“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”
— George Bernard Shaw
I know few of you want to hear this, but I’ve always been skinny. Fourteen years after graduating high school, I’m still wearing the same pair of jeans.
It should also be noted that I’ve never purchased a gym membership. I’ve never participated in a marathon (or even run farther than the driveway to the house in the winter). And I’ve never lifted anything heavier than a two-layer chocolate cake.
But most notably is the fact that I’ve never been on a diet. Correction: I’d never given a single thought to the foods I ate. Healthy, unhealthy, high in fat, tons of calories…I didn’t care.
I never had to care. If I didn’t need to exercise or monitor my calories in order to stay skinny, why bother?
The Terrible Good Life
“There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap.”
— Kevin James
So if I didn’t worry about healthy foods, what did I eat?
I ate frozen waffles—the ones you warm up in the toaster. I ate pasta with just-add-water sauce that came from a box. I ate white bread and peanut butter like it was my job. I had a bag of buttery microwave popcorn every afternoon.
I lived within walking distance of an ice cream parlor, so I bought candy-filled, chocolate-laden delights at least once a week.
The local pizza joint offered three pizzas for $5 each. Every Saturday afternoon, my two girlfriends and I would lounge beside the pool with a pizza on each of our laps.
My roommate walked into our apartment one time to find me sitting on the sofa, using a fork to eat brownies directly from the pan. I polished off the entire thing in less than 24 hours.
That was my life. And I didn’t think anything was wrong with it.
The Day of Reckoning
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”
— Albert Einstein
Any rational person would look at all those things I just mentioned and question my sanity.
How on earth did I not see what a mess I’d made of my life? The true purpose of food is to provide nourishment. If a task fails at its most basic level, what’s the point?
I know there are people all over the world who have it worse than me. I bet there are tons of people who would kill for a pan of brownies. They wouldn’t even care if that’s all they had for dinner.
But because I wasn’t living on a street corner or in a third-world country, no one—including me—took notice of my actions. This continued until there was a day that someone did take notice. And it wasn’t me.
I knew a lot of things would change when I got married. But stupidly, never once did it occur to me that I might have to change my eating habits for the sake of my husband.
The first night I put pasta covered in rehydrated cheese sauce—and nothing else—in front my husband, he just laughed. He said it wasn’t real food. He shoved the plate across the table, went into the kitchen and made himself something else. During dinner we talked, and from that point on, I learned to appreciate food for what it was.
I Owed It To My Body
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”
— Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Too many people have a negative relationship with food. They worry about getting fat. They struggle with eating disorders.
I wasn’t scared of food. I wasn’t depriving myself. But I wasn’t showing food the proper respect it deserved either.
Everyone knows overeating isn’t healthy. Most of us even acknowledge that eating to stay skinny isn’t a good idea either. But few people in the middle—the ones only eating to fill our guts—realize the damage we’re doing.
Nutrient deficiencies are real—and deadly. They can cause birth defects, brain atrophy, and Alzheimer’s disease. Shortages can cause blindness. Your bones will become brittle and brake. Without certain foods, teeth will begin to rot and fall out.
My body was the one and only thing that I was guaranteed to have for the rest of my life. I owed it to myself to eat better foods.
It’s More Than Just Food
“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.”
— Louise Fresco
My food revelation wasn’t totally selfish. I also started to appreciate food as a cultural element.
I devoted hours to the study of global food practices. I sampled different cuisine and learned the history behind it.
Foods have powerful cultural influences. I appreciated learning the story behind the foods—the traditions, beliefs, modes of production, and more.
Traditions and customs associated with food should be honored—especially from countries different from our own. These things are more than just interesting; they should be appreciated and passed along to future generations.
Bringing Everyone Together
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
— Cesar Chavez
The best part of my newfound food discovery was sharing it with others.
Food became a source of comradery. I don’t think I’d ever invited anyone over for a PB&J on white bread. But once I started preparing wholesome, nourishing foods, friends came flocking.
The dinner table suddenly became a place of conversation, connection and love.
Too many people have unhealthy relationships with food—for one reason or another. I was disheartened by the damage I had already done on my body, embarrassed by my cultural ignorance and saddened by the social situations I’d missed out on.
While I couldn’t change the past, I was so glad my food epiphany made my future more enjoyable.
Help me continue on my path of discovery by sharing your most secret food obsession or favorite cultural food tradition (by the way, mine is pupusas).