My name is Sofia Levin and I’m a foodaholic.
I’ve known I had a problem for a long time. At home I’ll force a smile and pretend to be interested in the conversation at the dinner table, but I’m so consumed in what I’m eating that I become introverted. Family meals are supposed to encourage sociability and sharing, but I can only concentrate on what’s being consumed. Sometimes I simply can’t push the fresh produce from my peripheries, other times I poke at my defrosted bolognaise with the tip of my fork and curse the day I was born.
My family worries about me; I can see it in their anxious sideways glances. If I’m hungry I become irritable and irrational. I have the tendency to snap unexpectedly at small children and strangers and people who can’t defend themselves. I become ‘grungy’, a word coined to describe my unpredictable, food-induced mood swings. It’s an amalgamation of “grumpy” and “hungry”.
They say the first step to dealing with an addiction is pinpointing when it began. When I was just a couple of years old, I apparently survived on packets of hotel butter and the occasional cocktail frankfurter for two weeks straight. To be honest, I can't recall that awful period of my life. Although one experience does come to mind. It took place when I was about eight years old. My family and I used to walk along Acland Street in St. Kilda on a weekly basis. I would stare longingly at the sparkling windows of its famous cake stores, each stacked with saccharine treats. A string of saliva would make the inevitable journey from my lips to the ground as I dirtied the glass with my grubby fingerprints. I was never allowed to partake in a honeyed Florentine, a crumbly shortbread, a chocolate nougat log or a plump vanilla slice. Then one day—I must have been looking especially adorable—my parents succumbed to my nagging and told me I could have anything I wanted, but I had to choose wisely.
In a subliminal, Disney-inspired decision, I picked the forbidden fruit — a cake in the shape of an apple. We sat at a table outside and I waited eagerly for my trophy to arrive. Time slowed. The eccentric locals began to move in slow motion. Subtle sounds became amplified. I could hear every coffee slurp, each cutlery clang and every masticating mouthful within a ten metre radius. It was something out of a Tarantino film. Nothing stood between my apple-shaped delight and me. But I should have known it was too good to be true. I should have predicted that something so flawless would be my downfall. I bit into it and instantly recoiled in horror: MARZIPAN!
Mum was quick to notice my discomfort. “What’s wrong,” she asked knowingly, “don’t you like it?”
It was a trap. I was a lobster in its prime being boiled alive. Spitting it out would be admitting defeat; I would never be allowed another cake from Acland Street again. I forced down a few more mouthfuls before feigning fullness, but it was too late, the damage was done. My gastronomic journey to eat until I reached epicurean enlightenment had embedded itself in my brain. To this day, food remains my greatest weakness.
Years later, I can't say 'no' to a cupcake. Fresh seafood makes my knees weak and my pulse race. Fastidiously prepared Japanese food is my Achilles’ heel. Hearty Italian fills me with a warmth that couples who have been married for years can only dream of. And realistically, I would sell my body for an endless supply of Bombes Alaska from Donovan’s. When fine food is absent or inaccessible, I’m filled with a deep, empty longing. I’ll lock myself in my room and scroll through Tumblr images and food blogs with descriptions of dishes from a better time… even if that better time was just yesterday. During bad episodes I’ll fall into a food coma, plagued by guilt and shame. My life is organised around mealtimes; if breakfast is disappointing, the rest of the day is viewed through a lens of negativity. Only lunch can save the day.
Perhaps I eat to mask my insecurities. Maybe it’s to alleviate loneliness or to fill the void left by that haunting day of marzipan apple cake. Sometimes I consider stopping for the sake of those dear to me, but to give up would — to quote 70s rock band Chicago — “take away the greatest part of me”. I have taken the first step by admitting I have a problem, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I cannot change, not even for those who love me. But fear not, dear reader, for I have finally arrived at a solution. I assume you’ve heard of the saying, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. My solution is simple: join me on my edible journey.
Call it a cult if you will, but the benefits of eating together are multifaceted. Trying new food broadens knowledge, promotes acceptance of other cultures and encourages open-mindedness. The table is a place for communication, reminiscing and nourishment of both mind and body. Family meals have been associated with lower levels of destructive behaviour in children, better grades and healthier familial relationships.
Eating with friends is undeniably a bonding experience and an opportunity for sharing and laughter. Eating with a partner or romantic interest can set the mood, especially if you snack on almonds, make an asparagus, avocado and carrot salad, dine on oysters and wine, and then finish with chocolate and coffee — all of which are considered aphrodisiacs. Plus there have been suggestions that people who fantasize about food (chefs, home cooks, people who like to indulge) are better lovers… Did I mention I fantasize about food a lot?
Many deals have been signed, relationships initiated and companionships enhanced over a meal. People can learn from food, whether the lesson is something as simple as socialising or as sophisticated as racial acceptance. So to those who are searching for the meaning of life, take it one bite at a time. Share with friends, settle with foes and seduce with your fork. Being engrossed by food isn’t a harmful addiction, it’s one of the simplest, most taken for granted luxuries we have. So on second thoughts, I embrace my infatuation with fare. But more importantly, I implore you to partake in my ‘problem’. If nothing else, we can always try and shake our obsession together, over a bite to eat.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
- Virginia Woolf