January has become the month of the year when many millions of people in the Western world at least, will start, and stop, dieting. A small percentage of people who go on diets to lose weight at the beginning of a new year, will still be sticking with those by the middle of the year. I read the exact percentage, but cannot recall it now: not important for this blog post, but certainly something which most readers may be able to identify with. I certainly can. Except that I have not started a new year’s diet for years, despite my GP’s caution about a year and a half ago to “lose 10 kgs, R”.
I did however start a “diet” in October last year. It took some effort and commitment, but after watching a documentary about intermittent fasting, I was convinced that this would be something do-able, since on the non-fasting days, I can continue my love affair with food and cooking. As a self proclaimed foodie(I read today in some opinion piece that this word is beginning to pall somewhat: what else to call myself? a Foodista?), the idea of permanently cutting out carbohydrates according to the Banting diet, which is the diet du jour in South Africa at the moment, does not appeal to me, despite the many many reported health benefits.
Over the Xmas period I stopped fasting, giving myself free rein of food and wine, particularly since we went to Cape Town for 10 days just after xmas. And I resolved to enjoy every bite, every taste, every flavour of every meal at each of the many restaurants and vineyards we had planned to eat at. In the end, I cooked at least half our meals, having a kitchen to potter around in where we stayed. No surprises then to find that the 4 kgs I had lost, have almost all returned.
So I’m writing this, feeling hungry. This has been one of the most interesting experiences I have had in my life: the real sense of hunger. I don’t remember ever feeling really hungry. Having food around: in the fridge, in the grocery cupboard, in the bread bin; and knowing that at any time I can grab something to eat, had always been simply a state of being, unquestioned and unexamined.
Choosing a minimal calorific intake, which this intermittent fast prescribes, has had a profound effect on my awareness of the role food and satiety has played in my life. I could probably write an ode to the experience of eating a raisin in a mindful way, and have lyrically described many a dish I have cooked in the past: the tastes and textures and sheer sensual delight of, for instance, a mouthful of panna cotta cold from the fridge in the middle of an ordinary week day. My mouth has just flooded with saliva at the sense memory of that.
This is what my hunger feels like: an awareness of an almost empty stomach, slightly burbling with digestive enzymes breaking down the thin, almost clear chicken broth I had about two hours ago. In 27 hours since my last meal last night, this is what I will have had when I go to bed later. I have a bad taste in my mouth, from ketosis. I feel a little lethargic physically, but my mind is crisp and these words seem to flow from my fingertips, unrestrained, free.
This chosen hunger is deeply humbling. I have been acutely, maybe for the first time in my life, appreciative of privilege of having food. There have been times when I have thought of the whole foodie movement as shallow and elitist, with food blog after food blog, and highly styled food magazines dripping with luscious photographs of luxurious dishes, each variation on the theme promising deep pleasure, while at the same time denoting an exclusive club of people who can afford to eat really well. I am one of those, who can mostly afford that, though sheer accident of birth. And despite my ambivalences, here I am: writing about the role food plays in my life: the simple, direct pleasure of cooking and eating, the more complex aspect of how food is integral to my memory of myself. For me it connects us to our personal pasts, histories of our families and the greater society and culture we find ourselves born into. I am more passionate about this aspect of cooking and eating than any other.
So this experience of hunger, much like eating a particular meal, connects me too to others. I am not however, equating this hunger which I’m choosing, to the suffering of others who do not have anything to eat. I’m simply trying to inquire into how this is for me.
And I hope to remember this tomorrow when I cook a nice meal for me and my husband and when I pour myself good glass of wine: this sudden mute sorrow, and to remind myself of this intention to be grateful for and mindful of every mouthful.