I’ve talked about my hatred of diet culture and fad diets before, and that hatred has certainly not dissipated since continuing on with this baking blog. As Virgie Tovar (an inspiration and a smart, kickass woman, check her out) points out in the “Lose Hate, Not Weight” episode of The Racist Sandwich (didn’t think I’d get back there, did you?), fewer people are identifying as dieters, but more and more people are restricting their diets through “holistic eating” or “whole eating.”
The problem too with labeling a nation or country as “trending cuisine” in the United States is that much of our mainstream food culture is dominated by white people. Many kitchens adopting these “trending” cuisines are run by white chefs. Look at any list of top food bloggers and you’ll find the majority of writers are white, like this list from Greatist or this one from Muse. That means that oftentimes the people creating recipes, or menus, or food photography with these “trending” foods are white people who aren’t a member of the culture whose food they are preparing.
Baking is history and culture and family. When I read about other people’s relationship with food, I always feel at home. Or maybe it’s better to say, I feel at home in someone else’s home, like I’ve been invited over for dinner and maybe we’ve already had two glasses of wine and everyone is comfortable and I’m enjoying a space I’ve been welcomed into as if it is my own.
A lot could have gone wrong (I thought) with this tart crust, but it didn’t. It really didn’t. Which made me think about how much time I’d spent positive that it would be a disaster, that the tart would crumble to pieces before baking, after pre-baking, when I cut into it (this chocolate tart cuts beautifully, with barely a crumble).
So much of baking, and life, is wrapped up in tradition, routine, and superstition. We do things out of habit, and habit becomes practice, and what we practice becomes what we are best at. My methods for baking aren’t the best for me because of actual superiority over other methods. Often, my methods are better because I’ve practiced them more than I have others.
“I’m so tired of saying no and waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before. Counting every calorie I consumed so I know exactly how much self-loathing to take into the shower.”
Hell yeah, Julia Roberts. You stop saying no to the food you want to eat and you stop feeling guilty about eating fucking delicious food and enjoying it. That’s awesome.
I’m curious about the relationship between those who are hesitant to try new foods and those who are prejudice against people of different races, nationalities, and cultures. I don’t have any science to back me up (but maybe I will after a Google search), but it seems to me that those who are reluctant to try foods outside their familiar diet could be less open to understanding and experiencing other cultures. I’m not saying that one necessarily leads to the other, but that maybe there is a common fear or discomfort at the root of both things. You don’t try new foods because you’re afraid of the unknown. You’re afraid you won’t like it, that it will feel gross in your mouth, that it will taste bad. A more science-y person could maybe track it back to some kind of “when-we-were-forgers-we-had-to-be-suspicious….”, but I’m less interested in that (not to say that you shouldn’t be more interested in that aspect if you are). I’m more interested in the repercussions of that fear, how the fear of experiencing new foods inhibits us from being better people.
As political as I believe food can be, I know and feel that food is deeply personal. The way food makes us feel, our memories with food, and our associations are all personal and even intimate. The foods that we love, the foods that I love, all reveal something about me as a person, something about my story and my history. The foods that make us homesick or nostalgic, those foods tell other people something about where we came from and who our people are.
I don’t know why I have to keep saying this, but we are humans. I read one comment that said, “Yeah, there are a lot of pre-existing conditions on that list, but me and my wife are totally healthy.” How short-sighted. How uncaring. These are humans we’re talking about, these are people with feelings and pains and loved ones. And really, even those of you who are currently healthy, I can assure you that you are human as well. You will fall into the same trap of humanness that we all do. You will get sick.
Fad diets are infuriating to me. They convince people to spend money on products and books that push one idea or philosophy of eating when there just isn’t one way or philosophy of eating that will work for everyone. I want you to eat what you want to eat. I want you to eat what works for your lifestyle and your body.
Right after I began this blog, I received an email from a very dear friend who had just read the whole thing. She wondered in her letter what it is about food, even reading about food, that is so healing? I suspect the reasons are a little bit different for everyone, but there must be some common themes. We have to eat. To be able to feed ourselves is empowering. It is self-reliant. To be able to feed others, and have them enjoy it, is joyous. For me, it goes a little deeper than that.
Southern food, much like podcasts, is having a moment. Elie even argues that Southern cuisine has become American cuisine. And I can see where he’s coming from. When I traveled to D.C. two weeks ago, I had to stop myself from ordering fried chicken at every restaurant we went to (I’m not totally opposed to eating fried chicken several days in a row, but I do try not to) and it didn’t even occur to me at the time that these were vastly different restaurants, serving very different clientele.
I was raised on country music and the stories that the songs told. I was twenty-four before I embraced my love for the songs and the genre. I’d internalized the white trash stigma that came with loving country music. In country music, people live in trailers. People are poor. Folks drink Bud Light. I didn’t think I was allowed to admit those things about myself or my life, and liking country music meant I had to.
For about five years now, baking has helped me cope with severe anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. Baking has been a mechanism to regain control over my life and my body. Most importantly, baking has given me a way to express love to people who really deserve it. Most importantly, baking gave me a way to express love to people who really deserved it. You might think as a writer, I am eloquent and open about my feelings all the time, but I’ve often struggled with telling people I love them. Baking has given me the perfect way to show (then eat) my feelings with others. Slowly, as I regained control, managed my anxiety, learned to open up, and developed unbelievable relationships, I got better at communicating my feelings and I got happier too.