THANK YOU AND SHUT UP ABOUT MY FOOD
By: Lauren Anderson
Thanksgiving is two days away, which means all my out-of-town friends are rolling back in. I love this time of year for that reason! But before they get swallowed up in the family and the holidays, I like to squeak out a little friend time first if I can. I get a text from my dear friend Danni who now lives in Texas, and turns out she’s in all week.
“Wanna get lunch on Monday?” she asked. “My mom will have the kids and I’ll have a car.” I don’t hesitate. “Yes please!” I respond. Only with about a jillion more exclamation points.
When Danni lived here, we used to live together. She’s exactly the type of ride-or-die friend that you want in your corner forever and always. Once we moved out from under the same roof, our schedules got insane. To put it too simply, she had kids and likes to sleep. I stay up late and work weekends. And so it goes, and so it goes…
But Danni was always really good at checking in every couple months for lunch. And because she is also always on the hunt for the best deal, we usually ended up eating wherever she had the best coupon.
I love this about her. And it led to us eating at some very fun places.
But the one we always ended up at the most was this chain-restaurant that that serves ribs and brisket and the like. I don’t think I have to clue anybody in on the fact that Minnesota is not exactly known for this type of cuisine. But it was always pretty good and it became one of our haunts.
So now when she comes back from Texas, land of the ribs and brisket, I feel guilty because there is pretty much only one place I want to go with her. She obliges.
“I’m sorry, but you already know where I wanna go.” I say.
“That’s okay. I only eat Mexican food at home anyway.” See what I mean? She GETS ME.
CUT TO LUNCH
We’re seated at a table in the overly-decorated theme-restaurant and going over the menu. Although it’s for show really, because we both know what we’re going to get. We almost always order the same thing. It’s this giant delicious salad with pulled pork and BBQ style dressing. It’s ridiculously large, and ridiculously good. And I love it.
I turn to Danni and say, “I’m extra hungry right now. If I get rib tips also, will you eat some?”
“Of course.” She answers. “I’m gonna get a side of fries too. Will you have some?”
“Uh, d’oy. Who you talking to?” I respond.
The server comes up. Let’s call them Trevor for easiness sake. Trevor greets us. “Hello Ladies, you ready to order?” Is the first thing out of their mouth.
Now I wanna talk about food today, so I’m not going to belabor this… but I have to say for the record:
I hate being gendered by strangers this way.
What was once considered polite, now feels out-dated and so, so presumptuous. And I have enough non-binary and trans friends to know that being mis-labeled all damn day can be an exhausting and harmful thing. That constant reminder can chip away at a person over time.
Why would you want to start an interaction at a theme restaurant potentially harming a person you are trying to help? When you can just as easily say, “Hello Folks! I’m Trevor. What can I get for you today?”
It is a small change that could make a big difference. Language reflects it’s culture but it can also AFFECT the culture, ya know? I mean, get with the times man!
But I digress…
I swallow the bother about being “Ladied” against my will, and I order first. I’m feeling particularly verbal this afternoon, so I go, “Well Trevor, I’ll start. I’d like an order of the rib tips–”
Trevor cuts me off and turns to Danni, “And for you?”
I interject. “Wait, hold on! I’m not done. I’d like the rib tips to start and then I’d also like the BBQ Salad.”
Trevor writes in their notepad and goes, “And I’m assuming you want the lunch portion.”
AND THE WORLD GOES BLACK FOR A SECOND
Trevor didn’t pose that as a question. Trevor assumed. Made a statement about what I wanted. It only took a millisecond, but my mind spiraled away from the table and from ordering into a deep swirl of quick and dirty awful thoughts. It went something like this:
Why would you assume that Trevor? Are you judging the amount of food I am about to eat? Are you making assumptions based on the size of my body? Are you policing me and my body?
Or are you making judgements based on the fact that you’ve already assumed that I am a lady, and ladies don’t eat as much? Or do you think ladies aren’t supposed to eat as much as I’ve ordered because we must stay small? Because in order to be good at my gender, I must stay quiet, stay small, and stay hungry?
Do I have to explain to you why I’m hungry Trevor? Do I have to get your approval to get a g-damn meal? Do I need to defend my lunch order to you Trevor? Who died and made you the gate-keeper of what I eat Trevor?!
And yet, why do I suddenly want to make an excuse for myself? Why do I feel the need to say “I actually weight-lift, and I’m tracking my macros and I need protein”. Trevor doesn’t need to know that! I don’t owe you an explanation! I don’t owe you sh!t! Why would you assume anything about me or my lunch?
What the F*CK DID YOU MEAN TO SAY TREVOR?!?!?
I regain consciousness. The Lauren that was pre-hard-work-on-body-mind-food-growth would’ve tried to shrink into my fashion scarf. I may have attempted a joke at my own expense. I may have even pivoted out of my order and let Trevor’s assumption rule my day, and my meal choice.
But that was the old me.
Instead, the new, fresh, and feeling verbal Lauren chimed in.
“Well you assumed incorrectly Trevor. Because I would like the dinner portion. And I would like my dressing on the side. Thank you.”
I’m pretty sure the tone of my ‘Thank you’ danced awfully close to sounding like a ‘F you’, but I’m gonna give myself a pass. Because I stayed civil. And I’m not trying to harsh on my server either. I know that’s a tough job. And I’ve got mad respect for industry people.
And yes, they often have a lot of info to assess in a very short period of time, while on their feet, dealing with people that may suck. And if that were me, I know I would make mistakes.
But probably not the same mistakes Trevor did.
Because I know how much it can hurt. And I’m certainly not asking anyone to know or intuit the deep-rooted ins-and-outs of my relationship with food and my body! I mean that’s insane! And that’s for me to figure out. Kinda like gender is for the individual to figure out.
But similar to being “Ladied” without knowledge of my actual gender identity, I was left feeling like:
THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY.
Here’s the kicker too–When it was Danni’s turn to order, Trevor made no assumption. And Danni also ordered the dinner portion. Did my server learn and adjust in the moment? Or did they make different assumptions based on the way Danni looked? We’ll never know.
But why the difference? And why the assumption in the first place? Why didn’t Trevor ASK what portion size I wanted instead?
The appetizers arrived without any ordeal, but when the salads came out Trevor put mine down first, and said, “One order with dressing on the side.” and then they put Danni’s down and said, “And one the right way.”
I laughed at Tevor’s insolence. I couldn’t believe this exchange. Then Trevor quickly followed up.
“I mean, er, the normal way.”
At this point I couldn’t help myself. I joked incredulously, “And who’s to say what’s normal Trevor?!”
C’MON TREV, LET’S BE FRIENDS
We ate our meal without further incident. And I even think Trevor appreciated my candor a little. Because later he asked if we would like, “Any more brown or clear liquid?” (Soda and water respectively.)
I left our meal forgiving Trevor for the small mis-steps, and wishing there was a better way to let them in on what just went down between us. Who knows? In a different world, we could be friends.
Imagine how good that might’ve felt if we could’ve had a brave conversation about it all? But that requires time and energy that we don’t always have the time and energy to give, ya know?
After lunch I couldn’t help think about this exchange. And the upcoming potential minefield that Thanksgiving can be for some people. My dad loves this holiday, because it’s easier than most. At it’s core, it’s basically about sharing a meal. The stakes are low.
But what if you are a person where sharing a meal makes the stakes very VERY high?
And often family doesn’t have to play by the same politeness rules that Trevor and I did. Because, I’m pretty sure Trevor wanted a tip (which I gave btw– 20 percent standard), and, I didn’t want any spit on my salad.
It got me thinking about time and energy again. Because I may not have capacity with Trevor at a restaurant, but I know I have more reason to try to be honest with my loved ones.
What would it look like at a Thanksgiving meal the next time a passive-aggressive Auntie Cheryl mentions “Really? Another helping of mashed potatoes?”
And instead of internalizing it, or feeling bad about it, or making a joke like I always do to deflect like, “Yup. Third times a charm.” I made a braver choice.
What if I ask a follow-up question like, “Did I detect a tone in your voice Auntie Cheryl?” Or, “Did you want some more as well?”
Or what if I just put it all out there and said, “I love that we’re both adults now Auntie Cheryl. Because we can decide for ourselves what goes into our own bodies.”
Or perhaps the most brave, the most authentic. “Yes. I am having another helping. Because I’m still hungry and these potatoes are delicious. I actually thought twice about it too, because I was afraid of what you might think. Or what you might say. And I don’t want to feel hurt on this holiday.”
DAMN. Can you imagine?
I betcha those questions and responses would sound pretty clunky coming out of my mouth. I bet my voice would shake a little too. Cause that’s often how it goes when I practice saying hard and true things for the first time. But the more I practice, the easier it gets.
Because every single time I’ve tried– even if it’s hard– I’ve been rewarded for my efforts.
Maybe next time Auntie Cheryl thinks twice about policing my meal. Or maybe I discover that she’s been battling an eating disorder for years herself! Who knows?!
My point is, things change if I let myself be more authentic.
I can become closer to people. Get a deeper understanding of where they’re coming from. I can let them see where I’m coming from too. No one is making assumptions, because we don’t need to. Because we’re willing to actually share.
That sharing is how I can grow. How we can grow.
And more often than not, we grow together.
With our hearts as full as our bellies.