Valentine's Day

The Confessions of a Hopeless Food Pusher

February  9, 2017

This Valentine's Day, I’m not making my boyfriend chocolate cake, or nut brittle, or caramel-dipped marshmallows. Instead, I’m making him nothing. And I’m guessing he’ll thank me for it.

See, I’m making up for earlier this winter, when I pledged to go one week without food pushing—seven whole days with no strong suggestions that he eat what I make or procure. And I failed miserably.

Boyfriend, I’m sorry for the brownies I asked you to eat that week, and for the pasta dinner I reminded you to bring to work before we’d even cleaned up... and then hinted at again the next morning. And I’m sorry that I texted you to confirm, even though you had already promised. I’m sorry the whole cycle repeated itself more than once. So, this holiday, as I sign of my love, I won't pressure you into eating anything. (And since that counts as a present, don't expect a tangible one, okay?)

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Reader, you’re thinking that I must be just terrible to live with (you’re correct!), and remembering all the times food you didn’t care to eat was waved in your face until you girded your belly and surrendered, for fear of insulting the giver, who was just trying to display affection. Right?

But as much as feeding another person can be an act of love, it can also (at times) be a bit selfish.

Did one of these Food52 editors just push food on the other? Could be. It *could* be. Photo by Bobbi Lin

The type of food pusher with which most us are familiar falls under the “grandma” stereotype (“My, you look ill—eat this!”), but I’ve yet to grow into that. Instead, I’m more of a mind-gaming guilt-inducer, with several tactics to persuade my most beloved to eat what is either important to me or, more slyly, what is important that I get rid of.

I attribute my impulse, primarily, to a case of self-diagnosed “extreme leftover awareness,” which stems from a fear of wasted food and money combined with a genetic predisposition to general neuroses. “Just reminding you that the spinach we bought Saturday is still in the back of the fridge!,” I’ll pipe up, so helpfully. Or, as he's walking out the door, “Won’t you take the rest of the focaccia to work?

I attribute my impulse, primarily, to a case of self-diagnosed 'extreme leftover awareness.'

I’m adamantly opposed to sticking a food-speared fork in the range of anyone’s face, and I would never scoop food onto my boyfriend’s plate against his will (and never ever onto that of someone less willing to put up with my antics). But I’m not above above the verbal, and nonverbal, "reminders." How, he wonders, did the oldest food get to be at the front of the fridge or in the container on top of his bag?

As annoying as my habit is, I’d argue that it’s also a move towards joint responsibility: I know that I don’t need a fridge-cam to keep track of all our aging perishables, but should my obsessiveness mean my sole responsibility? In large part, I think, yes: Work days spent thinking about ingredients—and how to use them to their fullest potential and leave no "scrap" inedible—have uniquely prepared me to tackle (and fixate on) this challenge.

But sometimes I need a break. And he is here, another stomach to help whittle down all of the containers I've built up (and scrub them down afterwards). Is cleaning out the fridge together what the mutual support of a true long-term relationship looks like? In sickness and in health and in food waste prevention.

But to say it’s entirely about the growing compost bag (which, at the moment, has grown to occupy all of our freezer real estate) doesn’t give me the benefit of the doubt—I also make, and push, food as a stand-in for verbal affirmations and physical affection. When I’m too spent on words to articulate, too skittish or withdrawn to embrace (as is true on every harried weeknight), there is cinnamon bread, and long-cooked stews, and striated babkas.

And how dare he eat a bagel at work instead of cutting off a slice.

When I’m too spent on words to articulate, too skittish or withdrawn to embrace, there is cinnamon bread, and long-cooked stews, and striated babkas.

What's most wrenching to admit is that sometimes, maybe, the food I push is the food I'd like eat (that last piece of chocolate cake, the lingering slice of bread) but that, for whatever reason, I haven’t granted myself the permission to. It’s at this moment that food-pushing becomes less about what I think he (or anyone else) wants and more about a desire to satisfy myself.

Here, his desires are eclipsed by mine—and by fulfilling them, I hope to vicariously satisfy my own. Here, I've got to pause and ask myself who exactly I am doing this for. (Here, also, I've got to lighten up, to remember that Whoopee cushions exist, to buy a cookie for me and only me—no sharing suggested.)

When I asked my boyfriend why he sometimes pushes food onto me—persistently offering me the first bite of whatever he’s eating, before he has tasted it and even when I’ve already said that I’m not interested—he told me that it’s because he wants to share the experience with me. He wants us to taste it together.

Lovely and pure, unadulterated by ulterior motives—and a reminder that, sometimes, it's okay to let the arugula slime or the last piece of cake go uneaten (or to, you know, just eat it myself).

Do you ever find yourself pushing food on the people you love? Or having food pushed onto you? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kareem hesham
    Kareem hesham
  • Michelle Pham
    Michelle Pham
  • Eunice Choi
    Eunice Choi
  • Corrine
  • Lauren Miller
    Lauren Miller
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Kareem H. May 29, 2018
People like you deserve 10 slaps on the face! Im sick and tired of constantly dealing with people like you, especially since in my culture not being a food pusher is considered rude, I really have a hard time liking people like you, and if someone is rude to you for being pushy I would be so happy and I would have no sympathy for you whatsoever.
kasia S. October 4, 2023
I think you missed the whole point of this article. My face looked as if someone poured a bottle of vinegar over it when reading your cringe comment.
Michelle P. February 1, 2018
Amazing. Every single line of this article, I thought to myself: Yup, that's me. I even sent it to my boyfriend and he confirmed.

My favorite line: "And how dare he eat a bagel at work instead of cutting off a slice".

I always give my boyfriend a hard time whenever he buys bread from the store.
Eunice C. February 10, 2017
Love this so much, Sarah! It's all about the shared experience for me as well and being able to compare notes/opinions on what you just ate.
Corrine February 10, 2017
This. You absolutely nailed that feeling I get when leftovers sit in the fridge day after day while I watch my husband cook up a mess of pasta for dinner and spoon store-bought sauce over the top.
Lauren M. February 10, 2017
Oh my goodness! This is me. You have articulated the deep, shameful places of my own personal "food pushing". Thanks for the words spoken in such bare truth. I also do what your boyfriend does and share the first bite for the sake of experiencing something together with someone, but I mainly push all of my cookery or leftovers on others. Now that I'm aware I'm responsible for my actions, too, right? We'll see, it's a work in progress!
Rachel February 10, 2017
Interesting concept. The food pushing for me is always the "I made this, you'll love it, and if you don't try it, you insult my ancestors" type. But I've never pushed the leftovers that much. they'll get eaten and if they don't they weren't that good in the first place.
Pascale P. February 10, 2017
Hmmmm... this makes me think. Perhaps I need to be more aware of my food pushing.
Amanda S. February 9, 2017
Bravo, I love this! Honest and so relatable, as always.
Kenzi W. February 9, 2017
Um, this spoke to me.
amandainmd February 9, 2017
It took me a really, really long time to accept that my husband loves me, appreciates my cooking and baking, but really wants a carvel cake for his birthday. Actually, I am still struggling with it but I buy him the cake without saying a word.
Kaitlin B. February 9, 2017
Guilty as charged. Great article, SJ.
Kaite February 9, 2017
Woah. I can totally relate to this. My husband pushes food on me that I normally wouldn't try. I'll say no, and he'll persist in his pushing until I finally give in. Most times I end up enjoying what I've tried and he gets great satisfaction out of it. Had it not been for him my love for pesce crudo would have never seen the light of day.

I, too, am a food pusher. I'm constantly thinking about my next meal, and I make my husband the guinea pig whether he likes it or not. I also remind him of leftovers in the fridge as I don't like to eat them after more than two days of it being left over. I'm always saying "Honey, there is salad in the fridge that you need to eat" as I've already eaten my limit. He'll reply, "I'll have it tomorrow night." The next day I'll remind him about it and he'll reply with the same comment. It's a cycle.
Whiteantlers February 9, 2017
I lost a friendship over "food pushing." I had been ill for several months and the former friend would not honor the fact that I was not too ill to work every day, shop (or get groceries delivered) and prepare meals. I was getting daily offers of her coming over with food and at first I was polite and said I was fine, making simple things, conserving my energy and thanked her for thinking of me. I added that I was touched, but there was no need for care or a delivery of rations. I assured her I would let her know if my situation changed. The food pushing got less friendly and more relentless, then devolved into her crying, pouting and making accusations that I was "distancing myself" from her by not accepting food. WTF?! I have a chronic auto-immune disorder and at no time during this debacle was I ever too weak or sick to shop, cook or eat.

Everyone shows love (and perceives being loved) in different ways. That needs to be respected and a firm, polite 'no thanks' means just that. Nothing more or nothing less. I sometimes think that people who push food on others secretly want to be taken care of more deeply or more attentively by the person on whom they are foisting the annoying behavior. Nevertheless-NO MEANS NO!
Lea May 18, 2018
Wow. Makes me wonder if that friend had an eating disorder.