Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
August 20, 2009
All I can think about is food.
As I close in on my 40s, you could say my priorities have shifted a little bit. I spent the last decade (make that two decades) trying to figure out how to avoid food, how to eat as little as possible while being as active as possible. I was probably the only yoga teacher on the planet subsisting on a diet of caffeine, nicotine and vodka. Being thin was more important to me than, say, sclerosis of the liver or dying of lung cancer.
Then I met Ryan and kind of went, “I’m starving! I haven’t eaten in like, the last five years!”
Now, instead of being obsessed about food, I’m obsessed with food. The thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
This pendulum swing in food culture is kind of like the economy. Let’s face it. The money people were making, borrowing, and leveraging wasn’t realistic. It was based on market value, not actual value. Maybe it’s the same thing with our country’s preoccupation with dieting and exercise, our desire to be skinny and fit. It just isn’t realistic, at least not in the long-term.
That might explain the evolution of the “foodie” culture, which seems to have evolved from your traditional food-magazine-subscribing, cooking-class-attending, Zagat-reading connoisseur to something much more mainstream.
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First, there’s the onslaught of all these new shows, from Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the Travel Channel hit show “Man vs. Food” to the lineup of Food Network shows, prime-time hits like “Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives,” “Ace of Cakes” and “Food Impossible.” Have I become so domesticated in the last eight months that it turns me on to watch a bunch of nerds from Baltimore make a cake rendition of Wrigley Field? How did I go from loving, say, the hip, hunky boys on HBO’s “Entourage” to Jewish chunky guys like Adam Rich and Duff Goldman?
Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved to cook and I’ve always enjoyed food. It’s just that I only allowed myself to enjoy what is considered “healthy food.”
I did my time in places like Boulder, where my climber and cyclist friends starved themselves down to that optimal “strength to weight ratio,” where the deli at the health food store had a tendency to list what ingredients food didn’t have. I lived in Southern California, where I discovered things like spirulina, wheat grass and soy milk, all things that weren’t part of my food vernacular growing up in old New England.
Of course there’s also the influence of my crazy parents, who have devoted their retirement to late-onset anorexia and exercise addiction. All they do is bike or hike all day long and so they refuse to eat anything but Power Bars and Shot Blocks, at least until supper time, when they start eating and don’t stop until they go to bed.
“When you get old, you just don’t think about food,” my mom says. Whatever, Lindarose. I know you. I’ve seen you in front of a basket of onion rings. You’re not forgetting anything then.
I thought maybe it was me who’d gone off the deep end, allowing myself the indulgence of enjoying a richer dish once in a while. I thought maybe it’s because I fell in love with a Midwesterner who has told me more about fried cheese curds on a stick back home at the Minnesota State Fair than he has about his childhood. I thought maybe it’s because whenever I cook my favorite healthy dishes, things like salmon panang or grilled fish tacos, he always shrugs and says, “It’s good, honey” only to beeline it for the kitchen as soon as we’re done with dinner to make pancakes or maybe fry up a couple of sausages to eat in a bun with some shredded cheese.
But then I went and saw a little movie called “Julie and Julia” about the life of Julia Child and a year in the life of Julia Powell, a writer from Queens who spent one year cooking every one of Child’s recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” a classic culinary must-have that has now been officially resurrected.
I say officially because, like every other woman who saw the film, the first thing I did was run to Explore Booksellers to buy myself a copy of that legendary cookbook. I’ve had it with depriving myself of the joys of cream, the ecstasy of butter, the bliss of sugar. I mean, how many fat French people do you know?
I started to think maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe all this healthy eating and dieting is for naught. I couldn’t wait to start my own Julia Child cooking experiment. I’d learn to make hollandaise sauce and pie crust and homemade mayonnaise. Maybe I’d learn to make something Ryan might actually enjoy eating, at least enough to keep him away from pancakes at least until the following morning.
“We’re completely sold out,” the sales girl at the bookstore said when I asked for Julia Child’s legendary cookbook. “In fact, the publishers have sold out, too until they’re able to reprint more copies.”
Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe it’s a whole generation of women who grew up with fat-free this and Jane Fonda Workout that, and we’ve had it. Maybe all that stress created over what we eat and what we don’t eat is worse than the food we’re avoiding in the first place. Maybe the reason we struggle so much with obesity in this country is we’re so preoccupied with food in general that we end up abusing it, just like American underage drinkers abuse alcohol.
Maybe the forbidden fruit isn’t so bad after all. I always knew life was a bowl of cherries – it’s just time to pass the cream.
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