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Julie Peterson Spells Stressed Backwards

If you can't stand the heat -- get in the kitchen. On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Lounge at Crescent Ballroom, Chow Bella writers are warming up for summer with "Fried," an evening of true stories. Admission is free; food and drink will be available for sale...
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If you can't stand the heat -- get in the kitchen. On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Lounge at Crescent Ballroom, Chow Bella writers are warming up for summer with "Fried," an evening of true stories. Admission is free; food and drink will be available for sale.

Today: Julie Peterson spells stressed backwards.

The United States is at least as fucked up about food as it is about sex. This is not news. Any animal that evolved to survive scarcity is going to be confused and self-sabotaging when confronted with abundance. But this spring, a psychiatrist speaking at the Canadian Obesity Summit suggested that if food is important to you, if it fills a role beyond fuel, if it's the key element of your social interaction, that it's a fetish-style problem.

See also: - Julie Peterson on Love, Loss, What She Wore -- and What She Ate

I have a different word for that attitude toward food: hospitality. And I don't think there's anything pathological about centuries of offering food and beverages to people on special occasions, both happy and sad, and getting people to sit down and have something to eat when you know they're exhausted or sad or -- fried.

I also think I'd put a Canadian psychiatrist at a disadvantage if I tried to talk to her about stress. So I'll share with you people.

Since I moved in with the man who would become my husband, God bless him, I have rarely perceived a moment of free time, let alone boredom. He is not demanding per se, not at all, but something about feeling partially responsible for his wellbeing keeps my mind perpetually active. And while, like a proper 21st-century woman, I say "no" to many things, I rarely decline to do things I want to do, of which there are too many. And that was before the addition of a marriage and not letting the other person starve to death, though I did renounce that responsibility some time back and he seems to be doing fine.

Then there is my own food.

I eat less when I'm freaking out over something. Not phenomenally less, but I will postpone or forget a meal until the caffeine rush or blood sugar irregularity physically reminds me. And if I happen to be traumatized or profoundly depressed as well, I lose my appetite. I also lose my appetite for most normal food in summer, but my metabolism seems to compensate by inducing a craving for ice cream and bar snacks, one of which is generally available via drive-thru. My summers would go much more smoothly if someone stayed at my elbow with a platter of tempura, potato skins, or a Middle Eastern appetizer sampler. Or tacos.

The morning my mother died, I was at home sleeping after having spent most of the previous two days with my family. The night before, my husband, who is a nurse, had stayed over with her and my dad and called to wake me with the news. When I arrived at my dad's that early morning, I assessed the situation and shifted to nurturing mode, possibly distributing mind-altering substances inappropriately. I interacted with the nice funeral-home lady, called our brother, and took a self-nurturing nap.

When I woke up, a terrifying level of activity filled the building -- furniture moving, cleaning, laundry, and preparation for a large homemade spaghetti dinner. It was the first of several therapeutic meals in which, in a variety of configurations, we came together over the next few months. I was not the only one strung out on grief and stress; but in my own way, I was drained and overwhelmed not just by ordinary activity but by chores I silently, mentally referred to alternately as "estate crap" and "dead lady stuff" -- that was a defense mechanism; we were very, very close -- and I supplemented my diet with pie, wine, and a back seat full of movie theater candy from the dollar store. The actual back seat. Of the car.

I knew I could not go on like this, that it was a temporary thing. In fact, for the benefit of people who, in their own food-obsessed fashion, find this story deeply concerning, I will point out that I had drastically reduced my routine intake of simple carbohydrates the previous year. Even in summer. Anyway, when I was ready to settle down, I stepped on the scale, just to see what I'd gotten into. I weighed exactly the same. Thank you, old woman.

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