Food for Thought

When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it . . . and it is all one. ~ M.F.K. Fisher

Sometimes, we receive a gift just as we have most need of it - and sometimes, we didn't even know we needed it until we hold it, gently, in our hands or hearts, and something inside is complete.

This happened today, when I was led to an essay by Patti Digh from 37 Days - one of my favorite writers, ever: she can make you think, laugh, cry and wonder, all in the space of a blog entry. I wrote in my post about my word for 2008 - clear - that my diet has been *most* unclear lately. Good food is honestly one of the first things that goes when I'm stressed or under pressure, or distracted. I end up buying what can be cooked quickly, then cooking what I can grab out of the cabinets here. I buy things the boys like, that I don't have to put thought into, that can be made in the space of minutes. Some things - Progresso Lentil Soup over rice - are tasty AND healthy, and not too expensive. Some of the quick things are also very good: tilapia steamed in a frying pan on top of canned tomatoes, then fish & tomatoes over - you guessed it - rice is one of our favorite meals, served with a salad. But sometimes, even the rice seems like too much. Cue whiny voice: I have to boil the water, then add the rice, then lower the heat, then WAIT for twenty minutes. It's sad when *just this* much seems like too much work, but it can, and has. Those are the nights when I force myself to do it, and yes, I know my boys feel loved when I feed them warm, homecooked food, and yes, I know it's better for us than those crappy microwave meals... but I want *someone else* to come do it for me. I turn little, and powerless, and I cook, but there's no joy, no love - just a sense of relief that for one more meal, I'm done, and I don't have to think about it again for... twelve hours or so. Oh, it's hard to write these words, but I must, I must keep it real.

I used to teach at the preschool when Evan, my oldest, went there. I "taught" the one-year-olds, which, for me, meant I delighted in their every move, and sometimes we'd get the paint out, and sometimes, the water table; but I didn't teach them, they taught me - joy, and delight, and outrage! when someone would take a toy right from someone else's grasp, and they taught me that kids really, really are who they are, they come with their SELVES fully intact, and the best thing to do is nurture those little selves, accept them, and get out of their way. I loved it, how they learned to line up after playground time to wash their little hands, and they would brush, brush, brush the sand off when they came in.

The second year I taught, the school made the decision that the one-year-olds would stay through lunch. Up 'til that year, they were picked up at noon, after a three-hour day. A three-hour day is more than enough for a one-year-old. They are tired, they've had enough play time, they want to go. But enough parents had kids in the older classes, too, whom they didn't pick up 'til one, and it would be ever-so-much-more convenient to not have to pick up the baby, then wait an hour. I think a better solution would have been to pick up the older child at noon, too, but they didn't ask me. It always happened that several of the kids would have meltdowns right as we served their food. They could have been happy and playing up 'til that point, but once we opened their lunchbox, and put their food in front of them, they would just tear up, and cry, and say they wanted their Mamas. I understood that it was because here is this very intimate, elemental and nurturing thing - food - and Mama wasn't there. Here it is, and it's life-giving and essential, and someone who's not my mother is giving it to me.

We have these core relationships to food, formed from the time we begin taking nourishment outside our mother's body (or before), and I believe how we relate to food now parallels how we're relating to other core issues: self-care, nurturing, support, sufficiency, stability. Hence my reluctance to take responsibility for the food here. I DO take responsibility, I prepare the food, I do my best to not show how overwhelmed I can get - but inside, I just want someone else to come do it. Sometimes, I want to not have to do it. Years ago, when I got in that space, I'd go get fast food. When Evan was very young, we had a Taco Bell close to us, and I figured that, all in all, that was not that bad. Refried beans and cheese on a tortilla? Why not? The truth is, it was poor use of the very little money we had, and it wasn't nurturing at all, it was just something to take up space in our bellies. So, at least I'm not doing that any more, but when I get in that overwhelmed place, the food I prepare feels that same way to me - something to fill the space. For now.

I'm reluctantly coming to understand that the little girl I carry within myself can *never* go back and get the nurturing and love she so desperately needed. I am not going to get my childhood back. I think I thought, as I do the healing work I need to do, that that would somehow be made all better. But I'm coming to find that instead, I'm needing to grieve, I need to accept and forgive, and that won't change anything about what happened. It will change how I feel now, but it won't change the past. And I'm very, very sad about that. And when I prepare food, I get overwhelmed, because here is this intimate, elemental, nurturing life-giving thing - and Mama's not here now, and never truly was.

Before I had kids, I went through a time where I was eating macrobiotically. I had an inherent understanding that the mood I was in when I prepared the food, entered into the food itself. So I would center myself, feel love and appreciation for the food I was preparing, and I'd prepare it very, very mindfully. And I can do that now - not the macrobiotic part - but purchasing and preparing food with love and care. But winter is hard (even as mild as it's been), and I'm newly in touch with grief over my childhood, and I've been in that rut. And I forgot. I forgot I could be mindful about food.

And since it's the new year, lots of people are posting about changing their diets, going vegan or all raw. And actually, those are both things I've thought of doing when I've been more present, and able to cope. But now, I just feel... ashamed when I read those things. Because I think, "I just want to be able to cook. I just want to be able to prepare a meal."

But - ah - the gift. The gift that is Patti's writing, reminding me to Eat Simply. Eat mindfully. Eat food cooked with love. So it all comes together, the macrobiotic meals eaten when I was single with no children, the despair of the one-year-old preschool class, my overwhelm, the love I feel for my boys. They provide me with motivation to Be Here Now, be Present in this moment with them, love them as well as I can, so they can be nurtured by my hands, heart, mind - and food. I can open those cans of Progresso soup with love and presence. I can breathe before I enter the kitchen. I can put my soul into the pasta as it cooks. *I* can nurture and love that little girl inside who will never really get her childhood back. I can be here for me, by planning for and preparing healthy, nurturing food. Starting where I am. With love.

And an open heart.


patti digh said...

what a lovely, wonderful, heartfelt essay. there is much to think about from this. thanks for your very kind words about my words - i'm glad you found meaning in them. As I venture into this new vegan lifestyle it is so clear to me that our relationships with food are much more than just about food. Even a week into it, I am wanting much less food and much, much more simple food. And I can taste such sweetness in a tangelo - wow. One thing I can suggest, since you appear to like rice as much as I do, is to invest in a rice cooker. Oh, my, it will make dinners so easy - it's the best thing I've bought for the kitchen - just put the water and rice in and turn it on. Mine is this one (http://tinyurl.com/26xfmm) and I love it - hope that helps! love, patti

Julie Pippert said...

Absolutely awesome. You frame it and describe it so well.

I always eat macrobiotically a week before any major medical procedure (and for a while I had these often). I amazed the doctor with my quick recovery.

And how true that we can't redo, but must grieve and go forward.

And now...where did I just read that quote? Was it you??

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Food is so elemental. I have a nanny (who is also a psychoanalyst -- finishing training here -- I know, lucky me) who told me that when my children are more excited to see their food than me at the end of the day, it is because it is all bound up in me. Excitement for their food has to do with comfort in my presence.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You have provided a lot of insight into our complicated relationship with food. It is not a coincidence that changing the way they eat appears on almost everyone's resolution list.

On a practical note, I cook a big stockpot full of brown rice in chicken broth once in a while and freeze dinner-size portions. It freezes great and microwaves well.

Mrs. G. said...

Beautiful post. I understand the exhaustion that can make preparing a pot of rice daunting. I really do. I also notice that when I take a deep breath, put on my favorite vintage apron, and consciously cook (notice the color of the vegetables, mindfully enjoy the rhythm of chopping), the food tastes better and I feel that I am serving food AND love.

Laura said...

Hi Caren --

Ditto the frozen rice sugestion.

The difficulty that I have these days is preparing food for family of five in a "CL" household. We have one who loves any kind of meat, one who won't anything but bread, pasta or cheese, a very healthy eater and one, bless her heart, who goes with the flow or finds something she likes. Last night I made roasted brussels sprout and walnuts, brown rice, then heated up store-bought barbequed spare ribs and chicken-and-cheese fahitas. There is no organization and everyone eats at different times.

I'm going to read Patti's essay and give some thought to doing things a little differently, centering myself and the Meal Thing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention this morning.