Some things.

VP Ma’am used to suddenly attack me, so that I didn’t actually want to be around her, especially if she was stressed about something or if I was stressed about something.

My friend attacks my eating, although it isn’t the same kind of attack. I don’t feel that she is intentionally hurting me. There is just something about food for her that seems to be contested. I have never thought much about food. I tend to be chronically underweight, because when I feel stressed, I don’t eat. And that does worry me. It worried me that before leaving Y-town, nothing that had a waist fit anymore. It didn’t seem good.

At the moment, I seem to be a normal weight again. The clothes that once were falling off me fit now. I take this all as a good sign that I am healthy.

I do have a strong sense in her house that my eating habits are not okay, and it’s something I have never really experienced before. It really, really hurts, and it makes me not want to eat with her. I am going to have to deal with this eventually. I can’t just seclude myself. I don’t really know how to deal with it yet, but I will have to, because this is suddenly creating all kinds of shame for me about eating that I have never had before. I have never thought very much about what I ate at all, except to think it should include some fruits and vegetables and maybe whole grains are better than refined ones.

In the meantime, I’ll just describe what is happening. If I understand something, then eventually I do come around to knowing what to do sometimes. Sometimes, understanding is the hard part and the rest takes care of itself.

I was making breakfast this morning, and I remembered I really like breakfast burritos. That is something I used to make and I like it, and it would be a nice thing to go back to doing. So I was putting the burrito together and in the hot sauce application stage, and she happened to walk into the room at that moment. She had been somewhere else in the house. And she just made a sound of some kind, like, “Oh,” or “wow.” It was a very shocked sound, and she had a very concerned look on her face, like I was eating a lot of hot sauce. Now the thing is, I don’t think I like particularly spicy food. Compared to people around me, I have felt fairly average. It’s something else I have never thought about before. In Country X, I didn’t eat the very spicy chilis they like to eat nor did I eat very much of their hot sauce. I would take a small amount, and enjoy it, but not load up on it, because that would burn holes in my stomach. I didn’t ever find their curries that spicy. Indian food is a lot spicier—or it was in the old days, before everyone started getting ulcers and cut back). Country X food seemed somewhat average, but then I did realize that sometimes the food I made for C and for The Boy was too spicy for them. It’s possible my tastes changed in Country X, and that now I eat food that is spicier than what I used to like, but basically my point is that it is not something that stands out about me. I am not the person at dinner who says, “Oh, I can’t eat that. It’s too spicy.” And I am also not the person eating raw chilis with salt.

Anyway, she was shocked, and I guess the first thing about it is that I don’t know why someone would really notice one way or the other how much hot sauce you put on your food, but it definitely stands out to her. I can’t quite relate to it. It’s hard for me to actually understand food as very noteworthy in any way—that might be the difference between us. There are a few foods I really like, but eating is something I do mainly to survive and to avoid the discomfort of being hungry, and it doesn’t seem worth paying that much attention to, other than to attend to one’s health to a reasonable degree.

I am sure this all has something to do with our views of our bodies, and various unconscious notions we have about them, and we might be on opposite ends of a spectrum about it. We might both be at the unhealthy ends of that spectrum. It might be I see eating as basically utilitarian, and she sees it as something quite significant. She spends a lot more money on food than I ever would—that’s something else we will have to figure out, if we eat together and share the same food. There is a lot more food in the house than I ever keep, although both of us have been living mostly alone for a while. The food she buys tends to be a lot tastier than what I would buy, because I don’t really care, and I know I don’t care. If it really is better for my health, I might spring for the pricier version, but very frequently I will buy whatever is cheapest, because I just really don’t care. The peanut butter you would see in my cupboard is whatever was cheapest the last time I ran out, but she has Laura Scudder’s, which really is healthier for you. I will hardly buy avocados, although I really like them, because I consider them to be expensive items. They are a regular staple in her house. So what that says to me is food that tastes good is actually important to her. She is willing to spend money on eating food she likes, because it adds to the quality of her life. And I eat mostly so that I can stop feeling hungry. (That’s not to say that there aren’t foods I enjoy, or that I don’t get any enjoyment out of my food. But there is some kind of difference to it that I am having trouble naming.)

Getting back to the hot sauce, a part of my feeling is just shock that someone would feel that’s worth noticing. I wouldn’t notice what someone ate, aside from taking note of how they like things prepared in case it comes my turn to cook. For her, food seems to be worth noticing. That might be one difference between us.

The other part of this, of course, is that the people I have had occasion to eat with on any kind of regular basis for the last 10 years or so have not been white. I have eaten regularly with Country X-ers and Indians and Mexicans. I have plenty of white friends, but I have never eaten more than the occasional dinner with them. The social occasions that involved food have been with people who typically eat spicy food. So that’s been my audience, and my “normal.” Her “normal” might be a lot more white and, on average, white people might actually eat less spicy food.

That seems to me like an issue for me since I have come here. In Country X, I adopted a lot of food kinds of habits that were comforting reminders of the past, and there were some things I have always done that might be different—different ways of preparing tea, for example (Country X, Indian, Eastern European). I was the only audience for this, so I didn’t think that much about it. Just it makes me feel better. I came back to the US, and a wider variety of foods became available and I wanted to try some other things, like that mayonnaise-y salad and that worked out well.

So I think it hits this wound for me: it intersects with being cared for by many people who came from many different cultures, and I was cared for by many people because my own family didn’t care for me. It’s a great thing to be open-minded, but it doesn’t feel great if your openmindedness comes from not having had a secure base in childhood.

We had avocado toasts for lunch. She and her mom both ate two of these little pieces of toast with avocado on them. Now, avocado is very fatty, and tends to be filling. So it might be reasonable to eat only two. I had four, and I still felt hungry. But her dismayed, “Oh….” After I came back to the table with two more kept me from eating anything else and I left the table hungry.

It intersects too with my feelings about hunger, that it’s very scary for me to feel hungry. I think, actually, that is probably the reason I become underweight when I am stressed. I find it scary to feel hungry, so I block out the feeling. Then I don’t eat, because I am not hungry. I find everything more frightening if I am already frightened about something else, and when I am frightened, it starts to seem unsafe to feel.

I am thinking just at this moment that there might be an element about the importance of food for my friend that has to do with a demographic that I actually know very little about. I was in a Whole Foods yesterday, and I walked out without buying anything. I just hated it. I am not saying it is bad to shop there or that people who like a high-end grocery store like that are doing anything wrong. For me, it was just too much. It was excess. I liked the simplicity of my life in Country X. I liked going to buy my vegetables from the farmers and usually getting whatever looked fresh or that I hadn’t just eaten the day before. I mean, the farmers might be selling only five kinds of vegetables that day, and I might get cabbage because I hadn’t eaten it in a while, or broccoli because it looked really fresh, or carrots because we don’t get them very often. I don’t know why I liked that part of my life, but I did. It felt like this enormous relief not to think that much about it, but just get on with life.

I think I am onto something here….

Part of being a woman, or at least part of being a woman of a certain social class (maybe this doesn’t apply to working class women) is a great concern with food. I think I have somehow missed this little news item. As a woman, food is essentially your domain. You are responsible for feeding your family and for providing interesting and appealing meals. I think food becomes a part of women’s culture and an interest in food is usually part of our identities. I vaguely remember this from college. I remember conversations about food, about restaurants, and that this was kind of weird to me. I think of my mom clipping recipes and bemoaning how difficult it was to create some variety in the meals she made us, and I feel I managed to miss something important about being a woman.

You shouldn’t have to conform to every little cultural norm, but I am not really a rebel. I am not rebelling against the fixation with food. I just couldn’t relate to it.

The thing is, if food is painful to you because the women who seemed to actually love you prepared a very different kind of food, then maybe you disengage with the whole issue. Maybe it’s something you end up thinking of as another job to be done, because it reminds you so acutely of loss and separation. Food is powerful, actually. I know coffee is powerful for me—that’s not a food, but it is a taste. It’s a smell. And it does remind me very powerfully of being very small and snuggled up against someone and nurtured and held and loved.

Maybe you disengage from food, if you lose the people who fed you.


4 thoughts on “Food

  1. Ellen January 13, 2017 / 9:25 am

    This friend sounds like a lot of trouble altogether. I have a lot of stuff like this with a friend I have, which is not a huge issue as we don’t spend a lot of time together. Once you are living in close proximity, all these issues are magnified.

    Food is a huge issue for people. Just the look on my sister’s face when I decide to eat what’s on my plate, instead of saving half to take home for another day – shock and rejection basically. One must be thin and eat tiny portions. For others, the issues with food are different, but still there.

    I wonder if it would help to verbalize the issue – put words to what you are seeing in her behaviour, and how you feel about it?

    Hope you can work something out. Take care.

    • Ashana M January 13, 2017 / 10:48 am

      She’s generally very nice, and we have good conversations about a lot of things. It is really touching that, for example, when I bought shoes, she wanted to see them. She was interested in this tiny, meaningless detail of my life. Of course, then it’s also interesting to her that I eat twice as much as she does.

      I think there might be many things I had forgotten about, and I may have lived in a bubble for a long time, because I spent a lot of time alone.

      I think I did kind of do that–I sort of tried to just bring it out in the open and talk about it, and we did speculate for a while about why we eat the amount that we do. I don’t know that we came up with brilliant ideas about it, but probably it did help to talk about it. One very sweet thing that happened was in the evening at dinner, she thought I might like hot sauce, so then she took two different kinds of hot sauce and put them by my plate. Then, it ended up we all wanted hot sauce. So it was kind of like it really surprised her, then she decided that was me.

  2. desilef January 13, 2017 / 11:20 pm

    I think food is emotionally fraught terrain. The big fights between parents and kids. Food taboos separating in-groups and outsiders. Food as an ethical test. Sharing food as acts of trust and love – that can so easily be turned into a weapon.

    • Ashana M January 13, 2017 / 11:23 pm

      I think you are right.

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