Winter Joy Retreat: Food & Freedom, Food & Childhood, Food & Generosity

Day 3: Food & Freedom

I got behind on these prompts. One reason is because I was busy last week, with work and various appointments, and because there are people here working on the bathroom, I didn’t have the same safe quiet space I normally do to blog. The other reason, however, is probably the real reason: this particular prompt was difficult, a sticky subject.

I could have answered it light and breezy. I could have talked about how when we were kids, we never got brand name cereal, so both my brother and I, when we finally moved away from home, lived off Captain Crunch for weeks, happily shredding our mouths with it. Or I could tell you about being in high school and driving in to “town” (about 30 minutes away) late at night to eat at McDonald’s (there wasn’t one in our tiny little community), and what a big deal it was, how grown up we felt doing it.

That would have been true, but not the whole story. Which is why I avoided answering this prompt. I’ve been a disordered eater for decades, and because of that freedom is never something I associated with food. Food was either about restriction or rebellion, but not freedom — never that.

Until now. Over two years ago, I gave up dieting. After years of being either starving or stuffed, decades of categorizing food as either good or bad, and having a long list of things I wasn’t allowed to eat and if I did I was bad, I let myself eat what I wanted, when I wanted, as much as I wanted — complete freedom.

It hasn’t been easy. I am trying to shift a way of being that is old and deep, sticky. And it’s not just about food. It’s about everything. But it’s so worth it. I get to choose. It’s my decision. I struggle with it, I’m still learning, but I am practicing freedom, and that changes everything.

Day 4: Food & Childhood

Dinner at the Farm. My grandparents had a farm, and it’s the place we all gathered. For holidays, birthdays, and other various celebrations, and sometimes for no other reason than to sit down and share some food. There was a long counter in the kitchen that transitioned into a built in dining table. Food would stretch the length of the counter, fill the table, and even spill around onto the back side of the kitchen counter, with enough dessert to fill the table a second time stored on the enclosed porch next door until after we ate our meal. The line of people was so long, they were barely through before someone was already done and up for seconds. Everyone brought something, all of it homemade. Some of my favorites were Aunt Monica’s taco salad, Aunt Mary’s calico beans, my mom’s crescent rolls, and Aunt Cindy’s German chocolate cake. There was so much food, but since my grandparents had 12 kids, and most of them had kids, and we all came, there were plenty of people to eat it. And we all enjoyed it, appreciated it.

When I was older, there was one smaller dinner with a few aunts and uncles and a cousin or two at another table when we were stuffing ourselves with the most delicious food, and as we ate, we were reminiscing about all the good food we ate as kids. I laughed and told them, “I know you are my people because we are stuffed, but we keep eating and talking about all the other good food we aren’t eating.”

My grandparents are both gone now. We are lucky and the Farm is still in the family, (that doesn’t happen so much anymore), so that place still exists, we can go there and visit — but it’s not the same. My cousin, his wife and kids live in the house and another uncle runs the farm. Those family dinners I remember haven’t happened for years, although the family still gathers from time to time and there’s still the food. The memory of dinners at the Farm is bittersweet, a tender mix of happy and sad. It reminds me of this scene from the movie Garden State,

Andrew Largeman: You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew Largeman: You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

Day 5: Food & Generosity

This happened a long time ago, probably close to 15 years ago at least, but it’s still the first thing I think of when I read this prompt. Coming out of Old Chicago’s, carrying what’s left of the club sandwich I had for lunch, I am approached by a woman. She is shorter, like me, but older. She is wearing a black leather biker jacket, worn jeans and dirty tennis shoes. Her dark hair is streaked with gray and her face is hard, cracked with lines from too much sun, too many years of smoking. She has just taken a long drag from her cigarette and the smoke underlines her words when she speaks. She points to the white Styrofoam container in my hand and asks, “Are you going to eat that?”

I take her question literally and answer, “Yes,” and keep walking. Slowly, as I make my way down the sidewalk towards my car, I realize what she was really asking. Shame washes over me. She was hungry and what she really wanted to know was if I could spare some food, and I said no.

There’s no real moral to this story. I didn’t turn around, find her, give her the sandwich. At that time, I had a very different perception of poverty, homelessness, panhandling, and what my response should be — I regularly refused people who asked me for spare change, or whose cardboard signs explained their bad circumstances and requested help. I was jaded and certain that they would spend the money on alcohol or drugs, or that they really weren’t that bad off, but instead were looking to make some quick easy money. I had seen the stories on the news, read reports, heard rumors. I didn’t want to enable addiction, didn’t want to give the money to someone who didn’t really need it.

My attitude has changed, even though I still am not sure what the right thing is to do. I’m not sure exactly how to help, how to make things better. All I know is that I don’t want people to suffer, and no one should ever have to go hungry.

I'd love to hear what you think, kind and gentle reader.

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