Food, Listener. Food.
You know what I’m talking about. That limitlessly versatile concept that can make you weep with joy, laugh with elation, and soil yourself with excitement.
Having been through the dark and exhausting world of an eating disorder and emerged the other side, I’ve finally reached a point in life where I can consume food without fearing that my bum is suddenly going to balloon outwards to resemble a small elephant. This is not because I have discovered the secret to eternal slender-lithe-slim-lean-ness, or have taken to wearing incredibly tight steel support pants, but because I am finally comfortable with my body. And consequently, I’ve rediscovered my love of food.
I’ve always loved food. I loved food even during my eating disorder – I was just terrified of it at the same time. It was a bit like having a dragon as a pet. You really love it, you think it’s really cute and you love hanging out with it, but you’re always conscious that it might suddenly blow a jet of fire out of its nostrils and burn your face off.
I am inherently greedy, Listener. If I ate everything I wanted to eat, in the quantity and with the frequency that my gluttonous stomach desires, it wouldn’t take me long to grow to the size of the Arctic Circle, and meet an untimely death that would cause problems for those that entered the afterlife at more reasonable proportions.
Food is exciting. And not just crazy food done in crazy Heston Blumenthal ways, like a Scotch egg in the shape of an aardvark with a fairy wing-infused golden goose egg in the centre, or a pureed bumble bee thermidor that turns to diamonds in your mouth and then sets your teeth on fire – ordinary food is brilliant. There are trillions of blogs, like the fabulous Food for Fun, dedicated to the majesty of food, because food floats people’s boats. Come on, who hasn’t been so excited over a piping hot spoonful of succulent beef stew that they have recklessly forgone the essential blowing technique and instead shoved it in their mouth and consequently experienced the hellish pain of a burnt oesophagus, or swallowed a mouthful of double chocolate fudge ice cream the size of a badger and cried?
Food makes people happy. I love that it makes people happy. Are you eating something delicious right now, Listener? Is it making you happy? Well, I love that your tasty treat is making you happy. I have just eaten a slice of soft toast excessively, almost histrionically, slathered in Marmite. It’s made me extremely happy. (‘What’s Marmite?’ you lovely US of A Listeners cry. It’s a little black jar of a thousand hallelujahs, my friends. That’s what it is.)
The fact that eating is a basic human function and that we need to do it several times a day is also marvellous. There are relatively few basic daily human needs that are quite so enjoyable.
I love all food. I am the least fussy eater this side of Mars. All those foods that people can be a bit weird about – olives, seafood, Brussels sprouts, cottage cheese, liver, stomach lining, cow colon residue – I just can’t get enough. Tuna and cottage cheese sandwich? Why, yes please. Olives stuffed with anchovies? Don’t mind if I do. I am unfathomably grateful that I’m not a fussy eater. One, I would never have been invited round to chums’ houses to play as a child because no one likes the kid that only eats breadstick shavings, and two, isn’t it boring????
(A thought – I like every food in the world apart from banana-flavoured products. I love bananas – I really enjoy a lone, uncontaminated banana – but hand me a banana-flavoured yoghurt, or milkshake, or ice cream, which will all, without shadow of a doubt, be the same sickly-phlegmy yellowy colour, and I will simply make a dignified exit and send you a follow-up email politely asking you never to speak to me again.)
One of the many joys of food is that we all have our dark little food secrets. These are the food secrets that make us a slightly less dignified, slightly more greedy, and slightly sillier person that we make ourselves out to be. An example, if you will permit me, is that I have just this minute finished a jar of peanut butter. All gone. Empty. (Very sad, I cried a bit.) And did any of the peanut butter in that jar see a slice of bread? Not one bit! I consumed the entire contents by periodically visiting it with a teaspoon and standing quietly in the kitchen making the very peculiar facial movements that a mouthful of peanut butter necessitates.
This is one of my food secrets: I will eat anything from a jar with a spoon. I mean anything. Marmite, lemon curd, pickled onions, chutney, jam, chocolate spread, piccalilli (don’t ask me to explain that one, my American pals – even we Brits don’t know what the hell piccalilli is), mustard, capers, baby food (one of the darker food secrets there), anything. Not mayonnaise. That would be vile.
Another food secret is that I am an avid consumer of raw cake mix. Yep, I have been known to eat so much raw cake mix (a heavenly cocktail of raw flour, raw egg, butter and sugar, anyone?) that I’ve been forced to make some more in order to manifest a cake. It can take me a very long time to bake a cake.
I can also eat anything for breakfast. None of this ‘Ooo, no, my stomach can’t deal with eggs in the morning’ or ‘Chocolate??? For breakfast???’ nonsense with me. Nope, I’ll have my head in a bag of chocolate buttons and a plate of cold lasagne before you can say ‘Becky, you repulse me’.
We all have these food secrets, these little moments alone when we check that no one’s watching, then shove our face through the skin of some day-old custard, because food is ours, it’s part of and borne from our personalities; the joy of food is a universal and yet personal thing.
Food brings people together. People get very passionate about their food preferences. Some of the most animated conversations and vicious arguments I have witnessed have been over food. When I used to work in a pub, I would amuse myself on a quiet Monday evening by asking the locals important questions such as ‘What’s your favourite sandwich’ or ‘What’s your ideal three-course meal’. I would go to the other end of the bar and return half an hour later to find grown men embroiled in a heated debate along the lines of:
‘Prawn mayonnaise? Fucking prawn mayonnaise? You want your head examined, mate. Egg and cress all the way.’
‘Egg and cress? You’re talking out your arse, mate. Salmon and cucumber or nothing.’
We Brits can be very territorial about our food. We love food. It gives us something to do during those moments of devastating social awkwardness. And we get particularly territorial – riled, even – when we go to places like, oh, I don’t know, the United States of America, and find that the Americans are using food out of context. A prime example of this is the concept of biscuits. To us Brits, a biscuit is an everyday sugary treat, a necessity of life. We dunk them in our tea. We eat them at parties. We like them so much, websites have been dedicated to the concept of having a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
So when we get to America and ask for some biscuits and are presented with a thick, glutinous flob of soggy dough that is then smothered with thick, glutinous gravy (gravy, Brits! Gravy!!!!) made from pork meat, flour and milk – we are, to put it mildly, absolutely ruddy furious.
We will also be plunged into tremendous confusion and emotional upheaval when we see signs for ‘jelly on toast’. Jelly on toast??? we will mutter fervently to each other. What kind of perversion is this??? Because, you see, jelly in Britainland is your jello. We Brits do not eat jelly on toast. That would be foolish and distressing. No, we eat jam on toast. Because that is what it is. Jam. Get it RIGHT, America. Stop putting food out of context.
However – and I say this at risk of being pelted with banana yoghurts by my fellow Brits – I have had one of my most magical food experiences in America. In Las Vegas. At the Wynn Hotel. The Breakfast Buffet. 15 food stations. Two hours. Heartburn to take down an entire city. The most heavenly morning of my life.
So, dearest and most hungry of Listeners, enjoy your grub, stuff your face, tell me your darkest food secrets, and, if you are American, sort out the biscuit / jelly thing. You’ll be a better country for it.