A Vexed Relationship With Food

Recently, I agreed to be interviewed by a graduate student in anthropology for research related to her thesis on food habits. As part of that process–as a subject of a particular demographic of interest, parents–I wrote out answers to questions sent to me as follow-up to our preliminary conversation. Here they are:

  1. When asked to describe your relationship to food, I remember you said “frustrated”. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

I use the word ‘frustrated’ to describe my relationship to food because there is a feeling of being thwarted: I want food to work for me, on my terms but that state of affairs does not come about. I want it to be tasty and satisfying; I want it to be  easy to prepare and cheap to buy; I want it to be prepared without effort, in fact. But it doesn’t work that way. Food needs purchasing, carefully; it needs the careful exercise of informed choice; it makes you fat or sick if you take your eyes off the ball. Having a good relationship with food takes work. And that work often seems like it requires too much time from a lifestyle that consists largely of feeling harried, between being a parent, a teacher and a writer (as a professional academic), as someone who wants to be fit and healthy. Eating right, in ways that satisfy the various dimensions and standards of eating right is increasingly hard, and increasingly easy to view as yet another zone of failure or mediocre effort and reward.

2. I remember you mentioned eating feels like a chore sometimes – why is that?

Eating feels like a chore for the reasons I allude to above. Buying food and preparing it takes time, and when you have to feed another human being–in this case, my child, a three year old-toddler with her own idiosyncratic take on food–everything associated with it becomes just a little more onerous. I find myself eating worse now than I did before I became a father, and its a much harder struggle now to eat healthy and eat right. I wish I could satisfy my desires to eat healthy and tasty food more easily and balance them/trade them off against the need to eat quickly and efficiently in a healthier way.

3. I recall you expressing frustration with our “six pack culture” – can you tell me a little bit more about this?

Men, not just women, are pressured by our culture to act and look a particular way, to conform to social standards of male ‘looks’ or ‘beauty’ or ‘physical appearance.’ As a result, even as you struggle with diet, with remaining physically active, you struggle with appearance too; you experience insecurity and inadequacy in the physical domain; ‘you don’t look as good as you could.’ Men obsess over getting the right body too; they too feel pressured by unrealistic body images; they too find themselves obsessing over presentation. In this picture, food has an uncomfortable role; it is essential, but it can also do you ‘damage.’

4. How does how you eat now differ from how you ate growing up in India?

I pay more attention to what I eat; that follows from having greater involvement with what I eat. I eat more meat; I eat less bread; I eat less rice; I eat fewer vegetables, and practically no lentils now (grains in general are almost gone from my diet); I eat more processed meats like bacon and sausage.

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