A Conversation With Margaret Eby
Lyz: I once wrote an article that declared I was done cooking. After it came out, people were just like, "One day, you'll want to cook again." And I was like, "What if I don't, though?" Don't act like it's something I have to do.
I once had a therapist tell me something similar when I told him that I would no longer make big turkey dinners. (I had just had my first Thanksgiving without my kids.) "Oh, you'll want to do that again one day." I had to explain to him that I wasn't bemoaning a loss or complaining -- I was stating a fact. (I didn't ask him how many turkeys he'd ever baked, but I should have.) "I've baked more than 30 turkeys in my lifetime. I think I'm at a point where I can say, yep, I'm done. It's not my job anymore."
God, I remember in the first 2-3 years after my marriage ended and I actually got regular nights alone, away from my kids, there were plenty of nights when I had bourbon and potato chips on the couch in front of the tv. That was dinner. And at first it felt like freedom and nurturing myself and giving the whole world outside my door the finger, and then it mostly just felt like depression. Then I moved into the era of fried egg sandwiches, and I think I'm still in that one. I might never leave. The alternative, when my kids aren't home, is really anything I can make in a single pot because, damn, if I don't hate doing dishes. My perennial, total comfort fav is a pot of white rice, a can of tuna, a couple of handfuls of frozen peas, some mayo and lemon juice and salt and pepper. Done!
I have also just mixed tuna and mayo and piled it into the two halves of a green pepper. In fact, I just had that for dinner last night with a half ounce of old cheddar cheese and an enormous pile of potato chips. After more than 20 years of parenting the daily work of cooking for a family is like pulling teeth. I manage a family dinner maybe twice during the weeks my kids are home. When I was married it was a significant chunk of my identity, and that continued for nearly ten years after we split, at least when the kids were with me. Now? I just... can't. Can't negotiate food preferences. Can't find creativity or joy in it. I just want to be on the other side of any meal so I can do something else. I still love food. But I don't love feeding myself or anyone else.
I am not as weird as I thought I was! As a kid, I never learned how to cook because my father was the cook, and he and mom took their arguments to the table; we all kept our mouths shut and left as quickly as possible. My husband cooked and shopped while I worked full time (always), allowing him to go to school, be an artist-craftsman while I cared for children in the p.m. after school, yada yada. Whenever I attempted to cook, he would tell me what I was doing wrong from the get-go, so I stopped. (His was Italian with a rich food history and extended family.) After his death 3 years ago, I buy frozen meals, drink Ensure and such, peanut butter on celery or sandwiches, sometimes soups. And I always, always feel ashamed. I am SO pleased with this post. Lyz you nail it all the time for me, and make me feel a little bit better. Thank you.
This is exactly what I needed to read today of all days. Off to the store to buy some prepared spinach and cheese thing in filo dough, which I will eat with some tiny tomatoes from my balcony and a ridiculous amount of sauerkraut. Thank you, Lyz! Signed, fellow confused and sometimes disordered eater who usually eats alone.
Great interview! I've had jobs that I'm absolutely out-of-place for (and substantially younger than my siblings) so I kinda relish eating meals out and alone. Before smart phones, it was nice to have a book or comic or something and leisurely read. One day, I will dress like a gentleman and get an incredibly expensive meal by myself while I thumb through some Kazou Ishiguro novel.
Hubs is gone for twoish weeks. I started my alone time with a few kettle chips and a slice of Kraft American cheese. Fold the cheese into quarters, then 8ths, etc., and put a little bit of cheese on a chip. While rewatching all of Sex and the City from Season 1 Ep 1. Taco John's for a fried chicken taco with potato oles and nacho cheese sauce. Tonight might be cereal with peaches. Who knows.
I actually enjoy eating alone in public (with a book, of course), although I have disordered eating at least I can do that! As one of the Invisibles (women over a certain age) I can usually go to a bar and sit and have a glass of wine and a snack. Ironically, the last time I did this (a George's cheeseburger and glass of wine after a concert) I was bothered by a woman just a decade or so younger than me (I'm 69). She plonked herself inbetween me and the guy one stool over and proceeded to run both of us off. I feel stupid about letting myself get caught up in whatever the hell she was up to. Just like when men used to bother me.
"Joyful dirtbag-dom" is an amazing expression and a beautiful concept. Thanks for that little gift!
Wow, to have been at Tin House to hear Claire Vaye Watkins read "On Pandering"! It must have been so powerful. I'm blown away just reading it now. Thank you and Margaret for bringing it up.
An interesting interview. Recently, a neighbor of mine and I had a similar conversation. There are times when it's just a meal for one - and while there's a grocery store a very short distance from our building, the problem both she & I noted was the typical "bulk" problem that's disgustingly common in the U.S.
If you'd like to feed a family of four, or even six? The grocery store has what you need. And there are whole chains of stores for families of 8, 10, or more - Costco, BJS, Sams' Club, etc.
But for those who are eating for one - or even one adult and couple of younger kids - big corporate food doesn't care about you.
That was our discussion, and about how we sometimes just saw ""Screw it" and step over to the store to grab a frozen meal for one, or a sandwich from the deli.
Really enjoyed the nuance you both used in this discussion - and the allowance to go in whatever direction people need to go, when it comes to food.
It's a complex topic, and this was a great interview.
Thanks for tackling this topic of food as you have been, Lyz. It's as much about food for our bodies as it's food for thought. Appreciate your work.
I read this article while eating a vanilla ice cream cone I made (meaning I put the ice cream in a cone) for lunch. Perfect accompaniment. I feel good on so many levels!
My first husband was an obnoxious foodie who insisted on spending whole days making handmade pasta (which sucked) and never cared about my interests or hobbies. After the four + years of being hostage to rabbit ragout and Food Network programming, I spent my first year after the divorce subsiding on tuna and pre-sliced cheddar on triscuits and it was GLORIOUS
I was supposed to be on a flight 25 minutes ago to see one of the people I love most dearly in this world. But yesterday my aunt called to tell me her husband tested positive and is quite sick with covid. We just needed some time together after an emotional spring/summer of me divorcing after 38 years, and now we're both sad about missing each other.
Until I close on my new digs, I'm living with a friend who eats freshly-prepared food from her garden share. Me? I sat and ate leftover birthday cake out of the Rubbermaid container. Then ate microwave popcorn and drank a Mike's while re-watching Ted Lasso. And I didn't make any excuses.
PS - it was all delicious.
I love this. In the Andrea Camillieri novels, the hero, Inspector Montalbano, prefers to eat his delectable meals in silence, and alone.
That's how I feel about breakfast.
My husband is a retired chef of 50+ years of cooking for other people. He is done and VERY occasionally will cook something for me (and I feel guilty about that). Most often we forage and sometimes have ice cream for dinner or corn on the cob-damn the food groups or we like to count what the item is providing (mostly freedom). Even my mother's voice has been silenced by my gleeful rebellion of just enjoying whatever we decide to eat.
Oh my god I had no idea how much I needed to read “On Pandering.” Thank you for linking to that and also to the Ken meme.