Written by Eirin Kiyota
Since childhood, Eden loved food. The mealtime and snack time were her favorite time of the day. She also liked going out to eat with her family just because it felt more special for her. She went to cooking school when she was in elementary school. Not only eating, but she also enjoys cooking too. She loves every food, but she really likes most of the vegetables and fish. Specifically, she loves sushi and ethnic foods. “I have a tooth for eating vegetable,” she said, and this reminds me of memories when we hanged out and searching for good ethnic curry restaurant that does not include meat. After a while, her favorite meal became zero calorie jelly that is sold in convenience stores. Zero calorie jelly made her feel like eating nothing. She was diagnosed as anorexia. Eden received this diagnosis when she was 14 when her mother took her to the hospital, but it started gradually from when she was 11 and got intense in 2 years. But this anorexia experience changed her thoughts on food:
“I think foods are very important to both mental and physical health. One of the reasons I recovered from anorexia was because my doctor told me to eat first, then work on mental stuff like ‘why’ and ‘how’ I become anorexia.”
Back then, she was told by the doctor that anorexia is “not only about not being able to eat” but also about psychological issues that a patient has. No matter how much Eden lost her weight and even disgusted by others about how skinny Eden was, she couldn’t stop not eating. “Eating” seems really easy to do but she just couldn’t do such a thing because it is different from not being able to ride a bicycle or run fast. So, she thought (1) mental health, (2) eating, (3) being physically healthy is the right process to recover. But these processes take forever since Eden didn’t have a clear cause of anorexia. (1) eating, (2) being physically/mentally healthy was the right process for her. Her doctor told Eden to eat whatever she feels like, so she ate cake, pizza, rice, and ice cream, something sweet and carbohydrate; these were the foods she felt she can eat at that time. Eating made Eden mentally stable and physically healthy. Since then, she realized herself not having enough nutrition contributes to the negative thoughts and obsession she had towards things including food, and by eating and by becoming physically healthy, she was able to be more mentally positive as well. She thinks physical health and mental health are deeply intertwined, and eating food is not only good for the physical health but also for the mind as well.
“Most of the food includes nutritions that is needed for the body in some way, so I think it is about how much we eat foods that include those each nutrition. I basically eat whatever I want now but that doesn’t mean eating ice cream every day. It means to try to see which food is good for me both in terms of mental and physical effect that foods bring. If eating ice cream once in a while make me feel happy, which it does, I do that without really questioning,” she laughed.
Eden told me that she found it interesting how the same words can be used both for felling and for what is considered as the state of the body. “fulfilled” for example, it can be used for 満足感 (a feeling of satisfaction in Japanese) and 満腹 (state of stomach being filled with foods in Japanese). When Eden feels fulfilled (満足感) with what she eats, she feels fulfilled (満腹) too. Because she had experienced the time she didn’t feel fulfilled (満腹), no matter how much she ate, she realized that who you eat with or feeling of appreciation to foods are what is connected to fulfillment getting from “eating”. Eden wasn’t satisfied not because the food wasn’t tasty, because she didn’t pay attention and appreciate to food. She just ate whatever available. Eating for just getting enough nutrition or making the stomach full doesn’t make Eden happy or fulfilled in both ways.
“Anorexia is a state of mind/behavior that can’t be separated from “food”. It might be important to eat to gain weight first, and this actually help anorexia patients to eventually recover both physically and mentally. But it would be more helpful if patients could find other reasons to eat besides gaining weight or considering what kind of food makes myself happy during the process of recovery since eating is everyday things, eating is how we spend everyday life. This is my opinion so far.”
Eden described the time of anorexia as her bad outstanding food memories. Eden told me that it is even hard to find some food experience that wasn’t bad during that time. She was always fighting with her family during the meals, and it was especially worse while on vacation. But, of course, Eden has so many outstanding food memories. She describes all foods/meals that she ate on the memorable days (even the day something sad happened). “I even remember the foods I had on the day I watched a great movie or read an amazing book, so I guess whether the food memories are outstanding or not depends on the situations/circumstances including who I ate with rather than food itself.”
Eating became one of duties for her after she has been diagnosed as anorexia. Of course, Eden did feel the taste, but she didn’t really cherish them. It took around a year and a half to come to enjoy the food and food circumstance. After that, she became ambitious more about food. She studied agrochemicals and organic foods in high school. It changed her perception towards food and what she picks. Since then, she came to think about whether the food was organic or not. When Eden goes to a supermarket, she tries to choose the one which shows who made those food and the ones that are organic. Also, that was the time she came to think about the people who are behind the things she buys and about the influence of her behavior as a consumer. In the college, one of her professors, who are originally from Niigata prefecture, offered an opportunity for people to engage in organic rice crops process. Eden was interested so she decided to take that opportunity. “It was only for two days but we did so many things. Not only we did rice-planting but also, we talked with people who live around the place we have visited. We went into the forest and the teacher taught us about the wild grass, trees, and animals. They also explained to us about the history and current situation of the village, and the process of how rice is made. That experience was fascinating and a whole new experience for me. It felt like nature allows people to live. I came to appreciate food even more.”
This article was originally submitted as part of the Food Journal for the class DCUL 236 – Anthropology of Food, 2019-2020. All illustrations are drawn by the author.