Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On What Food Means to Me

A Feast for the Eyes - Abraham van Beyeren
This morning, this Facebook meme rolled through my feed. It said something to the tune of: "If you want to know what someone fears losing, look at what they photograph." Every once in a while, I'll see one of those that actually makes me think for a change, instead of merely laughing or rolling my eyes. This one made me think because of how true it really is.

I don't consider myself to be much of a photographer, so I'm never usually whipping out my phone because I see some killer scene in front of me that would make an amazing artistic shot or anything. I take photographs because something just made me go: "Oh, wow. I'd really like to remember this." Anyone who's seen my Instagram feed already knows that I photograph my meals more frequently than anything else.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that my love of photographing (and sometimes sharing) my meals means I'm somehow afraid of not having enough to eat or anything. However, it's probably safe to assume that food matters a great deal to me. I think it represents some fairly important concepts in my life as well. 

Prosperity and Wellbeing

If you have known me personally for any length of time, then you don't need to be told that my attitude toward my meals, as well as food in general, is directly related to how I feel about my life. When I feel bad about myself or about the future, I don't really eat. I mean... I'll eat, but you won't really see me celebrate food the way I do when I feel like I have things and people in my life that make it worth living. 

I don't shop for or prepare really nice ingredients. I'll live pretty much totally off of instant foods and TV dinners, even when I have time to cook. I'll get really skinny. This has especially been the case if I feel like I have no one to share meals and experiences with. I'm introverted, but I don't like being single or feeling like I'm alone. That said, I lived mostly on boxed macaroni and cheese, Rice-A-Roni, and Totino's party pizzas throughout my marriage for a reason -- because that was the most alone I think I'd ever felt in my life, despite not actually being single. I was knowingly settling for a lot that didn't really make me happy -- a loveless marriage, a dead-end job, and a social circle filled with people that didn't really see me -- and you could see that in the way I approached cooking for myself.

On the other hand, when I'm doing well and feeling good about my life for the most part, I celebrate that with food. I'll watch tons of cooking shows and read food magazines religiously. I'll cook things from scratch just for the hell of it. I'll probably be sporting a few extra pounds. The fact that I'm eating enough, or exploring new culinary experiences, or cooking with better ingredients is always proof positive that something (or someone) is making me feel like I actually have a reason to get up in the morning. 

Emotional Independence

Food is also something that has come to symbolize emotional independence and autonomy for me. There has never not been a time in my life when I had at least one person trying to limit or criticize my food choices. I've heard a lot of "don't eat that", or "you shouldn't want that", or "eat this instead" and for a multitude of different reasons. 

Most of those reasons involved someone else I knew trying to force their personal preferences on me because they thought I should want to be more like them and less like me. My ex-husband was a strict vegetarian that thought his wife should be willing to become one as well to please him. My dad didn't eat pork for spiritual reasons and didn't think anyone else should either. My picky brother believed so strongly that the only food worthy of being called "macaroni and cheese" came in a blue box labeled "Kraft" that he felt completely comfortable complaining that that's not what was on the table when I hosted Thanksgiving at my apartment. (Don't even get me started on my mother's relationship with food. You'll be here all day.)

In the past, I'd usually go along to get along because it was easier than arguing all the time. Then I met Seth. When Seth and I order pizza, it's not him deciding what's going to be on it because he's picky and me having to eat whatever he chose the way it would have been with anybody else. We order two pizzas -- one for him and one for me -- even though we like a lot of the same things. And not just personal pizzas either. We're talking mediums or larges so that there are plenty of leftovers.

He's never once implied I'm disgusting because I sometimes like mushrooms or anchovies on mine. He's never told me I don't understand what "real" pizza is because I don't order mine with extra sauce the way he does. He tells me my pizza looks and smells good. Sometimes he even tries some of it. There's something really validating about that. All of our interactions are like that, food-related or otherwise, and that's changed me over the 10+ years we've been together.

I realized that I was officially no longer willing to let other people tell me how to eat and what I was allowed to like one of the first Christmases after I first moved back to California. For as long as I can remember, I'd wanted to have duck for Christmas dinner, but I never actually had. Every time I'd ever brought it up, my mother would say "you don't want duck" because it's "greasy" and "not meaty enough" and "your brother will never eat that", so I never had it -- even once I was an adult and free to make whatever I damn well pleased. That Christmas Seth and I decided to have duck for Christmas dinner without so much as mentioning it to anyone else except as an afterthought once arrangements had already been made. What for? It was our dinner. Only we were eating it, so only our opinions mattered.

It was my first duck ever in my life -- finally -- and it was so wonderful. I couldn't believe I'd denied myself that experience for so long because other people in my life wouldn't have personally made the same choice for themselves. I seem to also recall roasting chestnuts and making Smoking Bishop one other Christmas -- two more things I'd always wanted to do for Christmas, but never had because someone else was always there to say "that sounds gross" or "you don't want that". Having someone in my life that finally says "yes, let's do that" and "that sounds amazing" instead has made all the difference.

I've learned that I do want that. I do want to try that. I do like that food cooked this way and no one can tell me otherwise. That said, the foods Seth and I cook and eat these days are about so much more than just eating well and celebrating life. They're tangible proof of our having moved away from needing the approval of others in order to feel good about the personal choices we make. Choices that affect no one but us. 

........

As an aside, I feel like I'm really behind on posting here. I have so many culinary adventures to report that I barely know where to begin. There have been so many firsts. I've learned to fully appreciate medium rare burgers. I am no longer disgusted by eggs and have, in fact, learned to love them. We've been learning all about different cuts of steak and thoroughly enjoying many of them. We've been trying all sorts of new frozen foods, pizzas, and ingredients.

We've been discovering the wonders of mail order food. We have a subscription to Nature Box, so we have healthy snacks on hand at all times. We have another to Try the World and have been exploring all sorts of flavors from all over the globe. (I discovered I love whole grain French mustard.) We've recently started ordering produce and fresh eggs from local farmers. (We're both absolutely nuts for persimmons now.) It's all been incredibly fun. I don't even know how I'm going to manage to record it all!
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