One of my first memories of food makes me feel nostalgic, but more importantly, reminds me of what it means to sit back and truly enjoy food. At the age of four, I remember sitting at the kitchen table, tomato sauce everywhere, donning a huge grin as I looked around my family. At this time, I had little awareness of my relationship with food; I was simply enjoying the warmth and heartiness of a delicious pasta dish. My sister and younger brother sat next to me, all enjoying each other’s presence and excitement over the meal. My main sense here was touch. The childlike tendency to get messy, spilling sauce everywhere, filled me with a sense of fearlessness and carefree nature. My mom and dad decided that I was so messy that they had to take off my shirt, and I didn’t care in the slightest. I had sauce all over my chest, and I was only focused on grabbing the pasta with my hands. I laughed, knocking the plastic fork to the ground. I scarcely remember this feeling, the one in which I could be so happy with such little control.
Hearkening back to this memory, I realize how much my relationship with food has changed over my life. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I sit still for a meal for more than 20 minutes. I often eat on the go, sacrificing the relaxation and joy reminiscent of my childhood. I find that I am stressed when I sit to eat, and I think I know why: our culture, especially the hyper-driven working world in the U.S., has conditioned me to regard eating as bad, and constant work and movement as good. Missing meals with friends, canceling agreed-upon times, and sleeping through breakfast because I can’t sustain my own lifestyle are shockingly revealing about my tendencies. I like to be in control, and I become anxious when I have to let go of the reins. In college, this is nearly impossible. I grasp life, without my childlike hands, but with a metal fork, attempting to cut decisively into things that cannot be split. Like a tough steak, well-done, I have become resistant to the many wonders that could improve me.
Only recently did I realize that I might be doing things wrong. A friend noticed how I was living, and kindly pointed out that there might be a better way. Overbooking myself and creating such a busy schedule makes me calm, because I feel “productive.” However, “productivity” is an overused and over-glorified word. If eating a meal or relaxing for more than five minutes makes me immensely stressed, what has become of my mental and physical health? Where is the girl who sat in her high chair, sauce smeared on her face, not thinking about the next time she would be required to eat? The other day, I realized how much I’d changed when I realized that I would rather not eat or sleep, if I could have the satisfaction of one way of life: working. I feel that my own addiction to working has conditioned me to only feel satisfied when writing an essay, submitting a discussion post, or filling out a job application.
I figure that part of this lifestyle involves my concern about school, messing up and making mistakes. However, this is life in and of itself. Living is so much more than academics and working constantly. I want to create the perfect life for myself, career wise and personally, but there is no “perfect life.” If I wait to live, when will I change my ways? Now more than ever, I realize that I might be wasting my youth with a life of all work, no play. To go back to my childhood has made me realize that I’m forgetting to, metaphorically, eat with my hands. I should get messy, and hug life with open arms. At the risk of sounding cliché, I am accepting the chaos of my life and opening myself up to new experiences and opportunities.
Pasta for Life
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ red onion
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic
8 large crushed tomatoes
½ pound penne pasta
Heat a large pot of water to a rolling boil for the pasta. Add olive oil and red onion to a different large sauté pan and cook on medium, until the onion is translucent. Add red pepper flakes and garlic, cooking for two minutes until steaming and fragrant. Add fresh, crushed tomatoes to the pan, and stir to combine for 20 minutes.
Cook penne pasta according to the package. Add the drained pasta to the sauce, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover photo courtesy of Bianca Zapatka