The Perception of Food: A fictional short story

A short story about a young woman's recovery from a eating disorder as she writes letters to her mother while away. 

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I tried writing diary entries like the psychiatrist suggested, but they felt weirdly impersonal and I couldn’t really get into it. So, instead, I’m going to write my letters to you.

It’s my second day out here with Aunt Sophie and Uncle Bill. I met all my cousins last night. Anne and Jack live on a different farm close by, but come eat dinner out here anyway. Melissa, John and Tim all live here in the house with me and work with Uncle Bill in the farm every day. Everyone seems really nice so far, although Melissa did make a few comments about me being “a city girl” when I didn’t work in the field with the rest of them.

Is it weird for me to miss the hospital? At least there I knew I had people around me that could help me if I needed it. Out here I feel completely on my own, and that scares me more than you know. I get that the doctor said I was ready to leave, but I’m not so sure. If I’m not in the hospital, I’d at least want to be at home with you and dad. Are you really that afraid I’ll fall back into old habits if I’m at home? It will be just as hard here. A part of me thinks this is your idea of a sick punishment for me not choosing what colleges to apply to next year. I’ll try and take this time to think about my future, I promise. I just need to take it day by day first.

I miss you already, even though I’m still a little angry you sent me here in the first place.

I’ll see you soon, I hope.


Hey Mom,

Something happened at dinner today. Melissa saw the way I only finish half my meals. She called me out for it in front of everyone. She demanded I finish my entire plate. I refused to look her in the eye and just shook my head. This must have angered Melissa, because she stood up and started screaming at me that I was “harming myself” and I needed to “stop being so stubborn”. I was shaking in my seat. I didn’t know what to do. I got up from my chair and ran out of the room. I went on to the front porch and leaned against the house, trying to catch my breath and slow my heartbeat. Though only two years younger than me, Melissa is so loud and without a filter all. I wonder if this was her idea of trying to help. It didn’t. At all.

I promised you I’d be eating and I have been, but it’s still hard for me to look at my plate and enjoy the idea of finishing it.

Aunt Sophie just had a talk with me and apologized for Melissa. She says she’s been watching me at dinner for a while. She said: “I know you’re eating sweetheart, and I’m so proud of you for it. But the way you look at food… its like you see it as an inconvenience or a chore. That’s not what food is supposed to be. Growing it, cooking it and eating it brings people together. It’s something you should enjoy.”

I can’t stop thinking about her words. Sophie doesn’t understand that I can’t just flick a switch and be normal. I get that I should be excited to eat, I get that. But I’m just not. I’m not sure that’s something I can change. I want to tell her what I’m thinking, but at the same time I don’t at all. I don’t know how much I can reveal to her, or anyone else.

Sophie suggested I start working in the farm with the rest of the family throughout the days. Maybe having some say in how the food is grown and handled from the beginning will make it easier for me. I hope she’s right.

Talk to you soon, I’ll let you know how it all goes.



Hi mom,

I’m going to explain to you a few things I’ve learned as a result of being here.

Apparently since the farm is in Nova Scotia, we are responsible for poultry and some veggies. When I asked if we would be slaughtering any pigs or cows, all the cousins laughed at me. Apparently, this “isn’t Alberta”. We also grow things like cherries, cranberries, blueberries, pepper, potatoes and onions. We grow more but those were just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. Bill sometimes leaves all of us in the field so he can go into the city for his other part time job in the mail office.

So far, since being here, I have learned how to feed chickens, check the hens for eggs (that are weirdly warm, why are they so warm?), and milk a cow. I also have been responsible for fertilizing our crops, and checking to see if certain vegetables are ready to pull. After we finish gathering all the food, Uncle Bill handles selling it to the distributors who then supply it in the local markets. He does keep some food for the family though, saying that the best food is grown right at home. Come to think of it, him and Sophie don’t buy very much from the market at all.

You want to know what I also learned as a result of being here?

I suck. At everything.

You might say, “Lauren, I think you’re being a bit of over dramatic.” To that, I would say, “No mother, I’m just being realistic.” Uncle Bill literally cringes every time I walk onto the field. My cousins all give me a look of sympathy.

My second day working, I took all the eggs out of the coup and put them gently into a basket I had sitting on a box beside me. I only had one cage left to check for the eggs. The hen in this cage I had fondly named Edna, because for some reason she reminded me of my grandmother. I smiled at Edna, and she decided that this was a great moment to full on lunge at me. I screamed and jumped back, hitting the box with my foot and knocking the basket of eggs upside down. I rushed over to see most of the eggs had broken. I started to frantically clean the mess when I heard a squawk behind me.

I turned around to find Edna staring up at me smugly. I realized in my panic, I had forgotten to close the door to her cage. We stared each other down for a few seconds, until she squawked again and made a beeline for the barn door. I ran past her and closed it, but she was still moving around the barn. All the other hens were now squawking as I chased Edna around the barn trying to get her to go back in her cage. At this moment uncle Bill walked in, and both Edna and I stopped. He began to laugh and told me to go to dinner. I wish I could tell you that I’ve never been more humiliated, but it gets worse.

Today was the last straw. I was milking the cows and Melissa was poking her head into the barn yelling at me to hurry up. I didn’t want to hurt the cow though, so I figured I could go slowly with the milking if I ran the bucket to her when I was done. When I finished, I grabbed the milk and started to jog to the door. I had just left the barn when I felt my foot step on something, which I would later find out was a shovel, and begin to slide sideways. My feet went over my head and I flew to the right, directly into a pile of manure that Uncle Bill had so kindly left there earlier. To top it all off the milk bucket went flying and it’s contents landed directly on my head, like the topping of a really disgusting chocolate latte. I vowed to never drink them again when I got back to the city.

I stomped toward the house sobbing. I heard Uncle Bill yell my name, and turned around to be faced with a spray of water from the hose. Apparently I can’t track manure in the house.

I feel so helpless, mom. I thought if I could do this, if I could control how the food was grown it wouldn’t be so hard to eat it. The whole point of working out in the fields was to help me regain some strength in my perception of food in general, but it didn’t work at all. No one here understands that I can’t see eating the same way everyone else does. Every single thing on my plate at dinner time seems to scream at me not to touch it. I lived so long with food as my enemy, the thing standing in the way of me looking how I wanted to, to be the kind of person I wanted to be. If I’m being honest, it absolutely terrifies me.

I don’t know whether to ask Sophie if I can stop working in the field. She’s been so kind to me. She seems so happy at the thought of me getting better, I don’t want to disappoint her.

I’ll decide tomorrow. Sweet dreams.



Hi Mom!

I told Sophie about quitting farming. She actually didn’t seem surprised at all, although I think that may have had something to do with Uncle Bill filling her in on the manure pile incident. In any case, she asked me if I wanted to make dinner with her instead of working in the field.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I honestly didn’t know how much more failure I could take. And then I remembered there was no internet so there was nothing else to do anyway.

Sophie told me we were making a chicken stew, which is something she doesn’t make a lot but she thought it would be the perfect dish to start me on. She had me chopping yams, potatoes, carrots and all other vegetables as well as washing the meat. Sophie told me she was just going to give me instructions, but I was going to make it all on my own. At one point Sophie handed me a piece of a freshly chopped and washed carrot and told me to eat it. Apparently the number one thing a cook has to do is taste their food as they make it. I put it in my mouth a little reluctantly but was surprised at how good and fresh it was. I’d had dinner here before and it obviously wasn’t my first time eating a carrot, but up until this point I’d never bitten into something with the intention of actually tasting it. It had been so long since I’d let myself enjoy food, I’d forgotten what it was like.

After that, we cut the chicken into cubes and seasoned it a little bit. We put it in a pot with tomato sauce and water for a couple hours, before we added our vegetables. Another hour later and Uncle Bill and all my cousins were coming in from the field, just in time for the stew to be served.

Everyone began eating immediately as soon as we set the table. Melissa broke the silence, saying that this was the best stew Sophie had ever made.

“I didn’t make it. Lauren did,” Sophie said with a smile. At that Melissa’s face dropped. Uncle Bill laughed and patted me on the back.

Tonight I ate a little more than usual, maybe a quarter of the food was still left on my plate. I saw Melissa notice, but she didn’t say a thing.

I’m really starting to get excited about cooking, mom. There’s so many things I want to try. I already have suggestions for ways Sophie could alter the stew recipe. I can’t wait to see what we make tomorrow. I feel lighter today. For the first time I actually feel hopeful about feeling like myself again.

I can’t wait to see you and tell you all about this in person.



Hey Mom,

I know you’re coming to get me tomorrow, which means I probably don’t need to be writing this at all. This letter is more for me than you though, and I’m going to send it even though you won’t get it until we are both back home.

Sophie and I have grown so close in just a month, I can’t even believe it. Turns out chopping vegetables and putting things in the oven can really bring two people together. Bill never fails to make me laugh and my cousins are all amazing, even Melissa. Well, most of the time. I’ll admit that it took me a couple days, but I’ve really enjoyed being here. I’m actually going to miss this place. It healed me in so many ways, and I’m already planning our next visit.

I’m not saying I’m completely better, and I know I’ve got a long way to go. I’m going to struggle with this every day. The thing is, I’m more ready than I’ve ever been to fight. Eating and food in general has always been a weakness for me, but I want to turn it into a strength. I won’t lie to you and say that my fear is completely gone when I look at food, but it’s not the same anymore. Not only has the fear dulled, but I also feel inspired. There are so many possibilities with any ingredient to make something beautiful, amazing and delicious. Having the power to do that makes me feel like I have the control I wanted so badly of the thing that scared me most. Food no longer stands in the way of me becoming who I want to be. I think it may actually be the key to getting me there.

I don’t want to get too cheesy here, so I’ll keep it short. I want you to know how much I appreciate you being there for me every day. I know I don’t tell you very much how much you mean to me, but I love you so much. I know I put you through a lot for a minute there, and I don’t think you were trying to get rid of me by sending me here. I know you were doing what you thought was best, and as usual you were right. (I hope you keep this letter because you’re never going to hear me say that again). Seriously though, thank you. For just being my mom, and for everything else.

And just so you know, I’ve finally put some thought into my future. What do you think about culinary school?

Love always,



This story was the winning submission in the culinary fictional short story category of our 2018 Rising Awards.