Humans of Agni

Julia, New York

09.16.20

One of my earliest memories with food is of making Rice Krispie treats with my childhood best friend who lived next door. We weren’t supposed to be making them — it was against house rules. Midway through mixing we heard her mom come home and my friend whispered “my mom can NOT know about this.” We grabbed the ingredients and ran out her back door and over to my house, giggling and feeling like we were getting away with an act of rebellion.


Growing up, I would sneak sweets, chocolate, and candy whenever I thought my parents weren’t watching. I was privileged to not carry the responsibility of cooking for myself, so when I went away to college, and eventually entered the workforce, I saw meal plans and office perks like subsidized breakfast, lunch, and dinner as requirements for my lifestyle instead of benefits. The subliminal message I received was that someone else would take care of meal planning and cooking, so that I could keep my attention on work, studying, and my output. Without a healthy relationship with food, I gravitated towards moments of rebellion -- I would swipe extra cookie dough when I made cookies growing up, I would supply my college study groups with chips from the library cafe, and I looked forward to nights out in NYC for the late-night visits to East Village Pizza. I had a transactional relationship to food, without fully appreciating the effort and love that was put into getting it to my plate.


All that changed last year when I found myself out of work. Though I was excited about the opportunities that could come from free time, I also quickly realized how much I had avoided learning some of the most fundamental aspects of growing up by distracting myself with work -- namely, learning how to budget, shop for food, and cook. For the first time in my life, at 29 years old, I couldn’t rely on anyone besides myself to meal plan and make smart decisions for my health. Luckily, with all the free time I had, grocery shopping and cooking became something to look forward to in my otherwise empty day. Cooking for friends became an act of love that I could offer with my free time. 


Then Covid hit. The world stopped, and my life slowed down even more. Grocery stores became madness, so I started shopping at farmer’s markets, cooking everything from scratch, and being really intentional about listening to what I wanted. I became really good at knowing what my body needed. This “Great Pause” taught me to connect with food in a way that I had never experienced. 


I was only able to reach this point when I began to take full responsibility for nourishing myself, instead of relying on other people to provide for me. I had no practice paying attention to the way that food made me feel and in understanding how the love that is put into it impacts the way I feel when eating it and afterward. I had no idea how out of touch I’d been with my body because of the stress and mind space that work was occupying. In hindsight it makes total sense — when I was looking at my output and productivity as a measurement of my joy, I couldn’t slow down. I had to rely on calorie counts, restrictive eating habits, and prescriptive regimens to measure my health and to tell me how I should feel. When I slowed down, I could finally hear the cues my body was telling me. 


You asked me if I have any strong beliefs around food? Yes. I believe that we all can intuitively eat if we slow down enough to listen. I was able to use the time away from full time work to gain the perspective that capitalism and productivity make it difficult to prioritize focus and mental energy spent on supplying our most basic needs - namely, eating locally sourced foods, connecting with the growers, putting love and care into preparing it, and then eating it with full focus and attention. When I temporarily stepped away from full-time work, I had time to get back into touch with these basic needs. I know that not everyone has the opportunity to fully step away from work, or might have other priorities when they find themself out of work, but from my experience, taking time to cook for yourself is the healthiest investment to make in your physical health.


Now that I’m back in a full-time job and temporarily living in New York with family, I see the triggers that shaped my early relationships to food, and also the patterns that put me out of touch with my body. I’m just a few weeks into my new job and the other night that same childhood friend asked if I wanted to cook dinner together after work. I said heck no — I’m exhausted, let’s do takeout.