I once googled “How to get rid of belly fat” (okay, maybe twice). Today I googled Pope Francis the First, the Holy Father. There he was with his Mitre and Shepherd’s Crossier and right above his head was that cartoon fat lady in her double D bra and panties squeezing her belly fat into a portrait shot. An ad for Rid-X for septic systems ran as a banner across the top of the page. For goddsakes Google, it’s the Holy Father.
I was googling the Pope because of a headline that began: Pope Francis wasting food. At first I thought: Oh, good, the Pope wastes food, too. Reading further it said, “Wasting food is like stealing from the poor.”
I forgot he was the Pope and then when I hear this - I don’t know. I try not to waste food because I’m frugal. However, when I see that a bag of onions that I bought with great intentions of making baked onions or adorning a pork roast have not only grown mushy and ugly but have also sprouted some little green tips, I have no remorse. Life is complicated. I’d like for one month or two in my lifetime not to have some plumbing issue.
You can’t just say stop wasting food and have it mean something. It’s one of those exhortations that has no traction in this totally overwhelming life. When I see the food-stamp “poor” shopping in my supermarket they are not buying what I buy. They are buying drinks in little pouches and frozen “pigs in a blanket.” They are not buying blueberries and sweet potatoes. There are heartbreakingly poor people in this world and if we want to get grotesque we can look at our total immersion in cooking shows and food as thumbing our noses at the real poor. Look at us! Food isn’t even for nourishment here, it’s for entertainment. Take that, poor people. I’m thinking if Pope Francis wanted to take his message up a notch, he could get Jay-Z to rap about wasting food and he could get Jeopardy to do an entire ‘wasting food’ show. “I’ll take ‘What is stealing from the poor?’ for four hundred, Alex.” “I’ll take what are four soggy apples in the crisper for two hundred, Alex.”
It’s strange about food. We all have our unique relationship to it. In my twenties, I used to eat at the Fifth Avenue Hotel that had a restaurant and for reasons unknown a room with a lot of parrots and tropical foliage. For all I know, it’s a crack den now, but I remember the glory days. I used to go to the Sunday night buffet right next to the parrot garden with a friend. By the time the buffet began it was evening and they had covered the cages so the birds could sleep in peace Today a buffet would not be a good idea for me because I’ve become this stranger who sometimes acts as if she was raised in a Turkish jail. My thinking is jail-ish, i.e. surviving and outwitting the buffet system. At Brandon’s House of Buffet I once strategized for about fifteen minutes over what to load onto my plate that was expensive and had the fewest carbohydrate count. The “all you can eat” business plan must be based on a strict psychological profile. For me, it isn’t about eating; it’s about facing off with management and eating in a way they had not intended.
Back then, though, I had a normal small appetite and food was not very important. I just this minute realized that. There was a time when we did not think about food as a big life category that required huge bouts of thinking and was also a big part of our entertainment. We would have laughed our heads off at the idea of watching cooking shows, back to back. There was the Pillsbury bake-off but that took place once a year in some Midwestern town and then it was forgotten. Once in a while, we would clip a recipe out of some magazine and maybe even cook it. I owned the Gourmet cookbook, 90 percent of which was useless because it called for impossible preparation. “Hang three ducks by their feet for four days.” Yes, you heard me. The only recipe I ever made out of that book was Seafood Au Gratin. It was all real seafood not that strange packaged stuff they sell. Seafood Au Gratin was the dish I made to impress people. It was supposed to subtly impart a message to our guests: in case you thought differently, we are rich enough to feed you lobster and smart enough to know how to cook Frenchy food and if you don’t keep up your end, we’ll drop you. The dish took a lot of time and had so much butter, cream and cheese in the mixture it could now qualify as a murder weapon.
I was looking at an old New Yorker filled entirely with food and eating stories. They call it “The Food Issue.” You can find out the history of pasta and the thirty-seven-course lunch and why ketchup never changed and why mustard did and the bright yellow French’s gave way to the Grey Poupon. After reading all of that, I begin to think it might be okay to die. No really. I’ll just finish with this. Buying food is not just throwing it in the basket and la di dah. It’s fraught with anxiety. There is the responsibility of using the food, preparing it well, serving it to people who will judge it openly or privately. In my years of marriage, I cooked at least 7000 evening meals. Enough said.