Written by Kay McMillen
Photo by Nikki Brown
Ever since I can recall, eating has never been simple. I have grown to know many barriers that prevent me from the seemingly natural act of nourishing one’s body. They go by the names of texture, consistency, color, and taste.
I have gone months at a time where I was entirely happy and focused on every other aspect of my life, but food of any kind was nothing but revolting and my disgust for it would end up eventually consuming me. But then it would switch, and I could only think about the most obscure of all foods, and eat it, and eat it, and eat it, and only it, until my body crashes and I gag or vomit just from the mention of it. And as a result my weight would shift, rapidly. My face would carve itself out and the hollow portions underneath my eyes would bend inward even further during the moments when food just wasn’t attractive to me. But when I loved a food, just for a moment my cheeks would rise like dough.
There were times when I would cry because I felt like I didn’t deserve food, and then I would cry because when I did decide I deserved it I simply could not enjoy it. I used to think it was normal to eat the way that I did, and when I questioned how normal it was I just dismissed myself as being a picky eater. I was 20 when I figured out the term for my eating habits: disordered eating.
Also commonly used when describing forms of food anxiety, this umbrella term had suddenly given me an ounce of clarity in understanding my habits and eating routine.
There were times when I would cry because I felt like I didn’t deserve food, and then I would cry because when I did decide I deserved it I simply could not enjoy it.
How elusive is the feeling of control? My whole life I’ve wondered why I crave it and how I can attain it. My eating patterns have thrown me into flux, forcing me to feel spun out and flighty. My queerness had already taught me that my own interpretation of my body, how it exists in this world, and how I care for it will always be something I’m grappling with. Coincidentally, food is directly connected to all of these things as well.
So again, I consider control. Where does it come from? For me, I found it in the act of sowing a seed. Guiding it to germination. Planting it into the earth. Watching it sprout. Harvesting its fruit. And bringing it to my table. I knew the source of the food that I was growing. I never questioned its presence, where it had come from, who had touched it, where it had been. For me, the food I was growing seemed so much less alien to me than the food I could pick up at my local grocery store. It can entirely be a psychological need that I cured in doing this – something about knowing that the earth was gifting me my food directly, made me want to eat. Something about having my body work for the harvest made me want to nourish it in return. I felt deserving, and I felt eager to taste.
I think of the earth and the very ground that gives me food, as living in communion with me. The ritual of watering, growing, guiding, and gardening have never felt anything less than sacred. I’ve considered that perhaps bringing my own energy into my food has made it more edible for me on a very personal level.
Something about having my body work for the harvest made me want to nourish it in return. I felt deserving, and I felt eager to taste.
While I’m unsure of the exact reason that gardening has been a source of salvation for me and my body as I unlearn and relearn how to eat, I do know it has changed the course of my life for forever. Since growing my own food, I’ve been able to enjoy fruits and vegetables that once seemed like foreign objects never meant to come near me. I used to loathe the idea of a tomato, and now bruschetta is my comfort food. Previously disgusted by the texture of many veggies, I am now obsessed with cabbage and kale. My journey towards understanding disordered eating as it exists within me and my relationship to food is ever-evolving.
Perhaps I will never eat with ease, and maybe I will never be able to proclaim the beloved title of “foodie”, but I feel certain that I will spend the rest of my life focused on consuming things that make me feel safe.
Now, when I speak of eating, I am not referring to picking up food with a fork and placing it in your mouth. For me, eating is much more than chewing and swallowing until I’m full. And it’s not about the food really, it’s about me; finally finding a connection to the things I’m placing in my body, and feeling comfortable with how they affect me. When I speak of eating, I am referring to it as an act of love, and as a refusal to abandon myself.
If you take any interest in gardening, permaculture, or regenerative agriculture, or sustainable farming in any regard, I encourage you to listen to and learn from Indigenous leaders and orgs.
About The Author
Kay McMillen is a Brooklyn based artist and photographer. Her personal hobbies include gardening, and studying horticulture.