I'm a Food Writer With Food Issues
I started to write something trippy about psychedelics, quantum physics, and identity, and that's still coming, but this wanted to be shared instead.
I think about food almost all of the time.
And I really mean almost all of the time.
Sure, I’m a food and beverage writer; it’s what I do. Many of these thoughts are positive: joyful memories or anticipated plans where I gather with like-minded others to share sustenance and sacrament in celebration; sumptuous afternoons where I sit with a blank page and a glass or plate of something inspirational. Certainly, some of my closest bonds and happiest moments were forged over libations, and I will always consider food and drink as art and history; cultural expression, transmission, and craft. Definitely, you have to think about these things a lot in order to find interesting stories and do the subjects justice.
But for me, it goes beyond even that.
Food consumes me: infiltrating my thoughts, monopolizing my time, derailing my work and dictating the course of my day. I think about what I’m going to eat, and when, from the moment I get up, constructing my life around what’s for dinner and how it’s getting to my plate. I’ll miss out on natural and cultural experiences when I travel just to find the best loaf of sourdough bread. I’ll spend hours wandering around food shops and markets amidst crashing deadlines, then have to stay up too late to get things done, burning myself out at both ends. And I tend to graze absently all day until one big meal, when I almost always eat too much.
Binging has always been a problem, evidenced in other areas of my life. Spending hours, days, and weeks in an academic k-hole of research papers, books, YouTube lectures, and podcasts when I discover a new subject I want to write about; biking for hours on end; dark years when I blunted my trauma with substance use. And while the past year of travel in Europe and the U.K. was absolutely gorgeous, it was also defined by excess; I released all my self-imposed dietary rules, traversing air, rail, and sea with a bag perpetually bursting with beer and bread, chocolate and cheese.
And yes, there were times when this was fun; real friendships were forged from my quests, and there are many memories I wouldn’t, for anything, take back. But there were also times when the sustenance was just a stand-in for the empty seat. The nights I dined alone on decadent multi-course meals don’t hold a candle to the cup of coffee sipped over deep conversation with a like-minded sou, or the bottle of mild swilled with a new friend on a brisk London street. Don’t get me wrong, I love solo travel, but sometimes you just want someone to share it with.
It’s interesting, then, that the other major part of my life is all about subtraction. The medicine work I began in Peru involves periods of restrictive dieting, or dietas, where all the substances that have come to define me are stripped away. When I returned to the U.S. and slowly began reintroducing foods, my digestion got so out of whack that I am now undergoing another cleanse. Besides, the spiritual path involves going inward; getting quiet; just being. It’s about releasing attachment and getting to the roots of why I’m always looking for love at the bottom of my bowl.
These paths feel inherently contradictory, and the tension can be too much to bear; I often feel as if I’m splitting into pieces, pulled in a thousand different directions on any given day. I struggle to focus my attention and gather my thoughts; I write at least three different versions of every piece; I’m perpetually reading four books at once, my laptop a dizzying labyrinth of windows and tabs, and then there’s the time carved out for ritual, meditation, and personal work. The separate parts of myself, like members of the family or the boardroom in my head, argue for sovereignty of my body and mind, my input and output; I need the head of the household or the CEO to calm this calamitous din, but they’re often nowhere to be found.
In work, travel, and my nomadic life, I’m pulled perpetually between seemingly opposing points: On the one hand, the frenetic din of the world’s big cities, their dusty bars and packed markets, quirky galleries and sprawling museums, millions of particles humming and colliding. On the other lies the medicine path, connecting with the hidden parts of myself and the web of what’s beyond; the road of silence and surrender, deep in tangled forests or the heart of the desert, empty and stripped to my essence.
And sometimes I wonder if all my focus on celebration is because I still can’t quite rejoice in who I am.
In a single morning, I’m aching to return to London and its multicultural culinary cacophony as I pre-order the new Vittles book misty-eyed, longing for the U.K. food and beverage scene and the people and places, sights and sounds and smells I’ve come to love. Moments later, I’m sobbing over an email with a picture of one of my healers from Peru, and I feel the opposing and even more powerful force of elimination, of handing every over to the jungle with its own electric life-force, yet one where the center is stillness and calm. Suddenly I’m wondering if I can plan a trip to an Ecuadorian distillery I want to profile, start a dieta the next day, reset and retreat to the rainforest, and still make it home in time for fall pastries.
At this part, I have to laugh, and maybe this is my medicine for now: learning to make space in my life for all of the extremes. Perhaps part of what I’m looking for when I’m stuffing my face is simply my own grace; compassion for that child self who learned to substitute food and drinking—and its excess or restriction—for unconditional love. Maybe I can have some fun with the fact that I find my true essence in shamanic austerity and then trust-fall back into the sensory realm.
And if I can do that, then just maybe, as a friend once told me, I’ll let myself actually enjoy something for once.
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