People – It’s Food.
‘Tis the season for – Food Whiplash.
We have, as a culture, spent two months obsessing about food. Every time you turned around, there were stories and blog posts and magazine covers about it. And not just the joy of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest (or our personal equivalent) and for family and friends and Light for the year… No, we have Sinful Desserts, and Indulgent Side Dishes, and 50 kinds of cookies, and 5 ways to add heavy cream and bacon to your dinner… Every single one of which (without the morally loaded adjectives) is fine on its own – but the constant bombardment is a bit overwhelming. And it is, of course, interspersed with Guilt Free Holiday Indulgence…
But apparently we do not feel that we are guilt free. We now, as a culture, enter the Season of Fast and Penance – otherwise known as January – when we are just as overwhelmingly bombarded with the latest in Diet and Exercise Plans. It is now the month when we must, it seems, mortify the flesh to show repentance for our sinful, decadent eggnog trifle.
People, it’s food.
Food is intrinsically good. We need it to live. It nourishes us. It is healing. If you ever care for someone desperately ill who cannot eat (and is losing ground because of that) you come to understand this in a frighteningly real way.
But usually, we forget that. Our culture as a whole has an incredibly confusing approach to food. On the one hand, we obsess about it – watch gourmet cooking shows and read cooking blogs and magazines and debate the perfect source of the ingredients we use (pink Himalayan salt seems to be the current catch phrase for those who think this is overdone – but it is by no means alone, and many who mock the salt go on to brag about artisanal hot sauce…) On the other hand, we eat packaged foods because we are afraid to cook – because we don’t know how, because we think it is a waste of time, because we are afraid to be around food. We define ourselves by what we do not eat – wheat, animal products, sugar, carbohydrates, fat… We quote Michael Pollan – “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Then we argue about what we mean by “food” “too much” and “mostly.”
Please. Eat food. This entire blog is about just eating food.
The new catch phrase is “Don’t go on a diet – make a lifestyle change!” In theory, that’s great… but… too many of those Lifestyle Changes seem to start with “Restrict your food for the rest of your life” and move, all too quickly, to “Here, just eat this packaged convenience food that is designed for your healthy lifestyle change!”
Now – I’m all for avoiding any food that is a problem for your body. But bodies vary – even Rich and I don’t eat exactly the same way, though it is close… there are things one can eat and the other does better without. So sometimes he eats his chocolate and I eat my blue cheese (as treats, because we enjoy them) and we both regularly eat our vegetables and lean meat and whole grains, because we both do well with them. And we don’t make a fuss about it – it’s food.
And we treat food with respect – because we treat ourselves with respect. My grandmother lived more than 30 years a widow, most of them, alone. She had never been fond of cooking, but still cooked for herself regularly. To her, it was about respecting herself, treating herself well. I didn’t do as well, when I was widowed young… I became involved in activities that had me running in the evening, and started living on canned soup and pizza, and very irregular meals And that did not work.
Anne Lamott wrote a piece the other day (on Facebook, of all places!) talking about pretending one is inviting someone one loves and respects to dinner. Would you hand your cherished pastor (her example) junk food to eat over the sink? Or would you set her a place at the table, and serve her a meal?
Do we love and respect our partners? Our children?
Do we love and respect ourselves?
Ten years ago, I started carrying a meal, if I was going to be out in the evening. When I had cooked at home, I had always cooked well – I started making more of a point of doing it regularly. I started making sure I had a home cooked meal that I could microwave when we gathered at a friend’s to play games (while everyone else ordered in.) When I got to know Rich, as our relationship grew, I started making dinner for him, too (but I had done it for myself, first.) Sometimes I looked past my meatloaf to someone’s Thai curry, and thought “That looks good! Why didn’t I do that?” but then I realized that others were, more often, looking past their hamburgers to my pot roast and thinking “That looks good! I wish I had that…”
This was not a diet. It was not a Lifestyle Change (as people seem to mean the phrase.) I just started to care enough about myself to care what I ate, and whether or not it was food.
And it is not something I do every January, and then slide out of as the year progresses, and scrap altogether from Halloween to New Year’s Day. If you look at my posts, you’ll see that, while I did fuss a bit more about Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and the last few weeks were more hectic than usual, I was still eating food. No morality assigned to it, either vice or virtue – just food. And I will continue to do so, surrounded by all the appeals to “Just eat this packaged dinner, or avoid these five foods to start the year right!” I will just eat food. This doesn’t mean I will never order Thai curry – there are excellent restaurants in our neighborhood – but it is the exception, not the rule. (Or, of course, I may make my own – it is much less expensive, and I know exactly what is in it…)
At the same time, I refuse to describe my food as Healthy, Real, Clean, or any of the descriptors floating around. (Of course it’s clean – I wash my vegetables!) I’ve seen wonderful food described this way, but I’ve also seen things I think are not particularly good, for me, at least – and I’ve seen the words applied to food-like substances I would not recommend to anyone.
Everything from the Inhabited Kitchen is food. That doesn’t mean that everything I cook is good for every single person out there (my mother nearly died from eating a cucumber. Nothing is good for absolutely everyone.) I do think, though, that most people will find that most of the food here works well for them. And most people will find that most of it tastes good – though tastes also vary. And, over time, I will try to give enough information so that, if you see a recipe that doesn’t work for you, you can substitute tofu for the chicken (or vice versa) and change the seasoning, and make it work.
Ask yourself to dinner. Sit down, relax, eat food. Enjoy it. Tomorrow, and Thursday, and two months from Tuesday… eat food.
And best wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year, from us both!