Beige Diet Blues: Rediscovering Food

I have always been one of those kids notorious for being a ‘fussy eater’. You know, the ones that make their mums gnash their teeth thinking about starving children. It was easier for me to list things I liked than things I didn’t like. My mum, whilst cooking plain chicken with rice for the fiftieth time that month, assumed I would grow out of it.

Spoiler alert! Twenty-one years later, and I’m still terrified of food. Lockdown has made me confront these feelings of anxiety: it got to the point where I’d avoid the vegetable aisle in Tesco and come home with some sausages and potatoes as the only foods I would eat. Once that happened, I decided that I needed to work on being more nutritious and balanced with my diet.

You might be wondering what’s stopped me from doing this before. Firstly, I’m one of those annoyingly ‘sensitive’ people. I’ve always been hyperaware of sound, taste, smell and texture. You know that scene in Ratatouille where Remy eats the cheese, and some cute little lights start twinkling and twirling around him? Reimagine that as blinding, deafening, fireworks whizzing around incessantly, and you’ll have a good sense of what food can sometimes feel like for me. Certain things distress me for no apparent reason – to this day, I make my dad handle soft cheeses if I’m making salad for him.

The second, more unattractive reason is this: when I try new foods, I involuntarily gag and vomit. Super sexy, I know. I always knew this behaviour was abnormal and irrational, but the fear of gagging put me off trying new foods. The fact that I knew I was sensitive, that I would gag, what other people would think of me – it all became a little too much.

I always worried I was being childish, but I’ve come to accept that a big change starts with baby steps. I realised this when I first wanted to eat five different vegetables a week and soon recognised how stupidly ambitious this was. Instead, I want to spend one week focusing on one ingredient. Every week, I’ll be following these rules:

  1. Aim to spend maximum £30 pounds a week on food. Normally I’m worried about overspending, but I also know that budgeting for a balanced diet is probably more important than Dominos.
  2. Cook at least three meals with your chosen ingredient, each from different cultures. I am a fourth-year student with a dissertation on their hands, after all.
  3. Research the history of your chosen ingredient/dish and challenge your previous beliefs about this food.

Within these rules, I wanted to focus on three things. Firstly: I wanted to be as sustainable as possible. Food, after all, is political, and being visible about the conditions in which I managed to execute this experiment is therefore imperative. Part of the reason why I started writing this was due to a desire to reduce my meat consumption – something that takes up an embarrassing amount of my diet. I want to try sourcing my food sustainably, minimise food wastage, and be more mindful about how much water and gas I’m using.

I also wanted to try and expand my diet culturally. I’m originally from Australia, and half my family is Italian, meaning that my diet constitutes primarily of these two cultures. I’m also from Korea; but, as none of my family are from Korea, I’ve never eaten Korean food. The most Asian thing I’ve eaten is Chinese takeaway (which definitely isn’t the best representation of Chinese food). I recognise that a certain part of my diet stems from the privilege to pick and choose what food I eat. Learning about other cultural perspectives on food, cooking, and eating is something that might help me understand why everyone else was so obsessed with the same thing I hate.

But most importantly, I wanted this to be a space of reflection. Call it narcissism, call it a writer’s impulse. All I know was that I wanted to share this journey with other people. The act of writing and publishing my story is more likely to build a network of support, which, in turn, will encourage me to continue challenging myself. And who knows? Maybe you might learn something new, too.

Image: Flickr by Seoulfully

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