9.09.2008

What if Julia Child was bulimic?

Consider the following (hypothetical) scenarios:
  • What if Julia Child was bulimic?
  • What if Martha Stewart is a food hoarder?
  • What if Mario Batali is a binge eater?
  • What if Ruth Reichl had anorexia as a teenager?
Disclaimer: I don't have any inside information here, and these aren't guesses so much as "what ifs." I could have mixed up any of these names and any of these conditions, and my point would have been the same: could you feel the same way about them as you now do? 

I am assuming, of course, that you feel anything about them at all; assuming that you even know who they are (that you live in the United States); assuming that you, like me, grant them greater power over their plates and their love handles than the rest of us have. 

How would you feel about the way that you eat if you found out that some of the greatest cooks and food critics have struggled with similar issues? How would your image of the food industry change if you suddenly started to see pathology, instead of pleasure, every time you opened up a glossy food mag?

I, for instance, when I read Ruth Reichl's food memoirs or her editorial welcome in Gourmet, invent a story in my head that she is one of those rare people who have no food problems. I imagine that she's the kind of person who can eat out every night, enjoy seven-course tasting menus at the drop of a hat, and ignore the early-morning alarm clock the next day urging her to get up and go to the gym to work off all of that goose fat. Her food writing -- like most out there -- is so awash in whimsy and delight that I can hardly believe that her food is the same as my food.


My food -- what is my food, exactly?

My food is hard won and hard gained. I swung back and forth on the seesaw of divine restriction and vulgar abundance before coming to rest here, somewhere in the middle -- some days higher, some days lower. Just nudging back and forth, gentle-like, like a pendulum in a light breeze.

My food takes effort. I could tell you about the times I beat egg whites by hand, and kept a low oven on overnight to dry apples, and gathered blackberries by the side of the road. My food is worth the labor that I have put into it, the dints of exertion, and the disappointments.

My food takes love. It is about nourishing the people I love, and learning to love the food that nourishes me.


This love of food took a long time coming. Anorexia, bulimia, call it what you will -- I am no poster child for food, I am no Thomas Keller or Alice Waters or Lynne Rossetto Kaspar. I don't own a trendy cupcake shop or eat at New York's most fashionable restaurants. But what if -- and this suggestion came by way of a friend who had worked in the high-end restaurant business -- my problems are not unknown among them? What if someone or other of these great food people has also found herself on the edge of alimentary madness, staring deep into the abyss of just another bite

These are the things I wonder about, when I borrow a recipe of theirs or plan my meals in advance or take secret pleasure in the color of an eggplant. Is this new just for me, this joy? Or have others struggled as I have, to at last see and touch and smell and taste, at long last? Were they born with something that I have had to acquire through long toil? Finally, does it matter whether our passion for food came from a lucky set of taste buds or a disorder, if we all find a way to love our food in the end?

4 comments:

Lisa said...

You're certainly not alone. Some people never learn to enjoy food - they've never had enough, they've never had someone who cared cook for them; or they've struggled with eating disorders. Perhaps Julia Child, Martha Stewart et al were born with an innate culinary amor, but I imagine their stories are more complicated.

Charlynn said...

Awesome post. :) You are hardly alone in the journey of enjoying food. Somewhere on the spectrum, there are countless people like us at their point in the exploration.

Gaining Back My Life said...

Ahh, the struggle I find myself in when in a nice restaurant. Did the chef prepare this to gleefully add inches to my waist?

Or is it truly passin?

I would like to believe in the later.

Emily Jolie said...

Dear Ai Lu,

I always wonder when I watch the people on the food network! I always wonder what their relationship with food is like, whether it is bittersweet or just sweet. Whether they can enjoy without guilt...

I am pretty sure that Paula Dean can enjoy her food without guilt. Granted I don't condone her way of eating, and by no means do I desire to be able to savor the foods that sheeats without guilt. I prefer to savor foods that not only won't add too many inches to my waistline (without purging), but that are actually healthful and nourish both my body and soul in all the proper ways. Still, I respect her for being so open about her indulgences. Most of the chefs, you hardly see tasting their own food on their shows. Paula Dean dives right into them - she doesn't care if people think she is indulgent!

Then there is Giada DeLaurentis (sp?). I could swear she is bulimic! I may be wrong, who knows. But it just doesn't seem possible to me that she would be so passionate about and spend so much time with food and cooking - mostly pasta dishes, I may add! - and remain so skinny. She's not just lean, she's the kind of skinny you get when you actively restrict and overcompensate (or so I think). For some reason, I always get ticked off watching her, because I feel like she's a fake. She seems too overenthusiastic to me.

Now, Rachel Ray is overenthusiastic, and that can get a tad annoying, too, but I don't sense any fakeness about her.

I don't mean to judge, and I always catch myself, especially in regards to Giada. Maybe the reason she irks me so much is that I felt like such a fake so much of the time with my ED! Especially at the time when I was thin, but I didn't feel I really deserved to be thin, or that it wasn't who I would 'normally' or 'naturally' be. I'd always been an overindulger and someone who could stand to lose a couple of pounds. I felt like I'd betrayed the rest of the women who were more like the 'natural' me.

Long comment... I read your above post, too, and loved to read about all the delicious Asian foods you've been preparing!

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

with care,

~ej