It’s ironic that I would open the latest issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine which is dedicated to food while eating my meager breakfast consisting of an oatbran muffin baked over a week ago, a tiny dish of blueberries, and a half glass of grapefruit juice.
It’s even more ironic that I would continue reading it during my lunch, which was more pathetic yet – a meager amount of tuna salad on dry wheat bread and a handful of Goldfish crackers, washed down with the lukewarm water in my Sigg bottle – particularly since the article was a wonderful interview with Ruth Reichl, who is my absolute heroine in the food writing department. She had some great thoughts about food, and writing, and why we’re so interested in the whole subject of gastronomy these days. I’m just glad she didn’t see what I was eating – there was certainly nothing to write about in those meals.
In fact, she talks about this very subject in the interview. “People want that connection to food,” she says, “because they’re getting up, they’re not eating breakfast, they’re grabbing fast food for lunch, and coming home and sticking something in the microwave for dinner. Everybody eats on their own. I think people take cookbooks to bed to pretend. I always thought those spreads we did in Gourmet (magazine) were so important to people because they were like virtual dinners and people wanted to put themselves at that table.”
I’m not quite as bad as the typical eater she describes. I usually eat three fairly healthy meals, and they’re mostly prepared at home. But I do have a lot more interest in the idea of food than in the actual food itself. I love to peruse the cookbook section in the bookstores, and can easily spend hours watching people like Ina Garten and Giada Laurentis on the Food Network. I could make that! I think, as Ina dishes up some delightfully elegant and seemingly effortless dish to her guests in the garden.
But I don’t. Oh, sometimes I might go as far as looking up the recipe on-line and even printing it out. I’ll put it in my “recipes to try” folder, where it sits until the twelfth of never.
And I love reading about other people’s experience with food. Ruth Reichl has written two delicious food memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples. I get completely lost in those books, and want to eat everything she talks about in them.
But I don’t.
I think we all have a food story. Nothing seems more fraught with ways to complicate our lives than food. We either love it too much and overindulge, or hate it (or at least its effect on our bodies) and become anorexic. I grew up with the Southern outlook on food – it’s love, it’s comfort, somebody worked hard to make it for you so have another helping honey, there’s plenty more where that came from. When I go home to my mother’s house, no matter what she’s cooking I’ll eat it up – even if I know in my heart it’s not good for me, even if I don’t really like it all that much anymore.
My relationship with food is actually rather ambivalent. I enjoy it, but I don’t think about it overmuch. If there is really good food available, I’ll gladly eat it, but if not, I’m just as happy with the oatbran muffin or the paltry tuna sandwich. I’ve often said if I lived alone I’d probably subsist on tomato soup and tuna salad sandwiches, with an occasional spinach and feta cheese omelet thrown in for variety. I sometimes resent all the time and money it takes to put those three relatively healthy meals on the table, and occasionally wish I could just swallow a pill that would satisfy my hunger pangs and give me all the nutrition I need.
But then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the dinner I just had. Homemade chicken pot pie, loaded with tender chunks of chicken, carrots, snap peas, and potatoes, all blanketed within velvety gravy, with garden fresh roast zucchini, sweet corn, and sliced tomatoes on the side.
Now that’s a meal worth writing about. And definitely a meal worth eating.
How about you? What’s your relationship with food? Do you love to love it, or just plain love it?