I don’t tell you what to do very often, but watch this video by Penny De Los Santos on food, photography, and most importantly, living. I promise you’ll be glad you saw it.
“Food connects us like nothing else I have ever seen. It has the ability to peel away at all of our differences and help us find a common language. Food is the most honest and simple expression of who we are.”
-Penny De Los Santos
Penny’s words made me think about something that enters my mind fairly often – the fact that I am a food refugee. Or refusenik. Something not normal, anyway – something far away from the middle of the road.
First, over 25 years ago, I became a vegetarian in a family of meat-eaters.
Then, as I explored the world of cooking and cuisine, I gradually rejected most of the foods I grew up with. I was raised with convenience food – Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup as sauce, Bisquick as a base for about 1000 different meals from biscuits to “pizza.”
But once I started reading cookbooks and chef’s memoirs and spending too much money at restaurants, there were no more mashed potatoes from a box for me – they had to be garlic mashed potatoes with real butter or nothing. I would no more open a can of soup than drink Tang.
More recently, I have become someone who is on a diet where I find it necessary to watch every bite of food that goes into my mouth.
I don’t think I did these things to tear myself away from my family and friends, but my decisions have had that effect. I know my dad used to be disappointed when he would barbecue delicious Italian sausage and I would refuse the chunks he offered me, sizzling from the grill.
There is no such thing as a food holiday for me anymore – no Thanksgiving turkey, no Easter ham, no Christmas cookies. When someone invites me to a holiday meal, I am That Problem Person, over there pushing broccoli around on my plate, skipping the pie.
I gradually gave up eating with my mom, too – there were just too many canyons separating the way we ate and I think mostly she hated my food and I hated hers.
I also got tired of her running commentary on how I ate, what I ate and how fast I ate compared to her. I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and I have to say I am happier not eating with her, though she is not happier for my absence.
I mostly eat by myself now, and when I do have meals with others, I still keep myself carefully restricted, never ordering the fries, always skipping the chips and guacamole, always watchful, counting.
What does it mean that I am a lone, solitary eater, trapped in a world I made for myself? Will I ever be at home in the world of sharing meals again, fully appreciating what is offered me without considering what it is made of, how it is made and how many calories it has? I don’t think I will, and after watching Penny’s video, that brings tears to my eyes. Making a last meal of chicken soup and sharing it with a dying parent? That isn’t going to happen.
What have I done to myself? How have I gone this far, and has the trip been worth it? If food connects us like nothing else, what does it mean that I have chosen to be so unconnected?