I’m accustomed to defeat when it comes to the food fight. My mom, a skilled and stubborn general (Taurus, born three days after and 35 years before me) was singularly gifted and creative in her many victories. At 3 I would sit resolute at the table when all the sugar disappeared from the frosted corn-flakes, no longer willing to eat the cereal, she would decree, that I was ‘unable to leave the table until the bowl was empty, milk drunken’. Her lieutenants and captain, my older sister and brother would foray into the battle. “You better hurry, it tastes worse when the milk makes it soggy” – Neither of them share the taurus heritage with I or Mother Dear. Respite would come from surprising places, when our mother agreed to taste the cereal when she used the powdered milk and agreed it was distasteful enough to throw away. Or, when after dinner, after refusing to eat certain items I didn’t like (I did try), we would compromise that if I drank v8 vegetable juice I could leave(still feel traumatized when I see anything V8), or if I ate 20 forkfuls, or when the lieutenant and captain would help me with my meted punishment of ‘picking up all the food from the carpet floor’, so that I could leave the table and then play with them. One of my most memorable defeats landed me the punishment of washing the dishes by myself, this happened when I was around 4. I stood on the stool that was needed for me to reach the sink and cried, mournfully. The general, bustled about, cleaning, and, as resolute in her decree as I in my defiance. When night fell and I realized it made no difference if I cried standing on the stool or sitting on the stool, I sat down and dozed in my solitary prison, until my dad (Capricorn) came home from work and pleaded my release from the general, that I was too young to serve out my sentence, and carried my exhausted form upstairs to sleep. A few days after this, the general employed her most successful strategy, which ended permanently the food war, which was, to have me help cook the meal. She gave me all the instructions, and I cooked the rice,…though I mixed up ‘1/4 teaspoon’ and ‘1/4 tablespoon’ of salt and valiantly the army ate my contribution; the capricorn most encouragingly. The general said it was too salty, and threw it out, after all initially tasted it, but the pattern was set. Going or calling the general to determine what to cook for dinner for the family, it still amazes me how she has every recipe in her head and how successful the whole cooking by verbal instructions, has worked out since that time.
Ours was the family of 6 but there were always unexpected guests and always leftovers. Every thanksgiving/Christmas I re-unite with this clan of 6 and it quickly multiplies to 15 20 + as cousins and aunts and grandparents etc. pop by with the whole family. I’m used to cooking for 10 at every meal, I intimately understand the horror in the ‘water to wine’ story when they run out of wine and similarly have learned from my culture, you never run out of food, and you cook for the whole family, and potentially a few unexpected guests. I enjoy it, the cooking that is, thinking of the menu, the mix flavors, At one point, to raise money, I approached the general to outsource family lunches, and began selling my gourmet lunches in exchange for my sibling’s lunch money. My most loyal customer, my dad, would laugh off my non-subtle hints that there is no such thing as a ‘tab’, and my business folded due to lack of liquidity. I am the type of chef/baker that can make up my own cake recipes, and have the general’s own creativity and intuition for flavors and cohesion in meals. I say this without modesty to convey I am a good cook, I suffer from no lack of confidence in my skills, and have cooked long enough, that I’m quick, and adept at it. It makes this latest food fight all the more baffling…
The thought of cooking and eating fills me with depression.
Well let me clarify, the thought of cooking for myself, and eating a meal I cooked for myself, fills me with a singular dread and sadness that I first felt that day standing crying on the kitchen stool, not wanting to wash the dishes. I still have immense joy when I think of cooking for others and eating with others. I even do fine when I got out and eat by myself. But there is something different about cooking for myself and eating, knowing I have only myself in mind, that manages to destroy my usual ‘adapt to American culture’ mentality and long for home. Are there exceptions…sometimes… I often need to prime the pump and psych myself up, but once I get started, the joy of cooking propels me to a completed meal, but that spirit of individual and lonely survival that began the food creation process, has at times meant, the meal spoils unappealingly in the fridge. For a while, I tried to guilt myself into consumptions…”waste not want not” but then I got food poisoning from eating food I suspected had passed its prime, and the medical costs incurred, terrible nights before and after the ER visit, completely took the wind out of the sails of that ship. At the last moment, (after a day or two of skipping meals), there is a sort of self preservation that I get resigned to, and might eat a meal ‘out’ or try something exceedingly quick and plain (rice). I sort of just ignore the awareness that I’m not eating balanced meals etc. Sadly this for me is a purely psychological battle as my body often feels apathetic either way…In high school I was reading Callous On My Soul, Dick Gregory, and was amazed at his hunger strikes and wondering if I would be willing to forsake food for a worthy cause. More experimentally than as an activist, I went on my own hunger strike for a week. It was the height of lacrosse season and was beyond exceedingly hard, but strangely in that time, I sort of trained my body to ignore signals of hunger and emerged with a need to consciously generate a desire for food. I do find myself longing for food in random moments…but it is more a longing for the tastes and specific flavors on my mouth in the same way one longs for their nails to be painted a deep dark blue. Gluttonously? Unnecessarily? more of a ‘want’ than a need? For me a least these thoughts are processed exactly in my mind..”hmm I really want my nails to be dark blue….do I have nail polish?, do I want to go get some?…Do I have time?…nah I shouldn’t, I need to go meet X in a few minutes.”- “Wow I really want a tamale…Ugh I don’t feel like making tamales, where could I get it? hmm I did find $5 in my jeans, that’s like free money…Actually I should ‘t spend money anyway, It’s not like I’m particularly hungry and it makes no sense to waste gas, driving to FoodMax to find the Tamelera, I’ll probably eat later”. The occasions that I fast, hunger does seem to be felt, and occasionally, if I have habits of eating at set times over a long period of time, I feel ‘hunger pangs’ might be returning to my life…But my schedule has not been that regular since years before high school and there is nothing that I do consistently week to week, day to day, so meals have become a sort of afterthought at the end of the day, realizing I was so busy I forgot to eat, or an, ‘in the course of life’, ‘in the course of meeting with someone’, ‘at a gathering when there is food’, or…uniquely, ‘greatly anticipated as an extension of hospitality’.
I’m come to realize my fight with food is a translation of the clash of cultures, and an anti-american revolution of dependence. As I tried to recount, I had never cooked, or ever heard of anyone cooking in my family, in my culture, just for themselves. This is as unheard of as playing Chess by yourself..? Why play at all? Surely a lose-lose situation. Food is communal, the act of preparing food – hospitality, which requires a recipient differentiated from the host. “Life isn’t meant to be lived alone but in community”. Why would you eat alone, live alone, do life alone, when we were created for one another…or if you don’t believe this…perhaps you’d agree it’s more enjoyable with others? I realized that I had family to share life(meals) with growing up, had peers to share life(meals) with in college and ,now, am in the stage of life that I’m not too busy for every meal, I’m at a loss at the expectation to do life(meals) on my own. (again…psychological b/c I clearly all my life have had the capacity to make the meals). This is not to say I don’t live with others, even other Christians…but increasingly our life has more resembled the Westernized Christianity picture than the Acts 2 vision that drew me to Christ. “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” Acts 2:46. My peers these days, only share meals at restaurants…if one isn’t working insane hours at a SV startup and has the money to spend ‘out’ you’re ‘left out’ of the fundamental fellowship. We’ve substituted Acts 2 for this practice, and others…instead of everything in common and needs being met as they arise, we have neatly labeled containers in a fridge and food that spoils b/c it is impossible for one person to use it by the sell by date. In a rare moment of quiet the other day I was remembering a friend’s teasing of a season of life when I ate yogurt and granola for a couple of months. I was in grad school then, and similarly experiencing the dread of an inability to bring myself to cook knowing I would share the food with no one. In that season like the one I’m fast approaching, I couldn’t afford to “eat out” really at all, or with any regularity.
This hardly gives fair treatment to my underlying thoughts that American’s on the whole eat far too much and it isn’t necessarily needed to have more than one meal a day. This is more acknowledging that even the one meal, increasingly proves too challenging for me. The first step of recovery, is confession and I take comfort that having more accurately diagnosed my problem (not laziness as I’ve long suspected, but a weird depression at how disconnected and isolated my life is, a homesickness of sorts). I’ve come up with a few possible solutions…
make more money, be able to eat out. [not going to happen, there literally is no extra time in my schedule]
move home/in with family [I love my community in cali]
c) invite people to join me in a practice of Acts 2 values, meal rotation etc. [will probably only work for a few dinners/wk and will be complicated]
d) find a way to plan out my meal locations to be in communal spaces, local parks, open cafeterias [not sure if this will actually satisfy my longing for communal involvement in the food process, will also be tricky, but maybe will work for lunches?]
e) resurrect disciplines of regularly inviting friends over for a meal [most potential here, though tricky when I return to school]
f) stockpile on yogurt and granola [every engineer needs a brute force solution]
g) I don’t know…Externally process on blog and solicit other suggestions!