I received an insight one afternoon when I overheard my mother talking to several neighbor women. One of them said, “You really should make corn on the cob. Your daughter always eats several ears at our house.” Others chimed in about how much I ate at their houses and how much I liked certain dishes. “Really?” My mother said disbelieving. “You know, she eats like a bird at home. I don’t know how she stays alive. I’m so worried about her. I have to force her to eat.” Mrs. Nelson said, “And how is that working for you?” My mother said, “It isn’t. It doesn’t work at all. I have to spend hours checking on her and she just sits at the table and dawdles, sometimes cries. It’s awful.” Mrs. Nelson, an outspoken former nurse, said, “Well, I don’t know why you would continue to do that, when it’s clearly not working. She isn’t sick, doesn’t have rickets, and probably eats when she’s hungry. I think you should back off. I’ve never yet seen a child starve when there’s food in front of them.” I wanted to kiss her and ask if she would adopt me, but I wasn’t supposed to be listening. My mother seemed to process what Mrs. Nelson said. She slowly changed procedures. We were allowed to select the amount of food for a meal, although we had to “try” everything and to clean our plate. I learned to spoon one pea, and sample half a teaspoon of unknown dishes. Way before it was politically correct; I was into “small portions” and the “slow food movement.” Food means important things to most people. For many, there is joy in preparing food and pleasure in sharing it with others. I have heard people rhapsodize about their mother’s spaghetti sauce or cherry pie. I have seen people come home from a hard day and cook a large pot of macaroni and cheese as comfort food. I have a hard time grasping the concept of comfort food. For me, the connection between feeling good about preparing and eating food has never been made. I am not an emotional eater. Under stress, I forget to eat, do not register hunger. I like to eat on my feet, without the possibility of being trapped behind a table. I often feel a sense of freedom when I skip meals and no one notices. I no longer feel guilty when I leave food on my plate and someone takes it away. I regard food as a source of energy and nutrition. I have forgiven my mother for taking bad cooking to an art form and forcing me to view the exhibition. I will never again eat peas.
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