poached egg and avocado on toast
Student Life

Love and hate: a story about relationships with food

Story and photo by Dash Buxton @dirkandscabbar1

This week’s TAFE Radio show is all about food.

I have a very good relationship with food. I plan my day around my meals, I plan get-togethers with friends and family around meal times, and I’m already thinking about my next meal while I’m eating. I have a fast metabolism and I am always hungry.

It’s a first-world blessing to have an absolute abundance of good food available and I’m very grateful for that.

I picked the theme for this week’s food themed-show and I’ve been lucky enough to have produced the show again this week; curating content created by my very clever, creative student colleagues.

I thought I’d write a bit about what food means to me. It is about love, happiness, nourishment and celebrations.

When I think about family I have strong food memories. I can remember sitting in front of the tele with my Dad and siblings while Mum cooked us a roast on special Sunday afternoons. We were allowed a small class of cola when we had a roast too, which was a treat. I can remember Mum cutting apples up for my siblings and I so that we had the sustenance to jump back on our pushbikes for another few hours until the sun set; when the street lights came on we had to go home for dinner.

For family celebration meals, we have tended to revert to our default family-event-cuisine; it was once Chinese food which was huge in the ‘80s for those wrinkly enough to remember. Our family’s Chinese food celebrations became Thai food celebrations, and have now become gourmet pizza celebrations. Many of our family celebration photos contain honey king prawns and fried rice dishes atop lazy-susans, while beef-in-black-bean sauce and rice grains adorn the table cloth in front of us all.

I remember feeling excitement and joy at news we were going to visit my cousins and uncle and aunt as a child; not just because we loved going to see them but also because my aunt always made the same spaghetti bolognese that always tasted exactly the same and was absolutely delicious.

My family and I shared a Chinese meal with my Grandfather in his last months. It was one of his favourite places to eat. We travelled across Sydney to meet there and watched him eat a bird-like portion of it. It was one of the last times we caught up as a family before he passed.

I remember one particular moment when I’d looked around the enormous round table, watching my family chat animatedly in pairs and small groups.

I remember thinking with bitter- sweet sadness that it would probably be the last time we ate with my Grandfather in a restaurant.

It had been difficult for him to get up the few small steps to the eating area from the foyer of the restaurant and he had been increasingly frail. We made jokes and told stories and chatted together while printing not to be aware of the elephant in the room, looming silently and inevitably as we shared that meal.

When I think about my friends, I have good memories of cooking together in their kitchens or in mine, and I can clearly remember the meals we’ve cooked and the wine we’ve shared. I can link each friend to a particular cafe we haunt and I know what they will order when we sit down.

When I think about good times with my friends, it’s always over a table of food.

When I think about sporting events, I think about the food we’ve shared and the drinks we’ve had during the game, before and afterwards.

When I think about nights out in my 20s, I remember the laughs and the dancing and the shenanigans but I also remember the places we would go afterwards to grab our greasy food fix on our way home.

I love markets for their food stalls. I go to the movies for the popcorn as much as the movie.

I travelled through Europe for the food I knew I would find there and I spent extra time in Greece for the food I knew I would find there; beautiful reasons to go but of course ending up as merely an accompaniment to the history and culture I was lucky enough to be exposed to, that will always be so much more than food. It was lovely and unforgettable and worth every bit of the plane ride and price tag to get there.

I ate a gluten free, vegan hot dog at a hockey game last October in New York City, and it was absolutely divine, I couldn’t believe how tasty it was! I paired it with a can of alcoholic apple cider as everyone was drinking beer (and I can’t drink beer anymore) so it was the closest thing I could get to sharing the whole traditional experience of a beer and a hot dog at the hockey in New York. As with everything in the States, it was supersized; the can was so big it was heavy to hold and held way more than I could drink! I loved every bit of that hockey game, and my almost-authentic experience, even though I happily had no idea what was happening on the rink.

I ate a wanton soup in Hong Kong with those scoopy soup spoons and was obviously handling it so badly the waiters felt they needed to rescue me with a swiftly-delivered spoon, much to my amusement! I still reminder wandering the streets of Wan-Chai, people watching and scouting for menus translated to English and agonising about which one I should select to sate my wanton craving, and not being disappointed. I reminder trying to order it in Mandarin via my Lonely Planet phrasebook but being answered in perfect English, which made my long-suffering restaurant host and I share a smile. It was lovely and salty and unforgettable and worth every bit of the hunt to find it.

I paid about AUD$179m for the sole drink I had at a cafe with a view of the Arc de Triomphe, or thereabouts! (:D) The day was hot and sunny and the drink was cool and sweet and in a fancy glass with a silly paper umbrella that is one part ridiculous and one part essential. I watched locals and tourists walk past my table as I sipped, taking in the iconic avenue and the heat and the sounds of traffic and conversations and glasses and dishes clanking and luxurious French accents. I took in the scents of the divinely buttery and garlicky hot meals tantalising my keen and curious nostrils. I scanned the tourist map of Paris too, for my next conquest. It was lovely and unforgettable and worth every bit of the extravagant price tag.

I ate a crab baguette from a stall underneath the Eiffel Tower (before I went vegetarian and was still eating gluten). It was creamy with generous lashings of egg mayo, and crunchy with fresh lettuce. The baguette was nothing less than a classic French concerto; it was crunchy and crumbly on the outside, while oh-so-soft and chewy in the middle. While I waited for it to be put in a paper bag for me to take away, I could see the Eiffel Tower dwarfing me in the square and I noticed the minimal shadow profile it cast on the ground as the hot sun was bearing down on me with an oppressive summer heat that surprised me. I was woefully sick shortly after eating it and that makes me laugh now. It was lovely and unforgettable and worth every bit of the lost afternoon that followed.

My girlfriend and I have fondly discussed our first date more than a few times even though it wasn’t really that long ago.

We remember sipping wine as we chatted to the soundtrack of real records playing on a turntable in the background, both of us aware that something pretty special was unfolding.

I remember waiting for a natural break in our already humming conversation so I could step those few steps away to the bar to order us a cheese platter with our next round. I can still see her nodding with a grin at the offer of sharing one with me; our first little sign that we were both on the same page in wanting to continue our date beyond that often-tenuous first hour in which bad dates end. I’d been keen to ensure the rhythm of our conversation wasn’t broken by our growling, empty bellies. She’s shared that her thoughts were the same in that moment.

It wasn’t intended to replace a meal but we made our way through that humble but hearty portion of cheese and gluten free crackers and other savoury delights as we shared more than words.

That cheese platter kept us nourished while we sipped our wine, unaware others a round us were going home, the sun went down, our worlds shrank and collided at the same time; until the music stopped and we were tipped into the street some 5 hours later, still smiling and talking.

I woke from a general anaesthetic once, after a full day of fasting beforehand, and I can still taste the first item of food I was handed in recovery. It was a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread served in a plastic sandwich packet.

If that ham and cheese sandwich wasn’t the best thing I’d eaten in my whole life up until that moment, I don’t know what was.

Not my usual veggies and rice meal by a long shot and definitely a sickness-inducing meal nowadays, but nevertheless I can still remember the joy I felt eating it and raving about each bite in my post-anaesthetic stupor.

I love food for its ability to bring people together and bridge cultural gaps. More than that though; food is unique in its ability to be a conversation starter that always invokes a genuine connection. I have heard the most touching food memories from people’s home towns and childhoods spent in faraway lands located all over the world, this way.

I’ve shared meals of cuisines from all over the world with friends! I’ve eaten curries so hot I’ve not been able to breathe and laughed about their “not too hot” assurances later on (much later on!). I’ve eaten vegan chicken and hamburgers that taste even better than the “real” thing, to me anyway. I’ve eaten sub-$5 meals of street food in Malaysia and Hong Kong that tasted better than food I’ve eaten that was measured by the number of hats awarded and the fancy china and linen it was presented on.

I digress. Food does that to me.

In the planning for this week’s food-themed radio show, I was gently and correctly reminded that not all people have this kind of relationship with food. For some, food represents certain challenges, and ill-health; it can even represent a perilous tightrope walk for some each time the clock (or a doctor) says that it is time to eat again.

While I have my own health reasons for abstaining from certain foods, and can be sick at times when I inadvertently eat such foods, that certainly goes nowhere towards helping me understand the depth of those challenges others face with food.

I don’t know what it is like not to want to eat food. I cannot imagine wanting so strongly NOT to eat, that that though alone dominates my every waking minute. I don’t know what it’s like to be sick from not eating. Or for a doctor to watch a patient refuse to eat. Or for a mother to experience her child’s refusal to eat so resolutely that they are admitted to hospital and share a ward with others who share those feelings. I’m so saddened and moved by those kinds of experiences others have around food.

And I haven’t even traversed the journey for the many suffering across our globe who simply and devastatingly don’t have enough to eat to sustain life.

For some, food is not about love and friends and family and experiences and travel.

For some, it is about hate and control and want and need and sickness and hospitals.

All I have at my disposal in this situation, as in most, is my words and actions. So I write this in order to call upon those who read this to be enlightened or reminded of this fact, but mostly I write this to express my deepest empathy for any of you on any such journey now. I wish you health, wellness and abundance.

And to the person I had the conversation with this morning, about their family member walking one such path right now:

May a healthy body and healthy relationship with food be possible for your kin at some time in the future.

May they prosper.

May they somehow find joy in food, and celebrate with food, as I have been so blessed.

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