Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God

It is my pleasure to introduce to you my good friend and author Mary DeTurris Poust!

I've had the blessing of knowing Mary since the 1980s when we both lived in Austin and worked as freelance writers for the Catholic Spirit.

Mary is a talented, award-winning author, journalist, and blogger who has written for dozens of Catholic and secular publications. She is the author Walking Together, Everyday Divine, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism, and Parenting a Grieving Child. Poust was a senior correspondent and contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper and a regular contributor to OSV’s popular blog, OSV Daily Take. Her award-winning monthly column “Life Lines” has been published in Catholic New York since 2001.

Mary writes about family, faith, and the spiritual journey at: Not Strictly Spiritual. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and three children.

This Q & A with Mary is part of a Blog Tour launching Mary's latest book, 

See below how you can win 

a copy of Cravings 
and enter a raffle for a
Williams-Sonoma $100 gift card

maría:   I'm thrilled to have this chance to visit with you about this great topic, Mary! A million years ago, I read a book called "When Food is Love," are you familiar with it? What I remember most about the topic was the clarity it provided for me regarding how I learned growing up to "use" food as a way of giving love, as well as a way of FEELING love. Your book impressed in me the same idea. how did we learn this? Once we're aware of this, how do we change this?
Mary:   I’m not familiar with that book, but I’m all too familiar with that feeling! I grew up with that same attitude. My mother loved to cook and was always making cakes and cookies and fabulous dinners for anyone who stopped by. You could pop into our house any day at any hour and she’d have a pot of coffee on and some sort of goodies to eat. Even when my rock band practiced in our basement (back when I was in college), she’d come downstairs with homemade brownies and cake. No wonder the guys wanted to practice at our house! 
It can be hard to break that connection – food as a reward, as a comfort, as a way to demonstrate love to others. I think what we need to do is understand that it’s not just the food that demonstrates the love or gives us comfort; it’s the community we build around the kitchen table, the conversations we share over cake and coffee, the comfort we give when someone is hurting and we make them a meal and offer them not just physical sustenance but emotional and spiritual nourishment as well. It makes food less of a focus, and we begin to realize that it was never really about what was on the plate but what was in our hearts.
Maybe that sounds too unrealistic. I understand completely what it means to come home from a disappointing or frustrating day and immediately peer into the pantry for something to soothe my spirit. What I try to do in Cravings is help people – myself included – look at why we search in the pantry when what we’re really hungry for can’t be found there but in quiet prayer, connection with God and with our true self. It’s a hard habit to break and one that requires ongoing awareness and vigilance. Even after we become aware of what we’re doing, it’s easy to slip back into old habits. So we have to become more mindful, to stop when we’re grabbing for food without really thinking and reflect on what’s going through our head and heart. Little by little we begin to break the hold food has on us.
maría:   In my Cuban culture -- like your Italian-American one -- food is not only central, it is in a very real way the avenue to building relationship, to grow as family. What are the gifts of this attitude? And what are the difficulties/hindrances of it?
Mary: Yes, in my Italian heritage family revolves around food. Maybe life revolves around food, and around special foods served during certain seasons. The up side is that something as simple as food can bring people together and fill us with joy. You should have seen the smile on my face when I arrived at my grandmother’s 100th birthday party to find that one of my cousins had made struffoli (fried dough, drizzled with honey). I don’t make it, so I was in heaven. The down side is that food becomes so central we can become a slave to it. I love the scene in “Moonstruck,” one of my favorite movies, when Loretta (played by Cher) comes to tell her father she’s getting married. Before they have the conversation, he says, “Let’s go to the kitchen.” It’s perfect. That is where life is lived out in many Italian families – in the kitchen, at the stove, around the table, even at the sink washing dishes. I have to say that it’s way more good than bad, at least in my book. 
maría:   I know you're a pretty creative "foodie" (I've long enjoyed your FB posts and pictures of the food you cook for your family!). I also know that you're a vegetarian. Can you tell me how you connect being a vegetarian to your attitude on food?
Mary: Originally, back in the late 1980s, I became a vegetarian for health reasons. My mother had recently died of colon cancer at the age of 47, and so I was looking for ways to avoid her fate. Cutting out meat and a lot of the fat that goes with it seemed like a good idea. Later I went back to eating meat because it was just easier with young children and a husband who enjoys meat. Then my middle child, Olivia, at age 7, decided she did not want an animal to die for her dinner (she’s pretty hard core), so she became a vegetarian and I joined her. (She is still vegetarian more than four years later.) But even my vegetarian life is sort of lived in balance with other things. For example, when I went to Rome two years ago, I decided that I would eat whatever was put in front of me. And I did – pork, chicken, fish, even veal. I felt I wanted to experience Rome as a Roman would. I think that’s part of who I am – I’m willing to follow certain diets or plans or ideals to a point, but I’m not willing to be someone I’m not. So I find what I like and what I don’t and I make it my own. So I’m a vegetarian 99 percent of the time, but if I go back to Italy, I will eat meat. I think it’s good for people to do what’s right for them when it comes to food because if you try to live according to someone else’s plan and it doesn’t fit you, it won’t stick.

maría:   If food is not the problem, what unique/specific attitude would you want a meat loving eater like me to consider?
Mary:   I’d say eat what you love but keep your balance. I’ve said before that our faith gives us the template. We feast and fast throughout the year. It’s not all or nothing. I think we can find examples in monastic life for this: Good food, whole foods, cooked in season, prepared with reverence and love, eaten mindfully and with a sense of the sacred. Granted, we can’t do that all the time, but even if we do it now and then, it seeps into the rest of life. Suddenly you’ll find yourself eating chips from the bag while standing at the counter and you’ll stop and notice what you’re doing and probably put the bag away. And, even if you don’t, you’re still likely to eat less than you did before you began this food odyssey simply because you are more aware.
maría:   I love the fact that every topic/chapter in your book includes a list of reflections, a practice, and a prayerful meditation. What do you hope the reader will walk away with as they go through your book?
Mary:   My main hope is that readers come to see themselves as beloved by God just as they are and that they develop some real, practical ways to reshape their relationship with food through prayer, mindfulness, and meditation. I tried to give people small practices that can result in big changes -- things as simple as eating a meal in total silence with no phone or TV or email or newspaper. Just you and your food. When you do that, if you’ve never done it before, you may start to realize just how mindlessly you’re eating most of the time, at least that’s how it was for me when I returned home from my first silent retreat. 
And I guess I hope that readers will know that they’re not alone, that so many of us face the same struggles. Change is possible, but it has to start and end with God. When we do that, everything – not just our food issues – can be transformed.
Readers take note!

I have one copy of Cravings to give away. Please leave a comment below to be entered to win. You may leave separate comments if you share this post/giveaway on Twitter and Facebook. The contest ends at 8 pm CST on January 20, 2013. 

Ave Maria Press is also giving away a $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card. You can enter to win it here and may do so once a day until January 20th!

To see the remainder of Mary's Blog Tour, go here.