Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eating Aesop's Fables: or making a point about dieting through trout salad

"... like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths"*

The girls (Bird and Bean, specifically, but it could be anybody, really) are interested in healthy eating. And in looking fine (which they do). But not in boring eating. And dieting is boring. Health food is not fun.

And then my head explodes.

I am suspicious of thinking about losing weight. About how diets are always and necessarily antithetical to ‘normal eating’. About how becoming or being healthy is some kind of mortification of the flesh. About how, especially for women, there is this inherent judgement - self judgement and judgement of others – involved in how we think about ‘losing weight’ that carries a whole lot of unarticulated and often illogical and unfounded assumptions and conclusions – about the value of a person, morally, aesthetically and socially.

There is good food versus bad food and healthy food versus comfort food and lazy and blameworthy and ugly people versus fit and praiseworthy and attractive people.

Again and again we are reminded that in our Western, post industrial countries our problem is obesity: childhood obesity and obesity related diseases, the cost of this epidemic on our health care system, our health insurance. And certain bodies are idealised, not only or even as healthy but as desirable, as objects of desire. And it is easy to mistake a desire to be desirable for a desire to be healthy. And sometimes we use the language of health to disguise our longing to be desirable.** And this is damaging and dangerous: not necessarily or only to our health, but to our ability to see and create beauty and worthiness and desirability in an endless variety of people and bodies.

Bird and Bean recently expressed a certain amount of incredulity and a little bit of lust at the variety of food we eat at home.

What we eat in my kitchen is multiple and ever expanding varieties of food. And it is precisely this variety that makes the way we eat the object of covetousness.

It is mostly healthy – whatever that means. Fresh. Relatively unprocessed. Vegetable focused. But there’s cheese and olive oil and pasta and bread. There’s wine and sugar and butter – sometimes. Desserts (mostly fruit based, but not always). Mostly small meals, sometimes large meals. Occasional almond croissants. Pea and sherry soup. Bangers and mash. And everything changes – with my mood, my abrupt fascination with certain methods or regional cuisines, with the seasons.

It’s not endless possibility, but it is driven by a refusal to be bored and a refusal to be dictated to by routine. A willingness to make mistakes and a complete commitment to the hedonism and carnality of acquiring, preparing, eating – experiencing – food in all its messy, surprising, delicious uniqueness.

So the way I think about food runs alongside how I think about beauty. And diets. And desirability.

So I hesitate to say I eat ‘healthy’. I just eat. And it is all good.

* Attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, 1st century philosopher.

** I must, at this point, extract in full an account of this kind of thinking. Not my own, but sensibly, passionately, articulated by someone else inducing such a sense of familiarity that it must be repeated:

"I thought about this especially this weekend after getting into an intense (and cocktail-fueled) conversation about weight loss and body image with my closest girlfriends. These are precarious topics and my girlfriends all know me as “the feminist” (not that they’re not feminists, but it is not as all-encompassing for them, I think) and so they assume my stances on these things (like that I will be flat-out anti-diet). I tried to find a way to be supportive of what I was hearing while still encouraging them to see their struggle within the larger context of Shit That The World Does To Women. For example, one friend complained about how one reason she’d like to lose weight was so that she could fit into clothing at regular clothing stores. I have been there, and I could totally identify with that feeling, that awful “I’m not invited to the party” feeling. But it killed me to think about how she was turning this all inwards, as a moral failing of her own, rather than identifying the real culprits, i.e. the asshole industry that is so exclusionary, so normative, so hateful. In her language I also heard her equating a lot of very fair and serious concerns about her health with concerns about “fitting in” (see above), and I tried to gently point out that those are not the same things. Reorienting oneself to view things from a feminist angle certainly doesn’t solve the problem, but it does help one stop hating oneself, a goal which I think is pretty damn essential to being a functioning human being. And one that is hard for so many women I love, including myself". From the always amazing A of
Accordians and Lace

Steamed trout salad

Serves 2

½ bulb fennel, very thinly sliced
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
½ frissee lettuce
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
½ avocado, cut into small dice
2 tbsp toasted blanched almonds
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely shredded
1 navel orange*
300 g ocean trout fillets (salmon would work equally well)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp verjuice (or lemon juice)
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

To steam the trout (if like me, you don’t have a steamer, otherwise, just use the steamer). Chose a small deep plate or shallow bowl that can fit inside a lidded wok or large saucepan. Line with a piece of baking paper. Place the trout on the plate. Sit the plate in the wok, then gently pour water into the wok up to just below the level of the plate, taking care not to drown the fish. Cover with the lid and bring the water to a simmer. Once the water is bubbling, steam the fish for about 6 minutes. The fish is done when it flakes away easily.

Peel the orange with a knife, taking care to remove all the white pith. Cut into segments, avoiding the membranes.

Whisk the salad dressing ingredients in a large bowl until combined. Add the salad ingredients except for the trout and toss to coat. Season.

Break the steamed trout into flakes and gently scatter through the salad.


* I’ve been buying these insanely good hybrids called Caras – cross between a navel and ruby grapefruit. Slightly salmon coloured and just gorgeous.

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