You remember those bright yellow spray bottles of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter?” One spritz of margarine was ten calories. It’s all I would use for years, to “butter” my toast or to grease a pan. I very much followed the mentality of “butter is bad” which pervaded the 80’s and 90’s.
I remember that whenever I would visit my grandmother’s house and she would present me with a plate of homemade, buttered rolls, or a bowl of pierogies bathing in butter and onion sauce, I would feel my heart race. I couldn’t fully deny her food, because doing so would be granddaughterly sin, but I couldn’t just eat it, because that would drive my eating disordered brain (edbrain) mad. In darker days I would shove a roll in my mouth and then hurry stealthily to the kitchen to spit it into the trash, covering it with napkins.
Anyone who’s been a purger (especially chew-spitters) will recognize this exact episode and will probably see themselves hovering frantically over the trashcan. Maybe you remember having a swollen tongue and a sore jaw. Maybe you were especially evil, like me, and you would give your discarded, semi-chewed food to your obese dog. If you haven’t heard of chew-spitting, check out this article:
So why am I talking about butter?
Butter is the essence of food sin and savory pleasure. Think about it: whether it’s slathered on a muffin or loaded into a cake, butter probably features in most of your favorite foods. I know it does for me. And so that’s why whenever something buttery arrived on my plate, it was absolutely unacceptable for me to consume it. That’s part of what made it so difficult to break the cycle of my chew-spit behavior.
It was starting to see butter as not a “sinful” pleasure but as a wholesome, tasty part of the eating experience that helped me realize that it’s okay to eat (saturated) fat! Truthfully, I can’t say what exactly helped me reorient my thinking. Part of it was Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food,” which includes a brilliant ode to butter in its own right. Pollan points out that butter, though recently demonized, has featured in human cuisine longer than we’ve had a concept of “dieting” and that a fear of butter (and fat) is largely what drives us to seek out high-sugar, fat-free foods and shoddy substitutes (think margarine), and to pursue disordered eating habits. True, Pollan dwells more on anti-butter politics and food culture than on disordered eating habits, but it’s hardly a challenge to draw a connection.
Just as butter is not the only demonized food in our diet culture, an acceptance of butter is only one way I’ve been able to tackle my food fears head-on. Come on– butter is amazing.
- It adds tremendous flavor
- It helps make food more satisfying
- It’s smooth and creamy, salty and sweet
- And, most importantly, it’s just food. Not a sinful food, or one made evil because of fat. Just food.
I’m going to my grandmother’s house this afternoon and I know with 100% certainty that there will be butter– not margarine but real, sweet cream butter. You won’t find me lingering over the trashcan trying to disguise my spit-up contents, not anymore. I’ll be having some butter on my bread and I’ll be enjoying the rum-soaked pound cake she always serves for dessert. I’ll also eat some fruit and cheese, pasta and oil, and all manner of foods that used to terrify me and that in many ways terrify our diet-obsessed culture. I’d be lying if I said I’ll do it with ease, but I’ll do it nonetheless.
So, in the spirit of butter, here’s my challenge for my edfam (eating disorder family) as well as all butter-fearers today:
Eat some butter. Not a lot, or a little. Just some. Taste it. Enjoy it. And then have some tomorrow.
With love and flavor,