learning to speak the language of food

Days that felt like weeks ticked off the calendar. My kitchen sink sat barren except for one lone white plate stained with egg yolk from the last meal I had — four, maybe five, days before. Every moment after that egg felt like a daze.

This happens to me now. My appetite slips away, day by day, until the thought of eating makes my stomach churn. I feel the acid in my belly swirling in a noxious, barren environment. I feed myself nothing but black coffee and chilled vodka.

My appetite for food begins to feel no different from my appetite for joy. My body aches in grief, consumed by darkness, lurking in the corners behind my tired smiles and assurances of being just fine. Slowly, I slip from feeling blue with a stomach for dry toast to questioning the will to take my next breath, struggling to hold myself up, drained from a week without ever thinking of reaching for a fork.

After culinary school, a bakery, and years of building my confidence in the kitchen, I’d declared food my ultimate love language — the way in which I cultivate relationships, show affection, and wholeheartedly bare my soul. Making food was an act of endearment, a profoundly intimate exchange where I say, “Here’s my heart, take it,” and know that everything is just as it should be.

Whether watching vodka dance around the ice in my gilded, vintage highball glass or feeling the steam fog my eyes as I bend over my beloved cast-iron pot bubbling with shepherd’s pie, the kitchen is where magic happens. Hearts come together, bellies and hands warm, fingers wrap around porcelain bowls.Our lips creep higher as we smile toothy grins stippled with playful dimples. Tables burst with dishes, spoons, and spatulas crisscrossed precariously around half-empty wine bottles. Lidded pots are tipped onto trivets as hands reach forward and back, forward and back.

Flushed faces, full hearts, tight pants.

For a moment, we are unfazed by the stinging bites of our reality, just as we are unfazed by the tower of soiled dishes just behind the dining room wall. We are entirely encompassed by the ignorant safety of the table — happy, comfortable, unafraid, armed with four prongs, shielded from the monsters for one more meal.

Whether blissful or heart-wrenching, food has punctuated each year of my life. It’s been a constant touchstone for my humanity, reaching deep into the thick of my mind, tickling my belly and flushing my cheeks: warm cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, Dad’s chicken and dumplings in the bitter cold, Bloody Marys every Sunday, my first Thanksgiving alone.

It has brought me to jovial tears of delight. It has collapsed me to my knees.