“We thought maybe you ate too much and couldn’t fit through the door.”
My face blushed red and I turned away from my 5th grade classmates in shame. After being out sick for a couple of days, I had returned to school. A friend walking beside me turned around and yelled with fiery authority, “Shut up!” at the giggly boys who scampered away.
I’d worked all day at a job that was a daily test in humility as I earned a paycheck far below my skill, experience, and Master’s Degree education level. Many of my coworkers at the big-box retailer were in the same situation. I was at the end of a seven day stretch of work days, three of them starting at 4 a.m. My sleep schedule was irregular, I was fighting off a scratchy throat that usually signals that I’m about to be knocked out for 24 hours, and my feet were killing me. The day had been typical – it was spent climbing tall ladders, lifting heavy boxes, and having people 10 years my junior instruct me on how to properly put products on a shelf.
I was physically exhausted. I was mentally exhausted.
Once home, I pulled a metal pan out from the cabinet, filled it with water, added quinoa, and set it to boil. From the fridge I pulled an assortment of leafy greens, strawberries, feta, lemon juice and the jar of minced garlic. I grabbed a grapefruit from the counter; walnuts, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and spices from the pantry. From the cabinets I grabbed mixing bowls and cutting boards. I did not really know what I was making, but I needed to chop and simmer and stir. I needed fresh flavors to mix together to enliven my senses.
The lemon juice and vinegar and oil were whisked together with honey and seasonings. I tossed kale and arugula with feta and walnuts and sliced strawberries. Small segments of juicy pink grapefruit plopped atop the mix of greens. When the quinoa was done, I spooned in the filling grain and then tossed it all in my home made dressing.
Here was my comfort food. I relaxed into the smooth wooden dining chair I had picked up at a yard sale a few months ago. It’s an old office or library chair – with an extra wide seat and a sturdy frame. The meal was delicious and full of just what I needed to feel calm and at rest after a crazy, exhausting week.
I’ve always loved cooking and food. As a child I poured over the American Girl cookbook for Kirsten Larson and made a Swedish feast for my family. I remember many mornings with my elbows propped on the table in my grandmother’s farm kitchen watching her cook for hours. I have read cookbooks cover to cover as if they were a novel.
There were many years where I was ashamed to admit my love for those things. I was afraid that it would surely lead into a fat joke of the “of course she does!” variety.
Here’s the thing when you’re fat: you’re not sure if you’re supposed to love food, or hate it. There are the caricatures of fat people and food. One is the abundantly joyful fatty who drools over the mere description of food. The other is the sad fatty who forces herself to eat salad in public but must certainly binges in private. Most of us are given only these two pictures of what it looks like to be fat in relation to food.
For the longest time, I didn’t know I liked food. I just thought I needed it, the way an addict needs a fix.
I was in college when I realized that I really didn’t like chocolate that much. I wasn’t just pretending not to like it to try to somehow make myself appear thinner by declining sugar-heavy sweets, I really didn’t like chocolate that much. (Then later I discovered dark chocolate, and yes I like that chocolate!) But, if I am hungry and tired and want something that is going to give me energy and make me feel satiated – I will most likely crave something like my kale, quinoa, and grapefruit creation.
Yet, there are times when the sweet warmth of an apple crisp is what is desired. And sometimes the celebration of cake and ice cream with the smell of blown-out-candles wafting through the air is just what the occasion ordered. And those are things that fat people can enjoy without shame as well.
One of my grad-school roommates peeked around the corner into my door and asked with a expectant smile, “I heard tomorrow is Lent. Is there anything that you are giving up that you’d like to pass on? Get out of your cabinet? Sweets? Are you fasting sweets?”
Another roommate called out with a laugh, “I don’t think you will get anything from Nicole. She doesn’t do sweets. Next time ask her for veggies.”
Find more of Nicole’s thoughts about life in a fat body at Fat Faith