My relationship with food is restricted to buying and eating it. Don’t cry for me, semolina.
I care about what I eat.
I care, in that I want it to taste good, and for there to be a lot of it. In a perfect world, it should cost more calories to digest than consume, but I’m vain this way and concern myself with nutrition mostly for the way it makes me look. Rarely is much thought given to life expectancy, and if I could eat any food at liberty but maintain a 120-pound figure until I died at age 70, I’d bow out as the world’s happiest septuagenarian.
It so happens I’m not 70 years old. I’m also not 120 pounds. I’m somewhere between 120 and 220, hovering around being OK with how I look in a mirror and only falling for diet claims about once every six months, usually those of Atkins or Weight Watchers. I’ll tell you now Weight Watchers works better and is a whole lot less fun. On Atkins you can eat a whole wheel of cheese and call it lunch. Diets that work are all variations on plain old counting calories, which is about as exciting as watching hair grow, or chewing on it in line for the scale at Weight Watchers. The best part about Weight Watchers was bumping into my old group leader a year after I’d stopped going. She had had twins and gotten really fat.
It would be so easy for me to get fat, which I have been at times. I don’t like diets. I really like candy. I always suspected Halloween was a bigger deal for me than it was other kids, and that that should have entitled me to more candy. When I was young, my dad had his car stolen outside the 7-Eleven by our family home in Manassas. 7-Eleven was also the closest place to buy candy. I feel nothing but fondness when I drive by its parking lot at night.
I’ve had to get better about what I eat because while I do have the palate of a 2-year-old, I also have an actual 2-year-old, and a conscience. Getting pregnant was the only time I ever stuck to a diet, in that I force-fed myself vegetables and, sorrowfully, quit guzzling wine and high-fructose corn syrup. I lost significant weight over the first half of my first pregnancy, which tells you nothing about my spinach intake and everything about how much I like and will freely eat Kit Kat bars when no one’s well-being is on the line but my own. Being pregnant was the first time, ever, I’d been instructed to gain weight. My doctor told me to drink Ensure, which I bought, smugly.
Nine months is a long time with little to no digestive refuse. Some of my new eating habits stuck around. These days, I eat well, but not very well. I’m not microwaving Hot Pockets for breakfast. I’m not drinking kale protein shakes. Today I’ve had oatmeal, a couple of peaches and a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. It’s 11 a.m. The oatmeal was the sugary kind and didn’t have extra fiber. I do have a vegetable garden that I poke around in when I feel like it, mostly just eating the cherry tomatoes and picking the withered zucchini “for later.”
The vegetable garden: I can explain that. A funny thing happens when you get pregnant, in that the baby doesn’t go anywhere after you’ve had it. Should the mood strike you to be a half-decent parent, you have to give some thought to how you take care of yourself. So I care more now than I did back in the days of microwave pizza alternating with cereal, which doesn’t mean I don’t miss them terribly.
If all this is making me sound nutritionally uncultured, I am so fine with that. The term foodie has been bandied about a lot lately, though you’ll notice no one ever describes another person as such; it’s always self-applied. Foodie: a person who enjoys and cares about food very much. That’s great. If we collectively pooled every single person we know, could we produce a human being who doesn’t fit this definition? Everyone cares about food. Foodie: a person passing off eating as a hobby, with the transparent aid of an Instagram account.
I do love shopping for food, which my husband lets me do child-free. I’d pick it over a pedicure, a yoga class, a naked moonlit spree. There are free samples, and good lighting, and if I remember to bring my own bags, I get a treat to eat in the car on the ride home. As an exercise, try shopping at your own store with someone else who regularly buys his or her groceries there, too. I recently went with a friend who had broken her wrist. Walking through it with her was like staring long enough at a Magic Eye poster. She bought so many things I’d never noticed, like canned chicken for dips and this one really expensive brand of granola that now I buy every week and adds about $40 to our credit-card bill.
I buy and make all of the food for my family, which sounds like a lot of responsibility but isn’t. It’s easy to eat healthy when your cooking skill levels are low to middling; you keep excellent track of what’s going into your five-ingredient casserole. Avoid major pitfalls—i.e., everything you want to buy and obviously would if you weren’t solely responsible for the bone and brain development of a complex and exquisitely fragile human life. You’ll be fine.
My son starts daycare next month, and when we went to visit the school they showed me the report he’ll be bringing home every day. The degree of detail in their feedback is astonishing. The school’s going to track his urine and fecal outputs for me. They’ll tell me what activities he participated in and how much he slept. Far and away, though, the most space on the report is devoted to diet, detailing exactly what and how much he ate at snack time and lunch, assuming that’s what they still call it, in the tongue of us plebes.
All this is a far cry from what I remember of my own school lunches, which in fairness did include the option of a chef’s salad, one you couldn’t order without risking the social status of a booger-eater. In middle school, we were given an a la carte option, and it was a really big deal to suddenly have more than two hot-lunch choices, usually pizza or a slab of meat dressed up in a jacket of breading you didn’t want to peek under. I washed that down with milk every day for six years, so it’s a total mystery why I can’t drum up interest in the finer tenets of farm-to-table.
I’m pregnant again, now, with my daughter. This time, my doctors didn’t tell me to gain weight, which baffles me. I cut out the wine, and most of the Kit Kats. Admittedly, the cherry tomatoes get doused in a lot of things that aren’t more cherry tomatoes, and we go through boatloads of that granola.
I suppose if the extra pounds don’t come off after she’s born, I can always truck it back to Weight Watchers. Keep an eye out for someone who looks fresh-faced, even glowing. Give it some time. Payback’s awfully sweet.