TLJConnects: Of relationships around food
A conversation on how food facilitates friendship— with oneself and with others
TLJ + Revati Upadhya
As a regular follower of the blog Haathitime, A noticed how food always seemed to find its way into writer Revati Upadhya’s daily logs. Intimately weaving together daily journaling with food-logging is a delicate art. A told V, and quickly, in our different corners of the world, Haathitime became a bookmarked page on both our laptops.
Revati was one of the first people that came to mind as we began working on this last edition of 2018. Through most of the year, A’s relationship with food changed: What was once a go-to comfort food had become a strict no-no, sugars were ingested only after careful calculation. Most times, food wasn’t a source of joy, and was far from being a comfort. V had moved to a different country for the first time in her life, and food or even the sort of coffee she drank, had become a tie-back to community, even when consumed alone.
“Food always has been more than just a means of allaying hunger, or purely sustenance,” Revati told us over email. This echoes much of what is common, experiential knowledge, but further struck a chord with what both of us at TLJ experienced this past year.
“Food has helped me find myself more than once in my life, and it has formed a very relevant theme to most growth that I have experienced,” she added.
Once, as a part of a 4-member team that put together India’s first food blogging conference (“It sort of set the tone for monetizing food-blogging in India,” she says), Revati also ran Hungry & Excited, a popular food blog for six years, and a home baking business by the same name for two years in Goa.
“I didn’t have the will to monetize in the way most food-blogs were going, and so I shut it down in favour of focusing on writing, which was always my first love” Revati recalls. “But since I blog obsessively about the little and large things that happen in my life, it is but natural for a lot of food talk to spill over into words and find its place in my daily logs.”
We soaked in conversation with her to find out how, and how much, this happens.
How mindful has blogging made you about the sort of food that finds its way into your plate? We ask you this especially given the popularity of food-logs in fitness circles, which seems to be slightly tangential, or even contrary, to lifestyle food blogging sometimes.
I’ve been through many phases with regard to mindfulness about my food. For a long time in my life I was the excessively mindful, over-involved home cook who took great pleasure in making a production of every meal, making it a balanced and healthy as well as tasty affair.
But that enthusiasm did fade later in life when other interests took up more bandwidth – mental and physical. But I’ve always been also obsessed with fitness and health, and aware of the fact that 90% of that story lies in the kitchen and what I put in my plate. So, while I didn’t ever diet (till I tried something last year for the very first time in my life), I was always mindful about balance and moderation.
This is something I do even today. I wouldn’t say this is an outcome of maintaining a daily blog, but I do know that looking back on what I’ve written about food, this year particularly, has helped me see certain patterns I have and how my relationship with it has changed.
It’s interesting that you mention food-logs and “fitness circles” because the diet I mentioned was a result of connecting with a fitness instructor I followed and admired, on Instagram.
It was the first time I was considering anything like this and it made a very interesting experiment in psychology and self-development for me, as much as it impacted my body physically. While I had tremendous results physically—and I would recommend it to anyone looking for similar results—I became more aware of what it did to me mentally, and that in turn helped clarify a lot of unresolved feelings I had.
My relationship with food has come a long way since. I ditched the diet in a few months and in fact it spurred the start of a whole year of no exercise for me. This is where writing about food has helped me connect the dots, retrospectively.
I’ve been using my daily blogs as a gratitude journal of sorts, and very early on into this year of blogging every day, I realised that food featured pretty high up on the list of things I feel grateful for. Writing about it, and actually articulating it, has definitely helped me acknowledge my privilege as far as affording healthy, wholesome, good food goes.
How important a role does food play for you, in facilitating long and deep conversations? How different would interactions be if it weren't for the meal over which they had happened?
Early on, after moving to Bangalore, I cribbed about how eating out seemed to be the only medium through which to meet friends. I initially didn’t fancy the idea because my life in Goa facilitated a lot of other avenues.
Even when food and drink were involved, there was something much more personal and heartfelt about a potluck or having people over and cooking them a meal, which was usually my preferred means of interacting over food.
I think that was just me adjusting to the change. I don’t grudge it so much anymore.
Instead, I now see it as a good opportunity to find middle ground to meet friends who live far away, and a means to try every single new food-idea that’s being explored in a city like Bangalore that offers a formidable landscape as far as food goes. I find that I initiate meeting over food with likeminded people, either because we love a certain cuisine equally, or we’re both dying to try a new restaurant or have expressed the same desire or craving to eat something specific, or we have a common favourite that we love to frequent. So in that sense, food is crucial aspect to meeting said person. And the food we pick and eat is a very central part of that interaction and bonding.
I still prefer having people over than eating out, I find the intimacy of that and the act of cooking for people you love is unmatched, but I’m making my peace with the fact that things are different in big cities given how strapped for time we are.
Specifically, so much of my rediscovering my home town, Bengaluru, for the second time was about visiting old haunts, many of which were restaurants, cafes, ice-cream shops, darshinis and the like. So it had to be that this journey included food pretty prominently.
Have you made friendships that centre ONLY around food (cooking it, eating it, recipe-sharing, restaurant-recommending, etc?). How has this influenced your current life?
Yes, I’ve had these. Many sparked during my years as a food blogger. But just as many fizzled out once I quit food blogging. Even more once I quit social media.
But those that have remained continue to be strengthened by an authentic connection over food. I made friends with Anand (Magic Marinade) over a meal he cooked in my first kitchen, days after I had set it up, when I couldn’t even so much as boil a pot of water without messing it up. We’ve remained friends for over 8 years since and even though it may be sometimes infrequent, when we connect we still mostly talk about food, our respective experiments and excitement over something we’ve tried and discovered. These days it’s a lot about clean eating and exercise. Incidentally, he introduced me to and taught me how to bake my own bread and all my experiments go back to that first brush with yeast when we orchestrated a weekend of baking and cooking in my kitchen in Goa.
I connected with Archana (Five Morsels of Love) over her cookbook and a common love for simple, homegrown flavours and memories surrounding food. Even though it was initially virtual, the connection translated into a real-life friendship so smoothly because we bonded over food. We visit Koshy’s so often for our shared love of their fluffy eggs and thick cut white bread. She introduced me Jose Mess in Bangalore. And whenever we meet we discuss a lot of food – both homecooked as well as spots to try things in the city. We’ve even cooked lunch for each other, and sometimes sent over something that we’ve cooked that we’ve felt like sharing.
You've mentioned in one of your posts, of eating breakfast outside some days, especially on days of shoots. What are some of your best breakfast memories?
I started eating breakfast out at least once a week, as a ritual of sorts for myself, when I moved to Bangalore.
Sometimes I do it on the go when I was en-route to shoot or a meeting or some such. Sometimes it is a leisurely affair, either with a friend or all by myself. But most times it is something I do all by myself, carrying my journal or a book to catch up on reading and writing.I try to continue this ritual as a slot of time to give to myself.
Some of my favourites are:
CTR in Malleswaram for the benne (butter) dosa,
Koshy’s on St Marks Road for the omelettes and toast,
Soda Bottle Opener Wala on Lavelle Road for a more indulgent spread and excellent cold-brewed coffee,
Bharatiya Jalpaan on 100 ft Road when I want North Indian fare like matar puri or rich parathas and milky adrak chai.
Winter is undoubtedly my favourite time of year in Bangalore and I particularly obsess about catching breakfast out at this time of the year.
There's this beautiful post you've written about regaining your mojo as you eat happily again. When you turned away from food, you said, your spirits too had shrunk just as you had physically. How important and why is food to you in invoking a sense of 'well-being' and 'home'? When you say you're "finding new spaces for relationships around food," what exactly do you mean? Can you recall some incidents through 2018 that had cemented this notion in your mind?
This process of regaining my mojo with eating happily again is a part of a longer story of being happily me again, which has been my focus through 2017-18. Spiritually-speaking, 2017 was a year of shedding – of emotional baggage as much as of excess body fat – and I found that the more I was willing to let go of, the more it showed even on my body. It’s almost like that was the groundwork for what was to come in 2018, which has been all about filling myself up again. And regaining my mojo, free of the older beliefs about food and what it does to me, and how my body feels and looks as a result of it, has been a part of the effort to feel whole again.
This year has been about growth, and I like to think that I needed to eat freely and fuel that journey. I had to really fill-up. In so many ways I have been able to trace a pattern of rejection – of certain food groups, and of parts of my body – that I have worked hard to re-include and bring back into my being, which I find to be a much more balanced and healthy way of finding “well-being” and “home”.
The idea of being comfortable and at home in my body and with myself has triggered a lot of my self-development this year, so it was impossible to do it without examining my relationship with food, examining the beliefs and patterns of thinking that no longer serve me, and changing them to find new ones that do.
*This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
If you haven’t already found Revati Upadhya’s daily logs on Haathitime through the links in the piece, follow the blog here.