What Pasta Has Taught Me
When I think of home, I think of pasta. I think of the steam that rises into the air after it’s drained from a metal colander. I think of the starchy aroma that filled up my grandparent’s home in the Bronx as grandma prepared Sunday dinner. I think of my 84-year-old grandmother standing at the stove wearing a red, white, and green apron talking about how her mother and grandmother used to make the dough and the gravy* with only a few ingredients. I think of its simplicity — a dish that can fill you up, comfort you, show you love—a cultural representative made from 6 ingredients and the shared knowledge passed down from generation to generation.
If I’m honest, pasta exists in an odd in-between for me. The simplicity is overshadowed by its mention on every “bad” list for every diet that has ever existed — and I have for most of my life (up until the last few years) actively been trying to be thinner. Even saying the word “pasta” drudges up memories—pushing away gorgeous plates of ribboned linguine in the hopes that if I lost weight by giving up pasta and it’s core sidekick bread I could one day return to enjoying the dish that kept my family fed for generations.
Diet culture has made us believe that food is either good or bad. We’re either eating clean or relegated to the “bad list”. We’re trying to have a new you body-kind-of-year or we’re stuck in the before section forever. We’ve either let the thin person inside of us come out, or we’ve let ourselves go. And pasta . . . well, pasta is for the people good enough to deserve every bit of its complicated carby makeup (a complex carb, if you will). So, not me. Not this body.
In fact, I find that most of my thinking about food (especially pasta) exists within these arbitrary body rules that I’ve been tethered to for the entirety of my existence so that I can strive for simplicity — the tenants of being a good fatty (yes, a real term):
- If you’re fat, you can’t eat in public for fear of being judged, ridiculed, filmed, humiliated by your need to eat.
- But if you must eat in public, make sure it’s a healthy food item so others know you’re good.
- If you eat something bad, you must punish yourself and only eat good foods for your next meals.
As much as I would like to think that proudly living in a plus-size body has allowed me to build up a diet culture tolerance, this kind of thinking has permeated my brain since I was a child and has stayed with me into adulthood with every food choice being a moral debate. If I choose something bad, then I am bad and I have a bad body and I’m not actively trying to be good. And this kind of value currency is why plus-size people are often not given the same kind of healthcare treatments, aren’t given the same kind of career advancements, do not have the same kind of clothing options, do not have the same kind of salary offers, etc, etc, etc, all the etc.
Diet culture is a deeply palpable, toxic air that pollutes us and makes it harder to see through the smog when you’re constantly in it — as we are constantly in it. Even though I love being plus-size and adore what I have accomplished with this body, I still have to fight off these diet and fat body rules for myself all the time. I’m always reminding myself (read: my therapist is always reminding me) that if you exist in diet culture for most of your life, it won’t go away the moment you decide to actively not be at war with your body.
But pasta. It’s so simple. It represents this carefree life that I deeply want to exist in. A plus-size body, from my perspective, is not simple or carefree or any version of unencumbered. I think about the effort it takes for me to trust outside affection or attraction because I’ve been taught that this bad body isn’t something to deem as valuable. I think about my body of work as a grand representation of my non-laziness. I look at my closet filled with black clothes — not a pair of sweatpants in sight so I am never regarded as schlubby. I think about every time I had to tell my grandmother “no” to a plate of pasta because of some diet I was on just to one day reach a good body . . . a good fatty. I’m realizing they are one in the same.
And I hate it. I hate the fact that food is so complicated that it has made the most simple dish incredibly complicated, that being plus-size is so complicated that existing is a task.
As a teen, my grandmother spent her summers in Italy eating pasta, riding her bike, and laying on the beaches of Torre Annunziata. She learned to make pasta from her grandmother who also imparted the most beautiful wisdom on to her that I didn’t pay attention to as a teen because I was too caught up in my own inner turmoil about my body to listen.
But now I’m listening, and I deeply want some pasta — specifically pappardelle. I called my grandmother this morning. She was, in fact, making *gravy for pasta for the afternoon. I told her I loved her pasta and she said, “Pasta, especially fresh pasta, is what you serve the people you love because you want them to be fed and full.”
When I think about my life, I have to ask myself: Am I living by depriving myself of this cultural touchpoint? Will I be of sound mind and body to give up the one thing that has connected me to my family — especially in a time where family connection holds more meaning? No. I’m not okay with this. Instead of running away from pasta, I need to understand it and learn the simplicity on pasta’s terms — and asking my grandmother how to make the best dough.
On my call with grandma, she reminded me of some sage Italian advice I’m trying to soak up—some rules actually worth following:
- Pasta needs two ingredients to be good. People think they need to add on this or that to themselves to be good but all they need to do is show up like pasta does.
- The simpler the better. If it doesn’t stretch, it’s not clothing.
- A lot of people are crazy about judging other people’s looks, but that’s not good. I never gave my own beauty a second-thought. I was too busy playing basketball and spending time with my friends.
- Things like Covid come and go. Discrimination stays. We should treat everyone like a neighbor.
- Eat in your home, dance in the streets.
While not all about pasta, or even food, I’m reminded of how simple things are and can be if willing to give myself the unconditional permission to eat and live simply by dropping all of these arbitrary rules about good and bad. Food is food. Pasta is pasta. People are people. Bodies are bodies. It’s that simple.
*Gravy is the word used to speak about tomato sauce or marinara. I don’t believe I understood that gravy meant a completely different sauce until I was in my teens.
Laura Delarato is a very cool weirdo with 11 tattoos, an extensive art supply collection, and an obsession with the 90s. In her 9-5 life, Laura is a creative director at Vox Media working on the Vox Creative team; building some amazing branded content projects! In her 5-9 life, she spends her time writing her newsletter 1-800-HEYLAURA, being the CEO of red lipstick, and writing her upcoming book out in 2022 for Chronicle Books. Follow her on Instagram where she creates content on inclusivity, personal wellness, representation, and self-love.
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