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, April 3, 2011

Why Women Want

In an earlier post I wrote about my struggles with an eating disorder. Just to clarify, this is not something that's troubling me right now. But it is something I still think about, and something that has shaped the way I relate to food.

Several years ago I finished reading a book called Why Women Want, by Caroline Knapp. When I had first started reading it in my teens I was in a dark place. I was eating very little, and initially I stopped halfway through the book because I was afraid that if I kept reading I would be unable to starve myself any longer. I could relate to every word she wrote, and parts of it made me furious.

Knapp's writing made my problem seem to intersect with larger societal problems, painting me as a victim to the same forces that make women in general feel powerless. I didn't want to feel like a victim; the whole point of starving myself was to feel in control. Knapp wrote:

"Food, over time, became a terrible, powerful symbol -- of how much I wanted on the one hand and how certain I was that I'd never get enough on the other -- and my denial of food thus became the most masterful solution. I'm so hungry, I'll never get fed. If that is one's baseline understanding of the world (and I suspect it was mine at the time), starving makes sense, controlling food becomes a way of expressing that conflict and also denying it. Your needs are overwhelming? You can't depend on yourself or others to meet them? You don't even know what they are? Then need nothing. At a time when I felt adrift and confused and deeply unsure of myself, starving gave me a goal, a way to stand out and exert control, something I could be good at." (Knapp 2003; 9)

Food can be an awesome force to bring people together, to connect us with our place on the earth. I hungered for that connection in the strangeness of my adolescence, but it was nowhere to be found. Food, which could have been an umbilical chord binding me to my home in the earth and the people I held dear, was instead a war zone. So I twisted it into a weapon of control and self-destruction.

Where does this hunger come from, this feeling of never being satisfied? Knapp thinks it comes from the suppressing of appetites, physical and emotional. She envisions a world in which hungers are allowed and honored.

The women linger at the water's edge, and they are stunning in the most unusual way: large women, voluptuous, abundant, delighted. They lounge along the bank, thy lift their arms toward the sun, their hair ripples down their backs, which are smooth and broad and strong. There is a softness in the way they move, and also strength and sensuality, as though they revel in the feel of their own heft and substance.

Step back from the canvas, and observe, think, feel. This is an image of bounty, a view of female physicality in which a woman's hungers are both celebrated and undifferentiated, as

though all her appetites are of a piece, the physical and the emotional entwined and given equal weight. Food is love on this landscape, and love is sex, and sex is connection, and connection is food; appetites exist in a full circle, or in a sonata where eating and touching and making love and feeling close are all distinct chords that nonetheless meld with and complement one another.

Renoir, who created this image, once said that were it not for the female body, he never could have become a painter. This is clear: there is a love for women in each detail of the canvas, and love for self, and there is joy, and there is a degree of sensual integration that makes you want to weep, so beautiful it seems, and so elusive.

The healing process for me has involved re-connecting food with its roots in the earth and with the people who cultivate and concoct it. I look for what is beautiful and clean in food -- if it was grown near my home in a way that nourishes the ground it came from, or if it is given to me as a sign of love by a friend or family member. Then I imagine the goodness of the food filling me up.

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