The Joy and Agony of Food

I think I’ve killed the joy of eating.

This realization hit me on my last birthday when Lancelot asked me what I wanted for dinner. I racked my brain trying to come up with something, sitting in silence so long that I started to annoy him. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I just couldn’t think of anything that sounded good. I used to have big opinions about my favorite foods. I used to agonize over whether I wanted a big, juicy steak or a gooey cheeseburger. Then I struggled to choose between cedar-plank salmon and a giant salad with Italian dressing and Greek olives. There was a time when I would know exactly what I wanted and I’d feel great about eating it. Now, I just feel overwhelmed to the point of disinterest. “I don’t care,” I remember saying on my birthday, and it was the absolute truth. I didn’t care. I don’t care. I’m just over it.

All I’ve been doing is trying to find something that isn’t a choking hazard, doesn’t break the bank, is easy enough to prepare, doesn’t cause indigestion, stays fresh long enough to get eaten, doesn’t cause too much of a mess, looks appealing, is easy enough for my little guys to eat, is seasonally appropriate, supports my local community, has nutritional value, doesn’t have GMOs, doesn’t harm animals or vegetables or minerals to consume, doesn’t contain ingredients that my friends and family are allergic or sensitive to, isn’t “weird,” and doesn’t have too much sugar but does have enough flavor to entice the people that I’m making it for. If it is organic, all the better.

And it’s all sucked the joy out of food.

I have tweaked my diet so many times over the years, and have inundated myself with so much information about food and nutrition and health via friends and pediatricians and books and documentaries and magazines and blogs that I just can’t even stomach the thought of food at all anymore. It has absolutely no joy for me.

I didn’t mean to do this. I value health and vitality immensely, and I truly believe that food is medicine. I’ve had nothing but good intentions. I want to choose and prepare delicious and nutritious meals for my family and myself. I want to sit down and enjoy every morsel on my plate with gratitude and mindfulness.

I didn’t think I was searching for the perfect food or the perfect meal, but I have definitely been aiming for something better than just “good enough,” and now I’m in this weird place where nothing is good enough, or maybe everything is, because I don’t even care anymore.

Throughout my life food has been many things to me, most notably a source of both pleasure and guilt. Sometimes food is both, thus the term “guilty pleasure.” I can vividly recall simple and delicious meals I’ve enjoyed at home and abroad. I can also vividly recall the shame of being discovered eating something forbidden or looked down up. “You’re eating that?” is a question that even know fills me with fear and embarrassment.  It doesn’t matter if it’s chocolate cake, cheddar cheese, black coffee or white bread. The shame is the same. Even worse, now that I’m feeding two little boys, I get to answer the question, “You’re feeding them that?” Never mind that my little guys will only allow three or four foods to even grace their table.

I live in constant fear of judgment for what I eat, but it’s only partially in fear of the judgment other people bestow on me. Mostly, I judge myself. I judge myself as if there is a perfect food out there, even as I travel down this road rejecting the very notion of and quest for perfection.  I judge the food I give my children, because I know that they can’t shop and cook and feed themselves so it’s my responsibility to ensure their tiny bodies are nourished. I judge the food I serve at parties, because there is real danger in potentially harming my friends with allergies and there is social pressure to provide tasty food to the group. I judge the food I nibble on after the lights go down and everyone is asleep, because the timing is wrong.

There isn’t a perfect food. I’ve looked, and I’m here to tell you with certainty, there is not. Spinach could cause an E-coli outbreak. Chia seeds get caught in your teeth. Too many carrots turn your skin orange. Granola has sugar. Potatoes have starch. Kale causes gas.

I’ve had enough. Food is central to life and is a luxury I’m tired of analyzing to death. I want to enjoy it. I am determined to enjoy it. I’m determined to live Michael Pollan’s simple advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  But I’m also determined to enjoy food again.

Is there a way to consciously fuel your body and savor the deliciousness at the same time? Maybe. I’m going to try to find out.

I’m determined to find a way to put the pleasure back into food.

Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World


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