Food is an emotional business. You hear it all the time; scary tales of women who have gained 20lbs because of depression, scary tales of women who are nothing but bones after heartbreaks and every chocolate laced, pastry encrusted story in between.
One such woman is Marian from Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Stuck in a lover’s limbo, she finds she cannot stomach a lot of the food she once could, particularly meat. The question we must ask (being a vegan blog and all) is why does this happen? What is it about meat that especially that turns Marian off and how does it fit in with her emotional state?
Whilst out at a restaurant, Marian watches as her “half-eaten steak” becomes “a hunk of muscle.” She describes how “it was flesh and blood, rare, and she had been devouring it. Gorging herself on it.” What had once been natural to Marian, the eating of the steak, has now become an unnatural act because she identifies with the food on her plate, realising that it used to be “part of a real cow that once moved and ate and was killed.” Unlike the synthetic rice pudding she ate earlier, this steak once had a history, a life and felt pain. It is possible that Marian sees herself in the steak (strange, I know) as she is being treated as a lifeless form too, only existing for one purpose, to be a wife and mother. When Marian rejects the steak, she also rejects that version of herself.
As the book progresses, she continues to give food human characteristics. She talks about chicken and how “it came with an unpleasantly complete skeletal structure and [how] the skin…would be too much like an arm with goose bumps”. It’s not unusual that the first food Marian rejects is meat- it is the most primal of food sources. Confronted with meat, Marian cannot hide. She is reminded of her real emotions and wants to disassociate from them. The truth is easier to hide in puddings and stews. In fact, Marian does exactly this at Trevor’s dinner party. She “scrape[s] most of the sauce from one of the hunks of meat…and tossed it over the candles”. The meat represents her unadulterated emotions and the domestic version of herself. I argue that, here, she is rejecting them both. She doesn’t want to get married but she doesn’t want to admit that to herself. She cannot stomach the raw truth.