Stories about my relationship with food can tell you a lot about me at different times of my life.
I started as a scrawny, picky eater. So thin on my bird’s diet of nibbled buttered bread (not toast, and definitely no crusts, thank you), my mother eventually brought me to a doctor to make sure there wasn’t anything medically wrong with me.
Then came high school, and puberty, and my voracious appetite for junk food begat a steadily increasing waist size. When my mother wasn’t cooking for me, my food options were significantly limited. I had a hysterical meltdown one summer after reading about mercury poisoning, because, as I dramatically pointed out to my her, I was eating tuna melts every day. At that point it was basically the only thing I knew how to make… actually, that’s still true.
My brother’s best friend, Gavin, became terrified of me due to my extreme reaction upon finding him eating my box of Lucky Charms cereal one day after school. And after crying for hours one night because my pants no longer fit me and subsequently discovering Weight Watchers’ form of calorie counting, I would select 17 Cadbury Mini Eggs from the giant pack I had received for Easter as my daily ration of chocolate (which I couldn’t, and still can’t, live without entirely). Oh, yeah, another meltdown ensued when my brother mistook my bag for his and ate a significant portion of it. I did get down to under 130lbs in my last year of high school, but it was short-lived.
Then University, and binge drinking lead to late night snacking. One night I came home and threw a plate of frozen riblets in the microwave, stumbling as I pressed the beeping buttons. I woke up the next morning, in bed, covered in rib sauce. My mother had to take my comforter to a laundromat to wash the red smears off of it, as it wouldn’t fit in our washing machine.
I also ate a lobster sub from Subway on a curb at 2am one night, which I actually still consider quite a nice eating experience.
At school, my residence caf offered Pizza Pizza until 11pm, bulk candy, and all the bagels with cream cheese I could eat if I my meal card hadn’t run out by then. So it probably comes as no surprise that by second year I had figured out how to put my finger down my throat as “damage control” whenever my eating got really out of hand.
I was lucky enough to have a suite with a kitchen and a grocery store was right next door, so why did I have to turn to bingeing and purging? It’s pretty much the same reason I still can’t drive. I’ve always stared out the window, not paying attention to the directions or the street signs, and just enjoyed arriving at my destination by someone else’s hand. When I get behind the wheel, however, I erupt into nervous laughter. Similarly, I’ve simply let people cook for me my whole life, and never taken the many opportunities I’ve had to actually learn about what was happening on the stove. To this day, I’m sometimes struck with anxiety when entering a grocery store, because I’m surrounded by food I just simply don’t know what to do with.
It’s not as though my few attempts at cooking haven’t been successful. I learned to be a prep cook and made eggs, sandwiches and pizzas on the line while managing a café. While working briefly at a smaller, independent coffee shop, I made a really excellent Hungarian mushroom soup that I’ll always be proud of (though a larger batch for my family that Christmas didn’t turn out to be of the same life-changing quality). And my mother’s “Mexican lasagna” has always been my go-to recipe for potlucks. Other than that, I can make a mean pot of Kraft mac and cheese (the secret is to just use more butter instead of milk!), and you’re looking at my entire culinary repertoire. Why I never pursued such a vital life skill further despite positive experiences I’m not sure, except that I have always shied from the things that are really, truly important to me.
I had been unhappy with my junk food body for quite some time, so last year I dedicated myself to working out at a fitness studio called The Motion Room, and have totally transformed my appearance. I actually called it my “social experiment,” and documented in a secret blog how the world started to treat me differently once I had lost weight, bleached my hair and stuck contacts on my eyeballs. The results were pretty extreme, though that’s a story for another day. The point is, I’ve become accustomed to the new kind of life that looking a different way has allowed me, and I worry about losing it. The odd thing is, the opportunities I’ve received during this time have mostly been to meet people, and to eat with them. A lot of the time I can keep the bad thoughts and anxieties about carbs and condiments at bay, but it’s not lost on me the difficulty of representing a gym while simultaneously trying to eat at every great restaurant in my city. It’s just something I have to balance.
Food is something that brings happiness, pleasure and structure to my life, but it’s also one of the things that stokes the flames of my insecurities the most. I believe my newfound obsession with chefs is that they possess the dedication, skill and knowledge that overwhelms me. Finding a starting point into that world when I already know several people so talented at it seems almost futile. But this is my beginning. From now on I will be trying to actually describe food, but this is the story of how I got here. Trying to become a food writer may be biting off more than I think I can chew, but it’s going to be a delicious journey.