For as long as I can remember, my memories have always revolved around food. Overtime, I can forget emotions, sights, and even people, but I always remember the things that I ate and how they tasted. My earliest memory, for example, is the day my family and I moved from an apartment to a house thirty miles away. I don’t remember the drive, the luggage, or even how I felt that day. My only memory was that, that day my sister gave me a frosted cherry poptart. I don’t know if it was the first time I had a poptart, that would make sense, I just remember the color, the sprinkles, how it felt in my hand, and most importantly that it was sugary and delicious.
I don’t know if I was born with it or if it was from this day on, but my family came to know me as a foodie and it became something that we all took a little joy in. I talked about food a lot and I surprised everyone with what I would eat and how much I could eat. My dad constantly told the story, in a seemingly proud way, of how one time him and my mother went out to eat with me, when I was just a toddler. My mom ordered some kind of light white fish, thinking I would eat a little of that, but then I surprised both of them by devouring my dad’s spicy pastrami sandwich. What started with pastrami escalated into skipping the kids menu for items like cheese fondue soup, salads topped with both liquid and crumbly blue cheese dressing, and never forgetting about a cannoli or some type of cake for dessert. I was a child eating adult portions and thoroughly enjoying them, and for a while, it was cute.
Then at some point I became conscious of the fact that I wasn’t the skinniest girl in class. I wasn’t obese but I was chubby and all the sudden that mattered. I was picked last to be on a team in gym class, I was called fatty, and I even earned the nickname “Bonnie Buffet”, as if I did nothing but eat in all you can eat buffets. From that point on food turned into something I resented. I was convinced that I was not normal because it could not be normal to think about food as much as I did. I thought I was weird for enjoying to eat.
This denial of the love that I truly have for food followed me for years, through high school, college, and graduate school. It led me to think badly of myself and engage in radical diet regimes. Even though I naturally grew and turned into a normal looking woman of an average height and weight, I still could not help but see myself as that chubby girl from elementary school. I saw myself as less of a person and unfortunately, and as a result, some other people thought they could too. In retrospect, I think the absolute worse that this problem ever got was the time I studied abroad in Romania during college and refused to go in the kitchen, that was shared by the entire hall, because I didn’t want Europeans to see how much I ate and think I was some cliché fat American. I spent a semester being afraid to eat in front of people, kind people, who likely never would have judged me or even noticed.
This is not the kind of essay that is claiming that then I met a guy, everything was okay, all my problems were solved, and blah blah blah. But to be fair, I did finally start to change in this respect after I found my soul mate, a Frenchman and a fellow foodie. Perhaps the most important thing that he taught me, from the moment we started dating, was that you have to assume who you really are. He knows that he loves food and so he treats it lightheartedly.
I wasn’t quite ready to accept this truth about myself. I think it is much harder for girls and women. But then it so happened that I could not hide my true self in France. A few French had asked me smiling, if I was a ‘personne gourmand’. At first I didn’t understand what this meant, but time after time, French would kindly explain to me that they noticed me sniffing the aromas in the air, looking at a plate of food with joy in my eyes, and so I must be a person who enjoys eating.
All of the sudden everything became clear. These French could see a truth about me so obviously that I had been in denial of my whole life. They didn’t treat it as something disgusting but as something interesting and amusing, a trait unique to who I am as an individual. It is beautifully ironic that in France of all places, I would finally learn to accept my love for food but that is exactly how it happened. I finally was able to accept food for what it is, a human necessity, a piece of art, and an expression of a chef, a culture, and a country. Most importantly, I was finally able to say it: I love everything about it food and I think that it is something that is interesting about me.