Recently, I discovered a fantastic series on the New York Times blog, entitled “Growing Up With a Fat Dad” by Dawn Lerman. Her writing is honest and enlightening.
Lerman discusses her experiences as a young child who had an obese father. In the first piece she explains how she never felt properly nourished by her parents because her dad was constantly dieting and her mother wasn’t interested much in food. “Most of our meals consisted of my dad’s diet foods, a meal replacement shake, a frozen dinner, or a bagel or pizza in the car. We never had meals together as a family.”
She goes on to say she developed an appreciation for cooking and homemade food from her grandmother and fondly recounts the time they spent together in the kitchen. After moving away from her grandmother she was still able to remain close by sharing recipes and continuing the tradition of cooking.
As the daughter of overweight parents, this author really spoke to me. I relate on so many levels. Like Dawn Lerman, I also developed a non-ideal association with food as a child. The difference between my story and hers being that in my house, rather than hop from fad diet to fad diet, we overindulged constantly. Diets and scales and low fat anything were unspeakable.
My mother, a fantastic cook and baker, always made sure our house was as stuffed with goodies as our bellies were. She instilled in me the passion I currently have for food and cooking, and I am ever grateful for that. What I’ve learned about her in growing up is that she loves in as wild a way as we eat. Food is the way we love. And honestly, I can’t wish she’d done anything differently. I can’t blame her for thinking chocolate cake could distract me from an alcoholic dad. I can’t even begin to hate our trips to McDonald’s, because they were lovely in their own disorderly right, and sometimes we only had $5 between us. All I can do is know that I was loved and that she did her best.
My father was almost always severely overweight, usually weighing upwards of 300lbs at 5’10”. All my life I watched him eat ceaselessly through the night as he drank. Subs and chips and ice cream at bedtime. The thing is, he was happiest then. I was happiest then, in turn. A few times, Dad lost weight by restricting what he ate to iceberg lettuce salads and omelets, but the weight never stayed gone for long.
I didn’t learn the joy of cooking nutritious and nourishing food until later in life. Perhaps especially in the past five years, after losing 135lbs, I have made even more of a life in my kitchen. Uncertain of how to reintroduce the foods I loved all my life, but had given up throughout weight loss, I began creating my own recipes. Healthier versions of the classics. I said to myself, “Anyone who throws caution to the wind and uses an unlimited amount of butter, cream, oil, and the like, will ultimately make a dish that tastes delicious. Because butter, in and of itself, takes taste to the next level. But the true challenge, the mark of a truly good cook, is the creation of flavor. Knowing the essence of good food, understanding flavor complements, how to use herbs and spices to cultivate that perfect palate pleaser, believing that food can be just as beautiful on its own without makeup and a ballgown.
What I’m interested in hear from you, now, is how you relate to both me and Ms. Lerman.
Those of you who were raised by an overweight parent, how do you think it affected your relationship with food as a child as well today?
Do you think being a healthy weight is part of being a good parent?
Those parents who struggle with their weight, what do you do to try to make sure your children have a more healthy relationship with food?
For the cooks out there, when did you first learn to appreciate preparing nutrition meals for yourself or your family?