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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?)
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.
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’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.
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.