MOLD’s series Health. Food. examines narratives around food and healing. Particularly how food feeds into the ongoing maintenance of our bodies, communities, and the Earth.

About once a month I get a text from a dear friend of mine who we’ll call Karrine. The message always varies slightly, but the content remains the same — “You want McDonalds?”. You see Karrine and I have a particular ritual. It started one day some months ago and has embedded itself into our lives, becoming an event that we eagerly await. Once a month, Karrine comes by, nestles into my living room couch, and we order ourselves a salty, greasy, delicious meal. . 

Why do Karrine and I order McDonald’s? Simply because we love it. For her, a quarter pounder meal, no pickles or cheese; fries, no salt; and one regular cheeseburger. The drink order will change from time to time. For myself, also a quarter pounder meal, but with extra pickles and slivered onions; fries extra salt; two barbeque sauces; two buffalo sauces; and a Coke. When I’m feeling adventurous — an orange Fanta. We top it off with McFlurries, asking for extra crushed Oreos knowing that we’re taking a gamble on whether or not they’ll come with the extra Oreo.  These Mickey Dee escapades have come to mean the world to me. On many of these treasured occasions, it’s my only meal of the day. 

Some might ask how I, as a professional chef, could eat McDonald’s, especially when I have the tools to cook something nutritious and delicious for myself. The answer is, I cook for a living. Cooking for a living looks like pressure to stay creative while doing back-breaking labor. It looks like making every client feel like they’re the only client. It also looks like seeing how many gigs you can ethically fit into your calendar because it’s rare that a single job will cover your expenses for the month. I promise I love what I do, but at the end of the day, I’m caring for and nourishing others. That’s a labor that often remains invisible. As it stands, my love for food is intertwined in every way imaginable to my survival. Loving food keeps my bills paid and a roof over my head, in the face of  this demonic, astronomical housing crisis. It also pays for my anti-depressants, my debts, and my cat, Biscotti’s, raw cat food. So, when anxiety rears its ugly head and I’m immobilized with stress and waves of depression, the first thing on the chopping block is cooking.  This skill I love suddenly becomes a chore that I cannot bear to undertake. 

At the end of the day, I’m caring for and nourishing others. That’s a labor that often remains invisible.

It’s not a great feeling to be unable to nourish yourself, especially when cooking for self care has been so heavily romanticized — the act of cooking itself has come to symbolize a person who is put together and “functioning”.  Naturally, there’s a certain type of shame that comes with being the cook who cannot cook — especially when it seems to matter the most. That shame leads to silly, self soothing activities like burning through my money buying every nifty water bottle, acrylic snack drawer organizer and scented body wash Tik Tok tells me to.  It’s easy to buy in —  the idea of self care has been co-opted, rebranded, and sold right back to us. Any sense of self care as the radical political warfare that Audre Lorde imagined for herself and others, especially Black women, has been warped in a way  that speaks to the individualism and mass consumerism ingrained into our society. 

Self care as it stands tells me that I should wake up early, be productive, and think about what I can offer up for cultural consumption. Self care as it stands tells me that I do not love myself if I’m not making pretty meals from the pretty market produce I procured on my pretty market trip. I hate it. That’s why I love my monthly fast food sabbatical with my dear companion. Her showing up to my space gives me the permission to release myself from the idea that I have to care for myself alone. It’s a reminder that care cannot exist in a vacuum. Care relies on and can only really be sustained by community. I want to be in community with someone who prioritizes making sure I’m fed on a physical and emotional level. Sometimes, this does look like eating McDonald’s with someone you love and watching bottom barrel TV programs. Between us, we also create a special place to rest. We go deep and then ascend again to the surface to laugh about memes and flopped dates. She drags me for my Sagittarius nonsense and then I rest my head on her knee while she takes my braids down — not once flinching at my super dry scalp. In those moments, I am treasured and the sentiment extends far beyond the moment when the fries are gone, the Coke has turned into a watered down memory of soda and she’s fallen asleep on her designated right side of my couch. 

Yes, I’m a chef who eats McDonald’s. I’m also a chef who has learned, through layers of shame, and lack of self compassion, how to send up a flare showing my people where I am and what I need. When Karrine messages me, what I read is “ I love you, let me feed you”. When I tell her to come by, what I’m saying is “ I love me, let’s allow someone to take care of us”.