The last bite of the carrot salad lingers on my tongue – tart and crisp with the yogurt, and brightly sweet with a hidden warmth that spreads from the spoonful of chutney I stirred in. A final sip of lemon water washes away the salad, and with it goes the tensions of the last month.
Forgive the food references this morning; I’ve been re-reading M.F.K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me after reading an intriguing new biography of Fisher, An Extravagant Hunger by Anne Zimmerman. My first journey through The Gastronomical Me took place nearly three years ago. I picked it up in a San Francisco bookstore while alone in the City for a conference. Fisher’s exploration of her growth and her sensual enjoyment of the world through her experiences with food seemed to perfectly mirror my solitary week exploring the culinary delights of that foggy city. Just as I dressed in a black skirt and pearl necklace for a four-course dinner alone with my book, delighting as much in watching the people around me as in the feel of pate in my mouth, she wrote of crossing the Atlantic on her own, of solitary meals in France, and of discovering herself through her enjoyment of food. The quote in the book’s preface spoke to me at a time when I felt that I was at last reaching an understanding of my adult self. “To be happy you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.” –Santayana
That was not my first business trip alone, and I had been an adult for two decades, but for whatever reason, that was the week that I first began to ‘take the measure of [my] powers.’ It was one of the first times that I saw myself as directing my own life rather than living for the approval and pleasure of others.
This most recent encounter with M.F.K. Fisher comes at the end of a couple of months in which my meals have too often consisted of such staples as: two Bao from Costco, microwaved and eaten over the counter with a handful of cashews and a couple of dates; or a grilled cheese sandwich on white sandwich bread, accompanied by a clump of chips. My energies have been directed goal-ward with little left for inward maintenance. Even the things which normally center me have this month gone toward other purposes: painting – auction, decorating – auction and Sierra’s party, writing – money or business building, cooking – sustenance only.
What I hadn’t realized, until Fisher’s loving descriptions of meals, friends, and family once more penetrated the fog of my mind, was that I have been living – and eating – therapeutically rather than preventatively. I know better, of course. I know the benefits, to myself, and to those around me, of living with intent, of seeking the foods, people, and activities that will make me feel good, rather than seeking out palliatives once I feel bad. Instead of taking care of myself, eating light, flavorful meals that will sustain me through the chaos, I have waited until monsters were gnawing at my stomach lining and emotions, and then downed too-large portions of the sweet, salty, and doughy foods that make me ‘feel better.’ Even though I no longer have a job that mandates short nails and tears up my hands, my nails remain unpolished and have scarcely seen a file in 60 days. The extra glass of wine with dinner tastes good and dulls the stress, but it also packs in the calories and leaves me feeling heavy and slow well into the next morning.
It is past time for me to stop, breathe, and focus on eating the foods and doing the things that help keep me from “feeling bad” in the first place. It is time to run because it clears my head, centers, and energizes me, not because I want to lose weight. It is time to prepare even meals I will eat alone lovingly, with consideration for myself and for those I feed. It is time to be aware of, and to take pleasure in, each bite, and to stop when the bites become automatic or the food tastes of sawdust. It is time to take moments in the day to breathe, to focus on my place in the world, and to give myself enough respite during the day so that I don’t reach the end wrung out, capable only of flopping into a pool of Jello on the couch. As life presses me with new challenges, it is time to embrace the biggest challenge of all – to live.