SHEILA'S WORKDAY: Taste-testing french fries at seven restaurants.
On a postcard-perfect June afternoon, green hills going gold, I am driving around Silicon Valley to sample french fries. It is my job. In another universe, my daughter, Lisa, records each bite she takes in her Blood Glucose Diary, a booklet from her nutritionist. She is frantic about veering from anorexia to binge eating. We don't understand each other at all.
As the restaurant critic of the San Jose Mercury News, I had noticed french fries popping up on high-end menus, many more than the three instances needed to call it a trend. Was it merely another cheap thrill that posh restaurants could overcharge for, or were these frites really that much better than at McDonald's? After all, no less an authority than James Beard, the dear leader of foodies everywhere, had approved of McDonald's fries.
Food reporting's serious aspects concern safety, fraud, and consumer protection, but this story was just fun. It was also an escape. While I was out judging America's favorite vegetable for flavor, texture, and price, my daughter was home, starving herself.
Lisa spent much of her nineteenth year in her room, like a child being punished. Her struggles with anorexia and bulimia had become apparent two years earlier, in 2001, starting with an interest in diet, nutrition, and exercise that was healthful before going very wrong.
Lisa grew up with a lusty appreciation of food. My husband, Ned, is an excellent cook. When we get together with friends, it's in a kitchen or a restaurant. Our vacations are food pilgrimages. Food to us is home, health, family, fantasy, entertainment, education, and employment. Heart disease in the family, yes. Anorexia, never. And bulimia? What was that?
We had experienced none of the common triggers often associated with eating disorders: divorce, death, job loss, sexual abuse. As for the anorexic family stereotype—domineering mother, distant father, perfectionist daughter—um, no. We come closer to the opposite—quietly supportive mother, loving father who cries easily, creatively disorganized daughter. We forced the kids to visit distant relatives and to write thank-you notes, but when they tired of piano lessons and soccer we didn't argue about jeopardizing Ivy League prospects.