How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Cook

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“…now I know how eating itself links me to ways of being in the world that are excessive, subversive, even forbidden. My own needs and desires always felt like a burden, like a second body I carried on my back, a child who could never be fully satisfied. Food forms a bridge between the world and those desires. Flesh of my rewritten flesh: bodies whose queer desires for love, for sex, rend the world apart, and create it anew.”

– Marusya Bociurkiw, Comfort Food for Breakups

It took me years to learn how to listen to know to my body. I was just walking around, intensely self-conscious but with a strong sense of alienation of every part of me below the neck.  I first started listening to my body, was by noticing what was going on in my gut. It speaks the loudest. But still, for years, I did know if I was hungry or full or just had a dull roar in it’s belly from something I was feeling but didn’t have a name for yet. One of the other ways I learned to make friends with my body was by learning how to cook. A lot of people are intimidated by cooking, and think it’s only the provence of professionals or the highly domestic. I had a girlfriend who told me  that I was a terrible cook because I could never cook from a recipe without changing with it somehow. Which doesn’t make me a bad cook, it makes me a devoted improvisationalist.  But this truth came to light later.

But for years I stumbled around eating toast for dinner and endearing myself to generous cooks who were happy to have another admirer at their table, to bring wine and tell funny stories and do the dishes. Being a good guest is a great way let other people fend for you for awhile and get invited back another time.

But eventually, I learned to cook. The winter I was 23 years old, in Seattle’s dull gray, at the end of a wrenching relationship, and halfway through a temp job in a windowless basement office. At the time, I had quickly fallen into infatuation with another lonely heart, who would never let me kiss her, but would come over to my house to cook for me. I had a crush on her curly hair and her smart mouth, and she made cooking look like something less mystifying than in the past. I desperately wanted to figure out how to nurture myself, and had recently figured out I could not outsource this responsibility to anybody else.

I have always been some kind of curvy, and this point in my life, I wasn’t trying to have the food I put into my mouth have any kind of effect on my body, I was just trying to learn to feed myself. I was trying to learn to make things –out of the flight of my own imagination, and out of the Moosewood cookbook, and out of the scrabbled-together ingredients I had in my cupboard, while my curly-haired companion would nag me for my egregious substitutions, but this time around, I was just leaning into the fact that I was making it up as I was going along. I was learning what things my body was hungry for, and what felt good to my body on a very basic, chemical level. It was a practice of relearning how to live in my body, and acknowledge it’s needs. It was after  a long time spent in a couple of relationships, where I had been in the practice of behaving as if the world were a small, cramped place. My body, which had a lot of information for me about what it really wanted, was learning to ask for things instead of going numb.

These days I am still a girl who would rather make up her recipes than follow anything straight out of a book or from the internet, but I have learned how to feed myself and the people I love and hope to keep around. I have “taught” other people to cook-by which I mean, we cooked together, and they watched me throw things together on the fly, and I answered questions like “How do you know when the rice is done?” with “When it tastes done.” I never went to culinary school, I just learned how to throw things together that feed my tired body and will let my fretful heart be satisfied.

I think that our own order in the natural world exists in the same way. At the same time of year that I make the most outrageously loud sneezes and spend half my morning bent over the sink with a netipot because of the pollen in the air, there are nettles growing outside that I could very well make into tea or pesto that would take the bite out of these allergies. There is a cure to whatever ails us, whether heartache or indigestion, but it will likely take some searching and ingenuity. All that knowledge exists- the plants and foods that will shift your mood and reshape the outlook of your day- and it hasn’t necessarily been lost. But like I said-this takes some looking, and some experimentation, and some paying attention.

These days, I cook for myself and my sweetheart and for whoever else happens to be passing through. My curly-headed friend moved halfway across the globe to eat cheese and learn other languages. This weekend I walked into the woods near our house and gathered nettles and scraped myself up against the prickly parts and got stung on my arms and legs. But I blanched them, and blended them into a pesto with walnuts I roasted and too much garlic. In the summertime I make so much pesto with raw garlic that sometimes my sweetheart complains about sleeping next to me, her stinky girlfriend who is radiating the smell of garlic like rancid potpourri. But this night there wasn’t too much garlic, and I made us pesto pizza with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes. It was no spectacular culinary feat, but after she came back from working in the yard, and we sat down to eat together.

Cooking- and food- can stir up lots of issues- an inherent fear that we aren’t going to do it right, as well as all the overwhelming baggage that food carries with it. Their seems to be a culture force at work trying to convince people to fight their inherent desires to eat. Bodies are gorgeous at all sizes, as far as I am concerned- but not everyone has had the luck to hold onto such a notion. Also, most of us have become so removed from the production of our own means of survival, that the most basic things like food and water are things we buy, and have little relationship of making or creating before we put them into our bodies.

We get so confused by all the intense contradictory information and shame thrown at us around food that most people have the hardest time just knowing what they want to eat. It is the work of a lifetime, both to learn how to cook the things you want to feed yourself, not to mention things that you may have learned from your family or culture of origin. It is also a life’s work to learn to be at peace with your body and the queer, dangerous things that it wants.


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