I am a woman who eats. I like food. I like to cook it. I like to make it look good. I like to serve it to other people. I like to go out to nice restaurants and order good food and savor it with a complex wine. I like to travel places and try the local cuisine. I like to ask how the chef would recommend it be prepared. I like to order dessert.
As an American woman, I feel like our society does not want me to like food this way. Rather, it wants me to think that either food is fuel, and I should consume it as quickly and efficiently as possible, or food is the enemy of a trim waist and everything else that I should want to see in the mirror. Sometimes those ideas go together like an ad imploring me to “buy this Lean Cuisine, Special K bar, or meal replacement shake”, as if, because I HAVE to eat, I might as well take in my calories as efficiently as possible in a way that doesn’t drop them on my hips. I don’t eat these things, but I understand that I’m in the demographic that advertisers think should want to eat these things.
More common than my avoidance of “diet” foods however, are experiences like this one. I recently went to the mall with some friends around lunch time. We breezed through the food court, which had a pretty pitiful selection, and they decided there wasn’t much they were interested in eating. To be honest, there wasn’t anything that looked great to me either, but it was 12:30, and I was hungry, so I probably could have made pretzel bites, or a Starbucks sandwich, or even the free sample of orange chicken from Nori Japan work in the moment. Instead one of my friends suggested we skip lunch and just grab an iced coffee instead, and the group agreed, and I kept my mouth shut. Why? Well, because society has it pretty well ingrained in my brain that not only is being the woman who wants to eat not the woman you want to be, but also that being the only one in the group that wants or needs food and is going to hold up the afternoon is not chic.
This is wrong!
How many times have I gone to a restaurant with people to have a woman in the group order their meal apologetically, as in, “Oh, not much for me. I’ll JUST have a salad.”? Who hasn’t looked at the nutrition facts on the menu, thought about the calories, and ordered something different? I’ll tell you this, I love carbonara, but I will never order it from the Olive Garden again because they had the audacity to share with me the calories and sodium content.
You know where I did order carbonara? Italy. The very first meal we sat down to eat there. That carbonara was decadent. It was creamy and fresh. The pasta was hand-pulled. The ham was smoked in-house. The eggs were locally sourced that morning. It may have been more calories than Olive Garden’s version. It may have been more calories than I’ve ever eaten in a single meal in my life. And I did.not.care! From traveling I have learned that different cultures have a different relationship with food. No one in Italy was JUST having a salad. No one in Greece apologized for taking two hours off to enjoy a full lunch. No one in Croatia asked why we decided to eat pancakes at 11:00am, after breakfast and right before getting on the ship to have lunch. In fact, they gave us the pancakes for free.
If I’m being honest about the carbonara, it’s the culture around the food that makes the difference. I would pick up that plate in Italy again and eat the whole thing without hesitation even if they told me the calories, sodium, cholesterol, and fat content, because it is the best dish of pasta I’ve ever eaten
in my life. If I need 2,000 calories a day, I’ll take all 2,000 in that dish of pasta. No regrets. I don’t know that I feel that strongly about Olive Garden. It’s ok to be hungry. It’s ok to eat when you’re hungry. It’s ok to eat food that makes you feel good when you’re hungry, but if I’m honest about what makes me feel good, Olive Garden carbonara might not cut it like it used to!
But maybe it does for someone else. Of the many things I love about my group of closest girl friends, is they are also women who eat. We plan dinner parties, and we go out to eat. We pack snacks, and never let the others get too “hangry”. One of those friends enjoys McDonald’s. She eats McDonald’s. I’m pretty sure she’s not counting the calories in the cheeseburger. And she shouldn’t. If she’s hungry and that’s where she’s finding her food joy, I’m not looking to stop her. Another close friend never shares what she’s ordering beforehand lest her appetite and preferences somehow influence the other people at the table. Sometimes she does want just salad, but she’ll never let her salad influence someone else’s choice to eat the burger and fries.
It’s time to reevaluate our relationship with food. We know we have to eat it, so we shouldn’t have to suffer through it, and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it. I’m not advocating for eating an unhealthy amount of whatever you want. Portion control is a real thing. Self control is a real thing. A balanced diet is a real thing. Fruits and veggies are real things that you should be eating in larger quantities than cookies and chocolate cake. But I am advocating for eating good food, real food, food that you’re excited about and not just because you can eat one 250 calorie bar and not be hungry for another 12 hours. If you want just a salad, that’s great. Knock yourself out. But if you looked at something that sounded amazing on the menu, and then talked yourself out of it to JUST have a salad, for goodness sake, stop it.
Be a woman who eats. Be a man who eats. Get hungry. Eat good food. Like it. And never apologize for it!
…and don’t forget the wine!