The Great Depression tightened its grip on a shaken nation in 1931, but not on the resolve of one strong-willed St. Louis woman confronting another sort of wound. Desolated by her husband’s suicide in 1930, she forged her own new purpose in life. She spent more than a year assembling a collection of favorite recipes and sent it forth into the world, at her own expense, with a title that defied grief: The Joy of Cooking.
I didn’t understand the difference between fact and truth until I officially lost 200 pounds years ago.
The fact of me is only 6 percent of people who lose weight keep it off within three years (International Journal of Obesity, 2001): The truth of me is I am someone who defies grief. No matter how shocked or shaken, if I can’t find good in a situation, I’ll damn well make some. (The Joy of Cooking, quoted above).
Eventually the truth of me won out, but early on I was caught in the middle, wedged like a grape under the boot heel of What Everyone Expects of a Traumatized Obese Kid. That tepid whine held little interest to me.
If we are what we eat, I wanted what I cooked to be invigorating. Alive. Something beyond the misery and resignation that smothered common attitudes toward weight and identity, or the suffocating sense of control I exerted while dieting. I wanted freedom and adventure in my life, and joy and grace. But to have it all, I had to break everyone’s rules.
Enter what I call “Playing Both Sides Against Your Middle.”
The idea is nutritionists understand macro-nutrients, and basic cooking skill, while high-end chefs understand the theatricality of food and the multitude of ways you can manipulate flavor. Even conceptually, combining the two leads to some interesting ideas I delve into in other parts of wekeepitoff.com.
Blending art and science, I distill high-end fine dining practices I learned from food writing — or being on the line myself in recent years, and becoming a personal chef — to introduce sophisticated flavors concepts and unlikely combinations into standard diet home cooking. Early in, most nutritionists warned me of sauces: as a maintainer, I learned to embrace them.
As New Orleans was the setting for my formative professional cooking career, I absorbed that city’s dichotomy of unruly sensuality and quiet darkness and directed it toward plain ol’ rabbit food. With a swagger and a sense of humor, beautiful food is a form of protest, a call to action, an elegant middle finger to What The World Expects.
In doing so, I left foie-gras loving foodies aghast, medical professionals equally fascinated and apprehensive and those content with the resigned status quo apologetically threatened.
Meanwhile, I was getting stronger, and so were my private students. Elderly men with diabetes, and heart conditions and eight doctors lost 60 pounds within a year and started having a more active sex life than men 30 years their junior (myself included; what do I do with my time?). Busy executives with no cooking skill began combining black pepper and cinnamon with the confidence of a seasoned chef. All of them kept their weight off even after three years.
Giving that push-and-pull of status quo and individualism, who I was and who I am and honoring both versions of myself, and what I want for everyone else, I hope I make it abundantly clear these are not just “sexy, fabulous recipes for a dinner party.”
I hope that sense of conflicted history, hard-fought optimism and a desire to thrive against all odds comes across in my mashup of sweet and savory and a breadth of international flavors and techniques while paying respect to my Lowcountry Eastern North Carolina roots.
And maybe, definitively, fuse the truth of me and the fact of me back together. Obese, thin, gay, straight, affluent, indigent, a victim and a fighter. I’ve been to the furthest extremes of all these and more, and it took all of them, along with a determined joy and a belief in the human spirit, to make you Rabbit Food Fit for a Lion.
And I want you to roar. Cook, eat, savor and then roar for what you want out of life. Loudly. Defy grief and low expectation, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it — not a scientific study, a loved one, a magazine cover or diet ad, or especially yourself.
Please see my recipes under “Articles and Recipes” in the menu above, or see them in action (the link’s on the event page to you right).
Onward! Let’s hear you roar!