Shauna Niequist, Nigella Lawson, and Me: Some personal thoughts on food, curves & the book, Bread & WinePosted: March 28, 2013
(Becky, the Mama.)
In a departure from our regular food-with-recipes-post, today I’m writing about my favorite chapter from a delightful new book, Bread & Wine, by Shuana Niequist. She describes the collection of essays as a “love letter to life around the table, with recipes.”
The whole book is fabulous, but Shauna wrote a particularly vulnerable chapter that immediately resonated with me, and one I imagine will touch many other readers.
Last week I penned this paragraph: “All my favorite people are people who have resigned from the race for signifance. Who have made peace with their regrets and their flaws, who gave up on perfection and embraced their humanity, who treat children and elderly with focused attention and patience, who leave a trail of laughter behind them and sincere, warm-hearted welcomes and hugs as you greet them. Who invite you put your feet up and relax and breathe free. The sort who offer benevolent acceptance, without pretense or competition.”
Then I read Niequist’s chapter titled, “hungry,” from Bread & Wine, and hastened to add a couple more lines to my thoughts above. “My favorite people are unashamedly hungry. They embrace, rather than stuff or deny, their God-given appetites.”
Shauna brilliantly describes a classic struggle for so many of us who are rounder than we want to be, or than our culture wants us to be. As a youth she began to associate natural hunger with shame, as thin people around her always seemed to “demur about food and hunger.”
Then she met Sarah, a friend who simply… ate what she wanted when she was hungry, without a trace of angst. “Sarah loved to eat and believed it was her right and a pleasure. She didn’t overeat or undereat, cry or hide food. She just ate, for sustenance and enjoyment, both, and I was fascinated.” Still it took Shauna many more years to speak the words, “I’m hungry,” without shame.
Part of the reason it took the author so long to make peace with true hunger is that she thought someday the competing issues of hunger and body image would simply…go away. That one day she’d win the battle and weight would no longer be an issue. “What I know now after all these years,” she writes, “is that there are some things you don’t get over, some things you just make friends with at a certain point, because they’ve been following you around like a stray dog for years.”
Shauna looks back over her life and realizes the fullness and beauty of it – she’s danced with her husband, kissed her babies cheeks, laughed with friends until she cried. Not being a size 6 never prevented her from these life-giving moments. The extra pounds never stopped her from all God’s good gifts, but the shame attached to it too often stole some measure of joy. “And so these days my heart and mind are focused less on the pounds and more on what it means to live without shame,” she writes.
Shauna confesses to read cookbooks, authored by the curvaceous home chef Nigella Lawson, like novels, before bedtime. “She’s not at all daunted or afraid of her appetite,” Niequist notes with admiration.
I’m a huge fan of Nigella as well – her cooking show, her books and her new role as judge on the show, The Taste. I’m loving that there are more real women with real bodies in the spotlight these days, like Nigella, like Shauna. Women with a little flesh on their backsides, a little wiggle in their walk, who echo back to the days when the bodies God actually gave us were the bodies men wanted. And in truth, if women turn off the TV and close the magazines, and spend some time talking to actual men, they will find as I have, that most men are still drawn to women with natural curves, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Women like Nigella who unashamedly enjoy cooking and eating, who are comfortable with their curves, have a sense of a humor, flirt with subtlety (the slightly raised eyebrow, a slow sly smile) convey, “Yes, I’m a woman who enjoys and delights in all the sensual appetites, thank you very much. Now would you be so kind as to pass the cream?” Simply irresistible.
I tell my young unmarried friends, “A man who demands you be model thin, is a man who has no clue how to really love a woman. You do not want him. Trust me. These kinds of men are no fun to live with, make love to, or grow old with.”
Of course there is balance in everything. At age 53, I’ve assented that I’ll have to prioritize exercise to keep my brain functioning, my energy up, and my body healthy, if not svelte.
When I cook at home, I make food that is nourishing, colorful, and delicious – using lots of fruits and vegetables. I’m mostly vegetarian now and love it. I do not deny myself meat or a fabulous treat when I really want it. (Tonight I took myself out to a “working dinner,” alone, and indulged in a creamy butternut bisque, a dish of fried avocado with crème frieche and pico de gallo. Ordered a rich banana brulee for dessert. Savored every bite with a goblet of fabulous red wine.)
Do I long to drop a size or two? Yes, I’d like that very much. Perhaps it will happen.
Perhaps it will not.
At my age, I know what I’m willing to do, and also what I’m not willing to do anymore. I am finished stepping on scales. (Clothes tell the tale well enough.) I will not count calories. No diets. I do try to adhere to Michael Pollan’s simple advice, most days: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In fact, I stare in wonder at the colorful fruits and vegetables in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes at a Farmer’s Market, the way some gaze at an artist’s painting. Can’t wait to get them home and into a dish of my own creation. I will walk to the park with my grandson and I enjoy the elliptical as long as I can read while I work-out. I might venture into a Zumba class someday. I’ll not be taking a spin class, hot yoga, or power lifting.
I love food. I also try hard to love my own flawed but womanly body, my sweet life and the people in it. My family and my friends seem to love me back, just as I am. My husband treats me as though I am the most beautiful woman in the world, though I am only 5 ft. 2, and decidedly not-thin. People say that when I walk into a room, they can’t help notice Greg’s loving gaze in my direction. It is true, my man only has eyes for me. To me, this feels like a fresh miracle, day after day, year after year.
Most days, thankfully, that is gloriously, enough. (Though I will still sometimes sink into depression if I see an unflattering photo of myself. I’m working on that.)
In the last paragraphs of the chapter, Shauna writes, “I think about the sizzle of oil in a pan and the smell of rosemary released with a knife cut. And it could be that’s the way God made me the moment I was born, and it could be that’s the way God made me along the way as I’ve given up years of secrecy, denial, and embarrassment. It doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that one of the ways we grow up is by declaring what we love.”
And one thing she loves with passion is cooking, serving and enjoying good food. Shauna’s book is indeed a love story to food, to the table, to friends and family gathered around it. And to the God who created it all. It is also about coming to love herself, her body, just as she is, and relaxing into the peace this brings.
Bread & Wine is a welcome treat of a book to savor, like good chocolate, fine wine and dear friends. With a message every woman I know needs to hear.