Last night, we bickered. The argument, like most we have, transcended the real reason of the fight. The real reason, wasn’t the fact that I don’t cook meals for my family, that I eschewed family dinners. The argument became a revelation, a confession; my relationship with food is a terrible one. I have feelings, tawdry, strange, ingrained feelings about eating and what I eat and when and how.
What did you cook for dinner, he asked, shoulders down, hang dog expression. It was joke with no punchline because we all know I don’t cook anything. I laughed and then felt really really badly about it. I sent out a funny tweet about the exchange, but then it stopped feeling funny.
He wants dinners around the table, the four of us, eating and talking and asking for more green beans, and passing the ketchup and bringing empty dishes back to the sink, satisfied, grateful, happy. This is what he did, growing up, every night, a ritual. Here’s what I did.
I ate in bed. I ate at night. I grazed all day long. We ate alone, home cooked meals, that my mother scraped together. She fried fries and potato pancakes. She made biscuit and cream cheese cake, a recipe off the back of some cardboard box. She made pomidorówka and veal cutlets. Runny scrambled eggs we sopped up with thick slices of butterd rye bread. Stuff like that. But she found no pleasure it, my mother, as far as I could tell. It was a task, a chore. We lined up in the kitchen with our bowls, and helped ourselves. We sat in front of the TV, or at the table by ourselves or with a book. There was no dinner time. There was no time to eat together. It seemed silly. My father experimented with fish and soups and ground bloody sausage. He liked onions and salt and pepper on everything. He ate like we all did; quickly, sloppy, with our hands if need be. There was nothing precious about food. There was no room for opinions. Food was a neccesity and not an event.
Favorite thing; in bed, with a bowl of watermelon or potato chips, while reading. That was peace. That was a solitary means of survival and happiness. Reating, I called it, and I do it to this day.
I hid my food. I never wanted anyone to see me eat. Even now, I will sit in front the computer after the kids have gone to bed, (fed, fed, till they’ve had their full) and nibble pretzels and Cheetos. And then a cookie, or two. At eleven pm, when no one else is watching. I fall asleep with a book in my hand and a piece of fruit by my side, unpeeled, but just to have it. My husband asks me - what’s that orange doing here? Oh that, that’s nothing.
I want to cook. I envision me, in an apron, why not, nourishing, nurturing the beloved mouths and bellies of my sons and husband. I am crap at it. During the first pregnancy, I cooked, I tried. I baked, Everything turned out mealy and congealed and too salty or bland. Everything burned and fell and went to waste. I don’t have it in my bones, was my excuse.
I love eating out. I love restaurants. It feels special, then. Eating. I eat slowly, then, indulging, chewing slowly, sitting back, feeding my younger son. We never went out to eat as a family, when I was a kid. Maybe once or twice, when we’d drive to Greenpoint to buy kiełbasa. But even then, it was from a self serve counter, no talking, swallowing quickly, because it was so, so good but let’s not milk it.
In college; coffee, cigarettes, a cup of rice. Me, falling down with seizures because I was starving myself. Food was the enemy because I loved it so much, too much. Food was dangerous. It turned me upside down, left me wanting. It brought too much comfort.
What did you cook tonight?
I’m sorry. I fed the kids, chicken nuggets and mashed potaoes from a microwave and corn, that yes, I actually boiled and drained because you told me how. I’m sorry. I will try.
He cooks for us. He grills and flavors and takes things like salmon fillets out of the oven. We sit at the table, joking, laughing, sit down sit down, son. We savor his food because we savor his love. This is another reason, that my husband is the fucking best.
I don’t cook. I write about not cooking in a blog.
But here are some things I never did till a few years ago - drive, write books, give birth. So there is hope for me. I can learn. I can become friends with food, with making it and serving it for my beautiful family - heaping, warm, on a pretty plate, with love.