Every year, the holiday season and its excesses cause distress to many.
While some lack the financial wherewithal to indulge like everyone else, others are in the throes of an eating disorder made worse by the calendar. Whatever the reason, not being able to join in the culinary merriment and jollity can make you feel a lot worse about your circumstances.
As a French-born American, I never expected this to ever concern me.
Where I come from, food is akin to religion and eating is a way of life.
We feel passionately about gastronomy and are wont to spend hours sitting around the table with our loved ones. My stepbrother is a classically-trained French chef who learned to ply his craft in one of the most exclusive restaurants in Paris. My father lives for eating. My stepmom is an accomplished cook. In short, food is one of the many things that brings us together, despite my being a vegan.
From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved eating, I’ve always been curious about food, and I’ve always been clear about what I did and did not like. Lack of appetite was never more than anecdotal and the result of occasional illness, until it became a feature several weeks ago. I still haven’t digested the shock of my best friend’s death or my stepmom’s Stage IV cancer diagnosis. As a result, food no longer appeals. At all, not even traditional favorites.
Instead, it’s become fuel I must occasionally put in my body to keep going but which I struggle to digest. So much so that I live on chalky vegan protein shakes made with the fattest nut milk possible, homemade soups and puddings, with the odd sliced cucumber or small handful of raw nuts. Once a day, I force stuff down and hope it’ll stay down. So far, so good, but quantities need to remain small else I can’t finish them and major digestive distress strikes.
Every now and then, I have a day when I don’t even bother because eating has become too unpleasant.
Still, I don’t get hungry.
And yet, I’ve always looked forward to holiday food.
With a deep fondness for fat and salt, the prospect of days of savory delights used to be thrilling, especially those giant tins of deluxe mixed nuts and those trays of miniature appetizers. Or a home-cooked celebration meal featuring as much nut-based vegan cheese as possible. This year, the prospect of fancy food makes me feel queasy and there’s no way much of it will pass my lips.
I sleep little, when at all, which results in near constant nausea. On the one hand, I’m trying to keep the major depressive disorder that has blighted the last five years of my life at arm’s length. On the other, I’m working as hard as I can and preparing to fly back to Europe for an extended stay to lend my father a hand as he cares for his sick wife.
As it turns out, chemo has destroyed my stepmom’s appetite so we’ll be like two peas in a pod. She can hardly swallow a thing and there’s only a small array of foods that don’t cause her to feel nauseated. As a result, neither her nor Dad have planned New Year’s Eve’s meal yet and we might not even bother.
In France, New Year’s Eve — le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre — is a multi-course supper that often goes on until the early hours of the morning. It’s as much a social gathering as a chance to showcase our national gastronomic pride and flex our cooking skills.
All in all, it’s a joyous occasion, not one you expect to spend locked inside the smallest room in the house and praying to the porcelain gods.
Unless you’ve had a bad oyster or too much champagne.
My parents wear their food well and with pride; my US 4 are getting baggy.
I don’t have the time to stop and dwell on it, not right now. Instead, I try my best not to get too cosy with anorexia and call it good. Luckily, I won’t be put in a position when I have to pretend I’m OK or overindulge either. For my family, non-standard dietary requirements have become the new normal.
But this kind of openness and mutual understanding is very rare. While no one will bat an eyelid if my stepmom enjoys a plate of mashed potatoes as I pick at a handful of raw nuts on Dec. 31, other folks will be going through hell.
Peer pressure is the trigger that can catapult you over the edge as you go from holding it together to flailing about in record time. But the contents of your plate should never determine your self-worth anymore than your body shape or clothing size should.
All human bodies are just as valuable as one another. That we should hold self-restriction in high esteem while we despise a healthy appetite, at least in the US, is as perverse as it is dehumanizing to me.
Ours doesn’t have to be a shallow, vacuous and vapid culture of appearances and make believe, and it only is because we conspire to make it so. Through the media we consume. Through the diet-industrial complex we buy into. Through the Frankenstein foodstuffs we stuff our faces with.
There’s a very good reason many US foods are banned in the EU, or the same brand cereal looks and tastes different in Canada. The rest of the world has more discerning taste buds and better standards than America when it comes to food manufacturing. More often than not, taste and nutrition matter far, far more than profit.
Try and give a can of spray cheese to a French person and watch their reaction as they shake, squeeze, sniff then proceed to toss the whole thing in the trash.
Because food is a way to honor and love yourself, an intrinsic part of being unapologetically alive and thriving at whatever size.
Without food, there is no life.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.