I mean, it is the month of Thanksgiving. Leaving this one out would be a crime.
Despite my strained relationship with food, it’s something I am still grateful for, some times more than others. None of us would be here, breathing and heart beating and heads thinking, without some of sustenance.
But as I’ve spent a semester in an honors class focused on food, I am reminded of how much more food can mean to us besides the nourishment. It’s the center of culture and community, it can transport us to certain places and memories, it’s affecting our impact on the environment, ourselves, and each other.
There are certain foods I can think of that remind of growing up and comfort and home. Every Sunday, we went to my grandparents’ house for supper with plenty of German food around. At home, we loved trying out every new mac and cheese recipe we could find. And I could never forget to mention the joy that is puppy chow.
It’s no secret that my relationship with food has not been easy, constantly cycling through feelings of contentment into distaste. Rather than the role that it should play, it has been a physical manifestation of my mental illness, an area of life I can pretend to establish control when I feel things are falling apart. In reality, I become obsessed with food and let it rule over basically every part of my life.
Since this mentality toward food is so innate, it has messed with any sense of normalcy. I can’t eat intuitively without wondering how much I’m eating, if it’s enough or too much. It can still be uncomfortable to eat in unfamiliar situations with different people. I have to force myself to eat when I’m physically hungry even if others aren’t eating. Honestly, sometimes I get so lost in my own head and have dealt with these anxieties and emotions for so long, I don’t realize how foreign my thoughts can seem to others.
Especially entering this honors class focused on food-related topics, I came in with a much different attitude toward food than all of my classmates. Food was never a form of self-harm for them. They automatically empathize with the uncomfortable feeling when anybody mentions eating disorders.
With all of this said, I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made. Many factors have gone into this point, but when thinking of food specifically, I am beyond grateful for my transition to veganism. This month marks eight months since first becoming vegan, and I have found a new relationship with food I never thought possible. Veganism helps me feel more comfortable with food knowing that what I eat serves a purpose beyond myself. Not that it isn’t healthy because it’s food that makes me feel great, but I know that the choices I make are the most ethical for other living beings and the environment, too. I love feeling like I can be some form of an advocate at every meal, all while eating awesome food.
It’s not that my hesitations and anxieties have disappeared; they’re certainly still always there. I’ve just gotten better at pushing it aside so I can actually enjoy life and appreciate food for what it is: food. Not some scary, foreign substance out to ruin me. Food is a part of living.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into this topic, but in Western culture, food turns into something far beyond health and sustenance. We are bombarded with messages of dieting and detox foods and everything in between. We yo-yo among different fads in hopes of reaching a certain goal. The real goal should be nutrition and maintaining balance long-term.
And I know I am extremely fortunate to say that I’ve always had food accessible to me. I have never wondered where and when my next meal would come. Something so simple that those without that stressor in life don’t even think about. Hunger certainly isn’t a problem going away any time soon, but the fact that we have people mindlessly wasting food or throwing it away makes me cringe. Probably the same level of disgust as seeing billboards along the interstate toting the “American way” of hunting and eating steak. No, thank you.
I’m getting distracted. I am grateful for food. I am grateful for how eating nutritious food feels and the energy I receive from it. I am grateful for the sense of comfort I receive from eating the not-so-nutritious foods, too. I am grateful for dessert. I am grateful for the warm feeling in my stomach from a great meal. I am grateful for the warmth from wrapping my hands around a cup of coffee in the morning. I am grateful for the traditions I can always rely on and the memories from them involving food, even if I can’t necessarily eat it anymore or have to modify. It’s less about the food itself and more about the people you get to share it with. Finding gratitude and remembering the positives helps me overlook the doubts.
Especially with Thanksgiving tomorrow, the food is the center of attention. More importantly, however, is the people behind it all, sitting around the table. But food certainly helps. And I hope others can also enjoy a day full of good food and people.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie