There are some people who may argue that there are better things in life than roast pumpkin, but I am not one of them. My list of number ones is long, but Pumpkin my dear, you deserve your place amongst the best.
There are also some people who say, “I was so busy, I forgot to eat lunch.”
I am also not one of those people.
I mean, come on! Really?
Forgot to eat? Pu-lease! Only new lovers are allowed to go anywhere near this excuse. Okay and the grieving and heart-broken can ride by on that one too.
But the rest of you….
I’m here to tell you that the last time I forgot to eat I was twelve and still playing with Barbies. Who are these non-lunch-rememberers anyway?
How could anyone possibly forget food when it is everywhere we look and smell, invading our senses and sneaking into our thoughts. Food must be our collective greatest pleasure in life and also our biggest hang up.
So far, I have had more thoughts about food in this life to fill the complete set of Encyclopedia Britanica! But I will try to narrow it down to fit into one itzy-bitzy blog post.
Like all good teenage girls, I had a troubled relationship with food for a while and even into my twenties I went through periods of dysfunction and dissatisfaction, deprivation and dependence. But then one day I said, “enough!” How many thoughts had I wasted on guilt when I could have been making so much more of this life?
Now that I’m all grown up, I can say that I border on the healthier side of obsession. Although I may be hamming it up, nowadays I am more an appreciative admirer than a one-eyed glutton. I don’t crave donuts or chips or junky chocolate or fried goods much, but if and when I do I enjoy it without (much) guilt.
There are some women on a certain level of sainthood who can enjoy three bites of an oh-so-rich chocolate fondant and leave it at that, but that is not me. I am also not thinking about a second serve before I’ve finished the first. Or coming back for an infinity of slivers off the cheesecake. This is progress.
I enjoy good, high-quality food ‘in vast quantities’ (as one ex-colleague put it). My food philosophy is to eat the highest quality, most natural food of whatever I want to eat. For this reason, I’d rather bake a cake than buy one. I love wholegrains and buy organic and prefer to use natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup in my desserts. I enjoy avocado and nuts, coconut and olive oil and don’t count calories.
My current greatest source of inspiration is a blog called Including Cake. Oaty crumbly fruity desserts for breakfast is what turns my dials.
But why all the head space about food if I’m “not obsessed”? This week, one of my French friends invited me to join a closed Facebook group called Kitchen Conspiracy. Yes, they are French and yes they post pictures of their daily culinary creations. A secret society of gourmands? It made me think more about how I organise my salad on the plate and how I would describe it.
Here’s an example from the group;
“Papillote de saumon sur son lit de poireau accompagnée de simple pâtes!”
~ Parcel of salmon on his bed of leek accompanied by plain pasta! ~
I mean, have you ever heard anything sexier about a salmon than ‘on his bed of leek’? The only thing not sexy about this description is the exclamation mark at the end! A trail of dots would have left us wondering…
Is there more?
It could be as simple as a burger or a croque-monsieur or as high-society as home-made macaroons or an artful tower of pasta salad – meals are being designed and described as if they were items on a Michelin menu. And so they should be! What could be more beautiful than reverence and appreciation for the sensual experience of food?
This cooking thing has gone way beyond Jamie and Nigella. It seems that everybody’s doing it! Good food is all over Instagram and Facebook and I’m all for it.
Back in the day, I felt embarrassed when someone, on seeing how my eyes rolled back in my head when talking about a mille-feuille, would call me a gourmand. A gourmand is a food-lover and back then there was much guilt and shame over my desirous urgings. I was not out, loud and proud as I am now. But it seems, the more I came to peace with this part of me, the more my obsession eased and receded into quiet contentment.
It’s like chefs who are not fat. They clearly love food, but perhaps, like all thin people, know that moderation is the key when it comes to enjoyment (yawn, how boring! I know).
Food is so much more to us than a basic requirement – you don’t see anyone salivating over a really great brand of water after all. Food is mostly comfort I think. The times when I have been most obsessed have been when I have been most alone, living in New York and then France, dealing with more stuff than I knew. Supermarkets were the museums of my world.
Later, I read that obsession with food is actually one of the stages of culture shock. It’s our hankering for the comforts of home. I have seen it in many international students of mine. They develop blind obsessions with Tim Tams that are just way out of proportion. It is just a chocolate biscuit after all. At least we have culture shock to blame.
But on the bright side, the sharing of a good meal can transcend even language as a means of communication.
Elizabeth Bard, in her book, Lunch in Paris, describes how she developed a healthy obsession with fresh seasonal produce from the Parisienne markets during the early stages of moving in with her boyfriend, when she couldn’t yet speak French. Family functions were made bearable by her being able to help out in the kitchen. And there’s no need to talk when there’s chewing to be done. Her memories are set out around a series of fantastic meals and I’m sure many who have travelled can relate.
Food can be a way of communicating that is just as loud as language. After all, what says love louder than a home-made birthday cake?
Now, who am I to argue…