02 Nov Still hungry
I started cooking when I decided, sometime in my late teens, to be a vegetarian. My parents weren’t on board. Like many European descendants, my family centered its meals around meat. At 19, I was a student at the University of Victoria, and started taking environment studies class and learned that eating and cooking was about more than what was delicious. I remember my dad saying, well if you want to be vegetarian you’re going to have to start cooking. So off I went to Bolen’s books and bought a vegetarian cookbook.
If I’m remembering correctly, I began cooking before that and my signature dish was stir fries, or as my dad called then science experiments. Every bottle or jar in the fridge, and from the spice cupboard would be brought out on to the counter, and a dash or a splash of almost everything (including ketchup and orange juice) would end up in the pan. Like all teens, I was desperately searching for independence, and when I chose to live at home and go to university, finding ways to enact some control took on new forms, and cooking became an extension of that. That I could buy raw ingredients and turn them into something that both tasted amazing, sustained me and provided me with so much joy, was nothing short of magic.
The other ingredient that was thrown in the mix at the time was the advent of livejournal and blogs. In high school I became interested writing when I took journalism classes and began editing our short-lived school paper — I offended a few two many teachers and administrators with a political opinion piece that examined how girl’s bodies were treated in our hallways. Blogging and livejournal created a space where I could write without being immediately censored. I wrote in fits and starts, and cooked often. I sought joy and pleasure wherever I could, which was a challenge when these seem to be things women aren’t supposed to enjoy, or if we can relish in pleasure and joy, it’s in very pre-determined ways.
It was only a matter of time before these two things came together. I started my first food blog some time in my early 20s and armed with my Sony Cyber Shot took dark or over exposed photos of every dish I made. But I didn’t have the confidence then, and I felt like I could never compete with the other food bloggers who were gaining popularity all over the internet. Looking back, I see now that I tried to take something I loved, something so deeply personal and that was an expression of love and affection, and tried to turn it into a way to gain approval and belonging, something I sought throughout my childhood and teen years.
When my writing shifted from being for myself to being for the gaze of others, how I responded to it shifted. It felt like work, it felt like I need to try harder to be someone else. My writing became what I thought would fit in a world of food blogging, instead of fitting with what felt like me. This is probably why I’ve been such a half-assed food blogger. I was also horribly uncomfortable with talking about myself, and sometimes when I did share parts of my life on my food blogs, hateful comments would flood in.
As I searched for myself and tried to create a palatable version of who I thought I should be, I graduated from my undergrad, moved to Vancouver and found that independence I craved. I also had new restaurants at my disposal and my own money to spend. After partying a lot and working many unfulfilling minimum wage jobs, I thought it was time to “grow up and get a real job” so I went back to school. After choosing journalism school over culinary school, I found that there was a way to combine writing and food, but also what inspired me to cook in the first place, political stories.
As Julia Turshen said in her conversation with Alicia Kennedy, cooking and eating is political, even if it’s just small p political and what fascinated me so much was the reasons why people cooked what they cooked, and what they ate, and what they grew up eating. I could talk about food with people without making it about myself, and if we did talk about why I ate, I could cut it out when I edited.
Maybe it was something that came with time and figuring out who I was, but I became increasingly interested in my own relationship to food and cooking, how food made me feel, how cooking made me feel. It turns out, I had/have food stories too. We all do. How we relate to food, cooking and food production is filtered through the many things that dictate other aspects of our lives (I’m talking about white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism). It makes sense now, looking back, that food and writing came together, but it was listening to another interview that Alicia Kennedy did with Nigella Lawson, that made me realize why I stopped writing about food. I thought there were more “important” things to write about. I think part of me thought it was too typical that a woman would write about food, and that I wanted to make my voice known on other topics. But some how, I’m still hungry. I’m craving food stories, food writing, and writing about something that — regardless of where my other interests and curiosities take my writing — is endlessly inspiring. And when it comes down to it, regardless of how we feel about food, we all need to eat, so that’s why I’m writing about food again (but maybe I never stopped). So get ready for food and 90s pop culture posts, they’re coming, along with lots of food photos.
**Also if you’re interested in great writing about food, politics and how/why we eat I HIGHLY recommend Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter with great free and paid content including recorded conversations with folks like Melissa Clark! You can find it here.