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  • Eat, Darling, Eat

A Matter of Trust

(by Sarah Shepherd)

I’ve just finished my first year of university, and as for many others, the school year ended strangely: The final month of classes was cancelled, and I was kicked out of residence. I am back home with my parents, and it’s…an adjustment.

My mother grew up in a really difficult household. Her parents always struggled with money, her brother incessantly and violently bullied her, and her siblings' lives were riddled with such complex issues that she often had to shout to be heard. That has translated into adulthood. When she doesn't feel like the rest of us are listening to her and her needs, the shouting starts. Unfortunately, her coping mechanisms conflict with my own anxiety: Loud noises cause a pretty extreme reaction from me. I physically jump, cry, or hyperventilate, which angers her more, and we often end up in a nasty cycle where she is shouting that she loves me, while I do everything I can to hold back tears.

Throughout my life, Mom has made clear that she loves me. She frequently tells me how good I am at acting (I am pursuing theater and performance at university), and how smart and beautiful she thinks I am. She called me regularly during the school year, asking how I was doing, what projects I was working on, what I was eating. But she believes that her degree in child psychology qualifies her to analyze me, and she has made it clear many times over she does not respect my boundaries or consent.

Against my will, she took me to a psychologist when I was 16, and when we received a profile that did not diagnose any mental illness, she insisted that the therapist simply didn't have the right evidence. Then she took my psychological profile to one of her professors without my knowledge, a betrayal of trust that floored me. Friends have been appalled about the way she talks to or texts me—she ended one of our text conversations with the phrase "You're an anomaly, my dear.” It made me feel sick, like she was proud that she had raised an anxious mess.

I know that my mom loves me, but I’m not sure that I love her. That’s a strange confession, as everyone I know loves his or her mom unconditionally. She makes me feel guilty for not exercising or leaving my room during the pandemic, and she has a lot of judgment about the way I eat.

When I was younger, she loved to cook. She had so much fun baking and cooking things for the rest of us to enjoy. When my brother and I both started phasing meat out of our diet, she enjoyed experimenting with different vegetarian foods. But since she went back to work and to studying for a master’s degree, food has become a necessity, rather than something to be enjoyed. She often cooks basic meals that she and my father eat together, leaving my brother and me to make sandwiches for dinner. She does make an effort to buy food for my brother (vegetarian) and me (vegan), but she doesn't do anything to include us in the way she and my father eat.

That may sound like a pretty lame complaint, but food is such an essential part of life, bringing families and cultures together. In our chaotic lives, gathering at the dinner table is often the only time we slow down long enough to have a real conversation, and when my brother and I are eating a PB&J instead of a cooked meal, it doesn't feel like we're part of the family. Mom will criticize our last-minute or less-than-healthy choices. ("Peanut butter isn't very good for you." "Didn't you eat canned soup for dinner last night?" "Is this really how you eat when you're cooking for yourself?")

When she does make an effort to cook something vegan, like tofu, she doesn't seem to do any research to make it palatable, so she and my father choke it down and assume it’s how all vegans eat. During the challenge of quarantine, especially when so many people in my immediate and extended family are at high risk because of compromised immune systems, our dinner conversations often become uncomfortable and stressful; I eat as fast as I can and go back to my room. I understand that every relationship is a two-way street, and I should do more to reach out to my mother, but when nearly every conversation turns into a yelling match, a guilt trip, or a lecture, it's hard.

I recently tried to make vegan spaghetti and meatballs for the whole family. There were a lot of moving parts, and I got overwhelmed and burned my hands. Ironically, it turned out to be a positive experience because my mom stepped in to help me, without any judgment. But for many reasons, I hope the pandemic will be over very, very soon.

---

Sarah Shepherd is a student at the University of Victoria and lives in Calgary, Canada.

Lentil "Meatballs"

(adapted from One Green Planet)

1 T. vegan butter

2 T. olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 c. sliced mushrooms

2 c. cooked lentils

1 c. cooked brown rice

1/2 t. sea salt

1/4 t. garlic powder

1 t. dried basil

2/3 c. instant oats

1/2 c. chia seeds

handful of parsley and cilantro, chopped

1/4 c. tomato paste

Add vegan butter and 1 T. olive oil to a large pan over medium heat.

Add chopped onions and mushrooms.

Cook until the vegetables are translucent.

Add 1 cup of lentils and the mushroom-onion mix to a food processor, pulsing until combined.

Mix in the remaining lentils, rice, salt, garlic powder, basil, oats, chia seeds, parsley, cilantro, and tomato paste, mixing until combined

Form into balls and set aside.

Heat 1 T. olive oil in a pan over medium heat.

When the oil is hot, add lentil balls and cook about 2 minutes per side.

Sauce:

1 c. tomato sauce

1 bell pepper, chopped

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 c. diced tomatoes, fresh or canned

1 t. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 T. garlic powder, or to taste

1 t. cayenne pepper, or to taste

handful of spinach

optional: vegetable broth

Heat tomato paste in a pot over medium heat.

Add bell pepper, onion, and diced tomatoes, and simmer for a few minutes.

Add red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.

When sauce is nearly done, add spinach and simmer for another few minutes.

If sauce is too thick, thin it with vegetable broth or water.

Serve with pasta.