It is the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA and so it seems fitting at this time that I write about food and hunger, though this is a thought process that has been in the works for a while now…
When I was around nineteen years old I had the wonderful opportunity to live with my grandmother Ella and grandfather Greg for nearly a year. During that time, I became engaged to marry my husband and thus had domesticity on the brain. Living under the influence of Ella was fortuitous and her mark was evidenced in my own nuclear family for many years. She taught me many basics of cooking which lent their foundations to my spring-boarding recipes. And so my children, friends, nieces and nephews, neighbors and more knew me to be a creative and consistent cook.
*I have to take a side step here, for I know my mom (Margie) reads this blog and will be chiding the computer screen with a “hey, what about me?” type question. My mom is an amazingly creative and gifted culinary master in her own right. Unfortunately for her, I liked only white rice and plain pasta noodles during my formative years. Her cooking left me stuck at the kitchen table as a young girl for hours past the dinner meal, staring at and stirring my grub. I have vivid memories of her pea soup, which now I would relish, but then I thought was some ancient torture ritual and I the prisoner of circumstance. I learned a few tricks of the trade during that time–swallowing peas like pills so as not to taste them and lopping up my food with napkins, burying them down in the bottom of the trash “unrecoverable.” And though it would seem I am the reluctant beneficiary of her talents, I see her in myself and my preferences more and more. I am thankful for her influence though she didn’t find in me the opportunistic learner that her mom did. Now back to the story at hand.
I am winding down in my 27th year of marriage (anniversary in February) and for 23 years of marital bliss I had the circumstance and opportunity to provide meals for my household always with a nutritional and creative lens. I viewed the kitchen as my “lab.” Understanding the chemistry of ingredients and how they react one with another lent for some masterpieces and some flops. I came up with creative ways to serve my husband and children vegetables that they found palatable as well as low-sugar desserts and some high sugar ones as well. Under my grandmother’s influence I started off the culinary arts with a high fat dependence upon butter, cheese and Campbell’s soups. But the more ground I gained as dietician to the Bent family, the “Margie factor” crowded out the Ella influence and hydrogenated fats in the soups were replaced by a love of olive oil and international ingredients. I studied nutritional journals and published papers, kept charts of the nutritional values in different vegetables, fruits, grains and meats, and used this information to better understand the influence food has on the body. I took inventory from my troops of the nutrients they consumed in a day and planned menus to provide variety and diversity of ingredients for the holistic picture. I believed (and still do) that our nutrients are best derived from food and not supplements, so diversity of food has been key in healthy living.
*I must side step again as I find it so ironic when I write or speak about my views on health or faith, because my son died of a brain tumor so I realize that my investment in food and prayer are not exactly the poster child one hopes for, as far as outcomes are concerned…sometimes I wonder if I should have embraced soda and fried chicken! Forgive me as I digress.
Getting back to the subject at hand, which the mention of my deceased will help me to do, is to say that I have spent a good and consistent part of my life creating and being inspired to cook. Which is why, since the loss of Cole, I find it strange that I don’t even feel hunger. My creativity is lost somewhere inside of my struggle to live in loss. My palate craves nothing and my body needs little. This is not to say I dislike food, on the contrary, I do like food-I guess. But my taste is simplistic at best. I am satisfied by an avocado for lunch. Or fish and rice. An artichoke for breakfast along with my coffee is more satisfying than an iconic spread. I now walk the produce section of a grocery store in wonder, with no inspired thought. Oh yes, I know I enjoy sauteed mushrooms but with what? I don’t know and don’t care. I don’t want pasta, but bought a package to have on hand this past week for my young cousin who was visiting. My husband is often eating cereal for dinner as I have no offerings to provide (unless in his ambition he heats up a hotdog and canned beans) and prepackaged meals gross me out. Even salad, usually a favorite of mine, is common place. I assemble one often for lunch because I know this is the type of fuel that works well for my constitution but I don’t crave a certain type. I even find that during the holidays, when hosting at my house, I struggle to think of what others would want and enjoy. I don’t snack and my beverage of choice is water. By my own assessment, I have become quite dull. In full disclosure, this past week I did eat 7 sticky buns (Ella’s recipe courtesy my sister who keeps this family recipe/tradition alive) but declared it my dinner and left everyone else to fend for themselves. On Thanksgiving I bought the ingredients to ensure the traditionalists were happy, but I myself, had not one bite of turkey and ate very little from the side dishes as I felt no pang of hunger. In fact as I sit here and write, Brian (my love) is asking if I’d like a stuffed potato for dinner–his treat courtesy the local barbecue restaurant–to which I give an emphatic “no!” …I’m not hungry and I don’t want to eat.
Living in loss, with loss, can make one feel quite lost. The person I have known myself to be is missing and with her is the desire for food. I eat out of a knowledge base to fuel the body (except for the sticky bun extravaganza which is more of a nod to past practice than anything else) and prefer to have food in its natural state such as rice, fish and vegetables (and I suppose a potato would work). When I think I am craving a food, as soon as I see it, the desire dissipates. I am not fond of this disconnect. But then again I am not a fan of this life without my son in it. So there you have it, my soapbox on food, hunger and grief just as my husband asks me again with a boy-like enthusiasm “are you hungry and ready for dinner?” I of course restate my first answer, but in yielding to the knowledge that fuel is a necessary agent for living, relented and promised to wrap up this post so we can talk dinner (or he can talk rather). I think in this regard a fairy god-mother of food would be helpful for me. I need a Rivka in my life who will assess my nutrient intake of the day, prepare the food I should eat, and tell me it is the only option. Sounds like I need a mom! I suppose this is a maternal retribution, Margie’s revenge…for I scorned her culinary influence once upon a time. Oh irony how thee doth sting.
Stuffed potato anyone?