friday feast: eating for love

rosemary biscuits
Mini Rosemary Heart Biscuits From the Little Yellow Kitchen (click for recipe)

WHAT WE ALL SAY
by Irene Sherlock

There’s nothing to eat, my daughter says, standing in front of the refrigerator, motioning at the bag of carrots, three red apples. She means pork chops, mashed potatoes, food I made before the diet, the divorce, before I turned thin. People smile, congratulate. You look wonderful. They seem relieved, as though my heavier self was somehow a burden to them. How did you do it? As if I’ve broken world records. I tell them thin is lots of water, no butter, endless exercise, bowls of clear soup. Day in, day out, except for occasional graham crackers, thin is never sweet. They shake their heads, Ten years younger, not knowing most nights I go hungry, except last night, at a friend’s house, after Chardonnay and wontons filled with artichokes and crab, after rosemary biscuits, herbed chicken stuffed with prosciutto, sautéed in shallots and cognac. After all the love had been laid on the table, I felt my old self emerging — the woman who loves chocolate, who looks her age and surprises her daughter with blueberry pie. Her mouth watered as mine does now. Mmmm, I said, and began to eat and eat as though, now, I can never be filled.

*Posted with permission of the author, copyright © 2012 Irene Sherlock. First published in Alimentum: The Literature of Food (Winter 2012). All rights reserved.

blueberry pie august 12th, 2009 2 (2)500
Classic Blueberry Pie via Thibeault’s Table (click for recipe)

* * *

Certainly, food is love. Most of us love to eat. We cook for our loved ones, comfort and love ourselves with our favorite treats, even fantasize about foods we’ve yet to meet.

Like all relationships, it’s complicated. Eating is an emotional act steeped in joy, peppered with guilt.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this relationship with food is more complicated for women than it is for men. What of that constant pressure to look a certain way?

You can never be too rich or too thin.

One moment on the lips, forever on the hips.

The beauty of this poem is that I think we can all see parts of ourselves in it. I can relate to the narrator in a backwards sort of way. Instead of being complimented for being thinner, these days I receive little looks of surprise because there’s a bit more of me to love. I’m sometimes the friend who likes to lay love out on the table, and as far as praising someone for losing weight? Guilty as charged.

While savoring the casual, conversational lines of this poem, I carefully weigh their bittersweet subtext. We are what we eat, mourn what we cannot. How to satisfy one’s emotional hunger?

* * *

poetryfriday180The always lovely, warm and welcoming Linda Baie is hosting today’s Roundup at TeacherDance. Peruse the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week and enjoy. The beauty of words is that you can feast, calorie free, to your heart’s content!

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Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

51 thoughts on “friday feast: eating for love

  1. Since Irene’s words are not broken into lines, I did not realize it was a poem. But “what a poetic writer,” I thought. Then when you mentioned it was a poem, I re-read it and yes, indeed, it is a poem- and a very beautiful one at that.

    And you are right, Jama, that the relationship with food is more complicated for women. How I hate these two lines:

    You can never be too rich or too thin.

    One moment on the lips, forever on the hips.

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    1. It’s a prose poem — and unfortunately I wasn’t able to reproduce the exact end-of-line breaks that appeared in the print journal in my blog template. I don’t think it hurts the poem’s meaning, as the original also appeared like a prose paragraph.

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  2. Irene’s poem is powerful and all too true. I have lived (and still live) every aspect of her complicated relationship with food. With my two daughters I try to be cognizant of how I eat, what I say about body image, what I eat – but the pressure on each of us is there from a very early age. Bravo to you for shedding light on the “bittersweet subtext” of this poem. Thanks for sharing another thoughtful morsel.

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    1. Unfortunately, this pressure is starting younger and younger with girls. Maintaining a healthy body image is definitely a challenge, and you’re a wise parent to remain cognizant of how even subtle behaviors can impact your daughters’ feelings about it.

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      1. Let’s start a revolt/campaign. Pictures of delicious food will help. August McLaughlin’s debut psychological thriller In her Shadow is on this subject. Awesome read too.

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  3. This is a wonderful poem of affirmation I some ways ( even though there is conflict) , for the new self still loves the old self. And you are right about this type of consciousness starting young – many of my girls had such guilt yesterday, as we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a party in our class. You could just see their conflict – chocolate or not? How many to take? Sigh…sad to see this….

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    1. Did you feel that the new self longed for/missed the old self? I felt that with the narrator’s new way of eating (i.e., starving herself), she kind of lost some of the essence of who she really was . . . the more I read this poem, the more I see in it — definitely lots to ponder here.

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  4. Love this poem, and as you said, seeing all parts of ourselves in there. I think I even had a dream last night about a friend who had suddenly lost 10 pounds. Yikes. Too omnipresent. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Oh Jama, what a thought-provoking post. I do agree that the relationship between women and chocolates is quite a bit more complicated than it is with men (and yes, that can go both ways too). Body-image issues have ‘weighed’ more heavily with women primarily because of societal expectations and the way that media continually portray beauty as equivalent to being thin. I watch all this tv series and I wonder how many hours these glamorous women must have spent in the gym, starving themselves, depriving themselves of luscious goodness that food brings. Oh well. It is what it is.

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    1. Precisely. We can’t escape what the media feeds us day after day. The “thin” standard of beauty has existed forever it seems. Strange world we live in — childhood obesity and anorexia existing side by side.

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  6. What a thought-provoking post, Jama. Thank you (and Irene Sherlock). It made me tear up, because, as you say, most (female especially) readers can find themselves somewhere in it, and I also think of friends who really struggle with food/health/body image/societal pressure. As you note, it’s complicated! I appreciate the way your posts celebrate food; I feel they nurture the relationships surrounding the sharing of good things to eat.

    On a different note, thanks for pointing me to your blog post about Dare to Dream! How did I miss that? (I looked back – I was at an SCBWI event here that weekend.) It was, of course, insightful and fulsome and wonderful, so I linked from my post. (Better late than never??) :0)

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    1. Thanks for linking — glad you enjoyed the post. “Cloudscape” really stood out for me in that anthology — and since you also referred to it, I can only smile and think about the old “great minds think alike” adage.:)

      I don’t think eating has ever been as complicated as it is now. There’s even a politically correct aspect to it. And with so many health reports bombarding you at every turn, saying eat this, don’t eat that, it gets pretty overwhelming at times. Eating is necessary for survival, and as I said, emotional — but it’s also a form of socializing. How to turn down homecooked food someone has gone through the trouble of preparing, especially if you’re on a diet?

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  7. Hi Jama, thank you for sharing Irene’s poem. I live in a house with four eat-anything-you-want-and-stay-thin people and I like to cook. Nice for them! I don’t deprive myself of anything, even though I don’t have the same kind of metabolism they do. I suppose I take a Julia Child approach… (“People who love to eat are always the best people.”)

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    1. Well, I’ve always envied people who can eat anything and stay thin. But as you say, everyone’s metabolism is different, especially noticeable when some of us (ahem) reach middle age. Not fair! Julia didn’t believe in depriving herself either — what a lot of butter she must have consumed in her day. But she lived a long, full life with gusto.

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  8. As with others, this poem resonated with me. The line, “They seem relieved, as though my heavier self was somehow a burden to them” rings true. When food is love, and not just fuel, then turning down someone’s butter-soaked mashed potatoes can feel like rejection of warmth and esteem.

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  9. You wouldn’t believe how hard I had to work to learn to make gluten free pie crust (actually, still working on it…). But for blueberry (or cherry) I DO IT. I’m daydreaming about it now. Thanks for this poetry that feeds our souls…

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    1. Such a big challenge for sure — it’s hard enough trying to make a good whole wheat pie crust and get the same texture and flavor you’d like. I haven’t attempted gluten free yet.

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  10. Love this poem and the way it meanders through our complicated relationship with food. For some reason it makes me feel less guilty about the extra pounds that I’ve gained this winter!

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    1. Glad you like the poem, Buffy, and glad you’re feeling less guilty. Surely some of that comes from knowing that we’re all kind of in the same boat when it comes to food — there’s always that delicate balance between what we *want* to eat vs. what we *should* eat, etc.

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  11. Wait…what happened? I got lost at the blueberry pie. >wipes drool<

    Seriously, that's a very thought-provoking piece you've shared. Even though I'm a guy I can still identify with her thoughts and feelings, and her desire to be 'normal' and just eat and enjoy life.

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    1. Also, food is tied up with our identities, whether male or female. The foods mentioned in the poem — blueberry pie, mashed potatoes, pork chops, chocolate — are basically comfort foods associated with a happy family life. After her divorce, the narrator is understandably quite a different person physically as well as emotionally. I sense she yearns to find her old self again.

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  12. What if we built a child-care room into every grocery store? Parents could shop for healthy foods without their little ones ever knowing about sugar-crusted, cocoa-filled, peanut pop cereals, or prefab cheese slathered pepperoni pizza nuggets. I think that’s where some of our basic ideas about foods that you ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ have originate and persist.

    (gets off soapbox)

    That being said, what’s an ideal snack to pair with the D.A. season finale? xo

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    1. I do feel sorry for parents these days trying so hard to provide healthy, nutritious meals that their kids will actually eat and like. Even if they were isolated in grocery stores — they’d still see all the sugary stuff on TV, etc., and at their friends’ homes. None of us stands a chance with so much aggressive advertising!

      I can’t, and don’t want to believe that DA is already ending this weekend. Wah! I may have to drag out the hard liquor — just kidding (I’m a teetotaller through and through). I think I will make some Tear-Water Tea just as Owl did (how I love that book). . .

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  13. I want to eat those biscuits right off the page. Instead, I pinned the recipe. Food is love, but sometimes food can be a burden. Especially when you are tired and have to create a culinary miracle. Some days, I wish I could just wave a magic wand and dinner would appear.
    Irene’s poem is so raw and real. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. The nutritionist repeated it over and over, until the herd of us squawked it in our turn, “Food ISN’T love! Food ISN’T love!” We were told to love ourselves, our besties, our children some other way.

    And then, ways were presented. We took notes. We smiled at the inference that walks, that tickets to ski slopes, that trips to the opera would take the place of lemon bars and blueberry cheesecake.

    We did not believe!
    But, we tried.
    After all, we all wanted what we’re told we want: the svelte shape, the thin thighs.
    ________________

    Officially, I am leaner now than before. But, leanness came not because I took those “not love” words to heart. It came because I learned to gift myself with other tokens of affection IN ADDITION TO the occasional cookie. And, for the record, I learned to love graham crackers… ☺

    It is a twisty relationship; the endorphin rush from carbohydrates cannot be topped by anything but …well, first kisses, maybe. Or winning races. I think the trick is to learn to really take joy – serious, belly-laugh, merrymaking joy in more things. And then, food becomes an also-ran.

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    1. You are SO wise, T. It really is about learning to take joy in other things, finding balance, and actually taking the time to “gift oneself.” I think many of us are so busy nurturing others that we forget to honor ourselves in ways that don’t necessarily involve food.

      As you say, those carbs are very very hard to top when people are looking for a rush — or even just simple comfort. Human beings have to eat to live — how to tame that primal instinct? Food love begins with a baby at its mother’s breast. A cookie, therefore, becomes more than just a cookie — it’s a safe place, it’s childhood, it’s good memories, it’s what friends give friends.

      Things are never as they seem; this poem reminds me of that too. Do you think all those beautiful, svelte models are actually happy that they can’t inhale a big piece of chocolate cake whenever they please? We all have our weaknesses, have different ways of dealing with stress, etc. Food is accessible and it can be a problem. Food will always be love as long as human beings walk the earth.

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  15. Jama, what a poem! It brings me to the idea that a book of poetry about girls, women & food might be very welcome. Look at all the comments! I think she’s very sad, & missing the joy that seemed to be wrapped around the food, food for her daughter & food for her very well-being! I wanted to share too that my colleagues, teachers of the middle school aged kids in school believe that most of their students eat out almost all week. Remember these are mostly kids of at least upper middle class families. They are so busy & then have many after school into evening activities that they often just grab something & eat in the car on the way to something else. We had a long talk about how this impacts family life, thoughts & memories about food & cooking. If we talk about dinner table conversations, students have little idea what we’re referring to. Food is complicated in many ways in our new lifestyles. Thanks for bringing up new thoughts, Jama!

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    1. I’m with Tabatha — that is REALLY sad when kids don’t know what dinner table conversations are! But it’s part and parcel of the same thing that’s going on when people in the same household text each other instead of talk to the person sitting right next to them. I wonder how families got so busy that they don’t have time to eat at least one meal together? I’m reminded of a previous conversation we had about school lunches around the world, and how some kids don’t have enough time to eat lunch between classes.

      Some of our most enduring memories are about food and cooking. Food is what we all have in common to begin with, regardless of where we live, what culture we were raised in, etc. And it’s always about more than just the food itself — the context in which it is served, who made it and how, how it is shared and enjoyed that nourishes the human spirit as well as the physical body.

      Oh, and I agree with you — I think the narrator in the poem is indeed very sad; in some ways she doesn’t know herself anymore.

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  16. So true. As my wise mother once said: “They don’t say anything about it when you’re going up. But when you’re going down, they can’t stop talking about it. And it’s so annoying.”

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  17. It’s about balance, isn’t it? And when you try to do it in real life — a board on a fulcrum or a pencil on your fingertip — you remind yourself how hard it is (but do-able) in all other areas: work and play, dessert and carrots, pizza and plain slices of turkey rolled up, pie and graham crackers. It’s not about choosing one over the other every time, it’s about keeping your choices a little closer to the fulcrum so that what you’re trying to balance doesn’t swing so wildly up and down. But it’s always about allowing for choices. (IMHO)

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