Over the last few years, my relationship with food has grown infinitely more intimate.
Growing up, food was power. Oil shaped alliances: My mother couldn’t cook, my grandmother could. Flour forged allegiances: my mother wanted to become a vegetarian, my grandmother’s fried chicken made it impossible for me to consider life without meat.
My childhood memories are a plethora of aromas: fried onions, fried chicken, smoldering greens, cinnamon.
Food was a weapon. Crunchy bacon and Ex-lax were weapons against anyone who didn’t love hard enough, long enough, enough.
One of the first times my sister and I prepared dinner for our grandparents, we seasoned a whole chicken—oregano, salt, season salt. We put it in the oven at 350°as soon as my grandmother pulled out from in front of her pink and white house in Atlantic City. We took it out one hour later when she arrived to our townhouse in Somers Point. Juice and blood oozed as knife pierced the raw flesh.
I don’t remember cooking anything for many years after that—though I of course continued eating.
Years passed. My mother left. I went to college. One semester later, I was home.
My early 20’s is a haze of late nights at clubs, cranberry juice and Vodka, beauty salons, malls, working and sex. My relationship with food was strained. I didn’t require much of it—it didn’t require much of me.
I ate, but didn’t cook. If before running out the door to go to work after 4 hours of sleep, I placed a frozen chicken, a blade of grass, and a cheese cracker on the table, I came home to a home-made dinner of fried chicken, greens, and macaroni and cheese.
I moved to Maryland. Life on my own did not at first awaken cooking skills. When it did, I discovered cinnamon. I baked cinnamon chicken, cinnamon pork chops, cinnamon fish. When my boyfriend moved in, he cooked, we ate. I didn’t truly start cooking until I got pregnant. Food became my weapon against Baltimore’s conspiracy to underfeed me.
Children, marriage, work, undergrad, writing, reading, loving, hating, affairs, graduate school, losing me, finding me: my thirties saw food as an ally, a distant friend, an accomplice—never a lover. You feed those you love. In my 30’s, when my then-husband stopped cooking, it signified the end of the marriage in a way his affairs had not. When we tried again to “make the marriage work” his food sat like a lump in my throat: I could not swallow food marinated in lies.
I stopped trying to eat his cooking. He stopped cooking. We divorced.
Today, I am nearly 40.
Like many of my relationships, my relationship with food is complex. Food tempts, teases, flirts, fulfills, indulges me. It fills me up and leaves me hungry. It does not complete or define me. It is not an extension of me or a reflection on me. I savor and sample. I try new foods. I do not eat twice what I do not like once.
May people I date savor memories of me as they might recall a delicacy: tender, flavorful, juicy, spicy. A coveted treat they would like to try again perhaps when I am again in season, available, ready.