Essays

The democracy of food

To be human is to eat.

I have always been fascinated, if not internally slightly repulsed, by anorexia. I understand bulimia. I understand orthorexia. I am baffled, in a way that is perhaps shallow and maybe even daft, about anorexia.

[This is not a denial of its existence or any form of downplaying of its terrible impact on anyone suffering, their friends, and their family. Anorexia, like any mental illness, never happens in isolation. It is a storm, a typhoon, a disaster that impacts and wrecks the lives of all it touches.]

No, what I have never understood is that how anorexia is a repudiation of a thing, of food and of eating, that makes us human.

In a way, the attitude of the modern society that puts thin, at any cost, on high, and blithely discusses, if not expects, dieting and restriction, in bodies male and female, and often expects us to all to whittle ourselves down to the core… I find it– it unsettles me in that place that sits deep, behind my breastbone, sunken underneath my skin; that hollow that desires to be filled.

Food, eating, the breaking of bread, the indulgence of wine, the savoring of a first bite… These are primal and human pleasures. We need them. We need the ritual, we need the physical act, we need more than just the sustenance we can suck out of Soylent packet, more than the pre-packaged, pre-set caloric vehicle of a Weight Watchers frozen meal.

We need more. We deserve more.

A few days ago, I was reading an article from the soon-to-be-defunct Lucky Peach food magazine called “America, Your Food Is So Gay” and I was overwhelmed in just the first few paragraphs.

There were casseroles that used Monterey Jack as a suspension medium for olives, ground veal, and button mushrooms from a can. And there were Lou’s famous burgers, so rich and salty, so crusted with a mixture of caramelized onions, Roquefort crumbles, and Grey Poupon—a thick impasto gilded beneath the electric broiler element—I could only ever eat half before feeling sick. I loved every bite.

Ah, my heart!

When did we stop being so involved in our food? When did we stop being so in love? Now, I do not recommend you follow any of the directions you can find in the movie Bride Wars, where Anne Hathaway’s character sends Kate Hudson’s character a subscription from the international butter of the month club – don’t deep fry that and stick it your mouth – but, why do we restrict and hold back and hesitate so much around what we put on our plates and in our bodies?

I am consider myself a healthy person. I work out regularly, I swim often enough every week, and I have finally started to walk places. I don’t consume butter by the stick. But, when I want to brown my lamb before I braise it in a punchy red cab with sage and zested lemon and fresh garlic in its jackets, you had better believe I use it in conjunction with olive oil, smashed garlic, and chopped red onions. I don’t hesitate and I don’t measure! You enjoy that perfectly roasted chicken from your neighborhood French bistro? Butter compote, slid underneath the skin, and so as it melts in the oven, the skin of the chicken crisps up and the meat remains melty and smooth. Did you not want to know that? Will you never order it again?

Don’t bathe in salt but please put the abstemious attitudes back in the dark cupboards of the dark ages where they belong. In previous times, people would have killed for access to the spices and flavors that we have now, for purchase and usage of them were out of the reach of most people. What once was desired that is now abundant is now undesired? That says less to me about health than it does about the application of class metrics on something as intrinsic to our nature as eating. It is nothing less than a perverse form of social control.

Eating is something we all, barring Soylent, used to need to do. We hunger, we eat to soothe that hunger, and then we push it out of our bodies so that we may repeat the cycle again. Food democratizes; hunger humbles.

To eat is to be human. To enjoy it, even a little, sans limits or shame, is to open ourselves up to the broader experience of humanity. To deny that is to deny our places amongst one another and to deny our global civility.

I cannot abide an ignorance to that fact nor should you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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