Winter darkness closes in. The fog sits like a fat puffed out hen nesting on the top of the mountains surrounding the valley. The Maple leaves in my back yard are falling more like moulting this year than any Pre-Raphaelite depiction of staged, colorful drama.
And now is the time that facebook and twitter starts to show the “fix” for the season of impeding death. Brownies, bacon, bacon brownies. Turkey stuffed with bread and sausage. Thick fat and sugar layers glisten on the designer created mock food pictures that people are grabbing from the internet pantry and laying down on the status pages. “Here,” the words and images say, “here is how to cope with the dark, cold enclosed time of year.”
Food is one of our greatest distractions in North America. We want it fast and fat. As I travelled through the grocery store today, I marvelled at the plethora of prepared sauces, dips, spreads, soups which simply did not exist in my childhood.
We had Campbell’s Soup and then prepared spaghetti sauce. But the gourmet-pseudo amalgams that I saw today were far from our imaginations in the ’50’s and ’60’s.
My mother whose family was from England, wrapped everything in aluminum foil and allowed it to bake in the oven until the parsnips, carrots, potatoes and steak were largely indistinguishable from one another. As she got more daring into the ’60’s she would throw in celery and garlic. Good wholesome food cooked to beyond death. Yum. And you could eat it with a spoon.
I remember in the ’70’s when chips started to appear. The salty slices would be placed in a large punch bowl with dried soup (usually onion) mixed in with cream cheese as a dip. It was at this point that my mother’s size 4 body ballooned up to a size 16. Each time I returned home she was transformed. At night in the winter, the rain fell.
Her second marriage was not working out in the way she had hoped. This man was silent, withdrawn, uneducated and stood every evening at the back of the room chain smoking.
She had her fat and salt to keep her happy.
The evolution of my own fear/romance with food existed within the topography of both the societal shifts and the change in familial patterns.
As a baby, my mother tells me, I cried. I cried a lot for months. She told me she would force a bottle into my mouth to keep me quiet. I apparently did some kind of “damage” to her breasts so she could not nurse, she informed me.
At meal times, the tension meter went up to red rage. We would sit each to a side at the table and eat head down. It was in those moments when I would swallow each bite with sand like fear. My father’s temper could result in a chair being hurdled into a corner of the room. I remember distinctly when I said I did not like something and he shattered my plate on the wall next to my head. The blood ketchup wept down the wall.
As I grew older, my mother began to see me as competition. It was at this time that she spent considerable energy “feeding” me up. “Here, have some pie,” she would say with her eyes narrowing daring me to reject it. There was always more food than I could comfortably eat. I went from a size 6 to a size 12 by the time I left home.
She would always buy me clothing that was too big when I was a teenager. “Oh, you look that size,” she would say at Christmas or my birthday.
She was asked to be a model on the runway of several local fashion and hair dressing shows. Once when we were walking beneath a construction site when I was 13, high above us workers called out, “Hey there beautiful!” I looked up. “Not you,” the male voice said, “the other one.” My mother’s body small, trim, and attracting attention was something I lived with as she fed me up.
So today, I realize that my relationship with food is driven by past experiences. I do not enjoy sitting in a group eating. Anxiety, fear, a sense of vulnerability arise. In addition, the food that is offered in social settings is problematic. The result of having cancer is that I am now intolerant of many “common” foods.
The result of being a chunky daughter of a gorgeous mother is that I am intolerant of what is considered “normal” foods on a deeper, psychological level. My defence mechanisms come into play.
Today, I am grateful that I am a new person. I have worked out for almost two years and built a muscular, thin body. However, the negative force field that surrounds food is still evidenced in my thought patterns. If I eat grapes, I feel guilty. For years, I would go almost all day without eating anything. When I was in university, I would eat bags of candy when I had an exam in a course that was challenging. Even this last winter I went to bed with a bag of gluten free cookies when my son was in danger. I awoke with crumbs stuck to my skin as if I were coated and ready to cook. It is my equivalent to an alcoholic melt down.
So in the past I have had stuffing sessions but never purging. I have been an incomplete bulimic. So in the past I have had anorexic periods without the crazy exercise or extended behavior. Always within a carefully monitored range, I have had a kind enough relationship with my body to snap out of it within a day or two.
In addition, to the dinner table abuse of violence and forced feeding, I also was left to prepare most of the meals from the age of 13 on because my mother worked shift hours. Today, I dislike cooking. I dislike eating in public with a group. Most of the foods which are considered normal, average, usual cannot be processed in my body. Even when I am at home alone, I do not eat a meal at the table. It is over the computer, distracted by a book, watching television. So the act of eating is not the focus. Eating is a way for me to sustain the body that I love, to keep me healthy, to build muscle and keep my mind alert. It is surrounded by guilt and anxiety.
What I am observing is the legacy of memories. How I rewrite that script, how I reconstruct my relationship with food will be an interesting journey. I begin by talking about it.