This blog is meant as an exploration and a celebration of food. Food as nourishment, food as art, but most of all, food as connection. Personally and politically, we all struggle with issues around food. Issues from body image to worker’s rights to environmental destruction transform the kitchen table into a battlefield.

Food binds us together with the people we love and with the soil beneath us. Simple bodily nourishment reaches us only through the work of the soil, the sun and rain, and the people who loved and labored along the way to put it on the table.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Being Hungry: Food as a link between the needs of the body and the desires of the spirit.

"Just what exactly is it that we want to have cross our lips, to roll off our tongues, down our throats, to fill our nostrils with hardly described fragrances, to slide to a brief halt within our bellies, to mix with out own gastric juices to be transformed and conjured into something new by the myriad microbes in our guts, to migrate across our stomach linings, to surge into our bloodstreams, and to be carried along with insulin for one last ride, and then to be lodged within our very own bodies? What do we want to be made of? What do we claim as our tastes? And what on earth do we ultimately want to taste like?" (Nabhan 2002; 27)

Growing up in a liberal white middle-class family, I knew what I didn't want to be made of. I didn't want to feed off the oppression of other people and living beings. Yet the food on my plate had poisoned the farm worker's hands and the fish in the streams. Everything I consumed had come at someone else's expense.

Starving children in Africa were never a motivation for me to be grateful and eat my food with gusto -- instead, I felt guilty for having so much and still wanting more. I wouldn't touch the food on my plate. Better to go without, as penance and protest. But going without by choice is a privilege -- denying hunger is a world away from the true hunger of poverty.

In my life I have been so far from ever being hungry, that I could court hunger with a bouquet of red roses. There was a time I could go weeks with no more than lemon water and a few dozen incidental calories. Though my mind went dizzy and my very bones were exhausted, my fingers would delight in playing upon the ripples of my collarbone, hip bones, and ribs. I was almighty; I was the master of my own flesh. Hunger was a cat I teased with a string as long as the horizon -- he was a million miles away and I never feared him. Even as I dreamed of reedy ballerinas and skulls that crumbled into sand, hunger was a game I played.

The rest of the girls ate, accusing me of hunger with their imploring eyes, while I tried to keep a poker face. But I loved it when they offered me food; I wanted them to beg me to take it. I wasn’t hungry, I told them, or my stomach hurt, or I had eaten alone. Sometimes out of desperation to explain myself I would give all three excuses at once; my lies were ludicrous in their clarity. It didn’t matter that they didn’t believe me -- I wanted them to worry. They were getting fatter while I was purifying; let them beg me but I wouldn’t take that first bite.

Sometimes I really tried to convince my friends that I was eating. I would feel guilty about making them worry, or grow tired of their nagging, or begin to fear that they would tell my parents. Once or twice my love for those who cared about me even drove me to abandon my courtship of hunger, or some inner strength deeper than resistance made me eat. But whether I ate or not, hunger was a world away. At any moment I could reach out and take a chocolate from the table. That was the challenge, the danger, the thrill in my extreme sport. God forgive me. I have never known hunger.


  1. so, did you ever get treatment for your anorexia? Or did you "grow out of it?" Do you feel now like your relationship with food is healthier, healed? Or it this blog part of exploring the damaged relationship as it still exists?
    Please don't feel I am being judgmental - I too have a twisted relationship with food. I want it to be more than food, I want it to be love and warmth and nurturance. I want it to have meaning beyond nutrition, beyond sustenance.
    I actually believe that all of us have a complicated relationship with food, and that there is no "perfect" way to relate. Some people - doctors, nutritionists, counselors - want us to strip food of all it's meaning beyond the bare facts and bare necessity, but I don't believe that is healthy either. Food is our physical interaction with the world, it is how we take in the world and how - if we are parents - we give the world to our children. It cannot be divested of it's meaning, nor should we try.
    But how do we decide what meaning food should have? How do we choose meanings that will nourish our souls as well as bodies?

  2. My relationship with food now is much healthier than it was then. I don't know if my restrictive eating was ever technically anorexia, but there was definitely something warped in the way I was connecting with other people, which prevented me from accepting nourishment in many ways. I saw a couple of counselors about it in college, when I started realizing that I needed more than just the will to heal myself. The counseling wasn't actually that helpful though, because I had already overanalyzed my own feelings and behavior (with the help of my long-suffering friends!) to the point of ridiculousness.

    What has helped tremendously is being in a relationship where I feel like I can be honest about where I'm at, without my partner freaking out and putting me in a position where I'm tempted to fall into my old games of deception and denial.

    Another thing that keeps me healthy is riding my bike. It keeps me connected to my body in a way that nothing else does; I need to have calories in my body if I want to get where I'm going! I take such joy and satisfaction in that kind of self-sufficiency.

    There's a lot more, but that's probably already a longer answer than you were looking for! I agree with you -- I also want food to be love and warmth and nurturance. The deciding is the hard part though, and I have the same question: how do we decide what meaning food should have? How do we make it mean what we want it to mean?