Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘food

On Families and Food

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Reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s story about food in the New York Times’ magazine’s food edition—well, the beginning part, about his grandma and her relationship to food—I suddenly feel compelled to share some of my own family history about food. As I may or may not have mentioned here many times before, I grew up eating the quintessential turn-of-the-millennium American processed foods diet: Poptarts and lucky charms for breakfast. Lunchables, dunkaroos and doritos for lunch. Chicken patties and canned green beans for dinner. The only vegetables we ever ate fresh (not from a can) were broccoli and potatoes. The legendary story my college friends like to tell is when I bit into the skin of an orange freshman year. I didn’t know that wasn’t how you ate it. I’d never had an orange that wasn’t canned, or that my mother hadn’t already peeled and put in fruit salad.

Learning to change my eating habits has been an ongoing process over the past 4 or 5 years, one that’s mostly been enjoyable—and one that’s also been fraught with complications. Like, for instance, disordered eating. I’ve spent various years of my life consumed with what would be, medically termed, ED-NOS (eating disorder, not-otherwise-specified)—a mix of anorexic and bulimic tendencies that never quite reached a dangerous level but was nevertheless, um, not healthy (if, most of all, mentally). I’ve always been a bit weird about food: my mom says from the time I was about 5, I’d refuse to eat more than three separate things per meal. Why 3? I don’t know. But if we had chicken, green beans, bread and rice, one of those would have to be left out.

There are a billion reasons why a person develops disordered eating habits, and I’ll spare you a dissertation on my own. But the reason I bring all this up is: my parents visited last weekend. My parents are both average for middle-aged midwestern parents, which is to say, once very thin and athletic but now chubby but not fat. They are constantly trying to lose weight, but have little idea how to go about it (one of my mom’s favorite diet lines is, “But all I had all day is tea and girl scout cookies!”). Most of my friends now are quite into food: food politics, food preparation, cooking, growing and eating food. And Brooklyn is full of amazing restaurants—the kind of places with interesting, locally grown, elaborately and lovingly prepared dishes. I took my parents to a few. Along the way, my boyfriend and roommate talked quite a bit about food.

And what did my dad have to say? Boy, your friends sure are obsessed with food. Or, by weekend’s end, “I’m a bit tired of all this food talk.” It made me feel weird, uncomfortable. Was their something unsavory, gluttonous about it?

And, I realized: food, in my family, in my culture growing up, is something to be enjoyed, but not too much. My dad (and, by consequence, me) likes meat, but doesn’t like preparing it, or eating it when it feels too much like an actual animal. He likes to be eat, sure, but he doesn’t like to spend too much time thinking about where it came from, how to make it, its effects, etc. I always thought that was healthy. But as I’m encountering new ways of thinking about eating, about food, I realize that may be just the problem. We should think about our food. We shouldn’t just guiltily enjoy whatever crap happens to taste good, and then try to exercise or rationalize it off. We should concentrate more on only putting things in our bodies that we don’t feel guilty about. And, if that means having to talk about food, to obsess about it: so be it.

I’m saying all this just as my roommates and I are embarking on a modified raw food diet. We’re on day 3. The main goal is to cut out anything processed, plus dairy, meat, pasta, soda, etc. Maybe I should say it’s more a ‘natural foods’ diet than a raw foods, as we’re not averse to cooking our veggies and such. It’s requiring a lot of thinking about food. A lot. And I think it’s good for me—thinking about food extensively is a hell of a lot better than not thinking and ordering a dominos pizza or jaunting down the street for a corner store sandwich every day.

Of course, there is a link—a link between thinking about food for health reasons, and about thinking about food like an anorexic person. I’m drawing all sorts of parallels these past few days. It feels like similar behavior to me. But maybe that’s only because thinking about food, to me, has always been thinking about restricting food. If not restricting, I wasn’t thinking about it. Thinking about food in order to enjoy it more, and to get the maximum health benefits from it, seems like an okay change, and one I’m welcome (and, falteringly, trying) to make.


Written by ENB

October 13, 2009 at 8:02 pm

DC v. NY: Food Edition

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When I return to Columbus, Cincinnati, and Athens, Ohio, there are restaurants I’m always excited to revisit. Already, in New York, I’ve developed a few favorite eateries. But were someone to ask me where to eat in DC, I don’t think I’d have anything to tell them. I can think of restaurants that are passably enjoyable—if you were going there for drinks, or happened to be nearby, then eatingin them wouldn’t be unpleasant. There are even a few places I guess I could say I considered “favorites,” though these—Cactus Cantina, Cafe Deluxe, the Argonaut—have more to do with proximity to places I lived then any spectacularity of cuisine.

I’d probably tell you to have brunch at Red Rocks, though that has more to do with the bottomless $9 mimosas than the decent but unextraordinary pizza. Maybe I’d recommend Granville Moore’s, which does have a good beer selection and, I’m told, great mussels, though I’m no mussel connoisseur; the takeout at Simply Ayzen, if you, god forbid, find yourself in Tenley; or the sweet potato fries at Wonderland Ballroom, which I just tried for the first time my 2nd-to-last week in town when some very drunk girls shared their leftovers with me. And Chef Geoff’s and Commonwealth both serve near-perfect arugula salads.

But overall—I have never thought DC’s food has very much to recommend it, and it’s almost always pricey, to boot.

On my first night in Brooklyn last week, my boyfriend, my future roommate and I set off in search of a late-dinner bite within a few blocks of our house-to-be, and stumbled across a newly-opened place on the corner of Graham Avenue and Meeker called Grandma Rose’s. It smelled good, but didn’t sell alcohol, and after moving all day, we were in the mood for a drink. We turned to leave, and the guy behind the counter said, “Hey, I mean, if it’s beer you want, I’ve got a few in the basement of my own; I can get you a beer.” So we stayed. He led us out into a huge back garden area, where we were the only ones there, and brought us corona and bud light in paper pepsi cups from his private basement stash. We ordered $6 sandwiches—eggplant pamesan, meatball, chicken & broccoli rabe—that arrived about half-an-arm’s length in size and were absolutely delicious. The chef—a charming fat, bald man (“That’s the kind of man I want making me a sandwich,” my boyfriend said) who is the owner (and apparently a former Bear Stearns stock broker) sat down and chatted with us about how everything was cooked, and asked if we had any recommendations, and when I told him it was my first night in town, he brought me free gelato. Cheap, delicious, friendly and rule-bending—had I designed it, I could not have schemed a more perfect first-night antithesis to all that is DC food culture.

[Please do not fear: food is one of the few arenas in which I am really not impressed with DC, and in which I am quite impressed with Brooklyn. But I promise I will not turn into one of those horrible people who move to New York and start immediately saying how much better everything is there. Cross my heart.]

Written by ENB

August 6, 2009 at 11:48 am

Posted in City-Dwelling, Culture, Food

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