“All things in moderation, including moderation.” – Mark Twain
Eight-and-a-half years ago, I moved from Long Island, New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eight years ago, I felt my daughter moving inside of me for the first time. Eight years ago, a woman I know had butter expire in her refrigerator.
In 1984, this woman tumbled down the stairs into the basement, and fell into a coma. It took her about four months to recover enough to return home. But she was never back to her baseline of “normal”. For one, her ability to taste was never the same. But she didn’t lose her love of sweets, and perhaps even gravitated towards them more because some other taste sensations had diminished.
Around 1994, this woman read an article that alleged butter was bad for one's health. From that moment on, she cut it out of her diet almost completely. This woman eats the same foods over and over so it wasn’t that difficult ignore the stick of butter. As I mentioned, her cravings are for sweets. Besides, she hardly makes anything from scratch, eating almost all of her meals from packages she purchases at Trader Joe’s. Nearly all of her desserts are also bought in a store with the exception of two apple pies she bakes for Thanksgiving, with pre-made pie shells, so no butter needed.
In 2000 or 2001, she purchased the infamous butter. There it sat in her fridge for the same period as a two-term United States President. That baby kicking in my belly is more than halfway through her second-grade school year - she is now seven-and-a-half years old.
Nine days ago, the woman had a “craving” for butter. She took it out of the butter cubby on her fridge door. Took a knife to it, spread it on bread, and ate it. No, it didn’t look funny. No, the texture wasn’t off. No, it didn’t taste bad. I asked. But later, she got sick, and was sick for three days. “Did you save the butter?” I wanted to know, not because I didn’t believe her, but just to see and sniff it for myself. She replied, “No, I threw it out.”
Several years ago, I read, Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Here’s part of the review*:
Vianne Rocher and her 6-year-old daughter, Anouk, arrive in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes--"a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bourdeaux"--in February, during the carnival. Three days later, Vianne opens a luxuriant chocolate shop crammed with the most tempting of confections and offering a mouth-watering variety of hot chocolate drinks. It's Lent, the shop is opposite the church and open on Sundays, and Francis Reynaud, the austere parish priest, is livid.
I recommend reading it to see what denial does to the priest.
Food is not meant to be “good” or “bad”. I grew up in a household where food was seen in those two terms. There were many treats I had to sneak because I wasn’t allowed to have them, and then I went to Confession so I could absolve my sin of eating forbidden foods. Luckily, I had extended family, friends, and an allowance to make sure I was still allowed to eat sugary desserts. Let me be clear that I was NOT diabetic.
For the past sixteen years, since I’ve been cooking, I have tried to eat healthy and well: stopping when I’m full, eating a variety of foods, cooking from scratch as much as I can. And every day, I have butter. My family cooks with it, we spread it on bread – the best bread possible. We’ve even been known to buy local, fresh butter. Trust me, it tastes better. We eat in moderation and we don’t feel guilty over what we eat (At least my husband and I try). I’ve made no secret about my admiration for Julia Child**.
The television show “The Jetsons” aired from 1962 to 1963, and was supposed to portray life in 2062. Why was it that the measure of progress was flying cars (cool), robot maids (awesome), women still running the household (short-sighted), and pellet meals instead of real food (Abominable)? Can you imagine food being reduced to a dehydrated, oversized vitamin?
In 2008, Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto was published. I recommend reading it to see what we’re putting into our bodies when we buy margarine, consume fast food, make our bodies endure diet fads, and let industry create our food. To get a glimpse of what pleasures we’ve lost by adopting the American diet, read, Why French Women Don’t get Fat by Mirielle Guiliano. My week in Serbia and France was the most decadent eating week of my life and I lost five pounds***.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I often felt like the black sheep of the family. I rebelled quietly and not so quietly over rules that seemed arbitrary or contrary to common sense, many of them food-related. Food is not meant to be a battle within a family or within us. When food doesn’t bring family together and provide pleasure, something profound is lost.
This week when I heard that this woman ate eight-year-old butter, I don’t know what troubled me more. Was it the fact that she didn’t realize that she’d bought it that long ago until after the damage had been done? Was it because her sense of taste is so altered that she can’t perceive rancid butter? Was it because she didn’t let herself enjoy a pat of butter on bread for at least 2,920 days in her own home? It was all of the above.
*Here’s the link to the book and the rest of the review:
** My previous post about Julia Child:
*** Here’s a little more about my trip in France: