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Resolutions for a Better Food Life

And none of them are dieting, I swear

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We talk about our work lives, our family lives, our social and sex lives, so why not a food life? The nourishment, enjoyment, creativity and connection food allows crosses into those other realms and goes well beyond the headings of eating habits and diet. I'm hardly immune to the influence diet industry's January cash grab, coming as it does on the heels of holiday indulgence. But there's so much more to our complex food lives. With that in mind, here are some things I'm reminding myself to do this year.

Lose yourself in the pleasure of food. Why stop at eating mindfully when you can absolutely revel? Whether it's a whole crab or a peanut butter sandwich, put your hair back, tuck a napkin in your collar and go to town. Make unflattering noises. Ruin your sleeves. Allow yourself this unadulterated joy in a tumultuous world. That we are equipped with senses that allow us to delight in the necessity of feeding ourselves is a miracle — rejoice. The zillion things you're internally freaking out about will still be there after you've fully enjoyed that sandwich from crust to glorious crust.

Eat as local as you can. Even if you're not dialed in with eggs from a neighbor and a CSA membership, every time you choose local it benefits the planet and/or Humboldt's producers and businesses. Sometimes that means hitting the farmers market. Sometimes it means grabbing a burger and fries from a mom-and-pop joint instead of a corporate chain. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

Get some takeout from your favorite restaurant. Too many of those local restaurants are hanging on by their fingernails right now. If there's someplace you'd hate to see vanish, order from it. Whether you treat yourself to a full meal or just the soup you love, be as much of a regular as you can afford — it all adds up. That fancy place you only visit on your birthday? Don't wait and don't underestimate the joy of eating a formerly annual treat in your jammies.

Don't drag restaurants on Yelp. You know when the server comes around and asks, "How is everything?" Tell them. Really. They likely want to make it right. Especially amid pandemic staffing and supply shortages, everyone has off days. But the scathing, anonymous review you were so pumped to share will last forever, doing plenty of damage and improving nothing. As in most relationships, direct communication — face to face, email, direct message or even a note on a napkin — is healthier than posting. (Of course, if you're straight up mistreated, hit me up and spare no detail.)

Let go of food shame. A lifetime of social training makes it tough to quiet the internalized judgments but you're not being "good" or "bad" when eating a salad or a doughnut unless you stole it. Fat-phobic moralizing about food and bodies can kick rocks.

Hold onto the foods that have meaning for you. Listen, I don't know if cutting out whatever today's food scapegoat is will make your immortal or not. But I know what it's like to deprive yourself of foods that are part of who you are, whether in terms of culture, family, personal history or those little rituals we invent for ourselves. (I look back on the year I went without rice as a goddamn waste.) And barring an actual medical reason — in which case, hon, I'm so very sorry — it's seldom worth it to entirely deny yourself food that feeds your soul.

Cut yourself some cooking slack. TV chef competitions and Instagram can skew your idea of what home cooking — the daily labor and the trial and error of it — really is and looks like. Every meal won't be the stuff of styled magazine shoots, nor will your kitchen be after you're done cooking. Embrace your scorched meringues and fallen popovers as part of your beautiful, messy journey.

Try new things. Life is short. Push yourself and taste more of the world before your leave it.

Get that recipe. Family recipes and the lore that go with them aren't passed down if nobody has their hand out to take them. Especially if your family (blood or found) is spread out and not gathering these days, opportunities to cook together don't always come up. Ask your friend, relative or whoever for the recipe to that dish you love. Can you cook together virtually, phones propped up in your kitchens? Ask them where they got the recipe, when they first made it, who liked it (or didn't) and how it's changed over the years. You'll get history, personal stories, remembrances and, if you're lucky, the occasional scandal — far more than you can fit on a tattered and stained index card.

Remember who's feeding you. That includes the people who raise, process, prepare and serve our food. Remember them not only when tipping or putting on a mask to grab takeout, but when voting on issues like healthcare, housing, workplace safety and wages.

Feed someone if you can. It can be lonely out there — never more than in an isolating pandemic. Feeding others can be just as nourishing as being fed. Double a batch of whatever you're making and share it with someone who could use a home cooked meal or some cookies. Right now there are probably more people who fit that description in your circle than ever. Doesn't even matter if it's store bought — it's the gesture and the connection, as well as the sustenance. Drop a few bucks at the food bank or leave something in a little free pantry. Feed someone and feed your own soul.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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