Imagine this with me.
You are sitting in a comfortable restaurant - one of your favourites. Coming here is an anticipated treat. The waitress brings a bowl to your table, and you are immediately greeted with a warm and delicate scent that hints at a rich, savoury flavour. Earthy mushroom. Rich truffle oil. Buttery garlic bread. You see the smooth textured soup, with its speckles of mushroom pieces, artful swirl of glistening oil and a cheerful green splash of parsley at the top. Beside the bowl is golden brown, pan toasted garlic bread. Already, your mouth is watering in anticipation.
First, you stir the oil gently into the soup. A new burst of glorious, delicious scent rises up with the steam as you stir. Taking up a piece of garlic bread, you raise a spoonful of soup, rest the bottom of the spoon on the garlic bread for a moment to catch any drips, then raise the spoon to your mouth.
That first taste is a rich explosion of intense, almost meaty, yet delicate, creamy mushroom flavour. You may not even normally like mushroom but, somehow, here it tastes heavenly. You hold the soup in your mouth a moment, savouring the taste and the texture of mushroom bits just barely big enough to chew. You swallow the mouthful of soup, then wait a moment for it to hit. There! There at the back of your mouth, a new flavour comes out - a flavour you can feel as much as you taste - as the truffle oil works its deep, rich magic. At this point, you utterly and completely understand what the word umami means!
After a few moments of enjoyment, you take a bite of the garlic bread, where the few drops of soup from the bottom of your spoon are. The bread is crusty and crisp; a perfectly toasted contrast to the smoothness of the soup. The taste of real butter, enhanced with just enough garlic, melds with the flavour of the soup. A light crunchiness on the outside, yet still soft and delicate under the crispy shell. You chew slowly, enjoying every moment, while anticipating the next spoonful of soup. You resist the temptation to eat quickly. You are in no hurry. You can allow yourself to take the time to appreciate every whiff, every spoonful, every bite of garlic bread. Even so, the bowl is soon empty. The garlic bread is already gone, yet you still scrape the sides of the bowl with your spoon, unwilling to let any go to waste.
When you're done, the flavours still linger. That little bit of truffle oil is still working its magic. There is no desire to spoil the flavours by having a sweet dessert or even a sip of water. You are completely satisfied.
Pure heaven in a spoon.
What I've just described is a wonderful treat I had today. A couple of years back, Eldest took me out for Mother's Day to a restaurant walking distance from our home, yet we'd never gone to before. It was a higher end place and not one we could typically afford to go to - at least not all four of us! I'd tried an entree on special with a trio of items. A small amount of fettuccine Alfredo, a small piece of Kobe beef lasagna and a tiny bowl of mushroom soup with a piece of garlic bread. The fettuccine was marvelous. It was the first time I'd had Kobe beef in anything, and I was not disappointed. Delicious.
Yet, much to my surprise, the soup was my favourite of the three. We finished with dessert, and I was actually regretful for that choice. Not because there was anything wrong with the dessert - it was delicious, too - but because I regretted replacing the flavour of that soup with sweet. For days afterwords, I would suddenly remember the taste of that soup and find myself craving it. Some time later, Eldest and I went back. We found the mushroom soup was available as a regular menu item in a larger bowl. I had the soup as a starter. I don't remember what I ordered with it. I know I liked it - there isn't a single thing we've ordered in that restaurant that was a disappointment. They're just really good. Yet I wished I hadn't ordered it. Or that I'd eaten the soup after the entree instead of before!
In the two + years since our first visit, we have gone back a few times. Hearing Eldest and I waxing poetic about this soup, even Youngest - who doesn't like mushrooms at all - found herself wanting to try it. She's now hooked on it, too! Now when we go there, we rarely order anything else, and if we do, we ask to have the soup served after the entree. On its own, the soup is very inexpensive, so this has allowed us to go more often to enjoy it.
And we do enjoy it! Every moment of it. It's become a treat, not only for the luxurious flavour of the soup, but as an outing together, enjoying each other's company. As we linger over the flavours of the soup, slowly savouring every spoonful, it gives us time to chat and share our thoughts about ... oh, pretty much anything under the sun! *L* It's not something we can do regularly or often, but when we do, it's always something special.
So why am I telling you this? Why have I taken so much effort to describe something as mundane as eating soup? (even if it IS a fabulous soup)
Well, I discovered something rather shocking, at least to me. Some time ago, after stumbling on the "fatosphere" and discovering blogs and websites about body acceptance and learning just how wildly uninformed I was about some health beliefs I had never even though to question, I discovered something else. Perhaps it's because I had been thin (though not by today's standards) for most of my life and missed it, I discovered that a lot of fat people struggle with self acceptance and body dismorphia so strong, they literally don't know how to enjoy food. In fact, some people, both fat and thin, don't even know how to eat in public. They have been so thoroughly indoctrinated in diet culture and beaten down by the belief that they and their bodies are a source of disgust and mockery that eating in front of other people is sheer torture. I've read heart breaking posts from people describing how painful eating in public is, with the stares, the mockery, and the judgemental comments. I simply never thought to care what the people around me might be thinking as I ate. It didn't even occur to me that complete strangers might be judging me about my food choices based on my body size, never mind my friends or family.
Over the last while, however, I've encountered that judgemental attitude as well. It's something that has been on the increase, and I'm seeing it from some pretty surprising sources; people I really expected to know better, and who would never have said such things in the past. I suppose it's because I'm fat now, so I actually see it now that it's being directed at me.
I guess I'm fortunate in having somehow escaped dieting culture. I have no guilt about eating in public. I have no guilt about enjoying my food. Food is meant to be enjoyed! Food is more than just nourishing our bodies. Food is often a sharing of precious time with our loved ones. Food can refresh a flagging spirit. Food can give us a well deserved break from the stress and rush of our daily lives. Food, beautifully and skillfully prepared, can be an art form. Food can connect us with our past. Food can excite us about the future.
Eldest mentioned something, as we were enjoying our bowls of soup and discussing the notion that there are people who find eating in public humiliating and painful (such is the nature of our casual conversations! *L*). She said that food is a universal language. Like music, the sharing of food allows us to reach out and connect with others in a way beyond words or culture.
I have no doubt that there are people out there who judge me when they see me eating in public, simply because I'm fat. People assume that if a fat person is eating something "bad," like a dessert, they are fat because they eat too much dessert. If they see a fat person eating a salad or some other "good" food, they assume that person is being "good" by being on a diet and eating "healthy" to lose weight. Complete strangers have no problem believing that they know what a person's health, diet and habits are, just by the size of their bodies and the fact that, the one time they've seen them, that fat person happened to be eating a "bad" food. Or just plain eating at all.
Yes, I know there are people out there who will judge me based on my body size. You know what? I don't care. They can think whatever they want. I am still going to enjoy every savoury drop of my favourite mushroom soup in my favourite restaurant. I'm going to enjoy the Fat Frank's cheddar smokie that I have once or twice a year. I'm going to enjoy the delectable chicken and brie sandwich with fig jam that I've never tried before and haven't had since. I'm even going to enjoy that spinach salad, or that fresh, perfectly ripe and fragrant necterine. If they're disgusted by the sight of my fat body while I enjoy my food, making judgements about my dietary and lifestyle habits, they are the ones with the problem, not me.
Enjoy your food. Enjoy eating. Whatever your favourite food it, please give yourself permission to take pleasure in it. Enjoy your bit of bliss on a bowl; your heaven on a spoon.
And if someone out there tries to make you feel guilty about it, they can just go stuff their judgemental attitudes where the sun don't shine.