I distinctly remember my mum telling my sister and me, "As soon as you two get home from school, start the dinner.” This directive filled me with dread. I’d say, “But I don’t know how to cook," and Mum would answer, "Do you live here too?"
I grew up in the East End of London. Quite a rough area, but heavily populated with the West Indian culture, and it was always nice to bump into people in the street or supermarket who knew my parents and sent their love. Sunday was the day to go to church in the morning, come back for a big breakfast, and then chill for a bit before the evening meal, with Caribbean, reggae, soca, or calypso music playing while dinner was being prepared.
My mum wanted us to eat well and made sure that the fridge was full to the brim with healthy, fresh produce, but our portions were too big. So from a very early age, I have always been “plump,” “chubby,” or “big.” My mother encouraged me to eat because she loved seeing the family members together enjoying a meal that she had prepared with so much love, but she also criticized my weight without considering how hurtful her comments were. It’s a pattern that has continued throughout my life.
Whenever I have lost weight, my mother is overjoyed. If I gain weight, she is very vocal about how unattractive she regards my size. She always managed to monitor and manage her own weight, and at one point she got so thin that the whole family worried she might have an eating disorder. When she saw our fear and stress, she changed her eating patterns and became a plumper—and happier—person. And she is a loving person, but quite self-centered. It’s either her way or the highway. She was not supportive when I got pregnant and had my daughter at a very young age. As I get older, I realize that I am like my mother with her sharp and sometimes unforgiving tongue. So I am extra careful and mindful of what I say, when I say it, and to whom.
My mother always wanted me to get a "proper job" instead of being an actress, and my weight has led to frequent casting as “the big fat black lady” in television, film, or theatrical productions. But Mum is always happy when I get these roles, and I’ve sometimes pointed out that my weight is actually a professional asset.
My daughter jokes that when she lived with me, I would ask what we should have for dinner tomorrow while eating tonight’s meal. But my relationship with food has changed over the years. I became vegetarian, then pescatarian, and now vegan, and I must admit that I do feel better. It’s taken me a long time to love me, love what I eat, and not feel bad about it.
Linda JohnPierre is an actress in London. She can be found at Backstage.
2 T. + 1 t. olive oil
16 oz. cremini ("Baby Bella") mushrooms, sliced or shitake mushrooms after being soaked overnight
2 t. chili powder
1 1/2 t. red curry powder
1 1/2 t. garam masala
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. cumin
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
14 oz. can coconut milk
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, chopped
3 medium-large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 in. piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
1 lb. carrots, chopped (about 2 1/2 c.)
2 1/2 c. water
1/2 t. salt
1 T. peanut, almond, or cashew butter
3 c. fresh spinach
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 T.)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large non-stick pot over medium heat, heat 1 t. oil.
Sauté mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Add 2 T. oil to the same pot, and reduce heat to low.
Add all the spices and cook about 2 minutes, adding a little water if they seem dry.
Raise heat to medium, and add onion and pepper.
Sauté 2 - 3 minutes.
Add garlic and ginger, and sauté for another 2 minutes.
Add carrots, water, and salt.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about 20 minutes, or until carrots are tender.
Remove from heat, and use an immersion blender to puree the carrot mixture into a creamy sauce.
(Alternatively, use a food processor in two shifts, then return sauce to the pot.)
Over medium-low heat, stir in the nut butter, spinach, lime juice, and reserved mushrooms.
Heat until spinach starts to wilt.
Serve with rice, quinoa, or Indian flatbreads.