I have an unusual relationship with food & people. Namely, I don’t like to be around both at the same time.
I’ve thought of myself as ‘not a foodie’ but that’s because food enjoyment is treated as a performance, a social experience, a competitive sport even. Warring over calorie count & portions eaten, spice tolerance games, weird taste contests – not my idea of fun. It’s my idea of anxiety-inducing; it’s appetite killing.
People bring intense feelings to eating. Insecurity, shame, guilt. Why else would someone shame another person about what they put into their bodies? Not just quantity but also the nature of food. Vegetarians forcing religion onto a plate. Vegans pressing murder into fork tines. Meatlovers stomping ridicule into delicate salad leaves. Spice fanatics kicking soups into flurries. Cooks pounding fruits into puree. Food is not love when it’s turned into a lobbying exercise.
I struggle through these painful food interactions because, unfortunately eating is considered a social exercise. I’ve borne labels like ‘problem eater’, ‘fussy’, ‘finicky’. I’m allergic to some foods. Maybe because these are invisible, it is easy to assume that I have no health issues. People are often cruel, showing contempt or ridicule. I can’t ignore this emotional stinginess. It poisons the abundance one must feel to enjoy food. It’s hard to digest hatred even if it is someone else’s self-loathing.
When I eat alone though, I have an acute sense of smell, taste & sight. Why not? I am an artist, a purveyor of all senses. I savour nuance in flavour & aroma that otherwise gets buried in other people’s bully expressions. I like food. I like food stories. I even like people who like food, if they don’t poison their love with emotional deprivation.
Street food gives me an accessible bridge to eating with other people. Most folks do not bring strong feelings to the acts of eating a panipuri or slurping a gola. I think they miss something by not savouring the complex blend of tastes in the first, the satisfying contrast of textures in the second. But I’m happy to enjoy eating.