I have just begun reading Caroline Knapp’s national bestseller Appetites – a memoir that taps into what women truly hunger for when they starve themselves – and page 3 introduced me to a topic I’d like to talk about: cottage cheese.
Cottage cheese, of course, is the food God developed specifically to torture women, to make them keen with yearning. Picture it on a plate, lumpy and bland atop a limp lettuce leaf and half a canned peach. Consider the taste and feel of it: wet, bitter little curds. Now compare it to the real thing: a thick, oozing slab of brie, or a dense and silky smear of cream cheese. Cottage cheese is one of our culture’s most visible symbols of self-denial; marketed honestly, it would appear in dairy cases with warning labels: THIS SUBSTANCE IS SELF-PUNITIVE; INGEST WITH CAUTION.
Like many dieters, Knapp ate cottage cheese for one reason: to reshape her body. Cottage cheese, after all, is high in protein and relatively low in fat (sometimes even fat-free, though I strongly discourage tasting that version), which also makes it popular among health food devotees, bodybuilders, and runners.
Although the point of this post is to show that not all low-fat foods are silly, by which I mean that they don’t only exist because they’re slimming, admittedly, I introduced myself to cottage cheese because of its encouraging nutritional values; up to about two years ago, taste had taken a back seat in my life.
Initially, I hated the stuff. It was fishy and weird-looking. My fear of fatness, however, kept me in the game: spoonful after spoonful passed through my gullet only because my jeans advocated it. I learned that if I didn’t look at cottage cheese too closely, it was easily granted access to my stomach, but once I thought about what I was eating – and I mean really thought about what it looked like – my body would put up its cottage cheese barricades.
Then things changed.
Cottage cheese is now a pleasurable staple in my diet: I’ll include it in breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, and I’ll even have it multiple times a day. Yes, I like it because it is a great meat-replacement, but more than that, I like it for its bite and creaminess.
For such a simple food, cottage cheese has a complexity that meets my every need when I’m hungry: the tang pleases my taste buds (you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about if you have tried Nancy’s brand) and the protein eases my empty stomach. Do I eat the full-fat stuff? No. Does this mean I am acting in the name of anorexia? Hell no. Reduced fat cottage cheese should not be directly associated with dieting, and I find it troubling that some foods have been pinned as eating disordered; all food nourishes the body and/or soul in some way, so if you genuinely enjoy peanut butter with your pickles, go for it, and if you like rice cakes, have at ’em. All that matters in this world of cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and egg whites, is that one consumes enough to be physically and mentally healthy.
Even Jamie Oliver, a phenomenon in the world of food, shows that cottage cheese isn’t all bleugh; while it can rudely bump ricotta out the way to make a lighter lasagna – I say rudely because I’m somewhat of a traditionalist – it can also stand proud as a delicious dressing:
The moral is that cottage cheese is not torturous. Sure, if you eat it on a limp lettuce leaf, like Caroline Knapp did, you’ll think it’s bland and miserable, but that doesn’t mean it should be cast as a monsterly diet food. Following Knapp’s lead, one could argue that cottage cheese has nothing on the real deal (i.e., “an oozing slab of brie”), but the reality is they’re incomparable; yes, they’re both a member of the cheese family, but they have totally different functions, and they should be appreciated for what they individually bring to the table (note: this notion of individuality can and should be applied to humans, too).
Knapp’s argument that cottage cheese is devilish is only justifiable when talking about intent: cottage cheese is irrefutably torturous to eat when one forces it down due to obligation versus pleasure. Like anything, once want is trumped by should, pleasure falls to the wayside, leaving one powerless and, accordingly, bitter. For this reason, it is imperative to recognize that, as aforementioned, “diet” foods are only pooh-poohable when one eats them indignantly.
Life is too short to voluntarily make oneself suffer in the name of self-image, so if cottage cheese just doesn’t float your boat, don’t make yourself eat it. Tapping into intent – do I really like this, or am I just eating it because it’s healthful – and then following through with desire, are incredibly freeing when it comes to making food choices.
And remember, you can always top your brie off with a dollop of cottage cheese.
What do you think about cottage cheese? Did God develop it specifically to torture women?
How do “diet” foods make you feel emotionally?