Dana, I tried to respond to your comment with this post, but it sort of veered off in another direction. I’ll try again later!
I think what you eat has a lot to do with your social class. I mean, it’s not just me– all of the people who do the studies about these things agree. Are you living in an upper middle class, multi-degreed, white collar community? (You don’t have to be upper middle class yourself– you just have to live there.) There are probably a lot of whole wheat options. There are probably a lot of fresh vegetables. Some people might think you’re being ironic if you eat PB&J on white.
Class is interesting. It’s something I think about a lot these days. I just took Charles Murray’s little class test. It’s from his new book Coming Apart. I actually didn’t realize when I first read about it that it was exclusively about white people. Oops. He says the upper middle class is totally out of touch with the majority of Americans– that the cultures are totally different at this point. That basically, if you have two degrees, like me, and live in Brooklyn, like I do, and are not an evangelical Christian, as I am not, then there’s a decent chance you’re in an elite bubble and have no idea what the rest of the country is up to. Personally, I don’t like Charles Murray’s tone. He’s just itching to call people snobs. I can imagine him using the term “Opera lover!” as a slur.
(A popular restaurant in the city. source)
Anyway, I took the test, and waited for Charles to sneer at me and say mockingly, in a snooty liberal voice, “It’s a lovely day for some croquet in Turks & Caicos, after we finish up these vegan cracked spout smoothies and our conversation about Derrida and the politics of identity marginalization.”
My score said that I’m a “first generation upper middle class person with middle class parents.”
Which is true in some ways, but there’s a little more to the story. Like, I went to college and grad school, and my parents didn’t. When I was little, we lived in a pretty rural area, surrounded by farms and a smattering of neo nazis, where we learned all the different kinds of hunting seasons so as to avoid being shot by various projectiles (everyone thought an arrow would be the worst). There were years when my dad did not draw a salary– he was running a business out of the basement. I wasn’t isolated from poor kids or even evangelical Christian kids (shocking! I know!). But my parents were self-educated and cocky about it, we weren’t allowed to watch TV, and my mom grew a giant vegetable garden and bought chickens from the Amish market down the road. No one watched Nascar. No one ate Denny’s. We didn’t eat out at all.
And now here I am– in the big city, where many of the people I know take it as a sign of weakness to cook with spices you didn’t grind yourself (my father also grinds his own spices). Where it feels like an act of rebellion to eat a donut. Where health is on everyone’s minds, at every moment. I am always the only one in the room who doesn’t belong to a gym (I tried it briefly). I am usually the only one to take a second helping of dessert.
I am also one of the only ones to cook dinner regularly. I make diabetic-friendly, balanced meals. No carbs. Lots of veggies, meats in creative sauces. Last night it was a huge pot of beanless chili. Tonight is buffalo chicken with celery sticks and baby bok choy (there’s a lot of culture clash in my cooking).
But I love carbs. You guys know. I love them and I sometimes feel very guilty for loving them, and I know that the people I know are pretty sure that they will kill me. And I know that a mark of being a part of this educated, relatively wealthy bubble is eating a certain way. Having more willpower. Working out regularly. I know that because we are so educated, we are supposed to be smart enough to know how to eat for longevity. I don’t have an excuse. Even my degreeless parents emphasized healthy eating.
But here I am– craving donuts. Loving pasta. Making my own alfredo sauce so that it feels more acceptable. I don’t like vegetables for their own sake. Occasionally I really enjoy them, and then I feel proud of myself, like maybe I’m turning into someone respectable and responsible. I don’t have a refined palette. I never want to order the fish. I wish they were still serving the lunch menu at dinner, because dinner looks so boring and carbless.
For me, food and health don’t always feel completely intertwined. Or maybe my health feels bigger, longer, and capable of adapting to some ice cream. Or maybe the ice cream feels worth it, because it makes me happy, and because my happiness feels like an important part of my health. Besides, I’m a New Yorker– I walk everywhere. That’s exercise. Not enough! It’s something! You’re killing yourself! I’m young and healthy! Train for a marathon! I hate running! You wouldn’t hate it if you could do it for more than, like, one tiny mile! I don’t want to do it just because everyone else is doing it! WHY DO I HAVE TO BE JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE? Because they’re right. Stop throwing a temper tantrum.
I can’t help thinking that my relationship with food and health means that I’m ignorant. Uneducated. Greedy. Missing some basic point. Falling behind.
But then, defiantly un-upper middle class, like my roots are supposed to be, I want the right to eat “regular” American food. I want to politely ask my neighbors to stop judging me for what’s in my shopping basket. I want to eat for pure pleasure, as well as cook vegetables in honor of the future. I want to be a complicated tangle of different classes and philosophies and stories and tastes. A whole person– not just a person who fits in.
And occasionally, if while traveling, I stop in at a Waffle House, I want to enjoy every bite.
I might have kale for dinner. I might save some waffles. Kale and waffles! Yum. Celebrate diversity!
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What does your community eat?
Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I’m curled up in bed with Minute, my tiny golden cat. I think she complements all of my outfits very nicely, particularly my pajamas.
P.S. Being fat is considered “low class.” There’s something to think about.