Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fear of food

I recognised what Mirty was talking about in this post:

I don’t completely understand it myself, but the fear was real. Perhaps because food is something you take into yourself: You are what you eat. I wanted to take in only what was pure and clean. A stick of celery, carefully rinsed. Lettuce, each leaf examined and washed. Perhaps it was the only control I felt I could have in my chaotic world.

Except for this part:

I never had this problem before, when I ate at home. Of course, I completely and implicitly trusted my mother’s cooking. I knew that the man from Baltimore brought the kosher meat and chicken and it was all stored in the downstairs freezer. I had watched my mother prepare our meals. At home, food was safe.

I've had a similar problem all my life, and it didn't start when I left home, it started when I was younger than I can remember. I would like to put it down to not being brought up in a kosher home, but that is somewhat implausible as an explanation, what with semi-protestant gentile families not actually being obliged to practice kashrut, and all that.

As I have got older, my diet has expanded, but as a child it was extremely limited indeed. So I am always interested in stories such as that of "jam sandwich boy", the British teenager who had rarely eaten anything but jam sandwiches throughout his life ("I just really really like jam sandwiches") and was found to be perfectly healthy as far as any doctor could tell. Then there is chocolate lady, a thirtysomething mother of three who was forced to eat food she hated as a child, and has eaten nothing but different kinds of chocolate bar and a bowl of mashed potato a day since she grew up and left home, and is also apparently healthy, and definitely not overweight.

I am not interested in judgements about whether such things are unnatural and dangerous. The truth is, nobody knows. We have perfectly reasonable theories about what a healthy diet should be like, based on perfectly good and tested theories, but that doesn't mean we can be sure that they apply with equal rigour to every individual. If your child has a limited diet, you are very likely right in thinking that a more varied one would be better. But if you force it, he could end up like chocolate lady anyway.

I love (good) food, and always have. But the food of 70s and 80s England that surrounded me when I was growing up was for the most part utterly dismal. I'm not surprised it repulsed me. Another thing worth noting is that plenty of babies and small children are resistant to solid food, and the way it is forced down their throats is very often unnecessary. As a culture we are completely neurotic about feeding babies. But that's a long subject for another time- although I would like to request that more people treat their tiny ones like the intelligent people they actually are, and respect their eating instincts and preferences, rather than trying to obliterate them and get stuff down at all costs. Taste is supposed to develop gradually. "I'll eat anything!" is not a badge of honour, it is a lack of discrimination.

Anyway, this fear of food is not all about being traumatised. You can have two different children brought up in exactly the same way, nursing on demand, late weaning and no pressure regarding solid food, and one will turn out to be an adevnturous gourmet eater and the other will be a completely conservative creature of habit who refuses to branch out in the smallest little direction for years. And maybe later on, they will swap roles, who knows.

I'm used to being an oddball in this area now. One thing that helped was noticing how incredibly resistant to new food apparently "normal" eaters can be. There are thousands who won't travel to a foreign country because they "don't like the food" which they have never even tried. I will find the things that look "safe", try those, and work outwards from there, anywhere I go. But it is definitely the things with unidentifiable ingredients that I won't go near, especially if they have a strong smell. No doubt such things are supposed to repulse babies, because they actually make sense- strong smells might be concealing up unhygienic contents, and a mixed-up stew could contain almost anything. Rats, spiders, stewed cabbage, who knows?! Anyway, babies and small children also have undeveloped digestive systems and it is very important to allow them to mature in their own time, so gourmet pheasant stew followed by truffled caviar may well not be the way to go with a one year old.

So I say, just how rational is it really to eat everything anyone who happens to be around decides to stick under your nose? Not very. On balance, I think I would rather have a healthy uncertainty about potentially unsafe food than fearlessly consume everything someone else thinks I should eat. Overeating, whether followed by weight-loss programs or not, seems to be the closest thing we have to a dietary norm in our culture, and I think this points towards a lack of discrimination: either an excess of high-calorie foods, or too much food all round (most likely either fat or carbohydrates) and neither of those options is objectively as enjoyable as a balanced diet that satisfies you perfectly.

Of course people use food to fill the "G-d-shaped hole". When desperately trying to fill a deep emotional void, they will use just about anything you care to mention- alchohol, television, work, other people, their stuffed bunny-rabbit collection. But you would think a person urgently in need of inner salvation and given a choice between ice-cream, cocaine or G-d, might more logically choose G-d, if only because the Torah is more likely to tell you how to live happily than the back of a choc-ice wrapper. I conclude that there is truly no accounting for people.


At 5:54 AM, Blogger Shalom said...

Alice Shalom,

Firstly let me say how brave I think you are. It is no-one's right to give you advice or tell you what to do about your own children. But my desire is not to talk about that.

I recently came across this comment of yours on the Blog of Hayyei Sarah,

" I don't see anything in common between the two groups. Palestinians are not putting statehood before the lives of their children, they are putting murdering and attacking everything Jewish before the lives of anyone who uses a bus or a pizza parlour. People in Gaza are using civil disobedience- not mass slaughter- to express their unwillingness to surrender their land.

Personally, I do not believe in civil disobedience, but I do object to your comparisons. The beliefs, priorities and actions of Palestinians and Jews in Gaza are almost as far apart as it is possible to get, in my view."

I just wanted to know whether in light of the evil committed by Eden Natan Zada you would be willing to be a little more responsible with your posting from now on. It is the responsibility of every Jew to object to needless violence, whether it is nails and tacks on the road, fake bombs in Bus stations, or acts like those in Shfarram. When we try and pretend that "our side" are innocent we obfuscate the truth.

Kol Tuv,


At 5:09 PM, Blogger Alice said...


Thank you very much for your compliment.

This blog is not an appropriate place to go into discussion about Israel. I do not currently post political debate here. If you would like to say more in the comments section of Chayyei Sarah's original post, I will read and take note.

It is not my place to say anything about the responsibilities of Jews as I am not Jewish, but I agree with you entirely that needless violence, pretence and obfuscation are thoroughly bad things that should not be tolerated.


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