I feel an aversion to writing about my school lunches at Pembridge Hall, my elementary school. So much of my childhood, I feel, was awash with humiliation. As a kid, I remember, I would find myself doing all matter of deeply embarrassing things and being completely conscious of them. And yet having almost no control over them. Not being able to pour water from a large jug and spilling it everywhere. Bringing my hamster downstairs to show the adults, and then they laughed at a joke, or laughed at me. I’m not sure which.
Most of my childhood, I remember my mother was adamant that we should eat healthily. She has a condition, a phobia or a kind of obsessed compulsive disorder around healthy food. We always had the sad, wholegrain, sugarless, flavorless snacks when I was a child. No white pasta. No white bread. To this day I can find any type of pasta, except the kind that I like to eat, in my parents’ cupboard. Quinoa pasta, spelt pasta, red bean lentil pasta, whole wheat pasta, rice pasta. I feel like the universe created these stupid types of pasta just so that my well-meaning, middle-class mother could buy them, to spite me.
As I’ve gotten older, her obsession with food has become more serious. It’s just a painful situation that I don’t like to talk about. I go home, and there’s nothing but vegetables in the fridge. It’s terrible. My dad ends up ordering Chinese food because my mother doesn’t cook anything. She enjoys unhealthy food when it’s in the house, as long as it’s not brought in by her, but she’ll bitch endlessly about how she’s breaking all the rules. It’s a whole thing. I’ve talked about it in therapy. It’s a miracle that I don’t have an eating disorder, to be honest. Food has been a subject of such heart-wrenching scrutiny, it amazes me I’m still able to enjoy it and eat it at all.
I get where my mother is coming from. Most of the women in her family are obese, so that’s not ideal. But it’s gotten to an extreme that makes me glad I’m an independent adult with my ability to make my own choices. She’s breathed so much anxiety and utility and logic into food, I just cannot bare to think about food anymore. My sisters have inherited some of her tactics. Vegetarian creeping into veganism and picking apart food constantly. Just eat the bacon fat. Or the chicken fat. Just drink the whole fat milk. Taste it. Enjoy it. Guilt free. Just enjoy your life. None of us are alive for long enough to make this level of scrutiny worth it.
At the age of 26, just last year, I had a full-on meltdown in the parking lot of a grocery store when I went shopping with my family. One of my sisters and my parents and I had been driving from Oxnard to Tahoe in the car for about 6 hours already. We stopped at a grocery store to buy food for the trip, and of course all hell broke loose. I did my best to follow my parents’ instructions, checking the sugar content and the ingredients in the food I was choosing. And I picked the organic eggs, but not the cage free organic eggs.
Anyway, we get out to the car, and my sister says something along the lines of, “Why didn’t you get the cage free organic eggs?” and I absolutely lost my shit. I couldn’t understand why I was so furious, so seething and angry. I shouted at her. I cried. We got back in the car. I hate feeling angry. I find it embarrassing too, and uncontrollable, and that makes me angrier because I don’t understand why I’m so angry. But after I had calmed down a bit, I was able to talk through everything. And I realized that it was because I had had food picked apart and scrutinized my whole life, I could not take it from my sister as well. I just couldn’t do it. I can’t do it.
So that’s why I’m not a vegetarian or vegan. The amount of anxiety I’ve experienced around food from my family, even though we’re not food insecure and have never been and will never be is so, so sad. It breaks my heart. And so that’s why I don’t talk about food. I don’t make comments about food. I don’t complain about the calories in food. I eat guilt free. I eat what I want. I let the people around me eat guilt free also. I encourage other people to eat what they want and enjoy it. Food is there to be enjoyed, just as our short lives are there to be enjoyed also.
Since writing this post, I've been working on some of the deeper emotions that food stirs up in me. As I get older and want to be healthier, I do want to develop a diet where I reduce my consumption of meat. I'm just going to have to do it on my own terms when I'm ready.