“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?
*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 🙂