I had an epiphany last week: food isn’t nearly as important to me as I thought it was.
I mean: it’s still important. But not really.
Wait: I still care a lot about food. Except that I don’t.
Let me try to explain:
One year ago, I was in love. Every week, I scoured the farmer’s market for just-picked fruit and vegetables. I chased down exotic ingredients at obscure markets; I had no less than three artisan cheeses in my refrigerator at all times. I cooked beautiful organic meals several nights a week, which the Moroccan and I ate around our dining room table. We reserved Saturday nights for sushi. Other nights, we explored restaurants between Napa and the City. We were from very different cultures and had vastly different backgrounds, but we were equally enthralled with good food.
I remember a frustrating conversation we had once – I was trying to explain that when he was traveling, I ate very simply, but that when he was home, I cooked for him. “No,” he insisted, annoyed, “you don’t cook for me, you cook for us.”
He was right, but so was I. What I might have said, if I had understood myself better then, is this: being in love with you makes me want to feed you. When you aren't here, food isn't so interesting to me.
I honestly didn’t know that before.
It has taken months of paying closer attention to my inner self to realize that my feelings about food are connected directly to my heart. I think the connection was formed many years ago, when I started cooking for my family at a young age. My brothers and sisters still tease me about my early disasters in the kitchen, but that was when the act of cooking became inseparably entwined with nurturing the people I love.
During college, I squandered my meager funds to cook for my roommate and anyone else who happened to drop by. When I got my own apartment, I planned dinner parties to feed my friends. When my mother was recovering from surgery two years ago, I flew back and cooked for her, leaving behind a stack of freezer containers filled with soups that she could heat up during the day.
I’m not terribly domestic in other ways – I don’t iron. I don’t mend. I’d much rather pay someone to scrub the toilets than do it myself. But cooking? That's my job.
When I wrote The Feminist in my Kitchen, the issue of how to balance eating slow-local-organic with career demands was something I was genuinely grappling with.
One year later, the issue (for me) is moot.
Now I only shop at the farmer’s market once a month or so; the sight of all that gorgeous produce is daunting. I don’t have a vision for it like I once did; I'd rather spend the morning in my favorite yoga class. I'm no longer obsessive about keeping up with the restaurant scene. When I go out, it is because I want to connect with friends, share stories, catch up. The food is a distant second. I am just as happy in a noisy taqueria as I am in The Dining Room at the Ritz, so long as I’m looking at the faces of people I care about.
I used to think, when I first started reading M.F.K. Fisher, that I was like her, valuing food for its own sake, a woman who would book a solo reservation at a fabulous restaurant and order a stunning three course meal with wine just to revel in the experience. Now I realize that I’m not that woman at all. I have no interest in that solitary meal, if only because for me, food is about relationship.
I still value well-made, organic food, and I still eat well. I just do it very simply now, with a minimum of fuss. Most nights, my dinner is assembled in minutes. I usually make a single dish – a simple soup or a warm bowl of beans or a big salad – like last night’s, a pile of red lettuce and avocado and red onion and pepitas – colorful, delicious, healthy. Mark Bittman is my hero.
See? I do care. Sort of.
And because everything is connected, my ebbing fascination with food has tilted my career path.
Whereas one year ago I was narrowing my focus to writing only about food and wine, now I’ve completely switched gears. I’ve jumped back into the world of ideas. I’m excited about Web 2.0 and all of its possibilities. I’m learning about emerging technologies like solar energy that make our planet more sustainable. I’ve realized that I’m not ever going to be a “food writer,” at least not exclusively.
I find that I'm not so much attracted to one particular industry as to the energy of the people involved. If I get an opportunity to work with smart, passionate people who believe in what they're doing - then I'm all in. If that involves food or if it doesn't, I couldn't care less. Translation: I get to work on an ad for Wine Spectator one day and a technology white paper the next.
I don’t think very often these days about whether eating SLOE is compatible with feminism, because now I can eat my dinner while I work. Not that I ever have to, but still: I could.
I mean, food is incredibly important to me. Except when it isn’t.
Does that make me a part-time foodie?
Gotta run: I’m planning a trip to see my family, and I’ve got to start plotting out the menu.