Queen

Over the weekend, my mum and I took ourselves to see Nigella Lawson in conversation with Gary Mehigan. We were sitting in the first few rows which meant that we would have been within spitting distance of the Domestic Goddess if she were the spitting type. She is not.

Anyone who knows me would be aware that I have a massive crush on Nigella. I love everything about her and, truth be told, I want to be her, or be best friends with her. It’s tragic, but I’m owning it. I fell in love with her because of the way she talks about food with such abandon and passion. I completely understand getting excited at a farmers’ market when it’s suddenly cherry season, or when beautiful fresh asparagus spears are readily available in the supermarket at the start of spring. I get the idea of swooning at the smell and delightful crunch of the crust of a freshly-baked loaf of sourdough, and the desire to immediately slather it in slabs of salted butter.

Her recipe books on the shelf in our kitchen are well used, dog-eared and splattered with whatever ingredients a recipe calls for – the sign of a book that is frequently used and much loved. Her recipes are simple, always turn out as she promises and inevitably taste delicious. Plus, the little blurb she writes to introduce each recipe is always so eloquent and evocative that I can almost taste what I am about to create.

In recent years, I have really come to appreciate that Nigella has stuck to her guns as a food writer and cook, and not swayed into the world of wellness or pseudo-science dietetics. It would be very easy for her to have done that – she would make a killing! After all, who wouldn’t follow – and buy – everything she said if there was a promise of becoming just like Nigella?! She has remained honest to simply cooking food that is unpretentious, delicious and laden with all the things that make food taste good.

On Saturday night, Nigella’s commitment to enjoying food and seeing it as something to be celebrated was clear. She spoke about how food can trigger memories and be the thing that brings family and friends together. She told stories of family recipes and reminisced about where they came from. She spoke of her love of wooden spoons and the stories they can tell.

When asked about introducing a wide-variety of foods to kids she didn’t shame people into insisting they do anything other than do what works for them and their family. She didn’t suggest giving babies bone broth, or telling us that if our children were not eating foie gras and oysters au natural by their first birthday, we were failing them.

Someone asked an innocent enough question about what foods she likes to sneak as a midnight snack (referencing the little clip that ended as number of her TV episodes), and her response was that she doesn’t sneak anything. Food isn’t something that she believes we should feel guilty about and sneaking implies guiltily hiding away what we are doing.

Nigella knows her place is in the kitchen (because that is where she wants to be) and not in the health food aisles of the supermarket, and this is a pleasant and welcome change from the direction that so many others working in food have taken. I am so sick of celebrity cooks and chefs thinking that they are quasi-dietitians and have the right or expertise to tell us what to eat – or what not to eat.

And even more so, I am beyond over Instagram ‘influencers’ and wellness charlatans using words that make food something that sends us to hour-long confessions with the food gods.

Nigella specifically mentioned the term ‘clean food’ and why she doesn’t like it and I may have cheered along. It doesn’t surprise me that someone with as much of an affection for words as Nigella would take issue with language being used to shame the very thing she loves. I was reminded of this post I wrote back in 2014 the other day as I walked by a café near work claiming to serve ‘honest food’. I’ve been perplexed since I saw it and wondering what the hell dishonest food is.

So many people with diabetes have a fraught relationship with food. For some, it is a battle and involves hiding what they are eating, or lying about it. Having to consider and count carbs or fat can give us a distorted view of what we are eating. Our weight is scrutinised, our diets analysed. We are told to restrict certain things. Eating disorders and disordered eating are common and yet so under-researched and not understood.

So, hearing someone speak about food for what it is – a delight, something to be enjoyed, a pleasure, an excuse to spend time with loved ones, a way to nourish our bodies and souls – can put back some perspective. That’s what we got when Nigella spoke.

Before seeing her on Saturday night, I thought it wasn’t possible to love her any more that I already did. Turns out I was wrong. Because as long as she continues to celebrate food and rejoice in it, I will continue to be a groupie.

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