I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the problems in the eating disorders system. I know, what else is new. I thought about structuring this blog post as a list of things that I think could be changed, but I think I’ll save that for an upcoming solicited blog post for the Gurze catalog (so stay tuned). Instead, I want to focus on grasshopper pie.
Yes, you heard me.
I’m using this pie as a metaphor (I do that).
The pie, it turns out, is a metaphor for my PhD.
This pie is one of Christina Tosi’s notoriously difficult and multi-step recipes from Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. It’s one of the entry-level recipes, I would say, given that it only involves combining 3 recipes and no pre-recipe prep; you can make the whole thing in about 2 hours.
I’m a practiced baker. Baking is something that, for me, works out 90% of the time. We won’t talk about that 10%. I haven’t been intimidated by much in the kitchen, unless you’re referring to eating the end product, which is a different story entirely. Baking is comfort, and always has been, comforting for me. I learned the craft through measuring flour next to my mother in the kitchen at age 4.
I’m also a practiced student. I’ve been in university for ten, going on eleven, years. This is a drop in the bucket compared to longstanding academic careers, of course, but I know my way around a journal article. I also have the social capital to negotiate the (arguably) increasingly bureaucratic institution that is the university. I learned the craft through dancing around a lab with my father, a university professor in biomedical science, at age 4.
All of this is to say that I’ve been groomed to undertake both complicated pies and PhDs.
So far, it sounds like I’m boasting about my prowess in the kitchen and the world of academia. If only that were the case. For whatever reason, I come to fixate on the 10% of the time that things don’t work out, and forget about the successes. I come to fixate on the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and forget about the times when someone has told me that my creations tasted amazing or participating in my research was cathartic and healing.
“Whatever reason,” I think, might also be the fact that I don’t really bake, or do my research, for me. Baking, writing, research, talking to people… these are things I love to do because they connect me. Frankly, I don’t even really like pie, but I make pie because I love to feed people; it feels like love. Research and writing are arguably a little more selfish; I get a lot out of these things on a personal level, ranging from a feeling of satisfaction in coming up with a model of understanding to making new friends to, ultimately, getting a few more letters after my name.
But those letters don’t mean anything to me if the people I do this research with don’t feel represented in my work or if the work ends up sitting on a self, insights ensconced in 270 pages of theoretical framing. I feel the need to leverage what I’ve learned to make radical change. To fundamentally challenge those systemic issues I alluded to at the beginning of the post and that I will continue to be loud about. I want people to listen to lived experience, and it would seem that for now, a way to do this is to share lived experience through research.
A pie is just a pie until it is enjoyed.
Pies and PhDs are challenging. They are isolating and they are also connecting. They sometimes leave me crying on the kitchen floor, and other times dancing in the living room. They sometimes make me friends and other times leave me cringing when met with refrains like “you made me break my diet!” (good) or “my eating disorder is that I can’t stop eating” (if you are struggling with binge eating, I hear you, and I support you in seeking the help you deserve).
What I’m trying to relish, in both my baking and my PhD, is the glory in the mistakes, the imperfections, and the quirks. Because if—truly—my allegiances lie with the connections and systemic changes my pursuits create, these things are what makes all of it real.