I’m not here to defend being a foodie, because I don’t think it needs defending. But enough people seem concerned about my fixation with food that I thought I’d spell it out nice and clear. Here, in brief, is why I fucking love food.
Despite the fact that it’s been implied in certain places that caring a lot about food (and, for me, how what I eat directly affects the way I feel in my body and the way my body functions healthfully or unhealthfully) is somehow a form of mental illness, I don’t see it as any different than my other primary mental occupation (literature). In the same way that we need mental stimulation, and I am overmuch excited by the way I choose to mentally stimulate myself (good books), we also need to eat, and I am overmuch excited by the way I choose to feed myself; my enthusiasm for the way I feed myself and those around me–and where the food comes from, and how it gets put together in infinitely tasty combinations, and how to experiment with it, and where to get it for special occasions, and so forth–knows very few bounds indeed.
See, I understand my foodie fixation as being the culmination of a huge number of factors in my life. Here are some of them, as I see them.
Family: My mother is not a soft and cuddly person. She was a pastor’s wife who hated hugging strangers and reviled the idea of “women’s craft groups.” But she knew that she could show affection for her family, and communicate it effectively, through making, with care, the food we all enjoyed. That is why, to this day, homemade macaroni and cheese is inextricably linked in my brain with familial tenderness and taking care of the people in your home. It just is; it’s an equivalency that I have questioned and come to happy terms with.
Background: I’m an alcoholic. I have had unhealthy fixations on things I put into my body, so I know what that looks like. I know what it feels like in my body not to eat at all for a week and just get sustenance from vodka and cranberry juice. That is sick. That is a sick relationship with food. That is a sick relationship with yourself. But after sobering up and rediscovering my appetite, I found that food wasn’t just necessary, wasn’t just fuel. It was also fun. It was a delicious use of the senses I had returned to myself when I chose to stop drinking. This bullet point alone in my roster of foodieness is enough to make me want to shake people who try to tell me how “unhealthy” or “unnatural” my fixation with food is. I can look back just two years and show you unhealthy and unnatural. Food obsession has been an essential part of returning myself into my body, fully, in an overpowering awareness. And the thing is, for other foodies I know, it didn’t have to be alcoholism. It could be the destructive culture of dieting we live in, or a weariness with the ennui that they woke up from via their tastebuds first, but later the rest of their selves. Food, properly enjoyed, is an awakening.
Necessity: And the thing is, we all have to eat it. We all have to eat. Period. If you are reading this you are a person who has to eat food, because only people in extreme catatonia can survive for long without food. So it kind of baffles me when people ask me why I’m so into food, because I guess my response has to be another question: why aren’t you? Why allow the thing that powers you through life, the thing you have to do multiple times daily, to be merely a mediocre fueling, when it is so easy to merely slow down, choose to enjoy the sensation of eating, and notice the flavors, smells, textures, sounds, and visuals of what you put into your body? I realize that this is a point that those who disagree with me and I will just have to part ways on, but I literally cannot wrap my head around the idea of a person who does not divine bliss out of the act of eating. Have you ever eaten chocolate? A Pink Lady apple? Tomato soup? Fucking cheese? Cheese is evidence on its own of God in the world.
Speaking of God: I know, I can easily see how this can be construed as over the top, but I have a fraught relationship with my own intensely religious background, and one of the only things I’ve ever been able to wholeheartedly get on an automatic basis out of my entire lifetime of Christian education is how food and the body, and spiritual sustenance and the spirit are all essentially tied together, one and the same. Whether you’re talking about the mystery of the Eucharist, the Orthodox church’s seasonal tides of feasting and fasting, or even the way that so many holy days (you know, holidays?) have food rites and routines and traditions directly associated with them, Christianity, and for that matter most other spiritual traditions as well, is a little bit obsessed with the inherency of food in our understanding of the divine.
But what it all boils down to: is that it’s just something I’m good at, that I get extreme pleasure out of, and that proceeds as a natural extension of my experiences, abilities, and interests. And it makes me ragebaffled that people consider this passion a form of mental illness, because I think that signifies not only a true ignorance of what it means to be a foodie (not just for people with culinary degrees; come on, now), but also divorcedness from their own bodies and the enjoyment therein.
In the end, for me, it comes down to unadulterated enjoyment. I know plenty of people out there (ahem, the patriarchy, ahem) have an issue with women enjoying themselves without restriction or apology. But I kind of expect everyone who isn’t The Man to get it. What it’s about isn’t just calories in, calories out, or carefully tiptoeing around my second cousin’s eating disorder. What it’s about, for me, and for the many other foodies of varying degrees out there like me, is simply bliss. It’s simply joy. It’s simply a very, very keen, very conscious appetite.