Some responses to provocations I wrote while away at ATYP’s National Studio a few weeks ago.
From ages 10 to 18, I was quite obese. In a large sense, as one may expect, this shaped my relationship with food – and it’s only been in the last three or four years that I have cultivated a healthier response. When I was fat, I obviously enjoyed it too much. After losing the weight, I went too far in the other direction, spurred on by comments of “look how good you look!”, which I interpreted as “look how good you look now.” I wasn’t anorexic, just obsessive. I counted every calorie to the nth degree. I would obsess over carbohydrate-to-protein ratios. Long black became my coffee of choice, not because I liked my coffee that way, just because it cut out milk, the enemy. If I had sugar I would be convinced I could feel the fat growing on me; feel my body returning to its previous state of undesirability.
I think that food can damage us but only when we allow it to – in the obvious ways (overconsumption, eating the wrong foods too much etc), but also in more insidious ways – for instance, when we assign our food emotions, or notions of good or evil. It is almost too easy to do this. It is a cliché, sure, but it’s also a fact – food will be there for us. It will not leave us; it is the great supporter. Broken up with your lover? We’re told to cry, drink, and eat chocolate. Get married? Celebrate with cake! Your mother’s dead? Better start making cucumber sandwiches for the wake now. No quiche though; you’ll get enough of those from well-meaning mourners wanting to help you out. The messages we receive on a daily basis scream one thing: FOOD EQUALS EMOTION. Happy, sad, sexy, drunk, depressed, guilty. We need to stop this. You are not a bad person if you have a slice of cake. You are not a good person, either. You are a person, and cake is sugar, egg protein, dairy and complex carbohydrates. I work in a café, and at least once a shift there’ll be a group – usually of young women – who’ll sit down and order coffees. They’ll browse the menu, bemoaning the bevvy of choice laid out to them. “I’d love a burger”, one might say, looking conspiratorially at her friends. Then: “But I’ll just have the Waldorf salad.” Or, worse: “Can we have a slice of cake… with four forks? We’re being bad.” Kill me now. There are many things I would assign the word “bad” to. Nerve gasses in Syria. The bubonic plague. The Jim Carey film, “Mr Popper’s Penguins”. I would not class ‘having a slice of cake’ – or god forbid, a quarter of a slice of cake, as ‘bad’. At what point does this become ridiculous? Practice moderation. Have some sense about what you’re putting into your body. And then have the fucking cake, because we’re all going to die and some people don’t have the privilege of cake. I can guarantee the worms eating your post-mortem flesh aren’t going to say: “oh, I’ll only have a leg, thanks. This person clearly ate a lot of cake, and I don’t want to be bad.”
I find the actual construction of food porn endlessly fascinating. These glossy, propped-up, oiled, juicy images are, like regular porn, beyond fake. I read an article once that delved into the techniques involved in this type of photography. Mechanics, clad in surgical-grade rubber gloves, would spray meat with hairspray to give it that “just cooked” shine every roast chicken desires. Ice cream – which would melt too quick to be shot – replaced with much more reliable mashed potatoes. Burgers and sandwiches propped up with cardboard inserts and handfuls of toothpicks. Lettuce sprigs pinned in place just so. It strikes me that we can’t participate in Halloween in case some psychopath has stuffed razor blades into the mars bars he’s handing out, yet we have an industry solely devoted to doing just that, supposedly for our benefit. Next time you invite your parents around for dinner, try basting the roast in Pantene Pro V Maximum Hold. It might kill them, sure, but they’ll thank you for your succulent presentation.