I was a sullen, stubborn child. I once held a single grape in my mouth for over 6 hours, including through naptime. It was a wonder I didn’t choke on it.
I hated being a child and all of the indignities that come with a complete lack of power. Food—the needing to eat it, the hours women spent preparing it—was the ultimate symbol of entrapment.
I didn’t like fish, the way its tiny little bones stuck in my throat and made me feel like I was going to die the slowest, most agonizing death.
I didn’t like unpasteurized milk distributed in ration lines, the way its pale boiled skin looked exactly like the skin on my grandmother’s forearm.
I didn’t like turmeric, the way it tasted like blood and stained everything uric yellow.
I hated curd cheese with its hideous texture and smell. I feel that being made to eat curds made me stop speaking for some time, though I have no evidence to back this up.
I hated Maggi noodles, the way they became one gluey clump, the smell always a prelude to a mountain of math problems and chess on cold evenings.
I suffered from a series of tropical illnesses as a child, and consequently looked like I was dying from a wasting disease for most of my childhood.
Breakfast was hell. I was force fed a banana every morning by my mother who I imagine was alarmed at my appearance. I grew to despise the fruit.
There were rolling blackouts every week. The candlelight and kerosene lamps cast intense, weird shadows across the walls. I played with miniature metal kitchen utensils in the dark with my neighbors.
I licked cubes of bouillon like a deer.
I liked foods that were barely food: homeopathic sugar pills, jaggery disks set out for terra cotta gods, clear rock candy, spicy digestifs, air popped rice.
I liked consuming books and the foods inside of them: bread, butter, honey, meat. While eating them I could pretend I was elsewhere—a protagonist with agency.
I munched on toast trowelled with butter and sprinkled with big crystals of cane sugar while I read about Arkady Gaidar’s band of young communists eating bread and pork fat with farmers.
Scarlet fever brought with it rounds of wet rags on the forehead. The water rolling slowly down my face felt like crawling insects.
I still retain some favorite fever dreams: the biggest sound in the world and the smallest sound in the world in the same room.
The memory of a dream is the faint smell of a candle briefly lit and snuffed out.
Food is a psychopomp that leads me to places I don’t want to visit. I have made friends with certain foods for protection.
I eat raw chilies in order to not dissociate.
I eat meat to feel activated.
I eat gelatin to feel cared for.
I refuse to eat a green leaf, unless it is presented without pressure and roasted in salt and red vinegar.
I refuse to cooperate with anyone, whether parent or lover or expert, when it comes to my own body.
I am not necessarily the healthiest person, but I enjoy eating now.
I eat the beautiful dinners my boyfriend makes with an externalized appreciation for his emotional labor and wonder whether it wasn’t this lack of appreciation for the meals older women made for me that poisoned those foods for me.
Some poisons are self-produced. Most are exogenous. Some types of care and some types of suffocation are indistinguishable.
Most types of suffocation are due to lack of oxygen. I don’t want to say untrue things.
The first time I saw my mother cry I realized she was not an automaton sent to control my life but a person who was trying to keep a gloomy, petulant child alive. I never associated anything bad with her cooking again.
Here is my mother’s life-giving (and extremely spicy) crab recipe to make when the west coast crabs are no longer poisoned by algae:
Fry a fist full of cumin seeds and dry red chilies until the oil is fragrant.
Throw in grated ginger, chili powder, green chilies, and red onion. Fry until it looks and smells amazing. I suggest going as spicy as you can handle to offset the sweet crab meat.
Take off the legs of the crabs and its outer shell. Fry the legs and de-shelled body in the fragrant oil for 5 minutes.
Add enough water to partially submerge the crab and simmer covered for 7 minutes.
Serve with hot rice and ghee.