Hello Mary Lee community! As you may know, we are shifting towards longer story-telling, and are separating out the stories from the recipes in order to make both easier to find. Here is a deeper look into my story. As a head’s up, I am quite honest about how my food journey intersects with mental health at different points. For some this might be triggering, so read informed.
Lately, despite the fact that I professionally trade in narratives and life details, I have been increasingly reminded of how important it is for us to hear each other’s stories. Our stories are the glue that connects us to each other, the foundation of knowing each other and of being known. You see, in stories we communicate the most intimate parts of who we are, how we were formed, and how we see the world. Stories reveal our humanity, and help us see the humanity in others. We teach through story, passing on the lore of our ancestors, with the common threads of those narratives often crossing cultural boundaries. We entertain through story, collectively joining together in an emotion and maybe even instilling wisdom in the next generation.
And we connect through story, sharing bits about our days and lives in the hope that someone else will hear and care about what happens to us. In hearing those stories, we gain information, trust, and understanding about the narrator. And no two stories are exactly alike–even for the same event.
So here at Mary Lee Kitchen, we are coming back to our stories. In a year where we, and many others we know are calling for kindness, compassion, and listening, we want to put our stories out there so that kindness and compassion might grow. With my story, I am not sure if I am trying to teach or to be heard; but I mostly just hope that you see a little of yourself. And that through whatever that shared piece is, we can connect in some small way. Maybe by knowing more about me, you will know that there are others like you. So here it goes.
When people ask me how I “got into” food, I normally tell the story about signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box in the early part of 2010. I was a busy graduate student, new to California, and the weekly drop-off less than a block from my apartment seemed convenient more than anything else, especially for someone who wanted to eat healthy. Some of my neighbors were already signed up, and they assured me of the quality of this particular CSA and that the amount of seasonal produce was well worth the cost.
I signed up to get a weekly box and discovered they were right. The produce was fresh, tasted better than anything I could find at the grocery store, and saved me a trip to the farmer’s market (and all of the inevitable impulse buys!). I discovered new fruits and vegetables. And in making new recipes, I found a creative outlet where I could transform plants I had never heard of before into something delicious. And, a weekly newsletter the CSA included in every box helped me feel connected to my food source, which I increasingly delighted in and valued. Eventually, it became habit to get my food in this way and to spend a portion of my weekend preparing it for later in the week.
Now, this story isn’t wrong… but it doesn’t provide much context to why I was interested in healthy eating in the first place, or why I so quickly and so tightly latched on to valuing local and organic foods. To get to that point, we have to go a little further back.
I grew up eating food that was largely healthy–simple, but healthy. Most of the dinners I remember had a meat of some sort (likely grilled), a vegetable (maybe steamed broccoli, green beans, or peas), and a starch (likely rice or orzo with a little butter on it). Lunches were a sandwich on homemade bread, some fruit or veggie on the side, probably chips, and a dessert (often homemade). Breakfast was cereal–not the sugary kind–or a bagel, or toast, or (if we were lucky because these were my favorite), a croissant. And honestly, unless I was trading/sharing cookies with friends at lunch, or envious of friends who bought pizza from the cafeteria, or pulling apart a croissant and relishing its different flaky versus gooey textures, I didn’t think very much about my food. If I got hungry, I ate, and that was it.
As I grew older my relationship to food started to change. I didn’t begin to think about food more, but that itself was part of the problem. Midway through high school, my family and I moved from one state to another in the middle of a school year and I took it hard. Really hard.
That spring, I started emotionally eating. Mostly I ate oreos, because, oreos were accessible and arrived at my house in bulk Costco packages. And I ate more than I would have otherwise, sometimes up to 20 or 24 in one sitting, even though I wasn’t really that hungry. I didn’t even want them that badly, but some part of me kept reaching for them, searching for comfort in the midst of transition. I was a teenager, so all I needed was a little extra walking around and my body didn’t change too much. And as I settled into my new home and made some more friends, I didn’t reach for the oreos as much. But even though I couldn’t see it then, a pattern had been set.
The next time this surfaced, I was in college. Like many college students, my high school boyfriend and I broke up after a couple of months dating long distance, and I was heartbroken. The dining hall was all-you-can-eat and the food quality was pretty good, so for the first time in my life, I strayed from that very straightforward pattern of three meals/day my parents had given me. I ate A LOT. Every meal I ate a lot,so much so that I was never even hungry by the time the next meal came around. Often I grabbed snacks with my friends between meals, because ice cream runs and smoothie breaks and late night fries and milkshakes were part and parcel of my friend group. Not surprisingly, I gained a significant amount of weight for my 5′ 4″ frame. And that was where I slipped down the slope from emotional eating, to disordered eating.
My sophomore year of college things got really bad, because in the perfect storm of coursework and job and club sports that so often happens in college, I became unimaginably stressed and started bingeing. And I loathed myself every time I did it. I would try to eat extra-healthy and in proper portions, everything that “good” eating is…but then in some flurry of stress I would eat until past capacity and keep eating, and eating, and eating. And I did this while no one was around to see me or stop me or help me, which I later found out was a key symptom of binge eating disorder (which is different than bulimia because you don’t purge). I struggled actively with this eating disorder in secret for the next 3-4 years, too ashamed to seek help. The whole time I was obsessed with food and how it impacted my body. I hated food. I hated that I needed it. I hated that I couldn’t stop eating it. I hated how it made me feel.
And so, when in 2010 I was mercifully given the opportunity to change my relationship to food–not out of the necessity of the tight graduate student budget that had prevented me from binging for the previous two years–but out of the life-giving curiosity, context, and creativity of a CSA box, I latched on. Hard.
From here you know much of the rest of my story: this is when I started the journey I have been posting about on Mary Lee Kitchen in bits and pieces. Like all stories, there is more to share, and I will in the coming posts. But thank you for participating in my story.