Yesterday, I had a chance to catch up with one of my dearest friends over cocktails and comfort food. Alas, she and her man have just recently split. Mostly, their story has to do with old-fashioned man/woman incompatibility, in which repeated differences in lifestyle and personal philosophy were demonstrably irreconcilable.
In short: She is a foodie, through and through, and he is not.
Being a personal trainer, the man in question is firmly ensconced in the fairly popular perspective of food as fuel, the act of eating a base, animalistic necessity to be closely monitored and disciplined into an optimized caloric breakdown. And it shows. This man is every gay guy's wet dream, a toned, tall drink of water that makes a perfect poster child for the virtues of clean living.
Which is all well and good. But let me tell you about my friend. She's a big-eyed, curvy bombshell whose every pore oozes with kindness, generosity, and unmistakable feminine mystique. She carries herself in a way that makes you understand that life is not always easy, and she's having a grand time making the best of it.
And a big chunk of it has to do with eating well, breaking bread with those she loves, and conjuring over-the-top, multi-course feasts that bring Like Water for Chocolate mass orgies to mind.
When she's in the kitchen, she elevates to a higher plane of consciousness and competence; it has a little to do with her formal training as a chef, but it has more to do with a certain kind of intensity, akin to spirituality.
Don't scoff. She's not communing with kitchen gods or anything like that, but when you see her in action, it's hard not to think of magic, or alchemy. Every atom zeros in on taking unassuming, seemingly disparate elements and putting them together in a way that fulfills, satiates, and provokes pure pleasure in those she feeds. It's the kind of manifested selflessness that makes unsung mothers and grandmothers all over the world the very best chefs.
For example: She'll invite some friends over to watch a game, and puts a pot of chili on. Chili made from scratch. Chili with a browned, mole-inspired base redolent with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and cloves, simmered slow and even so the richness of the meat melds seamlessly with tomatoes and beans. It's like feel-good napalm, spreading from palate to stomach to the nerve endings in each toe.
And this modest example is no mistake or fluke. This is the conscious result of someone who grinds her own spices, caramelizes, hovers, seasons and re-seasons, and thinks of nothing but the moment one of her friends marries chili to taste bud. This, in short, is an act of genuine affection, of pure generosity. Of love, one might say.
And this isn't something that can be easily explained, so much as felt and gratefully consumed.
So, if you have perfectly respectable reservations--the body as a temple, ethical objections to meat, food-borne allergies, vows to eat only that which is grown in a 100-mile radius--she (we!) totally understand. But it does mean that you've missed out on this particular connective experience. And in the course of meals taken in a relationship, these missed connections would add up. That's LIFE, baby.
Some will call this fixation of ours terrible food narcissism, wasteful and shallow hedonism, even an excuse to perpetuate a slothful state of being. But people, this isn't all we do. We work, we play, we travel, we love music, dancing, Scrabble--we even work out. My friend really did try meet this guy halfway, upping her exercise and trimming indulgences. But at the end of the day, he saw her priorities and preoccupations as less worthy and virtuous than his own. No number of crunchies will change that.
We're not evangelical foodies. We don't expect or want EVERYONE to be like this, nor do we automatically esteem like-minded people. But you can't take the foodie out of the woman, and if you met my friend, beautiful and bursting with an insatiable lust for life, you wouldn't want to.
The man in question may live to a hundred, lookin' good and pumpin' out push-ups until he's pushing daisies. But guilt, imposition, and a morally superior attitude isn't part and parcel with good health OR good food, and certainly not good relationships. As was said in today's NYT, in a serendipitously-timed article on love, food, and compromise:
Food has a strong subconscious link to love, said Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. That is why refusing a partner's food "can feel like rejection," she said.
As with other differences couples face, tolerance and compromise are essential at the dinner table, marital therapists said. "If you can't allow your partner to have latitude in what he or she eats, then maybe your problem isn't about food," said Susan Jaffe, a psychiatrist in Manhattan.