Eating with Emotion
Letting go of the foods of my youth
By: Kristin Blank
We have a tumultuous relationship, food and I. I used to believe food’s purpose was to reward or comfort me. Or, that it should give me something to do while I watched TV or read a book.
At 238 pounds, I had something to learn about food’s true purpose. For me to lose 100 pounds, food and I had to form a new relationship.
Growing up, eating was a sort of ritual in my family-mother, father and three girls-and food an offering that strengthened our bond. My dad enjoyed food more than my mom, partaking of Nutty Bars and sugary Mountain Dew with us while mom ate grapefruits and steamed cauliflower; our noses crinkled at the rotten smell.
Mom served as head chef, and we all gathered together around the table to worship something hearty, like beef stew with hunks of carrots and potatoes, the windows steaming against a Michigan winter storm.
On Friday nights, dad claimed the kitchen to pat out homemade pizza topped with Spam, onions and canned mushrooms. Each evening, my sisters and I begged dad to make chocolate malts or spicy beef nachos. Or, we encircled a cup of cold milk and dunked Oreos, my dad, my sisters and me finishing off a whole package.
Saturday mornings, dad cranked AC/DC or Van Halen and made fluffy pancakes and waffles or cheesy egg sandwiches, bread soggy from butter.
Sugar cookies slathered in buttercream frosting dotted the kitchen counters in December. Mom and dad frosted snowmen, Santa Clauses, wreaths and stars while my sisters and I sprinkled them with colored sugar. Mom, dad and my older sister rolled yellow, blue and green popcorn balls, clustered around a metal roasting pot on the counter, hands red from the gobs of popcorn coated with sticky, melted sugar.
Eating was communal, collective. Food became my passion and my pastime.
But, this was wrong-my 238 pounds said so. I didn’t eat my vegetables. I didn’t have ice cream only on my birthday or at the county fair. I dunked bologna slices in mayonnaise after school instead of celery sticks in a tablespoon of peanut butter.
I love food. Today, in my average-sized pants, I miss the bag of Oreos, the Spam on Dad’s special crust. Or, maybe I miss the man who put it there. Maybe I miss knocking elbows with my sisters to get the first dunk into milk. Maybe my reluctance to let go of the foods of my youth has nothing to do with chocolate syrup.
I nurture my memories in these foods. They give me something beyond nutrients, a warmth that I just can’t find in a grilled chicken breast.
But, food’s job is not to connect me to anyone; it’s a fabrication to claim closeness with a person through a mass of oil, sugar and salt. When I miss my father, my mother, my sisters, it’s far better for me to pick up the phone than to head for the kitchen and fire up the oven.
Tell us: What are some of your best food-related memories?