Food, whether we’re aware of it or not, seems to have always been a barometer of who we are as a people, as a nation, and as individuals. As I come into my own as an eater, I see how my relationship with food defines me and who I am defines the foods I love.
When I was a child, I ate like a child. I was born and breastfed. I was weaned late. I was spoon fed Gerber baby food and chewed on drool-soaked Cheerios. Until the age of five, I grew up in, and ate from, the back yard Victory garden my mother cultivated. After selling our New England farmhouse, my family moved into a commuter home and ate organic food my mother prepared in large batches for weeklong consumption.
Though my mother advocated macrobiotic cooking, I tended to reject freshly cooked vegetables and craved foods I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’d save my allowance, ride my bike three miles to the town general store, and buy a candy bar and a can of Mellow Yellow soda for the sugar buzz. Occasionally, my mother’s healthy resolve crumbled under the pressure of monthly hormones. I’d see that certain, cagey look in her eyes and I knew she’d soon forgo the naturally sweetened treats of the macrobiotic collective market and steal away to the local supermarket for a gallon of ice cream. Being a resourceful, food-driven child, I knew my window of opportunity was brief and took full advantage of my mother’s weakened state in order to guilt her into buying boxes of cookies and Kraft macaroni and cheese for myself and my processed food-deprived brother and sister.
Politics of Eating
When I was a twenty year old, I ate like a political twenty-year old. I was a vegetarian, a pesce-tarian, an occasional vegan, and a perpetually broke college student. I never ate meat, ate salads when I could afford it, had fish on special occasions, and consumed inordinate amounts of noodles and rice. I bought my first cookbook (The Silver Palate) and cooked every vegetarian recipe the book had to offer. I made soup and discovered pesto. I ate veggie burgers for almost every meal. I became lactose intolerant. I discovered Ben and Jerry’s and Lactaid. I was anemic, pale, had low energy, and was sick to my stomach most of the time.
Move West Young Eater
When I turned thirty, I ate like a person that had never tasted fresh food before. I was one of Los Angeles’ newest residents–eager to discover the incredibly diverse culinary world of California. After a lifetime of living and eating in Massachusetts, I moved to LA to attend film school and study screenwriting. I left the comfort of home to dedicate myself to writing. I didn’t move west to enjoy myself. I moved west to learn.
My writing was invigorated by the flood of cultural differences around me. Beyond the body revealing outfits and movie star good looks of everyone on the street, were incredible restaurants and markets selling foods I had never seen before. I ate my first soft taco and fought the haunting temptation to try the grilled birds at Zankou Chicken. In a single walk around the neighborhood I could drink freshly squeezed fruit at the neighborhood Jamba Juice and finish up with a plate of spicy Thai food from a scary looking strip mall. I filled farmer’s market bags with strange fruits (durian, Satsuma oranges) and vegetables (fennel, wild arugula) I had never tasted before. I devoured bagels fresh out of the oven on Larchmont, bought three dollar lunches from a burrito stand and spent my lean script-reader paychecks at the Thai town market. Between studio jobs as an assistant, story analyst and production coordinator I cooked Pad Thai, stir-fry, Thai basil salmon and made shrimp filled Vietnamese spring rolls.
When I realized my low paying jobs kept me from writing, I went back to the restaurant business. Despite seventeen years without red meat, I landed a bartending job at a steak house.
It didn’t take long before I became a meat eater. A month into the job, I forced myself to taste the dry aged steak so that I could describe it better to customers. Once that half morsel of steak touched my tongue —hardly even a mouthful to any serious meat eater—my resolve to remain a vegetarian was ended. That first bite was tender, juicy, salty, meaty, and so alive with flavor that any shred of guilt or questioning was immediately replaced with the gut wrenching feeling that my body NEEDED that meat and WANTED more.
Becoming an Eater
At the age of 31, with my first taste of red meat since I was a teenager, I discovered the love of eating. In that moment, I became an eater.
Nothing has been the same since. At 31 I was reborn. My health was restored. I felt energy I hadn’t experienced since I was a child. Cheese no longer made me ill. My face was flush. My heart beat faster.. Suddenly, I was no longer controlled by food.
The world of food has opened up to me. With no restriction on what I can or cannot eat, I am an eater of all things. I eat to discover the glory of food. For the first time in my life, I eat not just to fulfill an inherent need for sustenance, but for knowledge. I eat with gusto. I eat with passion. I eat to discover.