“I’m a foodie!” I hear them declare proudly! I myself could never say this and feel proud; I would feel embarrassed as if caught eating a pound of Girl Scout thin mint cookies while hiding behind a swath of mink coats in the back of my grandmother's closet.
I think it’s because I was brought up by a mother who had self-image issues. She never felt thin enough or pretty enough. She would perform her household duties with scotch tape over her mouth so she couldn’t nibble and pick. So I learned to feel guilty about eating things. Things like: Doritos, cake, pepsi, chocolate-covered pretzels--especially fudge! I am now chubby and I find it difficult to enjoy any food I eat unless I’m on a diet--weighing and measuring the food I eat somehow redeems the experience for me. When I don’t measure my food, I feel out of control. When I measure it, I can feel the joy we should naturally feel when eating delicious foods.
I am more comfortable calling myself a gourmet or an epicure because those words indicate someone refined in his likes who seeks out only the best. A foodie, on the other hand, is enthusiastic about food in general. I think it’s this enthusiasm that embarrasses me. We’re supposed to eat to live, right? But why do I live to eat? Why do I feel a sense of communion when I eat an amazing dish of Indian curry or Pad Thai or one of Joanne Chang’s Homemade Oreos? (Maybe this feeling is common and is why eucharist is such a powerful metaphor for the union of the spiritual and material.) When I’m eating Japanese food why do I feel that I’ve passed half-way across the bridge that spans the gap of cultural understanding? I feel closer to the artists who draw manga comics; I feel the pain inflicted by the recent earthquake; I feel the strength of a Samurai!
Food has played such an important role in my emotional life and my imagination! I used to eat raspberries from my grandmother’s hand as she picked them from the bush. Once when I was six, my family wanted to go on a picnic but it was raining terribly that day, so my mother pretended that she’d opened a restaurant. She sketched a menu in crayons and offered my father and us four children a menu with a choice of dinners--this was before the time of prefab mixes! She offered meals like Southern-Fried Chicken and Lasagna and Macaroni & Cheese and Popovers--all from scratch!
When I was a child, we was po’; we was so po’, we was Edgar Allan Poe. We didn’t eat store-bought bread or cakes or pies. My mother made everything herself. As she kneaded the bread, she gave each child a small piece of dough to work. Then we’d all set them on the stove under a dish towel to keep them warm and allow them to rise. We’d bake them all together and when they were out of the oven we’d each rub a little pat of butter on top of our own loaf.
Maybe I am a foodie. My whole life is woven with experiences of delight and wonder at tasting amazing food! For example, flounder and strawberries. Or fig jam in fried rice! Or Lydia Shire’s Lobster Pizza! Or when I first watched a waiter use a small mallet to break the red clay encasing a rainbow trout wrapped in grape leaves at La Casa Sena in Santa Fe in 1986. That same year, I was overjoyed when I consumed a Frito Pie--chili con carne ladled into a bag of Fritos--
at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Santa Fe Square.
My passion for food is really my passion for love because I eat the same foods again and again to feel close to those I’ve loved and to relive cherished moments of my life. So I will admit that I’m a foodie--but only within this context of communion. For I’m still afraid you’ll find out that I once ate a pint of Ben N Jerry’s Chubby Hubby in one sitting and had to sleep off the sugar high.