Food: My Love, My Tormenter, My World

Dear Food,

Do you have a soul? I ask because my relationship with you is complex and spiritually charged. You are splendid yet scary, filled with pleasure yet steeped in regrets. If only something else caused weight gain, like donning high heels or getting manicures. What a shame it’s not shoveling snow that clogs our arteries, and jogging that contains carcinogens.

Food, you are terrifying. Calories. Saturated fat. Cholesterol. Nitrites and nitrates. Sugar. Studies are conflicting on all of these glorious-for-the-tongue but potentially hazardous substances, so I could try to put them out of my mind and just enjoy. But that’s not how I’m made, and you realize that. We’ve been together long enough: you know what I’m like.

I have the weirdest thoughts involving you, Food. Is the Peking duck with the crispy skin and plum sauce worth the potential health risk? Or the pasta dripping with cheese? On the one hand, life only lasts so long, even if I were to eat nothing but steamed vegetables and vegan protein squares. I need to seize these finite moments and squeeze as much pleasure into them as I can. But are five or even twenty extra years of consciousness—of having a mind and an internal universe of drama—worth giving up sundaes bathed in butterscotch sauce, fluffy glazed donuts, and thick-sliced corned beef marbled with fat? Is a short, happy life the way to go, or a long, deprived one? Or some kind of compromise—which I guess is where I’m holding.

Thing is, for all we know, I have lucky genes that protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and the like. It’s possible I could have longevity and all the sauces, gravies, cheeses, and fudge squares I want. But I could also have the biochemistry that killed my grandfather at 53. I just don’t know, which leaves me with conundrums every time I consider stuffing some wondrous morsel into my mouth.

Would a short, pleasure-filled life be happy if it was filled with guilt? Could I be content as a fat person who jumps from fried Oreos to chopped liver to a perfect plate of stuffed derma—with a break to munch on a freshly baked peanut butter square? This is terrible to admit, but I wouldn’t want to be fat even if weight had no relation to health. How about that? I am mortified. Me, the person who sees myself as a soul disengaged from its physical casing. I think other people look great when they’re fat. Really: they seem motherly and kind and easy-going and all good things. I just don’t want that for myself. Food, you are dangerous on so many levels. It’s amazing the stress of it all hasn’t killed me yet.

I have a problem with the whole system. Why does food have to be tied to the body’s appearance and health? Why can’t food be like music—calorie-free, no permanent effect on the body beyond its influence on mood? For that matter, why can’t music be the thing that makes us gain weight? I like music, but I luuurve food. If given the choice, I’d much rather abstain from music, save it for special times—and make food ubiquitous throughout the day: harmless, delicious treats appearing in elevators, waiting rooms, and the subway. It would be better yet if sex were the calorie-laden activity, but I know many humans love sex more than anything, and I’m trying to relate to my readers. So how about music, rather than food? It’s pleasurable, no doubt, but it’s no plate of tender manicotti or shawarma roasting on a spit.

Most likely, some music lovers are squirming, and I understand their apprehension. Why must anything delightful be tied to death, disease, and suffering? I’m no fan of struggle. Work is good. Effort is fabulous. We need reason to be proud of ourselves. But struggle? The feeling of renouncing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when I turn down a taste sensation? (When else will I get to try the bananas Foster at a restaurant I happened to pass while on vacation?) I believe we’d learn more, feel more kindly towards others, and thrive in our souls if we could guiltlessly indulge. We’d be less stressed and angry, better able to focus on the truest questions. You know those spiritual and artistic gatherings where food is served and you eat while fearing weight gain and atherosclerosis in a side space in your mind? You’d soar in ways heretofore unimaginable if the fears had no basis, and you could just enjoy.

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You know what’s so unfair? Men require a lot more food than women, all things equal. And the taller you are, the more you’re likely to need. Meaning… I am screwed. Every day is a minefield of choices. Donut or dinner? Cheese and crackers or crepe? Order the wrong thing and I’m done for the day, since I only require one big meal. I know I sound like a whiner. But seriously… all you tall dudes who require thousands of calories a day have such a great gift, and most of you never stop to consider it.

This is why I get so annoyed when some say that the overweight lack control. Two people can eat exactly the same things and move in all the same ways—and one will be thin while the other battles obesity. Life is horrifically unfair, and this is a prime example.

I’m not one of those Jews who walks around thinking the Messiah will come. But I’m open to it—in fact, I’m in love with the idea—and sometimes, I wonder what a Messianic world would be like. The age of Moshiach: the idea is mind-blowing. My first thoughts include immortality and perfect health. Then I try to imagine peace, happiness, and free-flowing wisdom. And infusing it all would be… food! Oh, the joys of food with no fear of death or health problems. Perfect bodies, undestroyed by thick steaks, black and white cookies, and pizzas eaten one after the other.

Others may consider, I don’t know, love, friendship, and Torah study before food. And of course all that is key—but a nice plate of duck l’orange and buttery quiche would boost their power immeasurably. Friends are great. Friends eating salted caramel brownies together are golden.

The Messiah isn’t here, but food is. How can I enjoy it, given all the problems it presents? All things considered, I think I do quite a nice job. I commune with my food, relish each bite, consider its flavor and texture. A slow, aware eater, I make one cookie last fifteen minutes or more if I’m good.

I hate that phrase “grab a bite.” If I’d have to grab a bite, I’d much rather save it for a time when I can linger. My calories are severely limited each day; I cannot waste them on shoving something down and not tasting it. Some see the highlight of their lives as making people happy or doing good work… but you can guess what constitutes the shining center of my days. I wake up wondering what I will eat next and go to bed envisioning treats on my tongue.

Though I often complain about requiring less food than most adult humans, I am overwhelmingly thankful that I don’t have specific dietary restrictions. No allergies, sensitivities, or health problems have curtailed this basic freedom. Kenahora. No evil eye intended. Thank you, God, or Whoever, for your amazing mercy and kindness. May it continue forever. Please, I beg you. I am already terrified enough. Please don’t let me be the person with diabetes, or heart disease, or whatever. Some might grow from this sort of thing. I would crawl into a corner and… I can’t even imagine it, and I don’t want to. I discover and share much more when I don’t have those issues and can roam—and taste—freely. Dear God, let me continue to eat my fried ice cream in peace. OK, relative peace—the guilt is here, even now. Please don’t make it any worse, Universe. Keep me healthy and able to indulge.

I don’t enjoy many body-based pursuits. Running, biking, skiing, massage, sunbathing, yoga… none of this appeals to me. For the most part, I thrive in my head, creating worlds that surpass this body-centered one in intensity, joy, and pleasure. But my tongue is a splendid organ, able to savor many wonders. My mind and my tongue know few limits: my world is built around them. It’s good to connect with my body, even through the one activity that has calories and saturated fat. I am more than my imaginary worlds. Excuse me while I savor some real-life blintzes with sour cream and three kinds of jam.