Friday, June 12th, 2009...9:16 AM

Everyone Has a Food Story to Tell

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Michelle L. McFadyenSome of us are lucky enough to just eat when we are hungry, but otherwise not think so much about food. Others have certain food triggers or outright eating disorders. As with anything, there is a spectrum. Journaling about your food history (or “Food Story”) and/or sharing it with others is a great way to get in touch with what issues you might have. Awareness is half the battle. Hopefully you are able on your own to monitor your triggers, but you may also find that you need additional support from a therapist, a doctor, group program, or a registered dietitian.

Last week, I had the honor of listening to Michelle L. McFadyen’s food story (while eating some of her fabulous kitchen fare–dates wrapped in bacon–WOW). Michelle helps organize and facilitate the Austin Bar Association’s “Fit Bar Challenge.” You can contact Michelle directly at I’d love to know what resonates with you, so please comment. If you’d like to share your own story at length as a guest blogger, send it to me at Enjoy…

Michelle L. McFadyen’s Food Story:

Today I was walking home from the grocery store, lost in my own little world, mentally categorizing the amazing dishes I would make with my newly purchased bounty. I would make sweet potato and spinach filo pies, oven roasted tomato and red pepper tart with eggplant crust, grilled zucchini risotto with homemade Parmesan sauce and organic snow bud iced tea. Oh! I am the queen of the kitchen!  I am an unstoppable savory dough goddess and wine pairing maestra! My head was filled with satisfying thoughts of the compliments I would receive from impressed friends once they were told of my Saturday culinary achievements. Oh, how inferior they will feel in my wake with their proletarian boxed mac and cheese dinners and their simpleton turkey subs.

I took mental stock of my pink Cook for the Cure mixing bowl set and my still shiny Cuisinart. How beautiful they would look sitting on my granite counter tops. And then there were the serving platters to consider lest they felt left out of the fun. My lighting system would be illuminating just so and the ceiling fan would be strategically set to spread aromas that not even the squirrels outside could ignore.

I was practically floating down the sidewalk, swinging my recyclable grocery bags when a rusted out 1973 Oldsmobile slowed down next to me and a 300 lb man leaned out of the window. “Hey Honey, how far you goin’?”

When I ignored him he drove around the block and tried again. “Hey! We wasn’t trying to be rude. This is a bad neighborhood, man. Two peoples was shot here last month. Maybe next time it’ll be a stuck up b**** like you.”

I wondered if this scumbag knew that I was packing a 20-oz. jar of baby artichoke hearts and wasn’t afraid to use it.

When I was little, if someone had Cocoa Pebbles for breakfast, then they had arrived. If their cabinets contained both Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles, then to my mind they probably had a summer house in Beverly Hills. Honestly, I can’t even remember what it was I was eating for breakfast but I know that the box advertised horribly unappetizing elements such as fiber and vitamin A. We lived in a tiny, itsy bitsy town, and I remember our food coming from the local grocery store but also from farmer’s stands on the side of the road and various church and fire station socials. I sincerely had no problem with what we ate and genuinely liked most of it but the thing that sticks out most in my mind is being unbelievably impressed when visiting a friend’s house and they had cabinets stocked to the brim with name brands and junk food. That was the highest social status my young brain could comprehend.

My best friend, Robin, had more food then her 3-person household could ever consume. Her family not only had kitchen cabinets that were too full to close, they also had something I had never even comprehended existed before, a second refrigerator. I attributed their transparent wealth to the fact that Robin was an only child and, our lack of a second refrigerator, like most things in my adolescent world, became the fault of my younger brother, Sean. A time was coming, though, when Sean would prove himself to be my most valuable ally in the quest for junk food stuffed cabinet domination.

When I was about 10 years old, we moved to a bigger town. My mother married my stepfather and suddenly we had a two story house complete with a game room, an extra bedroom, a giant kitchen with an island bar and a 2.5-car garage that housed, oh yes, the ever coveted second refrigerator. The second refrigerator moved in, and I anxiously peered into it.  I anticipated a bounty of ice cream bars and frozen pizzas just like Robin’s house.  I was shocked to find it full to the brim with little white packages of meat. I demanded that my mother explain this immediately. What the hell was going on here? “Oh, that,” my mother waved her hand casually. “That is the meat from the deer that Hunter shoots. It’s very good for you. Full of iron and protein and very lean and low in fat!” My mother had become a professional weight loss counselor.

There were times when it was enjoyable for me to revel in our superior health-conscious ways of eating. “Oh, we don’t keep Twinkies in the house,” I would inform one of my bewildered friends. “They are loaded with sugar and saturated fats. Do you want to die of a heart attack when you’re 40?” One desperate friend went so far as to actually eat a bottle of cupcake sprinkles, so dissatisfied was she with our selection of fresh fruits and veggies.

After that, I was generally the one to spend the night at my friend’s houses. My parents grumbled about always having to drive me to these slumber parties. “Why don’t you invite Sarah over here sometimes?” my mother would ask. “We could watch a movie and make that butter-free popcorn with the garlic salt that you like.” It was true, I did like the butter-free popcorn with the garlic salt but kids in small town Indiana were thinking outside of the box if they used mustard on their sandwich instead of mayonnaise, and I did not want to stick out any more then I already did. So when my mom offered these things, I just stared blankly at her. “We have homegrown tomatoes,” she offered. “They’re so good you can eat them like candy.” Right, cause that’s every kid’s dream.

Although I was able to find satisfying superiority in our food situation and secretly preferred it, my brother did not give up so easily. The first summer we were allowed to stay home by ourselves was a freedom we had never before experienced. I stayed home most of the time reading, but Sean, having more friends in the vicinity then I did was, was more frequently out and about doing whatever it is that young boys do when unsupervised. One of his favorite past times was shopping at garage sales and thoughtfully increasing his inventory of action figures and baseball cards.

One bright morning he left carting a small wagon containing his garage sale treasures and returned in the afternoon with a wagonful of the most amazing and unimaginable cargo, Little Debbies, Twix bars, boxes of Nerds, bags of potato chips and pork rinds and things I had never even heard of before. I don’t remember how I got him to share with me (probably blackmail), but what I do remember is that when a neighborhood mom came by later that night to reclaim her food there was no evidence to be found. A valuable lesson had been taught, “Eat it while you can because you never know when you’re going to get it again.”

In high school and college, food became for me less about the quality of what I was eating and more about its impact on my physical appearance. It is not an exaggeration to say that during these years I had a smoking hot bod. This was partly due to the eating habits that had been so carefully instilled in me and partly due to the fact that I had no money for edible extravagances.

When I was 21, I had my first real adult boyfriend. He came from a big Italian family in Chicago, and he was obsessed with things like pasta and cheese and meats of every kind. I had never seen a family like his before, and they intimidated me into silence. I was scared to open my mouth at the dinner table because everything I said seemed to be wrong. I was a vegetarian the first time I met Jack’s family. As we walked through the front door Jack loudly announced, “Michelle doesn’t eat meat.”

“What!?!”  His dad exclaimed. “Well, we’re having sausages tonight. What about sausages?”  “Uhm…that’s a meat.”
“OK, how about hot dogs?”
“…still a meat.”
“…still technically a meat.”
“Pork chops?”
“Pork chops are fine.”

My need to impress them coupled with my eat-it-while-you-can mentality and a college budget that guaranteed I would not have anything like pork chop waiting for me in the near future spelled disaster. I ate the pork chops. Then I ate sausages and cheese raviolis covered in cream sauce and hamburgers and huge plates of spaghetti with meat sauce and deep fried onion rings at ball games and two portions of cannoli at birthday parties. By the time I moved in with Jack, I was two sizes larger and growing. When his aunt gave us a deep fryer for Christmas I locked myself in the bathroom and cried.

I lived this way for three years, and then Jack and I split up and I moved to Austin, one of the healthiest cities in the country. In Austin, I noticed something amazing going on. Health food stores were on every corner. You couldn’t turn around with out falling over a farmers market. When I went to parties people served organic apple slices and vegetable platters and their guest were excited about it. One day, while in line at the grocery store, a woman next to me turned and said, “Have you tried the baby marinated onions? They’re sooo good. I eat them like candy.”

I noticed people talking extensively about their latest amazing salad find and where to go to get the first peaches of the season. I though, “Eureka! This is the arena I have been trained for!” These were people who could be enticed over to my home with the mention of fresh baby greens, and they only became more excited when I threw in homemade mango and soy smoothies. It was a kind of social acceptance I had always craved, and it came so naturally.

As my dinner parties grew in number and frequency so did my social-climbing kitchen arsenal.  I learned the five grocery stores and farmers markets where I could procure the best of the best. The ways you could grill a vegetable and simmer a sauce became more and more complex. Then came the serving accessories. Nothing makes a better meal then the perfect platting and centerpiece.

If that won’t get them over to my house then nothing will.



  • Thanks so much, Michelle and Chris! I loved this post, and it’s generated a lot of thought about my relationship to food–in terms of how I was raised, how I nourish my body, and how I relate to food with other people. Food for thought, as it were. Good stuff!

  • Love this story! Thanks for sharing, Chris.
    Michelle – you are a wonderful writer.

  • Great story. A part of my food story is that my normally health-conscious mom, in an effort to put some weight on my too-thin sister, secretly gave her Oreos and other such treats which I (of course) found. I totally relate to that “eat it while you can” mentality and still fall into that trap at parties.

  • Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts! The party issue is a killer! “Just one more of those salmon roll things…”

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