[Written by Lucy Waller (she/her)]
CW: Eating disorders, discussions of fatphobia, mental illness.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with food. I spent my teenage years pushing food around my plate, making excuses as to why I wouldn’t finish a meal. It was the unspoken rule in our house that we all sit down and eat dinner together every night, something I would often dread. But there was always one dish that I would smile at, that I would force myself to eat – my mother’s fajitas.
There is something so simple, so comforting, about fajitas. Spicy and warm for the winter, or packed full of veg and cold crème fraiche in the summer, they truly are a dish for any season. One of the reasons I loved them so much as a teenager, was because of the control I had over what I was eating. Assembling a perfect line of chicken, surrounded by a carefully positioned row of peppers and onions, with a smidge of salsa and guacamole, all neatly tucked in together in a delicious tortilla pouch. I would spend a good few minutes carefully putting my meal together. By the time I had, my brother and dad would likely be on their third one. I would never question why I liked it when we had fajitas. At the time I just thought it was because they were delicious- but having control over a meal became a welcome treat and I began to view it as a ‘special occasion meal’ because of this. I’d ask my mum if we could have it for my birthday dinner, and I’d choose it any night I got to pick the family meal.
In hindsight, this was one of my biggest problems in the way I was eating – I had convinced myself that eating was a treat, not a right. I didn’t believe that my body deserved to be nourished unless I had somehow earned it, an incredibly unhealthy and incorrect mindset. Society has pressured young people into believing that food is a reward: even as children we are told we can have a biscuit for doing all of our homework or for sharing our toys. It is ingrained in our minds that food should be used as a reward, when in reality it is a celebration of the human body, and a necessity for us to properly function.
One very distinct memory of mine, from when I was at my lowest in my relationship with food, involves a pair of pyjamas I owned. They were covered in little illustrations of pies and had ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’ embroidered on the breast pocket. At fourteen, I didn’t really think anything of it, but at twenty-three I can see that they were yet another tool designed by society and the media to force the idea that a girl should be slim in order to look good, something that I have a real problem with. I used to worry about all sorts when it came to mealtimes.
What if I gained weight from one meal? What if I was no longer attractive in the eyes of society? What if my jeans felt too tight? But these racing thoughts seemed to melt away whenever I was faced with a fajita on my plate. I find it to be a comfort food – not because it is familiar or warming but because I feel at ease when I am eating and making them.
When I make fajitas, it becomes my sole focus. Hearing the onions sizzle in the pan and smelling the spicy chicken cooking away is relaxing to me – and isn’t there just something inherently satisfying about making your own guacamole? Most other meal prep would feel like a chore to me, but with fajitas I put music on, I dance around the kitchen – I have a really great time. It is wonderful to me that this dish has stayed with me throughout my journey with food – especially now that I am older and my body has changed dramatically since my teenage years (as it should). I often think of that young girl – who would cry into her pillow because she ate a piece of chocolate – and realise how much my relationship with food and my body has changed since then. Knowing now that my body deserves food and that it is an enjoyable experience has changed the way I view myself, and I honestly think that was unlocked by my experience with fajitas. Initially, I enjoyed them for the control they offered; now I enjoy them because they remind me of how far I have come and how strong I can be. And because they are absolutely delicious.
For anyone struggling with their relationship to food, finding something that feels easy and comfortable for you to eat could be what propels you into discovering that food isn’t a luxury that you get to experience every once in a while. Rather, food is an experience that you get to welcome into your body every day.