food, random thoughts, self-compassion

The Candy Country and Other Preoccupations

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I am an incredibly lazy cook. My general rules of thumb when making dinner for myself have always been:

  1. Max number of pots/pans allowed to be used to make a meal = one (but ideally zero)
  2. I’m hungry so this had better not take long
  3. No food processors

I actually do have a food processor, but I have only used it once. That one time that I used it, legit 20% of my food ended up stuck in the little sharp metal thingies in the bottom, which drove me crazy because I have A Thing about wasting food. Also, if 20% of my food is stuck in the bottom of the food processor, that’s 20% less food I get to eat, and this is problematic because, as I mentioned, I’m hungry.

Anyway.

The thing is, when I sometimes do get into the groove of cooking, like on weekends when I have a little more time, I really enjoy it. I like making vegetable soup on chilly fall Sunday afternoons. I love having people over for dinner. I can get really into baking bread (yes yes I know baking and cooking are not the same but I’m going to conflate them throughout this post because in my head they’re the same ok). I even tried a couple of those meal kit delivery thingies a while back and thought that was pretty fun.

And another thing: I am really really REALLY into reading food blogs.

I know I’m not alone in this. A lot of us love reading about food, right? Food blogging is a huuuuuuge industry. So are cooking shows, obviously. I’m a little out of touch with the whole Food Network deal since I don’t have regular TV, but I binge-watched (haha, binge-watched) all three seasons of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix earlier this year and got pretty obsessed with it.

I often wonder why I — and many people, including perhaps you? — are so into food blogs and food shows and food articles and pictures of food on Instagram. Obviously we all need to eat, but these blogs and photos and shows are not food; they’re just media about food. I assume some people are consuming (haha, consuming) these media for practical reasons, such as that they want actual recipes or are trying to learn actual cooking techniques. But I’m not convinced those are necessarily the most common reasons.

I’m no psychologist, but I feel like it’s probably safe to say that many (most? all?) of us are, let’s say, preoccupied with food to some degree. Which makes sense because not only is food Necessary For Life, it’s also interconnected with a huge number of other things that are deeply, intensely important to us, like culture, family, relationships, social class, energy, health, disease, body image, self-identity, home, emotions, mood, pleasure, money, and probably more that I can’t think of right now. I mean, what’s not to be preoccupied about? No wonder we’re so interested in looking at pictures of food and reading about food and watching people cook food on TV.

Of course, a preoccupation with food can take many different forms. Some healthier than others.

I can trace my own preoccupation with food (some people might say “relationship with food” but to me “preoccupation” feels more accurate) through a whole string of different phases throughout my life thus far. A lot of my most vivid memories of childhood books are actually about the food in the books. There were the oranges and milk that the Little Engine That Could brought to the children on the other side of the mountain. There was Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family eating the meals they grew and harvested and hunted themselves. There was Edmund and the Turkish Delight. There was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I remember I also had this super ancient printing of a chapter book called The Candy Country by Louisa May Alcott, about a little girl who loves desserts and goes to live in a country where everything is made out of sweets, until she gets sick of eating sugar all the time, learns her lesson, and then moves to a country where everything is made out of bread (all of which seemed much less weird when I was eight).

But then, starting around junior high, my preoccupation with food morphed into something different. I began to figure out – as many of us do – that food could make me feel better if I was lonely or sad or confused or stressed or just bored. By high school I had developed a habit of intermittent binge-eating. Also by high school, I had developed a probably (unfortunately) fairly typical level of paranoia and insecurity and shame about my body and weight, which became all tied up with the binge-eating, which in turn motivated a lot of dieting, which led to more binge-eating and more dieting, etc, etc, etc, all through high school and college and beyond.

Then later, in my early 20s, I became a vegetarian, partly because I felt like maybe funneling my preoccupation with food into being a really healthy vegetarian would save me from all the binge-eating and dieting. Being a vegetarian did have some positive effects, but it didn’t solve all my problems.*

In my mid-20s, my preoccupation with food morphed again. I became extremely controlling about food and spent a couple of years semi-starving myself in order to be thin, and for a while I felt like that was the answer. It definitely wasn’t.

In my late 20s and early 30s, I cycled through a bunch of different diets and food fads and food philosophies, including veganism, raw foodism, juicing, and some type of paleo precursor. None of those completely solved anything either.*

At the present time, to make a very long story short, I seem to be in a place where I can manage my preoccupation with food by channeling it into a focus (hopefully not quite an obsession) on health and enjoyment. This means cooking very simple (a.k.a. lazy!), filling, mostly healthy meals for myself. It means reading interesting articles on nutrition and health and different/new kinds of food. It means baking sourdough boules and tea loaves so I can pretend like I’m on The Great British Baking Show. And it definitely means enjoying some of the many deeply personal, funny, and extremely well-written food blogs out there on the Interwebs. Two of my very favorites, in case you’re looking for recommendations, are Pinch of Yum and Oh She Glows.

It’s funny – I started this post by glibly talking about how I’m a lazy cook, and originally that’s what this whole entire post was going to be about: amusing stories about my lazy cooking habits. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to acknowledge that I couldn’t write honestly about cooking or food without going a bit deeper than that. I feel grateful to writers who have shared their own narratives about food publicly in books and blog posts and articles, and to friends who have shared their narratives with me in confidence, because hearing others’ stories makes me feel less weird and less alone. And that’s why I decided to share mine here with you today – to try to pay that honesty forward.

But lazy cooking is also worth writing about, so I’ll end by sharing this recipe for Lazy Chili, which I invented over the weekend:

Lazy Chili

  1. Chop up some garlic and onion and carrots.
  2. Put in a pot with some olive oil and cook for a bit.
  3. Add a can of chickpeas, a jar of salsa, and a can of refried beans.
  4. Mix everything together and cook it a little more.
  5. Maybe add some spices?
  6. Serve with rice or quinoa.

Deliciousness factor: high.

Number of pots used: one, as long as you cooked the rice at an earlier time and have already washed that pot.

Lazy lunch mission: accomplished.

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*To be clear, I am not down on vegetarianism or veganism or any other specific diet or food philosophy. I think everyone should make their own decisions about what food choices are right for them. The End.

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