I am a petite woman with some zaftig woman’s belly that has taken up residence in my body. I walk everywhere, work out at the Y three times a week using the weight machines and the elliptical, pedal my way from here to China on the stationary bike, and go to t’ai chi class each Tuesday. I have given up sweets (that box of Red Vines I devoured in two days was an aberration), am trying to hold myself to a couple of glasses of wine on the weekends only, eat more vegetarian meals than ones with meat, have been cutting down on salt (that bag of salt and vinegar potato chips I devoured in two days was an aberration), and yet that fat woman’s belly refuses to leave.
Bread is the problem, so why am I sitting here at Panera‘s? As if it weren’t enough to be accosted by rows of bagels, loaves of bread, and a variety of pastries as soon as I walk in the door, I’m confronted by four walls adorned with whimsical pictures where bread is the main feature. I see a cat whose body is a loaf of ciabatta. I’m staring at a Picasso-like painting of a woman holding a loaf of Italian bread. Actually, the way she’s lovingly holding the loaf in her arms, one end nestled against her breast, it looks like she’s nursing it. That is true devotion.
If I gave up bread, I think my big-bellied woman would leave me in disgust. But bread has been too much a part of my life to abandon it now. When I was growing up, my family would drive to New York City every other weekend, and my grandmother would greet us with a breakfast feast of lox and chubs, but bread was the king of the table: bagels of every kind, marble rye, and a loaf of golden challah. Bread was the star of the show. When my children were growing up, I made all the bread we ate, honey whole wheat, pumpernickel, raisin, and even an occasional loaf of challah. Every Christmas I would make whole wheat coffee cakes in the shape of wreaths, giving most of them away as presents, saving only one or two for Christmas morning.
Bread has been an important ingredient throughout literature. In fact, it is part of our cultural literacy. We call money “dough,” Jesus calls himself “the Bread of life,” and how empty it would sound if the poet had penned “a jug of wine and thou.” Bread is ingrained in my psyche and I can’t remove it without removing a slice of who I am.
I’m at a crossroads. I can have the svelte figure I desire and eschew my yeasty companions, or I can invite that fleshy-middled matron to take up permanent residence. What to do, what to do…Let me think about this over another cherry cheese Danish.