Food and Family with Candace Walsh

Candace Walsh opens up about food, politics, sexy chefs, and culinary birthrights.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

October 09 2012 3:00 AM ET

In your book you discuss your complicated relationship with food. Can you tell us more about what made that relationship complicated for you?
As a little girl, I was basically told to clean my plate. That’s complicated because you’re not listening to what your body wants. It has to do with authority and the people you love most in the world telling you … how to nourish yourself. And it’s out of your hands. It’s plopped on your plate and you’re told you must finish it.

But it’s kind of a violent thing, because you don’t have a choice about how much to eat, what you want to eat, and it’s wrapped up in approval and punishment. So that was complicated as an early lesson, and I had to unlearn it.

My grandmother, who’s Cuban, she’s passed away now, but she would come to visit, and she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish to me. I actually didn’t know the Spanish word for Grandma until I was in junior high. And she was also not allowed to make Spanish food. But she would make Spanish food and say, “Oh, that’s just chicken and rice.” Or, “That’s just beef stew.” So there was this closeting of my Hispanic heritage that I was absorbing at a young age. I know that both my parents have evolved a lot. My mom probably felt awkward about being Hispanic and Greek, and marrying into an Irish and German family … So that also made food complicated to me. Certain cultural food, that was pretty much my birthright, was wrong, denied. So I’m getting disenfranchised from myself and what my appetites are. Not really feeling secure about trusting my gut.

I had not thought of  “clean your plate” being a violent dichotomy, but that totally makes sense.
Because of that, I have guidelines, but I’ll say [to my kids], “You have to take two bites of the greens.” Maybe I went a teeny bit the opposite direction. But I give them lots of choices, healthy options, because I really didn’t want to do that to them.

If you give kids healthy options, offering those provides them some agency.
Definitely, and also just saying, “Hey, you need this to grow, but which one do you want?”

Anything else you’d like to add?
When Laura and I got married, we appeared in the New York Times Vows column, and they ran it with our picture. Our wedding vows included quotes from the two senators who were the deciding votes for marriage equality in New York. And then another friend of mine who is getting gay-married asked me to send my vows over [to her]. So, yes, the personal really, really, is political. If politicians don’t support us, then we can’t get personally married. So, thank you!

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