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It’s Taking Over: Zucchini time!


I took a bit of a holiday last month. Visited wonderful people in London. Went to a wedding. Cried, copiously- who doesn’t love happycrying? Not me! Popped back home to see if the office had burned down. It hadn’t, by the way. Visited wonderful people in Scotland. Finally watched Totoro. Experienced Feels.

And all the while, my garden was left alone, my plant watering instructions to my housemates forgotten. In fairness, they were ill, and I wasn’t exactly reminding them, as I was far too busy lazing about in the sunshine and climbing trees and going to workshops and giving out about the ways in which people are terrible with people who are wonderful.

Then I get home. Two things have happened.

My strawberries have.. not quite thrived. This is Sad, but I managed to rescue one or two sweet, juicy, delicious morsels so all was not lost.  But my zucchini (pronounced “courgette“) plants? Oh, wow. Oh boy. Oh my. Like baobabs in a Little Prince moon, those leafy monstrosities (moonstrosities?) have taken over.

Picture of baobab (one of the image from "...

Picture of baobab (one of the image from “the little prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery) (Photo credit: Robert Scales)

A quick note, by the way: I have never grown courgettes before. My entire gardening experience, up till this year, involved windowboxes, herbs, some spring onions and the odd round carrot. I picked up some courgette seeds at Lidl a couple of months ago and figured I’d chuck ‘em in the ground and see what happened. I did not quite know what to expect.

Also relevant: my courgette plants weren’t the only enthusiastic thing in the garden. I disappear for a couple of weeks, come back and weeds as high as my butt have appeared out of nowhere. Finding out what was going on in  my vegetable patch was less obvious than one might initially think. Far less obvious.

Here’s what I saw last week when I made my first exploratory investigation into the tangles of green. Two relevant facts: Yes, my hands are quite small (I prefer to go with ‘fun-sized’, though, ifyaknowwhatImeanandIknowyoudo). Also, though, the ngle I took this photo from does not do the size of that monstrosity justice. At all.

What did I do then? I did what anyone would do. Posted on Facebook about the size of my giant marrow, and left the thing in the ground to grow. For one thing, I already had a bunch of courgettes in my fridge thanks to Gardener Friend. Mainly, though? I wanted to see what would happen. Who doesn’t want to see how damn big a thing will get sometimes, y’know?

Here we get to this morning. I’m going to go outside now and take another picture.

Oh. My. YOU GUYS IT IS HUGE. Look!

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Apologies for the awful picture quality. It was tough getting an angle that did it the slightest bit of justice while also not getting attacked by prickly courgette leaves. Also, not in the picture it its also rather sizeable sibling, which, while not having achieved quite the same girthiness as this one, is impressive in its own right.

And here we come to the question. What on earth am I going to do with that? Should I leave it to grow and see how much bigger it will get? Should I pick it now before my garden becomes nothing but marrow? And how should I eat the thing? Should it become soup? Should I gut it and stuff it? With what? How many of my friends should I invite over to eat the thing? Should I start making new friends so we’ve a hope of getting through it? How many friends do I need for this, and so I need a bigger house to put them in?

 

Reblogged: My body is not heartbreaking: more fun with microaggressions


My body is not heartbreaking: more fun with microaggressions.

There are people–seemingly reasonable, decent people–who think the existence of bodies like mine is heartbreaking. Who think that my life must be a tragedy because I wear above a size 14.  Who refuse to believe that health comes in more than one size. And who refuse to understand that not everyone prioritizes health in the same ways, or at all.

My body is not heartbreaking.

Oh so much yes. Bodies are not tragedies. Bodies are where we live. They don’t need redemption. They’re not a moral lesson or a warning to Be Good Or Else You’ll Be Like That. We don’t have a social or ethical responsibility to look a certain way, be a certain shape, be at a certain level of health, have certain priorities. Aside from, y’know, basic hygiene and decency, our bodies are absolutely and utterly ours. 

Foodie Manifesto


I believe in abundance. I believe in joy. I believe in sensuality, pleasure, and delight. I believe in boisterous meals with friends, I believe in curling up on the sofa with something (and someone!) warming and delicious. I believe in treating yourself every day to good food just because you can. I believe in elaborate meals and simple suppers. I believe in breakfast in bed, in sizzling aromas, in decadent sauces and never, ever being afraid of crumbs.

I believe that food should nourish more than our stomachs- but it should definitely do that. I believe food should be both comforting and tantalising, and that it shouldn’t take forever or cost the earth.

I believe that abundant enjoyment of food which is as good for our hearts and our tastebuds as it is for our stomachs should be available to all. I believe in a world where nobody is denied this most basic, universal and life-affirming pleasure. Not for lack of money. Not for lack of time. Not for lack of knowledge or resources. Not for the sake of dietary restrictions and health. And definitely not because of shame.

I believe in loving our bodies and taking joy in the things we do to sustain them. I believe our lives are immeasurably richer when they are sweeter, more crunchy, smoother, and spicier. I believe in taking time to create, to share with others, and to treat ourselves.

I believe in food.

(Yum!)

Letting Yourself Go


“You always let yourself go when you’re stressed, you know. You should make more of an effort.”

That was my ex, back when I was in the middle of writing a thesis and, frankly, had neither the time nor the energy for such things as straightening my hair or shaving my legs. That was also, by the way, the same guy who didn’t shave at all for two months before his exams, seeing himself a kind of Samson before the ravening hordes of assignments.

But enough about him- for one thing, he’s lovely, and for another, he’s probably reading this. (Hello!)

That year was the year I finally got my degree. It was also the year I started to work my ass off, discovered that I really did love sociology after all, and brought my grades up from ‘doing okay’ to ‘hell yeah’. It was also the year that I put on about 1/5 of my current weight.

The other year that I piled on the pounds was, unsurprisingly, the year I did my MA. The other time, that is, that I was busy working my (expanding) butt off to better myself until ridiculous hours of the night.

I’ve gotten skinnier in the past few months. Part of that is my current obscenely-healthy lifestyle- I’m too broke for snacks or buses if I want to have a social life, so it’s lentils and cycling for me- but most of it happened before that. The couple of months when I was unemployed and homeless (staying with friends, thankfully), when my relationship of the past few years had ended a little less than a fortnight before my very, very beloved nan died. That was when the pounds just flew off.

I don’t know about your situations. But if my own life is anything to go by, then this idea that losing weight is ‘taking care of yourself’, while gaining it is ‘letting yourself go’, is absolute tosh.

What do you think?

‘SafeFoods’, obesity, eating disorders and shaming.


This is why I never, if left to my own devices, listen to the radio first thing in the morning. Who wants to be annoyed before they’ve had that essential first cup of tea? Also, who wants to feel guilty about the full-fat milk in their morning cereal? But this morning I’m staying with my family, and so ended up listening to the radio. Bad idea, because it was through this that I found out about SafeFood‘s new ‘Stop the Spread‘ ad campaign. On the radio was a representative from SafeFood, and one from Bodywhys, the Eating Disorder Association of Ireland.

Here’s the ad that was being discussed. I’m going to give it a TW for fat/body shaming and pop it behind a jump. Not something to check out if you’re in any way vulnerable. I haven’t a transcript right now, but I’ll see about putting one together after work today.

Right. In this ad, we have ominous music, being obese/overweight seen as an epidemic, as a contagion. Close-up shots of people’s bellies, as a voiceover talks about higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Ominous music continuing with a shot, through a window, of a family sitting on their sofa eating their dinner, in front of the TV. A voiceover stating that if the ‘number around your waist’ is higher than 32 inches for women, or 37 inches for men, the epidemic ‘probably has’ spread to you.

Let’s analyse this a little, shall we? The purpose of this ad appears to be purely to let people know that they might be fat, and that there are certain health risks associated with that. The assumptions inherent in this are staggering- can anyone, in our society, truly believe that people don’t know when they’re fat? We have a culture obsessed with skinniness as the ideal body type, with selling us ‘solutions’ to our body ‘flaws’. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a ‘healthy eating’ plan that wasn’t code for a low-calorie diet- probably because ‘healthy eating’ is synonymous with losing weight in our society.

This ad also deliberately addresses what they call the ‘social contagion‘ effect- the idea that people are more likely to be overweight/obese if their friends, family members or spouses are. Instead of looking into social structural factors that may cause this, SafeFoods makes the assumption that we simply see our friends and families gaining weight and somehow, magically, become influenced to do the same. Not that, for example, people in similar social situations might live in similar areas, do similar jobs, have access to similar foods, have similar pressures, be similarly busy and similarly stressed and that the totality of these structural factors might lead to similar health and body issues within a person’s social sphere. Nope, it’s just that if my friend Betsy puts on weight, I’m going to suddenly decide to pile on the doughnuts because she’s just that cool.

The lack of awareness of the reality of what’s going on here is just.. staggering. The idea that people have suddenly, in the past decade or two, become lazy and stopped caring about our bodies is both insulting and ridiculous. If I’m in a situation where I’m working long hours, have a long commute without public transport links, responsibilities towards my family, and would like to see my friends once in a blue moon? I’m going to be more likely to just grab a sandwich from the local deli at lunch than to pile yet another thing on my plate to make myself a packed lunch every night. The problem here isn’t my (or your!) laziness. It’s the way our society is structured, it’s what kinds of filling, tasty foods we have access to, it’s the constant interplay of our responsibilities and priorities.

Sure, I could make a heroic effort, as an individual, to exercise every day and spend time preparing healthy and low-calorie meals for myself. But that’s going to mean less time with friends and loved ones, less time on hobbies, less time to sleep. And although an individual might be persuaded to make that effort and to keep it up over their entire life, we can’t expect an entire society to do so.

Yes, people were skinnier fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, we also had better and more extensive public transport networks, so people were more likely to get that extra fifteen minutes of walking every morning and evening. More people worked outdoors and in physically demanding jobs, so exercise was simply part of what we did all day, and not something that we had to make time for outside of work. These issues are structural, not individual, and need to be dealt with on the structural level.

And then there’s the shaming. As the BodyWhys representative* pointed out, we live in a society where eating disorders are a major problem. The response by the SafeFood representative to this was, in my opinion, absolutely appalling. She said- and I paraphrase- that eating disorders only affect a minority of the population, and that she is more interested in working to help the majority.

Eating disorders are but one extreme response to a situation where we are all told that our bodies are imperfect, flawed, not good enough. Where it is entirely normal to feel unhappy with our bodies. Where it is strange and unusual to not feel that way. Eating disorders are a symptom of a society which is structured in a way that makes us fatter, and which shames us for not being thinner. Telling people that obesity is a contagion? That they are not only harming themselves, but also everyone around them, if they have a waist measurement greater than 32 or 37 inches? Doing this, in a society which already talks about fat as if it is disgusting? In a society where it has been shown that shaming people about their bodies makes them less likely to exercise? Dismissing, in a sentence, the experiences of people with eating disorders? Completely ignoring the experiences and needs of people with eating disorders whose waists are larger than that magic number?

I wish I found it surprising. Instead, I’m simply disgusted.

*I’m not sure who exactly was speaking for either organisation. If anyone knows, please let me know!

**Need to go to work very soon. Will look up citations later! However, very definitely there. Anecdata, though, in the meantime: ever been to a gym as a squishy person? Felt self-conscious, eh?

Attention: women! You might be fat without even knowing it!


According to this charming article which has been lurking about the internet for a few weeks now (several decades in internet time, I am aware), a full quarter of women who are overweight perceive themselves as normal.

Oh, and this is a problem. A terrible, terrible problem, because all of those women? They might not know about all of the horrible health conditions they could be suffering from right at this very minute! These women might even be eating a normal amount of food and not starving themselves, because they don’t even know that they’re disgusting, sick freaks of horribleness possibly maybe kinda unhealthy. Maybe. Because, of course having a BMI over 25 automatically makes a person unhealthy than their 24.9 counterparts. Because a woman could never know herself if she is healthy or not. Because the only way to be healthy is to eat a restricted diet. Because, of course, a person who is overweight can’t be normal.

But less of the snark, and let’s get to actually looking at the article, shall we? Most of the article focuses on the fact that a reasonably large proportion of women feel themselves to be in a different BMI category than they are. Some women who are ‘overweight’ see themselves as ‘normal*’, and vice-versa.
Okay, fair enough. Not all of us have the time or the inclination to constantly check our BMIs. We might be more interested in how our bodies feel and look to us than how this relates to a height-weight ratio that is, frankly, of very little use on an individual level. We might be busy with actually getting on with our lives and have different priorities.

But then we get to the discussion, to what is talked about, what is left out, and how topics are actually discussed. While the research itself appears to have included ‘underweight’ as a category, this article defines ‘normal’ weight as a BMI under 25. Can anyone else see the large, glaring problem here? Particularly when being severely underweight comes with rather more acute health problems (actual starvation) than being equivalently overweight (claims that certain chronic conditions are more likely which, contrary to popular opinion, are frequently contested).
When contrasting unhealthy behaviours among people who misperceive their weights, there also seems to be an imbalance in discussion in this article. While ‘normal’ weight people who perceive themselves as overweight are more likely to smoke or take diet pills- both activities which are dangerous in themselves- those who are ‘overweight’ might simply not be restricting their diets. How… terrible?
Later, however, we get to the really peachy stuff**. The last section of the article talks about how the ‘fattening of America’ could be causing people to feel themselves to be ‘normal’ when they are really abnormal ‘overweight’- how seeing other people of similar weights around them causes people to normalise higher weights.
Leaving aside that this is problematised? Again, okay, fair enough. I can see how seeing people like you around you would lead you to think that being like you is pretty much normal. However, let’s go back to the numbers, shall we? Some back-of-an-envelope calculations give me, in this study, 22% of ‘overweight’ women seeing themselves as ‘normal’, and 16% of ‘normal’ women seeing themselves as ‘overweight’. While there is a disparity between the two, I’m going to guess that it isn’t a hugely significant one***. It’s around the same range, ish. Oh, and no numbers at all are given for women classed as ‘underweight’. Surprised?
Which is where we go back to the problematisation of ‘overweight’ women perceiving themselves as ‘normal’. There simply isn’t an equivalent problematisation, in this article, the other way around. It’s not there. The idea that there are every bit as significant a fraction of women who think themselves to be ‘overweight’ when they’re not? The fact that we’re shaming women of all sizes into behaviours that are both unhealthy and damned un-fun in the pursuit of a certain body type, and then writing damning articles about them when they have a healthy self-image? Not there either. And all of this without even a mention of the 49% of the human race left out of this discussion entirely.

There’s just one more thing I want to talk about, regarding this article and the women it criticises. And that is that it appears to me that one of the people they’re talking about here? The people they’re criticising like this for not restricting their diets and being suitably ashamed of their bodies? Is me.
See, I did some calculations over the past few weeks after this article came out. It turns out that my BMI? Varies between 23-ish and 25-ish. If I’m feeling a bit bloated, a bit on the PMSey side of things and happen to have eaten recently? If I’ve decided today that I’m probably closer to 5’2″ than 5’3″? I could, without even noticing, cross that great divide between Normal and Abnormal Overweight, between Healthy and Should Be Starving Herself. Today? I have no idea, and I have no interest in getting on the bathroom scales and taking out my calculator to find out.

*Here I recommend tying a nice pillow onto your forehead to avoid bruising from the inevitable headdesking and facepalming. If you don’t happen to have any pillows of appropriate size, you should be able to McGyver something with, say, some nice thick socks and some string or elastic.
**You might want to make sure that pillow is firmly attached to your forehead before going any further.
*** Feel free to jump in here please, statisticians!

Weekend omnivory


The ethics of food is an odd one. It seems quite cut-and-dried: eat in a sustainable fashion. Local food, as veggie-based as possible. Steer clear of battery farms, stick to the organic, the free-range, the lovely produce down at the farmer’s market. Not a bother, eh?

Except that, of course, it is a bother. It’s a hell of a bother. And it’s a bother that is far more realistic for some than others. It’s a cliche that veg*nism is a middle-class privilege, but there’s some truth to that. Locally-grown, organic food is often harder to source and always more expensive than the alternatives. Eating well as a veggie or vegan takes more time, effort and thought than as an omnivore. And if you have food intolerances or allergies then, well, it’s a minefield.

Which is a thing that I had been thinking about in the past few months, as I’ve moved from an entirely omnivorous diet to what I like to call weekend omnivory. While I am by no means vegetarian, I keep my meat/fish-eating down to a day or two a week at the most, and veggie it up the rest of the time. What this means for me is that when I cook at home, it’s veggie, and I save my omnivory for when I’m out. The reason for this is pragmatic- it’s as easy for me to cook something delicious and veggie/vegan as it is to cook anything else when I’m at home, but if I’m travelling around the country with work or visiting friends, then it’s often significantly more practical to not be fussy.

The reason that I do this? A combination of ethics, pragmatism, and an awareness of my own needs. Sure, it would be better, ethically speaking, to cut out meat and dairy entirely. However, for pragmatic reasons it just ain’t gonna happen. However, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If I can cut out, say, 70% of my intake of animal products, then that’s a hell of a lot better than doing nothing. And, to be honest, I think that 70% is a hell of a lot more important than the other 30. More than twice as important, if we’re being nitpicky.

The other reason that I do things this way? Is my awareness of my own needs, which is something I’ve been reminded of in the past few days by some posts I’ve read over in Voracious, formerly the Voracious Vegan. Tasha, whose blog it is, recently reverted to omnivory, for health reasons, after over three years of veganism. Her post detailing why she did so is worth a read, by the way. As is her more recent post responding to the reaction to her announcement. Yikes.

I can relate to her situation. While I wasn’t vegan, I was vegetarian for about seven years, and my reasons for reverting to omnivory were a combination of pragmatism and health. Pragmatism because I was in final year of my undergrad, barely had time to sleep, never mind cooking, and the veggie options available on campus were rather lacking. Health, because in the months directly preceding my decision, I’d been plagued with an array of weird health problems which I won’t go into in much detail, but which did largely resolve themselves when I reintroduced meat to my diet.

That’s not an easy thing to say- as Tasha at Voracious is finding out this week. Either it means you just didn’t try hard enough, or else it’s seen as a vindication that veggie diets Just Don’t Work. Instead of simply meaning that at some times, for some people, they’re not going to work, but for other people they work just fine.

Which brings me back to sustainability. When we talk about sustainability and the ethics of food, it does seem cut-and-dried. But sustainability is about us, as well as about the world around us, and that is anything but. A sustainable diet* is not only one which is good for the environment, for animals, for others and the world around us. It’s also one which we can practically sustain, which both nourishes us and leaves us time to live our lives.

In short, it’s complicated. Oh, and weekend omnivory is awesome. If it works for you.

*Diet meaning the sum of what we eat, as opposed to weight-loss diets. They’re a whole different kettle of fish.

On Creating an Ethic of Enjoyment


This is in some ways a follow-on from my post But I Like To Like The Things I Like To Like, from the other week.

Let’s set a scene here, shall we? Last Friday, in the work canteen. Me eating my (delicious) apple pie and custard, in a room full of steak-eating men and salad-eating women. The apple pie was good, and I’d quite sensibly justified the indulgence on the grounds that I’d done a lot of cycling in the past few days, and the chicken noodles I’d had for lunch hadn’t been a particularly generous portion. I’m very good, by the way, at justifying apple pie.

But why should I need to? And why is it so goddamn difficult to stop feeling like I need to?

It’s one thing to say that it’s a good thing to reject the idea that we need to justify our likes and enjoyments. However, without something to replace them, it’s nigh-on impossible to do so. So to start, let’s take a look at that delicious dessert again, shall we?

The context of apple pie and custard

Sitting in a canteen, eating a delicious apple pie, which I justified to myself because of having cycled a whole lot the day before, so I was due an indulgence. I feel a little guilty about the apple pie- I’ve spent money on it, and it’s something I’m eating purely for the pleasure of it. But that’s okay, because I cycled about a whole lot yesterday and the day before. Loads of uphills.

What does this say about how I view either of these things? Everything is being viewed in relation to each other, on a scale from ‘good’ to ‘bad’. My enjoyment of my delicious pie is marred by having to justify it. As is how much I enjoyed cycling to and from work and shops and people’s houses the day before. The cycling was framed in the context of “should do”, which meant that I couldn’t even enjoy that one on its own merits. The entire ethical framework at work here, you see, is one of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. Of being a person who does the right things- working hard, taking care of myself and whatnot- versus ‘letting myself go’ and losing control.

That, my lovely readers, is one hell of an impoverished way to live one’s life.

Do Ethics Mean What I Think They Mean?

I should pause here to talk a little about what I mean by an ‘ethical framework’. I’m interested here less in whether we think that Act A is an ethical or unethical thing to do, so much as what the underlying framework is through which we make these judgements. What are the criteria by which we judge a thing as good, or bad, or neutral?

Pleasure and enjoyment have not, by any means, been seen as necessarily ethical things in the cultural context I come from. Good old Catholic Guilt runs deep, whether we like it or not, whether we believe a word of it or not. Beyond any questions of (dis)belief is the fact that we are, or were, raised to see sacrifice as somehow a good thing by default. This is, by the way, by no means limited to traditionally catholic cultural contexts- without even leaving christian culture I could mention the rather similar Protestant Work Ethic. Suffering/work are good, pleasure and enjoyment are suspect. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, even pride are seen as barely forgiveable. Giving in to our desires too much is bad. These desires need to be fought. So we justify them, we allow ourselves little indulgences and we pay for them with ‘good’, sacrificial actions. But what if we could just toss all that out the window, and create a genuine moral framework based on pleasure, based on enjoyment?

An Ethic of Enjoyment

Let’s start from the premise that either we only have one life, or we really aren’t sure and should damn well better act as if we do. It’s the premise I start from, after all, and this is my blog. What’s the best thing for us, as individuals and as a society, to strive for within these short few decades? What makes us appreciate being alive, feel most alive and whole? It’s rather obvious to me that, while the specifics of course vary, it is maximising enjoyment, pleasure and joy which makes our lives most worthwhile. When you take away the potential for eternal rewards, it’s rewards here that matter. The things that make you laugh out loud, make your uncontainably happy, make you chuckle, make you smile. If we get to decide what is good and worthwhile, what is the ultimate virtue, why not make it happiness?

Let’s go back to lunch the other day, seen through a lens of an ethic of pleasure. The day beforehand, I had spent some time cycling about in the sunshine. This was lovely- the wind in my face, the sun on my back, the sense of satisfaction on reaching the top of a hill and coasting down the other side. Lovely! The next day I had delicious apple pie. It was lovely- scrumptiously moist, with a crunchy crust and a giant dollop of sweet, creamy custard. Lovely! Through this framework, the only problematic thing was the slight twinge of guilt and justification- these suck, there’s nothing to be gained from them, and they detracted from enjoyment.

But doesn’t that excuse… All Sorts?

It could be argued that living through an ethical framework based on pleasure, as opposed to control, throws the door open for all sorts of undesirable things. Going back to those seven deadly sins- if pleasure and enjoyment are our primary ethical principles, then how do we get anything useful done? And aren’t we all going to end up, well, selfish assholes? Don’t worry, I have three arguments against this:

Firstly, in order to increase my overall enjoyment, sometimes I have to do things that I don’t, well, enjoy. I really like having a house to live in, for example. Specifically, I like having this house. It’s got my stuff in it, I like my housemates, I have enough room, it’s got an awesome location. I also like having things like food and electricity in the house. If I want to have those things, I gotta go to work. Which sucks at 7am, but overall, the things I gain from going to work cause an overall increase in pleasure and enjoyment in my life. It’s about the big picture here.

Secondly, people enjoy doing altruistic things. One of the major things that we do to feel happy is doing good things for others. We’re social animals, we gain some of our deepest senses of satisfaction and joy from our relationships with others. I love making dinner for my friends, or finding/making something that I know they’ll enjoy, or spending time with them. And doing the work that we need to do to nurture our relationships with each other? Leads to an awesome level of increased happiness and satisfaction.

Thirdly, this opens the way to a guilt-free conception of altruism. I never said that this was about maximising only my enjoyment. It’s about happiness being our primary ethical principle. Instead of framing altruistic acts as decreasing suffering, we can frame them as working to increase society’s capacity for enjoyment. If happiness is our guiding principle, then there is no point feeling guilty about social structures which existed before we were born- the important thing is just to do what you can, to the extent that it is practical, and doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying their own life.

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I’ve more to say on this topic, I’m sure. But it’s a sunny day, and I want to go enjoy it.

But I like to like the things I like! Sacrifice, enjoyment and ethics.


“You can tell I like food too much

I really, really dislike it when people say that. The most recent time someone said that to me was today, and I was at a loss as to how to respond. I know that what the person meant is that they would like to be skinner, but food is delicious so I eat too much of it and now there is too much of me. They say it with a rueful, regretful tone. If only they had more control, if only food didn’t have such power over them, their virtue would shine through their lean, lean bodies.

I’m always amazed at how our society manages to make a sin, make a wrong out of our most basic desires. There’s a pervasive idea that virtue and goodness are things which happen when we prevent ourselves from experiencing ‘too much’ enjoyment. Especially when what you’re enjoying is something basic, something uncomplicated. People don’t get called sluts or pigs for enjoying too much opera, or too many good books.

The thing about opera and good books, of course, is that you have to learn to like them, and not everyone has the combination of resources, inclination, cultural and social incentives, and time to do so. No matter how gluttonously you devour yet another deliciously marvellous book, no matter how delightfully the prose sends a shiver up your spine, you would never be expected to show regret in your enjoyment. Enjoyment of a good book sends a signal that you are a person who is educated and classy enough, intelligent and cultured enough to choose to do so.

Food, though? We think of food very differently. Where enjoying a good book is purely enjoyable, food is fraught. It’s tied up with bodies, with perceived attractiveness, with class, with self-control or ‘letting yourself go’. It’s not just pleasure, it’s a guilty pleasure. From carrots to cookies, every item of food comes with its own moral weight, its own message of virtue or sin.

But you know something? Food is lovely. Food is delicious, and it is satisfying in a way that nothing else can be. And while it can worry and evoke guilt, it can also comfort. A month or so ago, I made a rather terrible cheesey pasta bake, which I managed to ruin in precisely the same way that my granny sometimes used to ruin macaroni cheese. At the end of a long day, I could imagine nothing so comforting as this lumpy, grainy sauce, tasting like my granny swearing blind to my mother that she hadn’t done anything wrong and hadn’t left it, not for a second, and didn’t the child like it anyway*?

I don’t think that we should need excuses to enjoy food, though. Not that we were ‘good’ and went to the gym earlier. Not even that it’s been a long day and this tastes just like the way my granny made it- although that is always wonderful. In and of itself, food can be delicious. We have to eat it several times a day- why shouldn’t we enjoy each of those to the full? Let go of guilt, of a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ foods, eat when we are hungry and until we are full, savour and enjoy each bite to the fullest extent? Forget about ‘too much’, and enjoy as much as you do, like as much as you do, take as much pleasure from food as you can? Can’t we let go of rueful, self-effacing resignation, of judging and being judged as greedy, of giving calories a moral weight, and simply like to like the things we like?

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*turns out she was right, actually. I didn’t leave it either- I managed to mess it up in an entirely more creative way. I’m not going to tell you what it is, though. Making lumpy cheesey pasta sauce like my granny did sometimes is something I’m going to keep between me and her memory :)