15 June 2011

Guest Post: The Food Freaks

I just read a deeply satisfying, somewhat ingratiating article in the Times Newspaper. Apparently (as though I and several others like me haven’t been questioning the validity of this theory for some time) Body Mass Index (BMI) which divides weight by height is not the sole measure of body mass. “BMI is increasingly proving either imprecise or wrong” according to the Times. I was happy to stick the big boned theory and leave it at that; but if the Times is willing to corroborate my disregard for BMI, then so be it.  I mention this not because I’m looking for an innovative means of measuring excess body weight (although it would make me a rich woman), but because of my recent realisation that our society has an unhealthy preoccupation with size, often to the detriment of our relationship with food (and I didn’t need Jamie Oliver to tell to me that – although his school did help).


Eating is essentially my past time, my hobby, my favourite sport, my comforter, my mode of celebration, my solace, my friend. I find no better means of communicating than through the art of food – the cooking of it, the sharing of it, the friends and family it unites, the conversation had whilst enjoying it and the general delight in its consumption. Its role is not merely to sustain life, but in my opinion to enrich it.

I am completely perplexed by the ceaseless disdain with which food is treated in this modern, vacuous, fast paced life one is expected to associate with success, it breeds a loathsome relationship with food we are fostering as a society. There is an odd dichotomy that has developed, on one hand a demand for copious, fast, accessible food and in cities like London and New York there is no cuisine that cannot be found (including a whole restaurant dedicated to Hummus – amazing!). Yet conversely there is a feeling of guilt in its consumption, a sense of grave punishment that must befall the perpetrator who has dared to enjoy. So to eat is a quick, brutal, masochistic act ending as abruptly as it began, interrupted only by the sound of the dreaded calorie counter, gym fanatic seeking penance or drone of the TV as a family sit comatose eating their microwave meal on the sofa. 
The Spanish and the Italians could show Europe how to eat. Not only is the delight the wonderful food itself, coated in olive oil and served with bread and wine (how very biblical, yet a modern women’s nemesis), but the manner in which the cooking and consumption unites individuals is a spectacle to behold. In my opinion eating is a communal ritual and not intended to be a lonesome ode to sustenance. My fondest memory of Andalusia, southern Spain, was a family meal at a friend’s house. The place was full of immediate and extended family and the four courses were consumed over the entirety of a long lazy afternoon. The music, the laughter, the stories, the banter, the various rounds of applause as the food was presented was straight out of a film (the Sunday afternoon cheesy family kind we all secretly love). At no point were their grumblings of weight (BMI or otherwise), or the size of thighs, or the need to jog; we sought pleasure in the food as we discussed politics, the economy of Ghana (as his uncle worked there), relationships, traditional Spanish archetypes and as is obligatory at any family gathering, the kids laughed lovingly at their parents expense.

As a true food lover, inspired by the scenes from Spain, to mark the last few months of my twenties, my friends and I decided to celebrate by going to the home of world cuisine, New York with one goal and one goal only – to eat!

And we were not disappointed…. The food was tremendous with stupendously large portions to say the least. I ate until my insides could take no more and then I took a break, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, down Flatbush Ave (stopping off at Junior’s for the biggest chicken ceaser salad I’d ever seen - topped off with a vast slice of cheesecake - as dinner ain’t done until the dessert is done).  Down to Atlantic Ave station I walked, over to BAM to collect our Dance African tickets (more on that next week); I wondered around the Museum of Contemporary African Art and sauntered though Fort Greene Park to see the sights.  To walk off the last remnants of the cheesecake I decided to keep going down to Bed Stuy (passing the Angel building featured in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party) to see the Restoration Centre, including the Billie Holiday theatre and Skylight gallery. It was certainly worth the walk if only to work up an appetite for the rest of the trip.

I’ll be back next week with tales from New York. It was a fantastic trip for which the end of my twenties will forever be remembered.

Calamity Jane 

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