The joy of eating

How one woman learned that an all-you-can-eat appetite for food doesn't have to be a guilty pleasure

The food paradox

I was a child of the ’70s, a confusing time for gastronomy, when cheese came in a can and women discussed food in terms of the calories they weren’t eating. My mom was a dynamo in the kitchen, concocting a smattering of dishes she’d culled from a worn series of international cookbooks. (“They’re called fall-a-fells, a kind of Middle Eastern hamburger…except without the hamburger.”) If she really wanted to go exotic, she’d brew bolognese sauce in a big, black turkey roaster, sweetened with enough brown sugar to make an Italian genuflect and a kid go into diabetic shock. I loved it.

My mother was my first encounter with a true gourmet. It wasn’t until much later that the irony hit as I recalled a thin beautiful woman preoccupied with the size of her thighs, who used to make lavish meals and rarely ate them. If she did indulge, she’d heap her plate and later pay penance, eating little more than tea and toast. But while she fasted, she’d treat me to ivory slabs of butter on all my sandwiches, custard-creamy french toast and all the rich wonderful food that she would ultimately deny herself.

My father was a different story. He liked to steal from our plates. There was a strange thwooshing sound whenever he ate that I imagine wet paper towel would make being sucked into a utility vac. But like a lot of dads of the time, he was a meat-and-potatoes man (note: the meat category included Spam). As a result of my father’s carnivorous tastes, veggies were mostly absent from my childhood and salad was like a long-lost anemic uncle—pale and limp, showing up once in a while, just long enough for us to realize how much we didn’t like him.

Between my dad’s gorging and my mom’s deprivation, it became clear that men had all the fun when it came to food; women, all the guilt. Which just wasn’t fair. Food was my passion; it’s what I looked forward to every day after school. I didn’t care that nosy relatives made a point of commenting on how full my plate was. I revelled in the luxury of eating with abandon. I made up my mind to enjoy food.