On Monday we’ll be discussing the book Women Food and God by Geneen Roth at the Maladjusted Book Club. It’s a complex and evocative read that explores women’s relationship with food and eating. Roth leads us down an intricate path about the relationship between spirituality, self-worth and our complex eating habits. She says:
Our personality and its defences, one of which is our emotionally charged relationship to food, are a direct link to our spirituality.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have chosen this book to read on my own because I didn’t consider myself to have issues related to what or how I eat. I am also fortunate in that I’m not overly concerned with my body size or appearance. I enjoy food and I try to eat healthy. Occasionally I indulge in certain comfort foods (or beverages, hello Starbucks!), but I don’t let it control me. In general, I believe that I have a healthy overall attitude toward food.
But what struck me about the book is, if you take her message at it’s core you can easily apply it to any obsession or struggle in your life. Her basic premise being that “if you believe the world is a hostile place…you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly.”
Given that argument, and my personal control issues, it was easy for me to realize that I do have many issues with food, though not entirely from the perspective she tackles in this book.
Let me explain.
There are many challenges to being a full time working mom, but for me one of the most difficult is dinnertime. To be honest it’s the place I judge most harshly as a parent. Before I had children I loved to cook and explore new food and recipes. Every week I made it a priority to try at least two new recipes. I found food to be an easy and enjoyable way to demonstrate my love to my husband. You know what they say about the way to a man’s heart.
By extension, I had a similar expectation of myself as a parent. I believed I would serve only the most healthy foods, my children would be encouraged to try all kinds of things and they would be willing because of the diversity of tastes that I would prepare. I would spend weekends baking and making fresh, wholesome treats for the week. It was an important portrait of how I perceived motherhood. I call it the grandmother effect: the belief that comfort and family is defined by the kinds of food you provide for your family.
However, the gap between what I envisioned and what is reality is quite vast. Both of my children are fussy eaters. I’m not exaggerating when I say I haven’t seen my youngest son, who will soon be 2, eat a vegetable since the day I stopped pureeing his food—at 9 months. He’s stubborn and willful and will not eat a thing he doesn’t want to. My oldest has come a long way and will generally eat a healthy variety of foods. But he’s meat and potato kind of fellow and not fond of any “mixed foods;” thereby eliminating casseroles, stir fry, soup, and most ethnic dishes. Also, it must NOT be spicy. In others words, I must serve bland and boring.
As they get older, and I’ve faced down meal after uneaten meal, I’ve grown tremendously weary and reluctant to try. It’s hard enough to muster the energy to cook a meal after being out of the home for more than 9 hours for work that I’ve all but given completely capitulated to the world of chicken nuggets and french fries.
And I berate myself internally about it. I feel like a failure and worry that I’m giving up too easy, not trying hard enough. I believe it makes me less than. I dread sitting down to do our weekly meal plan because I’m out of ideas. I try to serve at least two meatless meals a week. Given my youngest’s aversion to vegetables, and my oldest unwillingness to eat anything with any flavour, it has proven virtually impossible. I typically turn to grilled cheese and soup. Chicken noodle soup. That’s the only thing they’ll eat.
I realize this issue is not unique to my household, and that there is virtually an entire industry devoted to helping parents manage fussy eaters. I get that. I’ve tried many solutions. But this is about how it makes me feel, and how hard I am on myself because of it. I base my entire worth as a mother on how I feed my children. You may laugh or be skeptical, but this is not an exaggeration. And it’s not lost on me that just 4 1/2 years into parenthood, I’ve virtually given up. You can imagine what that does to one’s self-confidence.
But here’s what I now know. It’s all about control. Control over what my children will and won’t eat. Until now, I’ve been tackling this in all the wrong ways. I’ve allowed them to wear me down and have given in bit by bit. But if I just gave up control of the immediate, and served the foods I want to eat, over time they just might come around. It might actually make it less about control for them. We could possibly find neutral ground.
And so I decided to devote February to exploring my personal issues with food, and my struggles as a mother with two mouths to feed. The Maladjusted Book Club turned out to be the best way to kick it off.
For a more thorough discussion of the entire book, head over to the Maladjusted Book Club. I’ll be talking food in various posts throughout February, so I hope you’ll be back to read more.