Food and I go way, way back. We are long time, intimate buddies, a relationship built on desire, need, and practicalities. My first squalid romance with food involved canned spinach. I loved to eat it. I loved to put it on my head. I loved to smear it on my high chair tray. Sadly, there is evidence of this in countless photos taken by an amused mother and father.
I still love spinach, but not in a can. Sautéed in olive oil with garlic and a squeeze of lemon at the end. Nonie of it ends on my head.
In my childhood I was desperate for bologna, Coca-Cola in glass bottles, Captain Crunch breakfast cereal, Missile popsicles, 50/50 bars, Twinkies, and Snowballs. I wanted a hamburger on a bun, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken. I wanted Brussels sprouts, canned peaches, and iceberg lettuce salad with lots of dressing. If it was gooey or cheesy or buttery, I was in.
Later, I wanted Poor Boy sandwiches, the kind that the pool canteen heated up in the microwaves (they had to be invented before this could happen). I wanted to slather them with ketchup and mayonnaise and eat them in one quick sitting. One of my friend’s mothers ran the canteen, and one night we stole the key and broke in, eating Big Hunks and Snickers until we were verging on sick.
In college, I just wanted food. I was living on a budget of 300 dollars a month, and I was always hungry. I wanted to eat food that wasn’t just called “Tuna” and “tomato Soup,” both found in the generic aisle. I didn’t want to eat one more bowl of Top Ramen. I wanted to kill myself before I had to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, that didn’t taste anything like my mother’s homemade kind. No more cheap luncheon meat. No more sun tea, the kind I made outside on my deck with Lipton tea bags that I stole from the Sociology Department. When I went home, I ate my way through my mother’s pantry, and then took food home with me in order to avoid eating more “tuna.”
As a financially struggling young mother, I destroyed my children forever by serving them too many bowls of spaghetti. They will never be able to look a fish stick in the eye. They hate tuna, even though it was no longer generic. I can only get them to eat lasagna if it is home made. Don’t even mention the words “Boboli Pizza Shell.” They might do a kung fu kick to your groin.
Though I have always loved to cook, my former spouse and I prepared meals that were easy and quick. There was homework to go over, activities to drive to, and no time to cook. We lived in a landlocked town in terms of grocery stores. Safeway sat like the monolith it was, and though it now boats more organic food, I still can’t find a loaf of Acme bread if I happen to roll through there. We shopped, we prepared, we moved on to the next thing.
Somewhere along the line, I grew up and got money. My kids stopped needing meals three times a day. They could make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was no longer working on campus five days a week plus one night—I was no longer driving everyone everywhere.
I slowed down. My food slowed down. Whole Foods opened in a town close by. I found the time to really prepare meals. I learned how and what to eat, the kind of food that was built out of desire and health and taste.
When I left my marriage, eating wasn’t that high on my list. I felt too nervous to eat, but slowly, I set up my kitchen again, buying the pots and pans and tools I needed to cook. And when I met Michael—a foodie, a health nut foodie—I found that eating well thought out, well prepared food was going to be part of my life.
Now, so many years later, in a time when I can afford the food I want, the kind I love—now that I have the time and space and mind to--I will sit down to a bowl of lemon pasta, the sauce tangy with citrus, rich with olive oil and tangy with parmesan cheese. The bread will be sour dough, Acme, freshly baked that day. I will make an arugula salad with fresh tomatoes (actually red, actually tasty) and home grown cucumber. Maybe I will open a bottle of Cabernet. I know I should have white wine with this meal, but I want red. It tastes real to me, the way food should, the way this entire meal will.
Eating used to be just about sensation and desire. The excitement of a Hostess snowball! The thrill of a McDonald’s Big Mac. Food still is a trip in all senses to a certain extent, but I have control of the journey now. Food allure no longer controls me. I prepare it for myself and it’s not a requirement for the day, something I have to do to feed a family. No one is in charge of it but me, and if I felt like Captain Crunch, I would buy some. But I don’t.
No, I sit down, and invite you to imagine tasting this pasta with me. I bite through the homemade pasta, the texture firm but it yields, right there, to tooth and tongue. Taste the lemon, smell the olive oil, enjoy the cheese. Delicious.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org