I Love Food, I Swear

Guest Blog Posted by:  E. Brackin

Picky. Finicky. Eats like a bird. These were words I would often hear about my eating habits while growing up. I was particularly upset about the last one—eats like a bird. That wasn’t very nice.

Once in 7th grade, a group of my girlfriends and I were driven to a Chili’s, or O’Charley’s or something, at the end of our very last day of the school year and were allowed to eat at a table by ourselves while the parents went off and did something else. We reveled in our glorious freedom, eating and laughing with abandon. But apparently I ate too little of the food I ordered, and one of my friends said to me laughingly, loudly, “Be careful, Ellen. People will think you’re anorexic!” I guess she thought it was a compliment.

Around that same awkward time in my life, while eating dinner with my family, I accidentally kicked my stepfather’s leg under the dinner table, and he jokingly said, “Get your knobby knees away from me!” I turned on him quickly, as 13-year-olds often do, giving him the iciest adolescent stare I could muster, and I said something like “Shut up! I’m not anorexic!” There was just enough time to register the shock on his poor face before I ran to my room, slammed the door, hurled myself onto my bed, and let my welled up tears fall freely.

Unfortunately, when I looked in the mirror at that time in my life, all I saw if I wasn’t careful was a waifish, insignificant little girl. But what I wanted to see was a curvy, voluptuous woman. But I wanted both at the same time. I wanted to be able to eat a plain hot dog at a cookout (absolutely nothing on it, including bread) and still be taken seriously as a person. And ironically, the angst I felt over it all led to indigestion and loss of appetite.

And yet, I’ve always loved food, really. As a kid, I was a bubble gum connoisseur. If you wanted a piece that was perfectly chewy, where the flavor burst into your mouth with the exact right blend of tart and sweet, I could tell you exactly which brand and which flavor to buy. Whenever my mom announced that we were having fettuccine for dinner, I was filled with such glee that I couldn’t help myself from wildly prancing about the house. It was the first recipe that I tried out on my own in college, attempting to perfect the slightly-past-al-dente cook to the noodles, the right balance of cream, butter, and parmesan cheese to create the right thickness for the sauce, and the exact amount of salt to bring out all the flavors.

And now, I am a woman grown—no longer skin-and-bones. And as my palate has grown, my excitement over finding the best flavor combinations has expanded significantly. I now prefer my hot dog on a bun with mustard and onion relish. I add mustard to my eggs and hot sauce to my macaroni and cheese. Birthdays and vacations now revolve around the meals I’m going to eat, and I get genuinely excited over foods I never would have thought possible: raw oysters, chicken liver, fish sauce, sauerkraut, home-made hot sauce, capers, and chocolate-covered bacon, for example. People generally don’t balk at what I eat anymore, at least not for the same reasons.

But every now and then, I might eat seemingly plainly or not enough and someone will give me that familiar look, and suddenly that angsty 13-year-old who doesn’t understand why people don’t understand her will resurface. Her problem is that she wants it all—she wants her food a certain way, the way she likes it, and she doesn’t want to be judged for it, and she also wants to obtain the absolute perfect body from it. But I realize now that every single woman has her own complicated relationship with food that is connected to her sense of self and her body image, and she has had to develop her own unique way of loving food and hopefully herself. I realize now that if I am genuinely happy with my food choices and own it, I won’t care so much about others, and ironically, I’ll generally get the kind of response and respect that I’ve always desired.

And every now and then, I’ll come across that perfect dish where every flavor is balanced just right, according to me, and I’ll eat every single bite too quickly, and that child in me will resurface once again, this time to prance about with glee.

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