction of conflicted feelings really takes away from the pure joy of food. And consider that loving food is also about appreciating where it came from, being grateful for the work that went into getting it to our mouths. Can we learn to really experience our food through our senses and stop at “I’m going to regret this later.” You can love food. Yes, really.
When I first thought the phrase ‘love food,’ what came to mind was that somehow loving food meant eating a lot of it. The more the better, right? When you are in a new relationship all you want is more of that person. More time, more of them. Fortunately this is where the similarities in relationships with food and people diverge. In fact, its common knowledge now that bringing our mindfulness and attention to our food actually causes us to eat more slowly, filling up before we consume as much as if we quickly stuffed our faces. (Yes I’ve definitely done that). Loving food is more about appreciating and being thankful for our food and really diving into what’s in front of us.
Let’s imagine times when we hunted and gathered our food half naked. The catch or basket of food collected being the sole goal for the day. Talk about obsessed! But we had to, we need food to survive. We wouldn’t have propagated our species if we had a poor relationship to it. In fact, it took that love to keep us searching for our next meal despite woolly mammoths and T-Rex trying to eat us (I’m obviously not a historian). That night, how joyful we would have been, with fat dripping down our chins, roasted vegetation, berries, nuts. I’m making this all up but you get my point. Food played a central role, we sought our food all day, we devoured it without a thought of…anything…except this is incredible [insert wild animal here].
Today this orientation towards food has been turned on its head. We still obsess about what we eat, but its how to avoid overeating, how to sneak it, how to monitor it and how to control it and count it. This sounds so much more complex, negative and fear based. So, how are we to love food again?
Here’s some food for thought, so they say.
If you love food, you appreciate every bite that goes in your mouth. Despite the well-known obesity epidemic, the US has a hunger problem. According to feedingamerica.org, 1 in 6 households has a hunger or food insecurity issue, that number rising to 1 in 5 in families with children. In 2011 31 million children received free or reduced lunches at school. Many go without breakfast until then. And what happens all summer long when schools out? Summer feeding programs are rare. Although hunger is a nation-wide problem and in every town, the states with the highest rates, Mississippi and Texas, are also states with some of the highest obesity rates. We can raise our own awareness of these not often talked about issues of hunger and food insecurity to fuel a healthy orientation towards food and realize how common it is for people in our own towns to have to go without.
Hand in hand with appreciating the food we have is not wasting it. Overeating and mindless eating, common in front of the TV or out of boredom, is as wasteful as throwing it out. We don’t need that food, and to eat it is wasteful. You may not be throwing it down the garbage disposal, but in an era where it is trendy to be green, try expanding the definition to your eating habits, not just household cleaning products. Eat what you need to eat when you are hungry and save the rest for others.
Which leads me to misusing food as [insert inappropriate role here]. At the end of the day no matter how much we love food, its still just food and not a therapist, a band-aid, or a substitute for intimacy. Addressing stress, boredom, and loneliness in healthy ways can redirect us to better outlets than eating. That is way too much pressure to put on your ice cream and you’ll eat more of it than you really want to because (surprise!) ice cream isn’t what you really need.
To love food is one of life’s many great pleasures and what we are really talking about is a healthy orientation to food. Seeing it for all the pleasure and nourishment it brings, how it brings families together at meal times, brings memories to holidays, and brings loved ones comfort when sick. Loving the food we have means being conscious of what it took to get to our plate since others in our own town may not have any on their plate, and allowing ourselves to really savor the beauty and pleasure it brings to our meals and lives.
If this is still a really foreign concept, make a goal in your lifetime to travel to a different culture where they linger over their meals for exorbitant amounts of time and enjoy simple but incredibly delicious food. Western Europe, perhaps? You won’t see people stuffing their faces with McDonald’s in their parked cars. You will see people with friends and loved ones, lingering, chatting, tasting, enjoying la dolce vita.
To love food is also about involving more than just our mouths in the process of eating. Its about our whole body and mind and the body of people in our communities. Shift your attention to caring for your body and mind as well as your fellow eater, and you may begin to see food as a positive and necessary aspect of life that unites them harmoniously. And then, go buy “Fork Me, Spoon Me” and devour it.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have I come to accept about me, physically or mentally?
I’ve accepted that I’m pretty sensitive inside and out. I have sensitive skin on the outside that matches a pretty sensitive interior as well. When I was pregnant I was so porous to everything I couldn’t hear about violence or eat red meat as it felt violent. I can’t watch really disturbing movies, or be in super chaotic environments for long without feeling frazzled and spent. I don’t even really like the hairdryer. I’ve learned that my anecdote is to snuggle under the covers with a good book in silence when I need it. I used to be more anxious when I didn’t know this about myself but over time I’ve learned that I can control it more than I’d originally thought. Recharging does me wonders!
What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?
I appreciate that I am not what I seem on the outside and that’s perfectly fine. On the outside I seem very “mom,” “suburban,” “blond,” etc. There’s nothing wrong with those but they don’t really reflect my quirks and individuality, or what people assume I’m like when they see me. If they know me, they’d know I speak Chinese, I write dark poetry, I love electronic music, I practiced Kung Fu. If people don’t know me, they treat me like a doll or assume I drive a mini-van and watch Dr. Phil. But, I know I’m not like that. I also love meeting people who aren’t what they seem at first glance as well.
I also appreciate that I met a man who is very devoted to his family, even if it took me awhile to see that he was doing it in his own way, by achieving success in the early years of our marriage and at times being very, very absorbed in his work. He is truly a super-dad/husband. I think having a strong and capable partner to weather through life is extremely important.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?
One of my most rewarding achievements in my life was giving birth twice and now, being a mom. It’s such a great responsibility and is at times chaotic but I can’t imagine my life without my daughters. They changed me for the better and I hope I earn their love as much as I freely give mine.
My goals for the future are a bit more me-focused. I think all women should have that opportunity to shift in their lives at some point from creating and nurturing life (pets, fostering, adopting, nieces/nephews, children of their own) to focusing on self-fulfillment. Or being able to combine both ideally. My goals include writing more. Articles, or possibly a young adult book centering on some formative experiences from my teenage years. Possibly a children’s book, or a cookbook as I love all things food. Or all the above. I want to travel more internationally when my girls get older. Garden some heirloom varieties for cooking. I want to produce some music or own a small restaurant/pub with my husband as a retirement gig.
What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?
If you saw my kitchen or my linen closet, you’d see I’m not a neat freak. Now, I love it when everything’s in its place, but it just doesn’t take a high priority in my day to day. There are so many more important things in life! I’ll do towel stacking and sheet folding if I have to, but if I don’t, well, I don’t. Yes, I sleep on wrinkly sheets. Maybe that’s why I love hotels so much.
I’m also highly critical of myself. As much as I am a “slacker” in the folding sheets and towels department I am neurotic at times in the self improvement department. In Confession once a Priest told me to “relax” as my penance. Enough said.
How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
I love my reflective side. It gives depth to my life, relationships and conversations. How many times have I heard from a friend, colleague, relative “I never thought of that…” I love that I can somehow enhance their life too, by reflecting on my own. I’m convinced if we all told our real stories more often we would all benefit.