Ruth Awad is a Lebanese-American poet whose debut poetry collection Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017) won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize and the 2018 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and she won the 2013 and 2012 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Poetry, Poem-a-Day, The New Republic, Pleiades, The Missouri Review, The Rumpus, CALYX, Diode, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and she lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.
Here, she talks about transitioning to veganism, moving beyond disordered eating, and a romantic Ethiopian final meal.
On her all-time favorite meal:
It’s hard to pick a favorite – I’ve been spoiled by my mother’s cooking throughout my life. Every Thanksgiving for the last 12 years, my mom goes out of her way to make vegan food in addition to a whole non-vegan spread so I feel included. I think last Thanksgiving she made vegan eggplant parmesan? She’s so thoughtful about how food brings people together and how it can make the difference between people feeling welcome or not. Maybe that was something she practiced when she was married to my dad – she taught herself how to prepare Lebanese cuisine, learned what makes something halal, etc. I think about her a lot as I sort through my complicated relationship with food. I try to remember it can be an act of love to make someone a plate.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
The sun is blaring down its agony rays at noon. I’m eating lunch, first meal of the day after sipping high-octane tea all morning. I’m usually so hungry by this time that anything I eat tastes heavenly. I love waiting until I’m truly hungry to eat so I feel extra grateful for it. A holdover from all those years fasting during Ramadan, maybe.
On snacking while writing:
Oh, never. I don’t want crumbs or food on the keyboard. I’m super type A about that. But I do use food as incentive to finish what I’m supposed to do. Gives me something to look forward to.
On her go-to late-night snack:
Yikes, I feel like I’m revealing a lot of behavior from my history of disordered eating, which is something I have to contend with every single day. I almost never eat past 9 pm – I don’t like going to bed feeling full. But I also like to have something sweet after dinner. Lately I’ve been freezing bananas and blending them with a little peanut butter and chocolate soy milk for dessert. Delicious and cheap. TRY IT.
On her food quirks:
Many – where to start. I guess let me give you some background: I was raised Muslim, which I think primed me to be comfortable avoiding certain foods outright. In high school and college, I was anorexic, counted every calorie, the whole nine. And while in recovery, I started learning more about animal rights and climate change and made the switch to veganism. So all these experiences play out in my relationship with food.
My veganism forces me to read all food labels and ask about ingredients. I wonder sometimes if that scratches an itch left over from my days of disordered eating. It’s something I’m thinking a lot about lately – if I’m “good” at being a vegan because of that history. It never really felt like I was giving up something because I’d been restricting my eating in some way for as long as I can remember.
That’s not to say a vegan lifestyle is only compatible with that history – it’s not. I know plenty of vegans who have a great relationship with their body and food and always have! It’s just not my trajectory.
And to be clear, I don’t consider veganism a dietary choice – it’s a moral one for me. Again, my religious background perhaps helps me practice what I consider moral choices when it comes to what’s on my plate.
On her final meal request:
So there’s this Ethiopian restaurant in Columbus, Addis, owned by a lovely Ethiopian family, and I went there with my now-partner Eric on one of our first dates. I’d never had Ethiopian cuisine before then (I know), and it is now my favorite (the veggie combo is otherworldly – a completely different flavor palette than I’d experienced). And now every time I eat it, I remember those early days with Eric and falling in love and the world-opening work of bringing our lives together and it will always occupy a warm space in my memory. I hope to do everything with Eric, up to and including sharing my last meal. HIGH ROMANCE.