I’ve Fallen out of Love With Food
The other day, I was sitting on my couch, minding my own sweat-pant-wearing business, when an email landed in my inbox. An update from a blog I subscribe to. A new recipe for a kale and shaved brussels sprout salad. Upon opening this email, a painful malaise struck me, like a gut punch. I groaned aloud. My concerned husband shouted from upstairs, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing.” But inside, I was thinking: Spare me. Spare me your stupid sprouts.
To be clear, it wasn’t actually the sprouts or the kale that bothered me. Those foods are fine. In normal times, my curiosity probably would’ve gotten the best of me and I would have clicked to open the blog post. The root of this pain was something deeper. The word ‘new.’ The birth of yet another recipe. The very existence of this food blogger, minding her business and developing new recipes as if everything was good and fine. The futility and sameness of it all.
After a whole year of eating at home, I am utterly exhausted by food. I am tired of cooking it, ordering it, shopping for it. I am tired of looking at pictures of it on Instagram. Yes, I still get hungry, and I do still derive some pleasure from eating, but the whole culture of food, the spicy song and dance, the flavourful mystique, the appetite-whetting appeal has completely dissolved in the bland broth of my current life, another casualty of this ongoing pandemic.
Of course, this statement comes from a place of incredible privilege. The world is in a tough place. Children are going hungry, and families are relying on food banks. In comparison, it’s really not that big of a deal to be bored with something, especially when it’s something you have plenty of. So, take everything I say with a figurative grain of salt. Take it as a good-natured rant, one of a creative nature. This is about food as a hobby, a passion, a pastime. It’s not about food as a nutritional necessity.
I’m no world-class chef or seasoned foodie, but I have always loved food. Through the ups and downs of my life, it has been a constant companion, a source of endless fascination. When I was growing up, my dad’s weekly trips to the grocery store were one of the high points in an otherwise fairly bleak existence. I’d accompany him to our town’s dazzling Walmart Super Center, or at least help put away the groceries when he returned. I loved the feel of the slick, cold cardboard packaging against my fingers. Each box was like an advent calendar door, counting down a day until the future came and life could get better: Hot Pockets on Monday, frozen chicken pot pies on Tuesday, frozen turkey loaf on Wednesday, and on and on.
Luckily, my tastes evolved as I got older. As a teenager, I became a vegetarian, which expanded my palette and forced my creativity. I took up cooking, trying recipes from my mom’s old hippie cookbooks and issues of Prevention magazine. As soon as I got my license, I’d set an early alarm on Saturday mornings and drive out to a farmer’s stall on the highway to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The summer before I left for college, I stayed up late watching episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, dreaming of the day when I too would be able to gobble up the world. And I did. With a little bit of scholarship money and a lot of luck, I got there, doing my Bourdain-inspired thing. I ate a barbecued goat testicle in China. Okonomiyaki in Japan. Biryani in Dubai. The world to me became what it had always been to those fortunate enough to partake: a moveable feast.
And so it remained, until 2020. These days, there’s no world, no feast, no movement. These days, it’s just me and the plate.
The first few months of lockdown were great food months. We were all baking banana bread and learning to cook new dishes through Instagram Lives and supporting local businesses by ordering takeouts. But like all things shiny and new, the luster eventually wore off.
My disillusionment started slowly and reached a boiling point this past winter, when I spent a couple of days exceedingly depressed thinking about how really there are only so many foods in the world, and all we’re doing is putting them together in different ways. There’s nothing new under the sun, and there’s nothing new in the oven. Yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous this is, and how many other more important things there are to become depressed about. I suppose it’s comparable to a painter becoming distraught over the world’s limited colors, about how there are only so many ways and shapes and lines with which to make use of them. And the thing is, there are plenty of colors. Enough colors to last a lifetime. We’re not even done making colors yet — this year, the world even got a new blue pigment, YInMn Blue.
On a logical level, I also understand that art is not just about colors, and food is not just about ingredients. My rational side knows that it’s not really about the things we put into our mouths. It’s about the circumstances, the context, the situation. It’s about the people we share our meals with, the occasions we celebrate, the traditions we pass down. Like so many others right now, I am projecting my frustrations with the monotony of our current existence onto the food. And after a lifetime of providing me with loyal companionship, it doesn’t deserve my wrath. It deserves my patience.
Because maybe we’re not over. Maybe we’re just on a break. Maybe someday soon my appetite, my eagerness, my passion will return. Until then, I’ll keep setting the table, leaving an extra place, waiting with a poised fork.