I was in the food co-op this afternoon, picking up a bunch of spinach, when another shopper spoke to me. She was a young mother, shopping with her preschooler, and she watched me put the spinach in my cart with frank shock. Then she shook her head. "Boy, you're brave," she said.
It took me a minute to understand what she was referring to. Once I got it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Here was fear of food in a different context from the one I'm used to seeing--the kind of fear of food anorexics feel--and it made me think. Our relationship to food is so primal, so necessary for survival, that to be afraid of it seems not just counterintuitive but, also, awful.
If I'm honest, I must admit that I have fears around food, too. I'm guessing many of us do. I spent years being afraid of fat because of the cultural hysteria around overweight. I grew up in the 1960s, eating a lot of packaged, chemically preserved food--Snowballs and Tastykakes, anyone?--and now try to eat organic when I can, partly from fear of what's in our food supply, partly because organic food tastes better, and partly because organic practices are better for the earth and animals.
And I got to wondering just how pathological my food fears are. I'm not afraid of spinach--in fact I cooked it up and ate it for dinner, and it was delicious--but I wouldn't willingly eat a hot dog (red meat, nitrates).
How sad to have fear enter into the essentially joyful relationship we should have with food. I don't make New Year's resolutions, but I think I'll make that a priority on my list this year: to vanquish my own food fears and reestablish a healthier and happier relationship with food in 2007.