I recently helped to organise a friend’s birthday party. Food was top of the agenda.
Let’s have pizza, someone says. Everyone loves pizza.
I can’t eat pizza, I reply.
Let’s have dairy-free pizza, they say.
I can’t eat dairy-free pizza, I say.
We can get vegan pizza, they say.
I can’t eat vegan pizza, I say.
We can get gluten-free pizza, they say (they are a very inclusive individual).
I can’t eat gluten-free pizza, I say.
It’s not allowed on my diet.
At this point pizza-proposer looks at me and I wonder if we’re both thinking that this would have made a great alternative opening to Pulp Fiction, but as her face screws up like a wrinkled paper bag I suspect it’s just me.
You’re so skinny, why are YOU on a diet?
I have Crohn’s Disease, I say: an illness clearly named by a misogynist. It’s this or some medication which also probably won’t work and is so toxic that it’s carcinogenic, I say. Or surgery to remove my bowel, I think, but I hold off on that because now the wrinkled paper bag is somehow tightening and I am afraid that the face might disappear entirely, which would be ok apart from the fact that we still haven’t resolved the party food question.
Everyone in the room goes a bit quiet. It’s frankly quite uncomfortable. It’s not the worst food related awkwardness I’ve witnessed, which is reserved for the moment a recovering anorexic colleague of mine won a copy of the Cabbage Soup Diet Book in the office raffle, but it’s up there.
Anyway, we ordered pizza.
It turns out that you can make a pizza on my diet. You can make a crust out of cauliflower. Or chicken. Or chicken and cauliflower. You can also make bread out of peanut butter. Or rice out of broccoli. Or pasta out of butternut squash. You can make risotto with oats, or cheesecake out of cashew nuts.
You can’t make gravy. Turns out some things are impossible.
Of course you don’t actually want to do any of these things. It is some kind of cosmic joke that a person whose idea of a good meal is a chip butty made with white bread and Heinz ketchup now finds themselves in a situation where they’re supposed to get happy about a kale and spinach smoothie and a plate of fermented cabbage. You don’t want to live the rest of your life like a vegetarian forced by the National Farmer’s Union to only eat meat substitute products, and more than anything you are half way towards launching a full on campaign against the linguistic sleight of hand that seems capable of decoupling foods from what they actually are. What you want is fried chicken and a jam doughnut. Preferably together. And without cutlery. But you pretend that these new culinary forays are fulfilling, and even exciting.
Apparently you’re on a food journey. And you invite everyone else to come along with you. You tell them how much better they will feel on your diet, how it’s the revolution they’ve been looking for. You research their own health problems and find an equally restrictive diet for them. Multiple Sclerosis? Try Keto. Diabetes? Try Paleo. This strategy doesn’t work because it’s pretty obvious to people that what you actually want is to watch someone else being tortured in the bread aisle to make yourself feel better. Healthy eating is one of those lies, like parenting or exercise, which we propagate to make sure other people make the same mistakes we do and are equally miserable, so that we don’t admit how much our own lives suck. Just like you’ll see a woman posting on Facebook at 3am about how her life only began when she was covered in baby vomit, or how great jogging in the freezing cold is for your mental health, so equally you’ll find people telling you how amazing they feel since they quit eating everything that tastes good, or more likely how good everything tastes that we all know tastes awful. In fact, such is the feel good atmosphere of special dietary groups that you’ll be forgiven for forgetting that the reason people are doing the diets in the first place is because they are chronically ill. It’s an unspoken first rule of the magnitude of Fight Club proportions that no one mentions the fact they aren’t getting any better and they are too tired to prepare individual servings of avocado vanilla pudding or homemade bone broth and freeze them into silicone ice-cube moulds. Meanwhile on the main chronic illness boards people post endlessly about how terrible they feel alongside photos of the grilled cheese, caramel sauce, and meat pie that is making them feel half-alive. This of course only legitimises the conviction of those on the diets that they are absolutely doing the right thing. In the twenty-first century, the Emperor isn’t naked any longer, he’s slurping a skinny matcha decaff almond latte with added chia.
Recently, the administrator of one of the social media groups I belong to decided it wasn’t enough for all of us to be spending out lives trying to work out how to make cauliflower taste like bread, we needed to be doing it without animal products instead. Unfortunately although I am ideologically predisposed to veganism, my body hates all fruit and vegetables except carrots. I once had a friend who went on a carrot diet and turned a rather violent shade of orange, and although I really quite like carrots I don’t think I can cope with being mistaken for Donald Trump on top of everything else. There are those fancy yellow and purple carrots, I know, but I’ve spent all my disposable income on almond flour, which is basically a product where they charge you twice the price of ground almonds to turn the blender up to high speed. I have no doubt that vegans are much better people than me, although I think this might be made easier by the fact that the best alcohol is made from potatoes.
When you can’t eat very much, you realise how much of culture revolves around food. Whatever anyone says, bringing your own lunch cooler to a high-profile dinner is always a bit odd looking. When the only thing you take from the buffet is a banana people naturally assume you have an eating disorder. If you’re an introvert like me then these two things mean you tend to start avoiding events involving food. Eating out becomes relatively pointless when you realise that you have to ask the chef for a special order of plain steak and carrots which is not basically but in fact entirely what you could have eaten at home, only then it arrives covered in chilli and you don’t get to watch re-runs of Mad Men and wear fluffy pyjamas while you eat it. Even worse is when you go to someone’s house for dinner, a situation that involves trying to surreptitiously locate the cookbook that the offering has emerged from and telling them no stock wasn’t on the list and yes that does mean you can’t eat it. You also become dangerously obsessive. You’ll start sniffing chocolate bars in order to attempt to inhale their flavour. You’ll find yourself ramming your fist into your mouth in the supermarket cake aisle, unsure whether this is to prevent hunger or screaming. At night, where you used to dream of sex or the sea you now sink into gluttonous fantasies of cream teas and Chinese takeaways. You may still be naked.
You might think, if you are a regular eater (whatever that is), that the world is now geared up for people like me. Unfortunately, my diet is such that I can’t eat anything in the ‘special diets’ food aisle, which is basically the dietary equivalent of being rejected from a leper colony for being too much of a leper, or thrown out of the BNP for being too patriotic. It doesn’t really leave you with anywhere to go. But of course it does. Because there are much worse places than the economically privileged, mentally competent spaces of complex dietary solutions.
That said, if someone can make a coconut flour pain au chocolat I’d really like to know.
Kingdom For a Nice Steak
Kingdom For a Nice Steak