Food and travels

Ever since I can remember, any time I’ve gone travelling food has been a big part of it; what are the best cafes, which restaurants should I book, what local delicatessen should I be trying? I love exploring places through its dishes. You can learn a lot from people, cultures and cities from their food.

In Italy it was all about the pasta, the pizza and the gelato. In Greece, the kleftiko and feta in filo pastry drizzled with honey (if you haven’t tried this yet, then definitely put this on your list!). Japan focused around sushi and more sushi.

When I travel on my own, or stay in B&Bs it’s easy. You’re expecting to eat out most of the time, giving in to the littles whim of what to have throughout the day. Cue foodie Beth in her right element.

On the flip side, this strong link between travelling and food also makes it almost unbearably to stay at people’s houses… Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE staying with people and being part of their ways, but I get slightly angsty knowing I can’t eat what I want, when I want. This is especially the case when you’re with people that don’t have the same eating pattern as you. So how to you get around this?

I think it was Nigella who once said it that she brings food with her to people’s places if she’s staying over. Not because their food is awful; just to have something as a back up. I haven’t done this myself yet, but she’s on to something there. Then again, eating in secrecy doesn’t sound great now does it?

This weekend was one of these trips. I was staying with a friend’s family, and before we got there we had planned eating at some of the restaurants local to them – or even getting a cheeky takeaway. As things had it, we didn’t go out to eat at all, instead having salads and chicken and other bits at home. It was lovely.

I did have to have a quiet word with myself and my mind every now and then, but I’ve also realised that I don’t NEED the food.

I want it.

But don’t NEED it.

And that feels good.

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The society of disordered eating

Besides the relationship we have with ourselves, our relationship with food features high up on our list of important relations in our lives. For some it’s neutral; they don’t find it difficult to eat and don’t spend hours and hours thinking about food in one way or another. For some it’s good; they love food and food loves them. They don’t battle with themselves each day thinking about calories or fat content or carbs or anything. For them food is there to be enjoyed – or simply fuel them. But for many it’s negative; the lack of it, bad associations, a feeling that it’s bad – it is not btw.

My relationship with food can only be described as complicated. And I know I’m not the only one. Hell, I’d say most people have at one point in their lives had a complicated relationship with food. And they come in so many shapes and sizes (pun intended). It could be eating to fill emotional holes within us, avoiding calories as if they were the devil, bingeing then feeling disgusted by yourself and making a hasty retreat to the bathroom, an unhealthy obsession with what’s considered healthy food – clean eating brigade I’m looking at you, or only eating fast food.

The media and dieticians, as well as the thousands of wellness bloggers (most whom have absolutely no credentials when it comes to nutrition or fitness), are fuelling the frenzy of what’s good and what’s bad for us – making people confused about what’s actually the best way to live.

When did food become good or bad? Why do we feel naughty when we have a brownie, but like fucking superwoman when we’re chewing on celery and drinking our 3rd litre of water? For decades we’ve been exposed to messages of what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. The media and their photoshopped images, pushing a slender body as the ideal. Err what if you have curves and trying to keep to a slimmed down version of where your body wants to be naturally sends you on a soul-destroying diet mission? Photos of celebrities on holiday, with commends around their extra pounds making headlines. Dear World, there are much, much more important things to preoccupy oneself with than Kim K’s derrière.

But let me go back to the so-called wellness bloggers for a minute. I too spent most of last year and a good part of this year in fact following them on Instagram and twitter, obsessing over their goddess buddha smoothie bowls, kale superfood goji berry smoothies or avocado brownies, thinking “my what a wonderful life they seem to lead, they all seem very happy and very successful. I want to be like them.” Then, as if wakening from a wellness slumber, we can start to see the cracks of these girls. Some are probably ok, but most have absolutely no credentials to practice their ‘trade’. Given, a few of them might have struggled with intolerances and a change in their diet has healed them but that doesn’t mean they are suddenly experts! With a kitchen to die for and some ‘clean eating/healthy’ recipes on instagram and their blog, our society has been falling head over heels for these ladies as they push out motivational recipes and share their favourite yoga poses. Ruby Tandoh, of Great British Bake Off fame, penned a fantastic article for VICE where she criticised the ‘pseudoscience’ that’s behind the clean eating fad. She wrote on twitter “the problem with vague “wellness” is that it chucks a one size fits all diet at us all – which harms as many as it heals. [It] contributes to food fear, fatphobia, classism and, crucially, mis/underdiagnosis of people who actually need these diets for their health. You can’t advise people to cut out gluten, carbs, etc- major food groups & great, cheap nutrition- just because some bad science told you so.”

Now I’m sure educated nutritionists also have issues themselves – hey therapists usually have their own therapists! – but at least with a qualified nutritionist you know they aren’t taking facts out of the air. For them, perhaps becoming a nutritionist has been a way of healing themselves and now helping others on their personal food journey. As for the wellness bloggers? Wonder if it’s about helping people, or mostly about ‘look at my insta fab life and buy my new book please!’ You don’t really get to see the real them I find…

Alongside this is the rise of the body positivity movement, which has been around for years but has in the past few years, because of instagram and the internet, managed to get into the mainstream. It’s great to see women – and men – showing that they are happy in their bodies and minds, whatever size they are. Showing the world that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and not the glossy ideal we’ve become so used to seeing in magazines and on telly. We need more of this, but let me play devil’s advocate for one moment. Some of these voluptuous women are rather sizeable – and I WISH I was so happy at my heaviest – and in fact what the medical world would classify as ‘obese’. The way I see it being too far on either side of the scales can’t be good for you, regardless of how happy your shiny self are?

It’s clear that the modern western society is pretty fucked up when it comes to food and body image. So what is the way forward? Will we ever be able to have a positive relationship with food as a society, where we don’t obsess over calories and whether or not something is ‘clean’? Will we be able to find pleasure in food – and not turn it into a feast of gluttony and potential self-hatred?

I don’t know. Probably not. The struggle is real, and life’s too short. All you can do is look within yourself, find the path that is best for you and help others if they need it.