When your starving pitbull starts to eat your leg
You have to watch your children beg and beg
TW: eating disorders
In December this year, I’m going to see the Manic Street Preachers playing their third album, The Holy Bible, in its entirety. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time. However, there is one bit I’m dreading, and that’s when they play ‘4st 7lb’, a song about anorexia which contains lyrics such as ‘I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint’ and ‘Mother tries to choke me with roast beef, but sits savouring her sole Ryvita’. If you look up the song on Youtube, you’ll find dozens of ‘thinspo’ videos set to the song. What Richey Edwards, an anorexic himself, would have thought, I do not know; the song, if anything, is anti-anorexia. The lyrics are filled with horror and despair under the ‘isn’t anorexia great?’ exterior. The girl in the song hates food. She doesn’t see it as comforting, warm, nourishing, delicious, even healthy; it is her enemy. At the beginning of the song, there is a sample of Caraline Neville-Lister, a severely anorexic woman who eventually died of the disease, saying, “I eat too much to die, and not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle, waiting.” When I was younger, I envied the ‘discipline’ of anorexics; now I look back and cringe. I am trying to have a healthier relationship with food, but it’s not an easy process. I write this after having eaten a large amount of Ritz crackers and thrown them up.
Food. My relationship with it is complex. I eat it, I cook it, I talk about it, I swap cookery tips with friends and reblog pictures of cakes on Tumblr, I have a cupboard full of cookery books given to me by family members and copies of Sainsbury’s Magazine, I regularly visit my local greengrocer (Withington Fruit & Veg) and used to buy vegetables at my local monthly market. When it’s my birthday, or friends’ birthdays, I go out for meals with friends, to Pizza Express or a curry house; we share sides between us or try each other’s dishes. Back when I went to synagogue, a group of us – mainly converts – would go out for a meal afterwards. The food is even more delicious at the end of Yom Kippur, when you’ve been sat in a long and draining service and had nothing to eat or drink for hours. One thing that got me interested in Judaism was the love of food, and how interlinked it is with faith. On Pesach, my favourite festival, we have the seder meal (and it’s much more fun when you’re with your mates and you’re all a bit pissed, communal sederim are a bit formal sometimes); on Chanukah, we have doughnuts and latkes; on Shavuot, we have dairy; on Tu B’Shvat, we have loads of fruit, and so on.
Baking has become a trendy thing in the UK, and I actually find this rather pleasing because I’ve always loved baking. When I was a toddler, I learned to bake, as did my brother (whose cooking is out of this world). When Jack and I were teenagers, we were so into baking that sometimes we’d compete for kitchen space. Carrot cake was his speciality and brownies were mine. Delia Smith was the queen of TV chefs, and I learned everything about the basics of cooking from her. Both Jack and I cooked the odd meal. In my family, particularly on my mum’s side, cooking was and is not considered a gendered activity, and everyone does it, except a couple of cousins (although one of them is getting better). There is a running joke on my mum’s side of the family about my maternal gran’s secret stuffing recipe and how many times we’ve tried to replicate it. My cousin Andy has recently got into cake decorating (and not just him – his mum, my auntie Chris, my dad’s sister, made an amazing football-themed cake for my cousin Laura’s birthday earlier this year). My dad cooked, as did my ex-stepdad, and the current one does too (he makes some very nice pasta meals and grows his own vegetables and fruit in an allotment). Jack and I were both packed off to uni with more cooking equipment than you could shake a stick at; my housemates would often steal my garlic crusher, as I was the only person in the flat who had one. Some of my earliest memories are food-related, such as eating duck à l’orange out of a metal tray when I was very little, or coming home from tennis club to find my dad cooking pasta in the kitchen. My ex-stepdad was very big on roast dinners on Sundays. I always dreaded doing the washing-up on Sundays because there was so much stuff to clean, and fat was a bugger to get out of things. This might be one of the reasons why I went vegetarian in 2004, although mainly it was not liking meat. (No kebabs for me, then.)
On the negative side, however, there is the comfort eating, the guilt and the shame that comes with it. I’ve written about bulimia before, and how I’d comfort eat, binge and purge when stressed or unhappy. Recently, I was in Cambridge, visiting my parents. My mum spent most of the weekend in bed, and at one point I went to the Co-Op, bought a packet of crisps and a bag of chocolate raisins, ate them and threw them up. I’m hoping that if and when I see the local mental health services, I will tackle this.
How does this tie in with Aspergers? I think it’s because of my enhanced senses and being sensitive to noise and textures and lights – it stands to reason I’d be sensitive to tastes and smells. There are some foods which I just cannot eat because they make me gag. Aubergines, for instance, and bananas (though I’m OK with banana cake), and cabbages, and swede (I blame school dinners). I also have a raging hate-on for coriander leaves. It’s also the reason, I think, why I like spicy food and prefer to use herbs or spices rather than salt, not to mention the amount of garlic I get through. I am a vampire’s nightmare.
Finally, to end this post and tie in with the Space theme, when Space toured the UK with Republica in March, one hardcore fan, Andy Wilton, brought a cake that his mum had made to the Newcastle gig. It was shaped like a doner kebab. The band loved it and, if I recall correctly, got through it very quickly. (One of my many happy Space memories of last year, incidentally was eating dinner with them; they ordered a Chinese takeaway in the dressing room at St Helens last year, and I ate some leftovers as I hadn’t had much for tea.) I’ve used food as a way to show love or appreciation for someone. (As has Jack – he made a beautiful fairy castle cake for his mate Woody in high school, and he used to bring cakes into clubs. I’m not kidding. He’d put the tin in his rucksack.) When two of my friends got married, I made them cupcakes (and beforehand, I made a chocolate cake which we took to the Wendy House for her hen night), and another time I made them a tin of Rocky Road, with a jar of Bovril in the middle. When my auntie Nicky put me up at her house when I went to see Space in 1998, I made her gingerbread as a thankyou present. I made chocolate fridge cake for my best mate one Christmas, and I’ve made several birthday cakes for my mother over the years. One year, I made her a cheesecake which nearly went horribly wrong, but luckily I had a Plan B. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and Mary Berry would not have approved, but no-one cared. My stepdad and his kids were there, as was Jack and possibly his girlfriend, and I sang the Cuppycake Gumdrops song. We ate dinner around a tiny table. It was magical. That is food for me in a nutshell; not just fuel, not just tastes and smells and textures, but also a bonding experience.