When I was growing up, we believed in family dinners at my house. We all sat down, ate what was in front of us and were members of the “clean plate club.” This was a long-standing tradition in my family; my parents were members of the clean plate club just like their parents were member of the clean plate club. My mother describes her childhood dinners as “your basic farmers’ plate” of meat, potatoes, a piece of bread with jam, and lots of vegetables. My childhood dinners weren’t that different.
By the time I was in high school, every meal I sat down to at the dinner table made me sick. It wasn’t terrible, just uncomfortable. I found out that I had sensitivities to dairy, wheat, egg yolks, and red meat. That sounded like the whole menu to me, and so, overwhelmed, I ignored The List when I went to college a few months later.
By senior year of college most of my friends were vegetarian or vegan, and I decided to try eating pescetarian (no meat except fish). To no one’s surprise but my own, I felt better after only a couple of weeks. I had unwittingly cut from my diet all of the food that I wasn’t supposed to eat. I stopped eating food just because it was cheap or offered to me in the cafeteria or part of a family meal. I stopped trying to be a member of the clean plate club and became a member of the clean food club.
After undergrad I moved from Michigan to California to Mississippi to D.C. to Massachusetts, all inside of five years. It was hard to stick with my clean, whole, pescetarian diet while bouncing around the country. My new eating habits began to slide, and I ate items from The List again in favor of getting something in my stomach. I was back to the old rules of the clean plate club. After all, it wasn’t terrible, just uncomfortable.
There are many other people like me who have food issues and don’t know how to overcome them. While some people have severe food allergies, others walk a mile to their closest grocery store and literally struggle under the weight of putting food on their family’s table. I’ve seen these issues firsthand across the country, and I realized that I am interested in people’s relationship to food. We all have a unique relationship to food because we all eat, and if you’re anything like me, you try your best when it comes to feeding yourself and your family, but sometimes you fall short.
I am not writing from a place of knowledge but from a place of discovery. I’ve been trying to eat better for my body but there have still been times when I’ve felt as if I could do more: produce less waste, balance the unhealthy meals with healthy snacks. Through this blog, I am examining my own relationship to food, and I invite you to do the same in your home and community.
Alice Kathryn Richardson is a new media photojournalist based in Boston, MA. She created The Clean Food Club on May 1, 2016, and previously spent two years working on Deserts in the District, a series of short-form documentaries exploring food access and hunger in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter @AKR_Pictures.