A few nights ago I got a text message from a friend. I taught her about Paleo awhile back and she has recently decided to give it another go. Her text was to say how darn hard it was not to eat a favorite treat while on an outing. I texted back saying how deeply I understood and offered her encouragement for “staying strong.” I’m not sure she believed that I really get it, though. I never, ever cheat, but I do understand how hard it is. This blog is about the things that tempt even me . . . these are my food memories.
My all-time favorite beer, a true nectar of the gods, is Summer Honey Seasonal Ale by Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula, Montana. I’m a Montanan. Drinking that beer is like tasting Montana. It’s like long drives through rolling prairie and crisp mountain streams and the warm scent of Ponderosa pine in the sun and meadowlark songs all rolled up into a beer. It reminds me of old times with friends. Long, easy summer afternoons watching the Yellowstone River flow by, with tall rims guarding us in a wide valley. That beer is more than a good buzz to me. And then there are chick peas. Boring, right? I’ve just described this deep, romantic connection to a favorite brew and then I’m gonna’ tell you about a food memory of chick peas? It’s real though. We didn’t eat a lot of them when I was a child. They were a food discovery of my adulthood. I learned how to make soups and casseroles with them. I ate them plain or with salt, lemon, and rice. When I moved to Africa, I learned how to make hummus and pita bread. My chick pea adoration really soared then. It felt special. I knew how to make a food, that compared to my childhood, seemed exotic. The chick pea symbolized a life I had created when I left home and starting exploring the rest of the world. Chick peas are more than a boring bean to me.
I knew when my friend texted me about resisting the food while she was out, it really meant so much more. Our relationships to foods, specific drinks or dishes, especially on certain occasions, are really complicated. Eating is an unavoidable must of existence and so it gets all bound up with everything else. Knitted into important moments in our memories. Did you ever bake bread from scratch with your grandmother as a child? It is difficult to extract that taste, of fresh bread, from the reward of the memory. Separating what is so powerful about special holiday memories from the food is particularly tough for lots of people. Who made it through Christmas without thinking of all the special cookie baking or fudge making?
Here’s the thing though . . . I’m never going to drink Summer Honey again. Chances are pretty good that I won’t ever be consuming chick peas again anytime soon either. I also love cheesecake, but I’m not going to be eating it regularly in the near future. As I’ve said in the past, cheesecake is not medicine. Sometimes learning a new way of eating is about much more than simple will power over a sweet treat or savory reward. Sometimes it is about a whole, complex set of emotions and memories, that have to be sorted out. I think about it like this: There are two piles in my brain. In one pile I put the actual food. In the other, I put the memory or the significance that goes with the food. It can be hard to figure out what goes in the second pile. It wasn’t until recently that I knew what it was about the chick peas that kept calling my name. Once I have done the sorting, I can get past craving that food a bit more easily. I can hold on to the pleasure that went with the food, revel in that memory, but concentrate on eating foods that are actually nourishing for my body.
For me, obviously, a big part of my earnest motivation is illness. Drinking a beer or pigging out on hummus is a step backward I am unwilling to risk. My determination isn’t built on that alone though. I don’t have “yummy” amnesia. There’s no memory loss involved in my current level of will power. I didn’t forget how great certain foods and drinks taste. What I did was discover the part of those things that lasts longer than a bite or a sip. Relishing in my Montana heritage or feeling the surge of excitement that came with “being a grown up” are not in a beer or a chick pea . . . they are in me.