Soup For the Skinny Girls (With a Recipe for Vegetable Soup)


FOOD IS NOT MY LOVE LANGUAGE, I said. To the computer screen. With maybe a little more feeling than I had intended. A writer friend had just invited me to participate in a writers’ group cookbook project, and of course I wanted to contribute. I love online community, and I love my hard-earned kitchen skills. But then my friend fairly shimmered, she said she was so excited about it all because food is her love language.

And suddenly I thought, oh wow, this is really going to suck. 

I don’t talk about my eating disorder as much as I talk about a lot of other things on the Internet. I don’t like being defined by it. It’s just plain messy stuff, and in my life it has been an expression of pain rather than a source of pain. It is the issues, but it isn’t where the issues come from.

But when somebody asks me for a recipe? This is where I live. If we’re talking food, this is where I start.

I have been one of the skinny girls.

I have been skinny like bone and muscle is skinny, skinny like a person who is built all angles and not very many curves, skinny like a person who lives without luxuries of wealth and does a lot of chores.

I have also been the skinny/hungry. Maybe because there wasn’t food around or I didn’t have access to food, or it wasn’t my turn to eat or I didn’t think the food was for me. But just as likely because the thing I was thinking was food wasn’t even food and I don’t even know what it was. I don’t know how that happened, but it did.

I have also been skinny like a privilege. I have been skinny like this is the one thing I get, for having limited food security and not a lot of attention and doors that closed when I thought they were going to stay open. At least I’m skinny.

I have been skinny like a princess, skinny like a will to control, skinny because that was the one thing I had. When I didn’t have success or self love or self control, at least I could fit into a tiny dress. And that is something.

I have been skinny like a disease. I have attacked my body, tried to fight it into submission. I have tried to make my body go away. I didn’t always know what it meant, but I have wanted to end my body. I wanted it to go away.

I have been “recovered” now almost ten years. I needed help and I got it. But I still have strange relapses now and then. Especially if I am near members of my immediate family, and if there is any danger of running out of food, I’ll catch myself looking at a block of cheese the way a werewolf looks at the moon.

I feel shadows of anxiety over a number of things . . . a shared kitchen, a loaf of grocery store bread, having somebody watch me eat, having nobody to watch me eat, having somebody tell me that FOOD IS THEIR LOVE LANGUAGE. I am always a little bit afraid of a trigger that will turn me and spin me out, and make me fall off the balance beam I’m walking.

I don’t really like talking about it (because just talking about it can be a trigger) But sometimes somebody asks me for a recipe, and then I have to explain. This is where I start.

When I cook, which isn’t really all the time, I cook for this. I cook for the skinny/hungry, and the hungry/fat, and for alI the hungry/judged. I feel tongue-tied for us, and powerless. But stories are powerful, and so is community, and so is hope. And for me, that’s the soup.

I don’t know why I’m never triggered by soup. But I simply am not. Ever. Triggered by soup. Soup is basically a liquid. And, possibly more importantly, soup isn’t portioned. It’s a some, not a many. I don’t feel afraid that I’ll eat too much, or too little, or run out.

When my children are grown, maybe I’ll eat soup every day. I imagine the soup pot will be bottomless, like the hunger is bottomless. Like a big pot of love.

Maybe food is my love language after all.

Here’s my recipe, for soup.

  1. Take out whatever is in the crisper drawer (or, if you happen to live off the grid, the crisper basket). Look at it. Throw any yucky bits to the worms. Chop up the rest. In the winter this will be potatoes and chunks of squash. In the summer it will be blanched and peeled heirloom tomatoes. Mix colors and cut the things that cook faster into bigger chunks.
  1. Admire your piles of chopped vegetables. Take a good smell. Go smell your spice cabinet, pick some spices that smell right. If uninspired, fall back on the song…parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
  1. Toss a handful of chopped fresh garlic and onion into hot olive oil in the bottom of the soup pot. Sizzle until soft. Add sprinkles of whatever spices you picked.
  1. Add the vegetables. Put a lid on the pot and shake it so the oil gets all over the vegetables. Add broth and water to cover. (It’s even better if you you’re your own homemade broth.) Simmer until vegetables are soft.
  1. Eat with your eyes closed.

Is this really not scientific? Sorry. It is made to fit a really serious neurosis, not a recipe book. I can’t handle stress in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love food. Like hope, my soup is a recipe made to match things that don’t make sense, like fear and passion, with things that do, like the gift of a garden harvest and the chemistry of human happiness.

That’s what hope is like, in my experience. It can be a little hard to grasp, and not quite what you expect. It might like a lot of structure, but not a lot of rules. It might hide when you’re looking for it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Please don’t give up.

Esther Emery