Food is complicated.


Months ago, I decided I was going to be an advocate about eating disorders.

Years ago, I decided that I wanted a career in agriculture.

Those two things intersect in a very real way, even if it isn’t really very clear from a flyover level. But, a step back into the basics of each shows the common thread.

Eating disorders happen when someone’s view of reality is warped in relation to food. Agriculture is the means through which we produce our food. I have an incredibly complicated relationship with food, individually. Food is comfort, familiarity, memories, and nourishment. Food is also an unhealthy coping mechanism, a temptation, and a source of anxiety. Food is a requirement, and at times feels like a necessary evil.

But, the industry that creates that food is one full of good, honest, hardworking people leading a lifestyle that I at times miss and always admire. The rural lifestyle. It’s full of big skies, open air, the smell of rain on green plants, dirt roads, and dreams wider than the prairie. My life is drastically different these days than I ever thought it’d be. I live downtown, and have a view of the Kansas City high rises, just blocks away in the business district, from my living room window. (By the way, I love where my life is right now.) Two very major things remain the same, though: I am still a recovering bulimic, and I am still in love with agriculture.

So, how do I reconcile this complicated relationship? How do I handle being surrounded by food, entrenched in communicating the processes through which it is produced, when food itself carries a pretty significant weight in my life? It definitely takes perspective, and support. While most of the time I can go through my life without “feeling” my eating disorder, when it does rear its ugly head I do have to work hard at maintaining some normalcy. This is always hard when I’ve had a “rocky period” with my other “demon,” bipolar disorder. If you caught this recent post about my experiences with bipolar disorder, you might know that those periodic spurts of instability can be very…un-fun. (I’m fine, I will be fine. I’m like a Super Ball, I can bounce like crazy but I’m hella hard to break.)

Tack on a busy-hectic-wonderful period involving some rapidfire projects and work and some awe-inspiring philanthropic experiences lately, and Spring 2013 was pretty pressure-dense for a while. (I should clarify, I’m fine. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I just have to work hard to stay that way sometimes.)

But, what’s the biggest secret to finding balance between my emotional-baggage-laden relationship with food, and working in an industry where I’m inundated with food-related stuff?

Love. I love the people. I love the products. I love the lifestyle and the jargon and the work. I love my job. I love my career. And that love has made me find balance, not just in where eating disorders and agriculture cross, but life in general. Food isn’t evil. Food doesn’t have a consciousness and it isn’t seeking to hurt me. Food is actually quite wonderful, just like the people who grow it. In fact, I love food. It emits memories and culture and sentiment. The problem with food is how I handle it, or have handled it in the past. I take accountability for the complications in this relationship.

Shot with an upper-end consumer camera. Harvest 2010, Exline, IL.

Once upon a time, this was how I’d spend a normal Friday night in October. Harvesting, taking in God’s amazing work from the seat of a tractor or combine or truck. Being a part of our food system.

And this is just one instance of how complicated food is. This is just my story about how complicated food can be. That isn’t considering food intolerances like celiac disease and lactose intolerance, and other physical aspects of food choice. (Although, my infractions in the past have definitely impacted what my body can handle.) My story doesn’t touch on why some people choose food for ethical, moral, or sentimental reasons. It doesn’t acknowledge the jargon and labels and stories and mindsets that impact the complicated choices of food in our society.

Everyone has a story and a reason for how they feel about food. Mine stems from a complicated past, one I’m not proud of but one that is very much a part of who I am; a past that includes countless hours helping to produce food, but also fighting with food…a past that I want to use to help people now. It impacts how I behave at restaurants, how I plan my meals, or how I time my trips to the snacks at a party. It’s the reason my refrigerator and freezer look the way they do. But my love of agriculture allows me to understand the greater food system.

This was my lunch at the Iowa Hunger Summit Luncheon. It's a blend of rice, vegetables, and a protein powder that can affordably brings hunger relief to impoverished areas.

This was my lunch at the Iowa Hunger Summit Luncheon in Des Moines in October of 2012. It’s a blend of rice, vegetables, and a protein powder that can affordably brings hunger relief to impoverished areas. To some people, “food” in general is something that they are just grateful to have.

So, knowing my own complicated story with food, it saddens me to see how segregating food can be. Whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian, vegan, locavore, organic foodie, or just some average Joe who walks into the grocery store and buys what’s on sale, everyone has a food story. Rather than pass judgment on the weird girl who eats slow at the restaurant because the portions are big and tempting, let’s work at recognizing that each and every one of us has developed our food habits and consciousness through a different set of experiences.

Let’s seek to understand each other. There’s more than one right approach to the complicated relationship with food.

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One thought on “Food is complicated.

  1. Pingback: Bracing for impact. | kellymrivard.com

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