There is a brilliant play by Tina Howe called The Art of Dining – if you know nothing about it, look it up. I was first introduced to the script in college when, at the age of 18, I was cast as Herrick – the hearty eater in a student-directed production. I took no offense to such typecasting because while the description may invoke visions of a larger, more robust woman, it was the character’s gusto for food and the whole dining experience that danced off the pages and into my young, sponge of a mind. I related to her OH SO VERY WELL.
The play centers around a night out of dining and follows the intimate relationship between each character and food. It also delves deeper into why and how those relationships exist on a very emotional level. As I was driving today, the thought of a blog post centered around food and our relationship to it as women, mothers, and a society took me off guard and excited me in a way like not many other posts have lately.
It might seem strange to think that as I was driving I was thinking about food – I mean, I was (at the time) eating a shitty glazed donut and thinking about what a waste of calories it was. However, it all stemmed from a conversation I had with my husband Chris the other day that had popped back into my mind.
We were discussing the tragic passing of Anthony Bourdain, a chef and celebrity we have followed with great admiration for quite some time. We were talking about how uniquely REAL he was and how often, the stories and emotion he pulled from those he interviewed were more profound and interesting than those unveiled by trained journalists. The reason? He used food and gathering around a table to connect to others.
Sitting around a table is something we do in all cultures, in all parts of the world. It is how we connect as a family, how we offer comfort, how we celebrate, how we learn. And yet, in our country, I feel like much of that art has been lost lately… we are a generation of rushed, stressed, dieting, obese, individuals that have somehow turned beautiful relationships with food ugly in so many ways. We hardly gather together as families to eat (some of you do, and that is amazing, but I would say there is a vast majority out there eating in shifts and standing up over sinks inhaling a few quick bites in between soccer practice and bath times). We have either turned to food to fill voids in ourselves and then despair at our gluttonous behavior or we have used it as a tool of control to painfully create some sort of order in the chaos. We talk about food with guilt, disgust or justification in tow. We deliver babies and immediately start wondering how to eat our way back to our former selves. We trade calories burned for calories consumed. We track our every bite on apps and then fall off the wagon and shovel entire sleeves of cookies into our mouths when no one is looking.
And I think it’s because we have stopped making time for the joy that comes from cooking, eating and gathering. Family dinner used to be a time to sit around a table and share every up and down of the day. We offered each person an opportunity to talk and vent or share an incredible piece of a day we had not been privy to before. Food could be eaten more slowly, savored, enjoyed. Because we were filling up our soul’s cups with love and comfort, we didn’t need to then fill those proverbial cups with more and more food.
As a woman and a mother, I often feel like I need to hide my love for food. But I LOVE IT. I love it SO much. I love new flavors and experiencing new cultures, I love creamy ice cream on hot days, I love wine and pasta and can remember talking about my passion for lobster with drawn butter as young as five years old. I have never been skinny – I have been average, I have been overweight, I have been average again. I have dieted, I have eaten healthy, I have gone completely off the deep end and eaten without tasting, but I have never lost the joy that it brings me and the happiness I feel when I sit around a table and share a meal with family and friends.
I’m tired of new mothers talking about getting their old bodies back. I’m tired of women waking up every morning and stepping on their scales. I’m tired of articles about obesity being slammed in between pages filled with starving models. I’m tired of it because I let those feelings and messages seep into my own brain and take up far too much space. I don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying something that is not fat-free or low carb. I don’t want to spend every spare second of my life tracking points and calories. I don’t want to use food to soothe my pain or fill voids. I just want to eat, to be active, to be healthy, to be happy. I want to do it without guilt or remorse and to feel confident no matter what size I am. I want to teach my son and those around me that loving the skin you’re in isn’t something you need to hide. I want people to stop telling new mothers to “be more active” or “lose the baby weight.” I want everyone to shut up and stay out of it.
I want us, as a society of instant gratification and excess, to slow down and SAVOR. To taste, to talk, to comfort one another in real life and not through text. So today, I made my son’s lunch and I made my own and I sat next to him at the table and ate and talked to him about his day. I put on music, I lit a candle and I marveled as he let out a big “MMMMM” after every delicious bite he took.
I am going to re-read that play from college and I am going to try to find a way to bring back the art of dining to my own little family. And I am going to do my best to show the world that being physically/emotionally healthy and also eating with joy and gusto are not mutually exclusive. Are you with me?