The Food of Love Thing
Or, How I Stopped Fearing Food and Learned to Love to Cook
By Christie Keith

Ask people with weight problems if they love food, and most will say yes – too much! But do they?

If your consumption of food is accompanied by feelings of shame and the desire to stop eating even as you eat, if you hide what you eat, if you measure, weigh, balance, and ration what you eat, if you lie in bed at night cataloguing the day’s food intake with guilt and regret, that isn’t love. Or rather, it’s only “love” in the way a woman who is involved with a man who cheats on her and insults her in front of her friends and blows their joint savings at the track is in “love.”

True love, on the other hand, enriches your life. It makes you feel more connected with the world around you. It softens your heart, and helps you feel better about yourself and others. Can someone who has spent his or her life seeing food as the enemy and the kitchen as a battleground find true love with food?

The Food of Love Thing

The answer is yes, and I’m the living proof. And it wasn’t a diet plan or nutritionist or therapist or doctor who changed the way I related to food. It was a TV chef named Emeril Lagasse.

For those who don’t know, Emeril hosts an unbelievably popular daily show called Emeril Live on cable’s Food Network. Emeril has a few opinions about food that fly in the face of common wisdom about healthy eating, “pork fat rules” probably being the most obvious. At first it was hard to understand all the bacon fat and butter and exactly how that was supposed to fit into a nutritious diet. But Emeril’s message started to get through to me after I read the book Nourishing Traditions
by Sally Fallon, a cookbook cum manifesto reclaiming traditional ways of preparing food and questioning our society’s demonization of dietary fat.

But it was not ideas, facts or theories that cured my dysfunctional relationship with food. It was Emeril himself, with his silly “BAM!” as he threw a palmful of salt onto a dish, the look of glee on his face as he added “thirty thousand cloves of garlic” to a stew, the rapture apparent as he solemnly asked his adoring studio audience, “Can’t you feel the love in there?” as he added sausage to a pan of greens.

And they did. And so did I, as I finally understood that to learn to cook, you have to lose your fear. You have to decide that it’s worth it to plan a meal in advance. To sit down at the table and enjoy dinner. To care what you are putting into your mouth, and appreciate what it smells, tastes, and feels like. To build into your life the regular stocking and re-stocking of your refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, and not always have a meal be something you think of and prepare approximately five minutes before your blood sugar crashes to levels that leave you light-headed and irritable (or worse, five minutes after).

Isn’t that what true love is about? Being thoughtful, appreciative, considerate? Making room in your life for the one you love?

Seeing is Believing

The other way Emeril taught me how to cook was by demonstrating. I suppose all cooking shows do that, but I’d never had the slightest interest in a cooking show before this one. Watching Emeril slice food, add food to pots, and sauté, brown, deglaze, and perform other previously-arcane culinary arts, I found that I was able to do those things myself. I could see what they looked like, see what it meant to “brown” a chicken breast, understand what “blanching” was, see how plunging broccoli into an ice bath would stop it from cooking and preserve its green color. I’m sure that many people have this experience in their own homes, being taught to cook by a mother or grandmother, but that wasn’t what happened to me. I honestly believed I couldn’t cook, and my rare attempts at it produced food that tasted all right most of the time, but no pleasure or joy on my part. My culinary dreams involved eating at restaurants, not in my own dining room. My definition of a successful home-cooked meal was one that I could make in less than five minutes in a single pan.

I know that many of us who struggle with weight problems and eating disorders would consider it a huge relief if we could stop eating altogether and just subsist on a daily pill. The struggle with food can consume your life. But you could stop struggling, and stop disrespecting yourself with fast food, binge eating, starvation dieting, eating things you don’t like because they are “good for you,” secret eating, last-minute meals, and self-loathing. Because it’s not only food I’m suggesting deserves your love – it’s YOU.

Still don’t get it? As Emeril would assure you, it’s a food of love thing. Believe it.

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