Food, Family and Safety

Ok, so now that I’ve gone to the trouble of creating a WHOLE NEW BLOG, I’m thinking that I might just put everything here after all.  Any facts and figures would either go on a separate page or behind cuts, so no one would have to read them if they didn’t want to.  And I’m finding that I’m not going to post my daily menus ANYWAY, so that part’s moot.  (I posted my dietary guidelines, which are pretty much oriented toward getting enough to eat, and eating real food as opposed to prepackaged crap, but that’s as far as it’s likely to go.)  Plus, it turns out that most of the stuff I’m thinking would end up cross-posted anyway, which sort of defeats the purpose, you know?  I’m still kind of thinking about it (again).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of food as security.  We are a food-oriented (obssessed?) society.  We associate certain foods with childhood, with holidays, with family.  I know that for me, bingeing is an unconscious effort to recreate the feelings of safety I felt as a child.  (And I can’t help but wonder if my intermittent efforts to starve myself are on some level a rejection of other family things.)

This came about because I was reading a post (I can’t remember where, if it was your blog, please let me know and I’ll link back) about mini-meals vs. large meals.  Almost everyone I know advocates mini-meals.  Some people say mini-meals help stabilize their blood sugar, others say that if they’re always eating, they never feel deprived.  But every time I’ve done mini-meals, I end up eating a LOT at night.  Part of that is because mini-meals feel just a little too much like mini-binges: a little of this, a little of that, a little more of this, a mouthful of that . . . it’s a slippery slope for me.  And the other thing that contributes to the mini-meal/binge cycle is that at the end of the day I feel like I haven’t had a MEAL.  It doesn’t have to be a high-calorie meal (tonight I ate cabbage and carrots cooked in soy sauce and oyster sauce), but it has to be a definitive meal, as opposed to (for instance) a yogurt and a handful of almonds.  The latter just feels too much like a snack to me, and no matter how full I am, I still want a “meal.” 

So I’ve gone back to eating 2-3 full meals a day (sometimes I drink soy lattes for breakfast), plus an evening snack.  And here’s the thing: if I eat a huge (and I mean HUGE: restaurant-sized, even if it’s 99% lettuce) salad* for lunch, I’m not hungry until dinner.  My blood sugar doesn’t drop, I don’t have the munchies, etc.  (Sometimes I get an afternoon craving for a sweet, but that’s generally manageable.)

And all of that got me thinking about wanting a “meal” and how in some ways that’s an expression of food as security.  I feel better, not just physically, but EMOTIONALLY, with bigger meals, spaced further apart.  Wth a large amount of food on my plate, I feel safe.  I feel like I will not want for anything.  And the funny thing is, that’s true in my kitchen as well.  I’m infamous in my family for buying more food than I can use (usually frozen and canned – I’m pretty good about either using or just not buying too much fresh), and every month or two, I clean everything out over a couple of weeks by eating what I’ve stockpiled (I always save a lot on groceries during those weeks, LOL).  And then the cycle starts again.  But there is something about opening my refrigerator or my pantry or my freezer and seeing that it’s full.  It makes me feel SAFE in a way that I can’t even explain (especially since it’s not like I grew up so poor that we didn’t eat).

And all of THAT led me to thinking about food as memory.  The things I remember about my family are often centered around meals, whether special-occasion meals or everyday ones.  When I miss my grandma, I make her potato salad.  I don’t even really have to eat it (although it’s REALLY GOOD, so I will – I try and give it away for that reason); just the process of making it, of cubing the potatoes, boiling the eggs, smelling the combination of starch, egg yolks, green onions and mayonnaise (don’t forget the salt and pepper), of going through motions that I know she went through, smelling what she smelled, what HER grandma smelled, makes me feel close to her.  Like walking in the time-worn footsteps at some historical sites.  It makes me feel calm.  It makes me feel safe and loved and watched over.

My mom used to make taco salad.  I haven’t made it recently, but when she posted it, I practically had flashbacks.  It was a childhood staple in my family, and when I saw it posted, I had an almost overwhelming urge to buy the groceries and make it RIGHT NOW.  There were so many memories and associations that came flooding back.  And all of them were of times and feelings when I felt safe and loved.

And the funny thing is, I don’t think any of these associations are necessarily bad things – some of them might be unusual because of the extremity of my feelings, sure, but as long as I’m aware of them, I don’t think they’re bad.”  I like knowing that I have a direct hotline to my grandma through the smell of eggs and potatoes.  I like knowing that I’m as close to my mom as some ground turkey and a can of kidney beans.  I like knowing that some of the things my mom and grandma made were made by my great- grandma and my great-great-grandma before her.  It gives me a sense of history, of something bigger than myself.  It gives me a sense of place, of where I belong. 

The important part is learning to differentiate between when I really need that connection: when I’m really, TRULY adrift and need a mooring, and when I’m just looking for something to make me feel safe because I’m generally anxious or stressed.  Because it’s the latter that leads to the mini-binges.  And in the meantime, I’ll keep eating my big lunches and medium dinners (with breakfasts of varying sizes, LOL).


*I figured out how to pack a huge salad in my lunchbox, too: I just pack the toppings.  Then I go to the cafeteria where I work and buy a giant container of lettuce.  It costs me about a buck, and I just add my salad toppings to it at my desk.  Woo-hoo!


7 responses to “Food, Family and Safety

  1. First – LOVE your salad solution!

    Second – I agree with you about the snacking vs. meals. I seem to gain weight when I snack even though every mag will tell you the opposite. For me, the biggest thing is to have a REALLY hearty breakfast with lots of complex carbs, fat and protein. I did a post about this topic – although it was awhile ago so I doubt you’re thinking of mine.

  2. I think the six meals a day thing has been thoroughly debunked. It all seems to go back to calories in, calories out, though many prefer to feel otherwise. I do whatever is most convenient or works for me that day. I usually eat at least one good-sized meal, sometimes two, with the rest filling in as snacks (not chips, this is usually fruit or crudites, cottage cheese, smoked fish on a cracker, etc.). Re: blood sugar, not sure if I believe most of what people think about this, but I think some exercise will go much further than about anything else in stabilizing it.

  3. That’s so cool that you made the emotional connection with all this stuff!

    And I really think there’s no “right” answer about this stuff, and figuring out what works for you is the most important thing.

  4. Ah yes, food memories. I love the connection I feel when I make one of my mother’s recipes. She was a really good cook, and her pastry was divine. I still remember how hard she worked to make it as light and perfect as possible!

    Thanks for making me think of her today!

  5. some days, and today being one, I am thankful my mom was a pretty crappy cook.

    I really dont have any major food/emotion ties in that regard.
    (I created a bunch as I grew older–especially with friends in college and after).

    love the salad idea.
    Im going to pass that along to the “but its tooooo hard to bring a salad to work for lunch” husband and probably RUN after I share it.

    methinks he loves his excuses….

  6. Charlotte, I was pretty excited about the salad solution myself. 😀 And yeah, I’m thinking that my biggest meal of the day is shaping up to be lunch. I’m not a big breakfast eater, but by lunch time I’m usually pretty hungry. (No, this post was just within the last day or two. I wish I could remember where the heck I saw it . . .)

    Julie, I agree about the exercise being a big factor in the blood sugar stabilization. I’d guess some of the swings during the day would also have to do with WHAT people are eating more than how often (unless there’s a medical issue like hypoglycemia involved). A big plate of pancakes and syrup for breakfast will spike and drop your blood sugar whether or not you exercised that morning, but I have a hard time believing that a plate of eggs will do the same thing if you don’t eat 3 hours later.

    Thanks, Crabby! Yeah, I think half the battle is figuring out that what I “should” do and what WORKS might not necessarily be the same thing. LOL.

    Aw, Bag Lady, that’s so neat! I’m so glad you have good memories of your mom! 🙂

    Miz, it’s funny: some people don’t seem to have those ties at all. My sister doesn’t think of food the same way that I do, either. She’s all about “must-eat-because-otherwise-I-have-no-energy.” It just doesn’t hold the same emotional impact for her, either. Strange how different people are.

  7. I have enormous memories for foods. But I feel (said the addict) that I have at least contained my addictions on a daily basis though sometimes it’s by the hour.

    Food is magical. We get it from our mothers upon birth and it’s ever present. But I am talking about REAL food. Not the made up kind.

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