Everyone is addicted to food. I mean, we all have to eat. But I can tell that some people are less addicted than I am. They act like they don’t think about it as much as I do. And they eat as though eating is something they do on the side, in between other, more important things.
In movies and on TV, I see montages of stressed police detectives and hardworking artists and secret agents who forget to eat for days. Someone finally brings them pizza. They’re living on coffee, if they remember to drink at all. I always notice, because it makes me hungry. They’ve just jumped out a window and landed on a moving truck, used a pistol to shoot five guys with machine guns, and jumped lightly to their feet after being stabbed in the leg, but when they don’t eat lunch for the third day in a row, I’m gesturing at the screen and going, “Come ON! This is RIDICULOUS! Who even likes this stupid show?”
One of my most vivid memories from my wedding day was the California wrap I ate while getting my hair done in the bridal chamber. It was the most delicious wrap I have ever eaten. It had grilled chicken, lettuce, avocado, and Caesar dressing. It should’ve been normal, and unimpressive, but it was so moist and the ingredients so fresh and perfectly balanced. The chicken was soft and juicy, with a ping of crisp to the skin, the avocado was ripe and thick and flavorful. The dressing must’ve been a special invention of a chef, because it didn’t taste like the kind you buy off a shelf. The lettuce was springy and new. Someone ordered it for me, from a local place. I don’t know what place, and it bothers me. Even then, I thought, “I should find out where this came from.” And then I thought, “It’s your wedding day! You’re not going to remember some sandwich you ate that morning!”
But I do. They had to take it away from me. “You’re getting it on your face! You need to get your makeup on! We have twenty minutes!”
People talk about how unhealthy food is for us. The problem is, it’s gotten so good. We have so much of it. We aren’t eating because we’re starving (for the most part), so we eat for pleasure. And we crave flavor. And we appreciate subtlety. Food is an art. Eating is an art. And it’s also incredibly fun.
I don’t have a very refined palate, but I adore food. Even if I don’t like one kind, it reminds me of how much I like another. I have a friend who is a chef at Alinea, one of the most famous restaurants in the country (I like to brag about her), and a few times, she and I have gone to eat somewhere very, very expensive. That’s the part that impresses upon me the most. How much it costs for the miniature, exquisitely crafted dishes with dollops of creamed rhubarb and a white radish/cilantro froth. She sits there, savoring every bite. Comparing textures. Talking about how they used whatever is in season on the farm they get all their produce from. I am craving a cheeseburger. Though, to be fair, not any cheeseburger. I’m a bit of a snob. A cheeseburger from Shake Shack (founded by Danny Meyers, the chef behind Eleven Madison and Gramercy Tavern). Or maybe 5 Napkin, if the line is too long at the first.
I am the only person in my family who has such an exuberant, enthusiastic, distinctly uneducated relationship with food. My mother has been eating almost exclusively organic for my entire life. She isn’t interested in anything with preservatives or anything that’s been processed. She has always cooked carbless gourmet food for my family on a regular basis. I have never seen her eat white bread. Or much bread at all, actually, except the loaves that she’d baked, on occasion. The thought of “going out for pizza” doesn’t appeal to her even slightly. When she comes to visit me in the city, she says, “Let’s go somewhere nice. Don’t take me to some burger joint.”
I’m very interested in eating at every run down, cramped, delicious burger joint in the city. I love ancient Jewish delis with chipping floors and sloping tables. I love the closet-sized Japanese place in the village where two guys are frying octopus balls a foot away from you and there isn’t room for even a single table. I love pizza– especially Artichoke in the east Village.
(and Two Boots. So amazing. Source)
My dad is diabetic from the age of seventeen, and his stomach can’t function well. He is currently on a soup diet. He eats about 800 calories a day. When he has more than that, he can’t process insulin effectively. Food is his enemy.
And food is my middle brother’s enemy. He’s worked intensively for years to lose extra weight. He eats a low carb diet and spends a lot of time at the gym. He is suddenly thin and hugely muscular, and he’s read a lot about nutrition. He tells me sternly that most Americans are careless and greedy with their food intake. I know I’m one of them.
My youngest brother was diagnosed with diabetes a few days before his sixteenth birthday. He is a freshman in college now. He is very thin, he works out, and he seems to be one of those people who forgets to eat, or isn’t interested in the food in front of him. He has to think about everything he eats, and how it will affect his bloodsugar, and he seems to have decided that it’s not worth the effort. He’ll just not eat.
So when the whole family gets together, and I bring Bear (also a diabetic, of course), I also bring dessert for myself. I dig heavily wrapped bagels out of the freezer, where Mom stores them for me. I buy fruit juice. Because I’m addicted. If I go without it for a few days, I miss it too much. I crave it. I want flavor. I sauté vegetables in soy sauce. I make cream sauces. I marinate meat with garlic and Cholula hot sauce and wine and olive oil and salt and pepper and herbs. I want layers of contrasting flavor. I want a chaos of flavor. I eat dessert with dinner when I go out.
And no matter what is happening in my life, food excites me. Even if I’m completely full, the suggestion of a hamentashen gets my attention. I took a break in the middle of writing this post and made myself a toasted english muffin with cream cheese and chopped liver from my new favorite Jewish deli (Barney Greengrass, on Amsterdam in the high 80′s). As far as I know, I’m the only person in the world who likes this combination.
(Hamentashen. Mmmm….I could go for one right now…source)
I look forward to food. In college, telling myself encouragingly what I’d get to eat afterward got me through many, many interminably boring classes.
But of course, because I’m a woman, and because I’m a woman who grew up in an era of food awareness, in a household that shunned unhealthy food and unnecessary calories, I can never love food without reservation. We have a forbidden, undeniable, scandalous love. A desperate love that can’t be stopped.
I can never eat two slices of pizza in a row without feeling greedy, greasy, and almost dangerously out of control. In fact, I can’t eat anything without feeling a twinge of guilt, as though I’m doing something wrong. As though I’m cheating on some test that all of us are ceaselessly taking. I push aside the twinge and take another bite. I revel in it. It’s heaven.
I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Why can’t I stop? Why can’t I give up just one thing? Like Levain cookies? There are so many stronger women. They surround me. They are bone-thin, elegant, fashionable. For a moment, when I see them, I think automatically: they have won their battles against food. I am wallowing in my addiction.
And then I think, No, they are losing. They are too afraid to eat. I am strong.
Does it have to be one or the other?
And then I take another bite and for the delicious space of several chews and a swallow, I don’t think anything at all.
* * *
Un-roast: Today I love how sensitive my body is. It means enduring a lot of motion sickness and flus, but it also means appreciating smells and tastes intensely. Down to the very last bite.
New post on Un-schooled, about how being unschooled is like being grown up.