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

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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

Esther Emery

Esther lives with her husband and three children on three acres of Idaho mountainside, in a yurt her husband designed and built himself. She's out there in pursuit of self-sufficiency, integrity living and solidarity economy.
Esther Emery
  • biancabroos

    Esther, I love this so much. Your honesty is comforting. Soup, for me, is healing. Thank you for your recipe.

    • Big hugs to you, Bianca. Thanks for reading here.

  • Suzanne Terry

    This is one of my favorite things I’ve read in a long time. Love it.

  • I soak in every word when I read one of your posts. And although I haven’t had an eating disorder, what you said about being defined by something and that something being an expression rather than a source of pain sticks right in my heart. I could read this and weep. “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.”

    • Thanks, Amanda. I do think there’s a magic key there, in learning to see past the expressions of pain that are just like clouds obscuring the wound, maybe keeping it from healing. Possibly largely the reason for a disorder like that, is to keep that pain obscured? But there I’m out of my depth. 🙂 Thanks for the reading and support!

      • I think keeping the pain obscured might be right. It certainly fits my anorexic phase, that took me a very long time to believe might be anorexia because I thought I was too old to have it (30s)! It wasn’t safe for me to express my pain….And I truly thought I’d never be able to be anorexic because I loved food too much – but loving it and eating it turn out not to be the same thing.

  • O, goodness. I love this. <3

  • catalinakel

    This is so powerful. Thank you for your willingness to hack into your heart and spill this out for others.

    • Oh, thank you, for this encouragement. It is vulnerable stuff, but I’m feeling quite supported here!

  • I beat an eating disorder in college, sort of, on my own. I thought I did, anyway. Now I’m not sure what I did. Forced myself to be present while eating, and not use it as an escape; no more dissociation. But… I don’t have, and have never had, a good relationship with food.

    • You’re so not alone in that, Alena. We’re a sisterhood, and brotherhood, too. It’s really in the cultural water. I wish you continued wholeness and peace in these tricky waters, whatever that means for you.

  • Bunny

    It’s always good to hear and sit with others’ food / relationship stories. My issues are around using food as a crutch. Thank you for sharing your story, friend.

  • Having written my own love poems to soup, I really loved this

  • I have not had an eating disorder but one of my best friends has, and her relationship with food has never stopped being one of combat. While she’s recovered, she has actually said those exact words from the beginning of your post to me – “Food is not my love language.” When I read that, I had to double-check to make sure it was you writing it, not her.

    The food trends are really rough on her – there’s this push to pick one way of eating or another or talk about food in these sort of physical, sensual terms and all of it is deeply uncomfortable for her. She’s only just now getting a sense of tasting food being positive at all.

    I sent this to her. She wants you to know she makes soup in just the same way.

    • I love everything abut this. Thank you for sharing it with me.

  • I have a weird relationship with food. Food IS my love language. But then, I have moments where I don’t {think} I deserve to be loved, so I don’t love food anymore. Does that make sense? I’m not sure if it does. This is so beautiful and powerful and…I needed this. I think I’ll be making some soup soon, hot weather be damned.

    • I think a lot of things around food only sort of make sense. They make sense with the deepest mind, but…sometimes surface workings just can’t quite get around it all. Our hot weather is gone with the birds! But we’re up high. It will be soup time soon for sure.

  • Soup is a beautiful language all its own, I think. Thank you for sharing yours.

  • I have a weird relationship to food and eating right now. I never expected to; cooking and eating has always been a space of comfort and happiness for me, because it reminds me of being in the company of strong women in my family. It reminds me of everything they taught me – self-sufficiency, generosity, sisterhood. But a mix of things in my life recently – eating alone a lot while my husband worked nights, realizing my metabolism is changing and I can’t just eat whatever without inevitable weight gain, and having a limited budget for cooking – has made eating & cooking harder for me to enjoy. Food feels like a fear-language right now. Reading this post was unexpectedly emotional for me. Thank you for reminding me to love myself, friend. xo.

    • Seth Kwabena Asare Okrah

      great

  • That is EXACTLY my mom’s soup recipe and it is ALWAYS the best. Love you.

  • Esther, you are beautiful and brave and glorious. And this is the best soup recipe ever.

  • Oh man. Thank you for this, so true and so brave and so beautiful.

  • Sarah Bourque

    As someone else who is almost at 10 years treatment, I hear you! This is such a beautiful and truthful piece. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dang, this was so good. A glimpse into how damaging food can be when we don’t have it in its proper place. I’m cheering you on girl!

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