I’ve been thinking of writing a cookbook.
Unless you know me personally, you can’t understand how utterly hilarious that sentence is. My culinary history includes such highlights as (1) not realizing I should add water to the condensed soup, (2) burning pancake after pancake after pancake (still raw in the middle) until I set off the smoke alarm, (3) deciding that opening a can of Spaghetti-Os was too much effort and just skipping dinner entirely. I currently have about five recipes that I can reliably handle, and I just cycle through those over and over until my sister-and-roommate falls on her knees begging for a vegetable, any vegetable.
My general incompetence at cooking is complicated by what you might call my incompetence at eating. From my earliest childhood I was a picky eater, but where most kids grow out of that, I got, if anything, worse as I got older. I can’t tell you how many family dinners ended one of two ways—me fixing myself a cheese sandwich, or me glaring mulishly at a plate I refused to touch while my dad ranted about hungry children in India. (“So send it to them!” I said once in exasperation. Somehow he didn’t see the wisdom of that.) Everywhere we went—restaurants, social gatherings, family reunions—I faced the horror of having nothing to eat, and/or being pressured to put things in my mouth that I could barely stand to look at. It was never a matter of wanting to be difficult! I didn’t want to hurt the cooks’ feelings, and I wasn’t looking for special treatment—all I wanted was just one single dish of non-terrifying food.
And yes, terrifying is the right descriptor. See, what I finally discovered a few months ago is that I’m not just a “picky eater.” I have a freaking eating disorder. It’s called ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), and unlike more famous eating disorders like anorexia, it’s not body-image driven but rather an expression of anxiety. Anxiety runs strong in my family; my mother has it, my grandmother has it, my sister-roommate has it. I thought I had been spared, but it seems I merely have an unusual manifestation. Instead of getting stuck in catastrophizing worry spirals or having to breathe my way through panic attacks, for me it all gets channeled through my relationship with food.
Unfamiliar foods make me deeply anxious and panicky. Trying something new requires a lot of gentle support and psyching myself up. I need to feel safe and relaxed or my entire being is going to reject the idea of eating the Scary New Thing. I’d figured out a certain amount of this even before hearing of ARFID, but I can’t tell how exciting it is, how much of a relief it is to have a name for this weird way that I am, to know that other people have this problem, too, and I am not a complete freak. It’s true that I haven’t been formally diagnosed by any kind of professional, but I am ridiculously textbook, guys. Ridiculously.
And now we come back to the cookbook idea.
See, on the subject of being textbook, there are certain foods that are commonly accepted or rejected by ARFID sufferers. On the Yes list are what I call the “golden foods”—things on the white-brown-yellow spectrum are much more likely to be acceptable. Bread, cheese, pasta, corn, chicken, that kind of thing. The No list frequently features entire food groups such as meat, vegetables, and fruit. (In my case, I’m good with most meats but my only vegetable is corn and my only fruit is apples. You’ll notice they’re yellow.) (The inside of the apple, of course. I won’t eat the peeling.) And that’s where cooking gets really difficult. There are only so many ways to combine bread, cheese, and chicken.
Now that ARFID is slowly gaining traction as an acknowledged thing (it was added to the DSM just a year or two ago), I had hoped to find some guidance out there in preparing ARFID-friendly foods. So far, I haven’t found anything. So I’ve been thinking maybe I should be the change I want to see in the world, you know?
After all, I have like… five whole recipes!