Thursday, February 11, 2010

The "Eat" part of Eat, Pray, Love

I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love. It took me more than a month to read it; not sure why. If you’re reading it and you find yourself turned off by the author’s self-centeredness or other unbecoming qualities, hang in there. I kept reaching the point at which I was repulsed by this woman’s life choices, and then I would turn the page and connect with her in such a way that you would have thought we were soul sisters.

Anyway, let’s talk about the “Eat” part. This part of the book chronicles Elizabeth Gilbert’s four-month stay in Italy. Really, it chronicles everything she ATE during her four-month stay in Italy. Part of her quest in “finding herself” (after a divorce, then another horribly failed relationship and the resulting depression) was to re-learn how to experience pleasure, so she chose to eat her way through Italy while learning the native language. I read this part of the book while on my Florida trip, and I craved pasta the whole time I was there. (We did go out for pizza one night, which helped.)

I love food. I’m sure most people do. There are things I have eaten that I will never forget. Crawfish etouffee in New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1991. Ribs in a watermelon glaze at Houston’s Hard Rock Café in the late ’80s. The bacon-wrapped scallops Chad and I ate on the first night of our honeymoon on South Padre Island in 1993. Halibut (that I caught myself off Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula) deep-fried and dipped in ketchup. The ginormous Panamanian shrimp stuffed with crab that I ate at a fabulous Cuban restaurant in Sarasota, Fla., just a few weeks ago.

(My friend Judy ordered the same thing.)

And then there’s the bread a woman at my church used to make when I was a kid in Lovington, N.M. That bread may still be the best stuff I have ever put in my mouth.

I love food.

I ran across a Web site a few years ago run by some religious nut who proclaimed the love of food as the downfall of man. To glorify it as our culture does is sinful, he said. God designed food to sustain us and we have made it into an idol. Gourmet cooking is sinful. Food Network is sinful. (He mentioned the evils of Food Network a number of times.) To be honest, the more I read it, the more it made sense. We Americans make a huge, unhealthy deal out of food and it shows in our lifestyles, health statistics and obesity rates.

But still. Food.

Does God really give us food only to sustain us? Because I think food can mean more than physical sustenance. It can be a spiritual experience, as I blogged a few months ago.

In the February issue of Real Simple magazine, Laurie Sandell writes about coming to peaceful terms with food after growing up with a bad cook for a mother and never having become a good cook herself. Once, in the middle of a therapy session, Sandell’s therapist asked her what was in her refrigerator.

“Food is love,” the therapist said. “You have to fill up your refrigerator if you want your life to change.”

Interesting. It made me wonder what was in my fridge. So I took a picture.

A few observations:

- I have leftovers. I have more food than I can eat. The majority of people in the world today do not. And I have too much. It’s a reminder of the fact that I am ridiculously blessed.

- I have lemon curd. A few months ago, I didn’t know the stuff existed. Then my friend Adrienne taught me how to make crepes. Friends are a blessing, and friends who teach you how to cook something new are even more of a blessing. Lemon curd tastes like the inside of lemon pie, which makes the crepes just about perfect.

- I have apple juice. I don’t drink it, though. I don’t drink juice of any kind. It messes with my blood sugar. But Jenna drinks it. I’m blessed to share my life, house and fridge with an energetic, apple-juice guzzling 5-year-old.

- The can of whipped cream is a Julia thing. She likes to squirt it straight into her mouth. I do not do this. Again, blood sugar. But it’s a reminder of the funny, original and creative child my 11-year-old is turning out to be.

- I have salmon. I cooked it the other night in a brown sugar/Dijon mustard glaze. I grew up thinking I did not like seafood, and I would have never learned to love and appreciate it had I not married an Alaskan. One great thing about getting married is that you not only bring a person permanently into your life, they bring parts of their world with them. I’m a southeast Texas girl, but Alaska is a big part of my life because of Chad. And that’s really cool. And yummy.

Sandell’s therapist encouraged her to fill up her fridge, even though she lived alone. She filled her fridge and felt compelled to actually do something with all the food. So she signed up for cooking classes. Now she has dinner parties and cooks for friends.

“It’s empowering to feel as if I am able to nourish others – and myself,” she writes. “I’ve discovered through cooking that I can show profound caring and, yes, love in a way that pizza delivery – even from a really good brick oven place – just cannot match.”

I think having food compels us to share it with others…to invite people into our homes and have them eat with us. This can enrich our lives and grow our experiences. Which can make us more complete. To me, this is what Sandell’s shrink was getting at.

Back to the “Eat” part of Eat, Pray, Love. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth Gilbert gained 23 pounds in Italy. To her, this was a good thing. And even though food led her to new people in her life (and vice-versa), the relationship most significantly impacted by her Italian food adventure was with herself.

“I came to Italy pinched and thin. I did not know yet what I deserved. I still maybe don’t fully know what I deserve. But I do know that I have collected myself of late – through the enjoyment of harmless pleasures – into somebody much more intact. The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. I exist now more than I did four months ago. I will leave Italy noticeably bigger than when I arrived here. And I will leave with the hope that the expansion of one person -- the magnification of one life – is indeed an act of worth in this world. Even if that life, just this one time, happens to be nobody’s but my own.”

Sunday, February 07, 2010

I saw this in Hastings tonight while Julia was picking out a CD. The book of Genesis in comic book format. It could be the freakiest thing I've seen in print in a long time. No details left out. There's even a warning for young readers. With good reason. Let's just say there are a lot of boobs in Genesis, and I don't mean idiots. Whatever happened to Adam and Eve with strategically-placed animals and trees?