By Renee Martyna | Photo by Peter Wall
Popular psychology teaches that food behaviour tells you a lot about a person. For this failed foodie, that is certainly true. I have read a million books and experimented a mil- lion ways but it all comes down to this: People are funny about food, but we are not all funny in the same way.
Your relationship to food is your relationship to life.
Try this trick: ask yourself what your relationship to food is, then substitute the name of whatever higher power you subscribe to (Love, Life, God, Gaia) in place of the idea of food. This is what I got: I love food! But often, I am not discerning enough. I will eat what’s there instead of what I know fills me up. I lack balance too; I eat too much or too little, and I eat irregularly. If only I had more time to spend making good food.
I love variety and hate leftovers. There is no greater hell to me than a mono-diet. I steer away from people who are dogmatic or controlling about food – they scare me. When I cook, I find the best results don’t come from following someone else’s recipe, but are made up of the scraps I find in my own fridge… all the things I have tasted and loved on my travels that are delicious only to me (and which my parents probably hate). I used to fear other people looking at my food; their judgment, their unsolicited advice. But thank God, now I don’t give a toss. I know what food makes me feel good, even if I don’t eat it as much as I would like to.
Food fascists are no fun, unless you are fine dining.
People who balk when you use a marinara sauce on fusilli instead of penne or choke when you try to pair a nice merlot with a mahi mahi are a bore. They might make great food critics, but they can kill the creativity of an aspiring cook and send him sulking back to pre-prepared, packaged foods. Don’t let the food fascists get you down. Follow your heart, get experimental and feel your food. Cook what you love. And remember: perfectionism is the worst sort of sauce. I enjoy my signature fridge soup (lovingly reconstituted from the leftovers of previous meals) every bit as much as gourmet amuse-bouche with parsley foam any day. And there is nothing I love better then my husband getting creative in the kitchen. The love that he puts into the preparations is far and away the best flavour.
Eating one Oreo is okay, eating the whole packet is not.
There are all manner of boundaries we can set around food. How much/how often, 80/20 rules, vegan/vegetarian, high-protein or fructose free, halal and kosher. But in the end, there is no such thing as eating perfectly 100 percent of the time. One thing I know for sure, though, is that guilt will kill you quicker that any diet transgression will. Whatever wagon you are on (and I trust you are on it for a very good reason) it helps to remember that you can climb back on whenever you fall off. Those poor perfectionists would do well to save them- selves from the wild and lonely ride on the high-horse, too. Little slips don’t need to bring any of us down. In fact, they can be kinda fun.
Don’t f#*&k with breakfast food.
In all these years of living abroad my tastes buds have changed considerably. I used to be horrified at the thought of eating anything other than ‘regular’ fare for breakfast (cereal, its sister carbs, maybe eggs). But now I can happily eat as the locals do wherever I happen to be (fried rice, fermented fish fillets, innards soup and even yak butter tea). I have noticed, however, that my guests from home, even the most adventuresome, are not quite as food hardy. Let’s face it: people are vulnerable in the early morning and they need to be grounded in comfort. So if you can help it, don’t rob them of what they know. They may be happy to see the sights and get experimental with lunch and dinner, but for early morning menus, don’t try to feed them anything other than what mommy did.
The only dieting advice that applies to everyone is simple: eat, wait, feel.
For all we think we know about food, the ‘freshest’ advice seems the simplest. Everybody is different, and a dieting industry that posits that we are all the same is bogus. We all know people who pig out on corn chips and vodka and live to be 100, and others for whom being in the general vicinity of an un-organic, deep fried potato puts them into convulsions. Socrates had it right for food and life when he said: know thyself. Most of us engage with food at least three to six times a day, so why not defer to the ultimate expert and experiment on ourselves? Figure out what food makes you thrive physically, spiritually, and emotionally and eat that. You may just find the pop-psychologists are right: you can learn a lot about who you are through your food. ,
Renee Martyna is conflict resolution specialist, the wife of a serial social entrepreneur and mother to two third culture kids.