I figured that since you’re reading my blog, you should know something about me.
Crazy, right? The About section gives a jaunty little blurb, but…it’s jaunty. And a blurb. Jaunty little blurb.
As said blurb attests, I love food. And cooking, baking, wine, socializing over food, etc. As far back as I can remember food has been absolutely central to my life. One of my first memories is sitting on my grandma’s counter stirring up cornbread. I think I was three.
Since then, memories were made in the kitchen. Thanksgivings, Christmas, family reunions and funerals–all of the us, women mostly, in the kitchen chattering and laughing, creating feasts for the family to enjoy.
On the flip side of that insular family joy in using food as social cohesion was the societal pressure to…well, not eat. Be thin. My mom was on some kind of diet since I can remember. One of my grandmas used to only eat toast and coffee two days before going to the doctor so her weigh-in wouldn’t be too high. My other grandmother was obsessed with her appearance and kept her refrigerator full of grapefruit juice and low-fat cheese loaf (though, of course, she made us cake to eat all the while worrying, in front of us, over my mother’s supposed chubbiness).
Messages were definitely mixed. By the time I was nine I put myself on my first ‘diet’. By fourteen, I had a full blown eating disorder. I cycled between anorexia and non-purging bulimia for years, until I had a nervous breakdown at 18 and landed myself in a treatment center.
But it’s not only a family love of food (which family doesn’t?) or a past eating disorder that makes me interested in the subject of what, why and how we eat. The other thread of this particular tapestry began when I found a very unusual book on our school’s library shelves titled Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé.
Looking back, I can’t believe that book was on my high school’s shelf. Sometimes I wonder if it was some sort of…I don’t know, fate? for me to find it there. I checked back my senior year and two years later I was still the only person to have checked it out. We’ll never know…
Anyway, Hope’s Edge covers different movements that empower people to grow their own food or create communities around empowering modalities (like micro-loans, etc). It was a definite precursor to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or any of the other books that came out years later on the local food movement.
Lappé is a vegetarian, and in the book she makes a case for vegetarianism that I bought back then hook, line and sinker. Basically, not only is the modern system of meat production inhumane and cruel, it’s also inefficient. If humans could use all of the grain that’s being used to feed cattle, we could feed the world with it. That’s simplified but the basic premise of her argument.
It made so much sense to my 16-year-old self that I became an on/off vegetarian then, then a strict vegetarian (flirting with veganism) at 18. I felt empowered. I was doing the RIGHT THING. Taking the moral, environmental high ground in my food choices. After battling with an eating disorder those decisions felt good, felt right. Now I was nourishing my body and not contributing to environmental and human malaise. Win-win-win, as Michael Scott would say.
And so I went off to college, full of moral certitude and self-righteousness.