If Life Was a Food Fight

My critical eye takes in my form in the long oak-framed mirror as I tuck the billowy white top into my jeans.

On principle, I don’t wear white. “White” is my lunch, make-up, and pit stains on display for the world to see. It’s impracticality, stamped with an expiration date.

I’m not a clean enough person for white, and yet, here I am, basically dressing myself in a drop cloth to catch all of my human mishaps and mistakes. Because it was on sale. Because I put it on and felt that effortless kind of beautiful—something that has proven to be elusive in the ups and downs of the weight journey that is Life in Quarantine.

Smoothing the shirt yet again, I drop my hands and shrug my shoulders. “It will be fun while it lasts.”

I’ve decided there are three kinds of people in this world—those known for making stains, those known for hiding them, and those who are known for wearing them. I’m talking deeper than just our clothes; I’m talking about the ways we show up in the world.

In the food fight that is life, somewhere and somehow, we all choose a team we’re going to play for. Perhaps some of us feel that team is chosen for us.

In my observation, the teams work thus:

The Stain Makers. They look at life—its injustices, hypocrisies, risks, and beauties—spin off the lid of a jar of Smuckers raspberry jelly and hurl that bright, glorious liquid in whatever direction feels most true. They say honest, uncomfortable things while passing the rolls around the dinner table. They lead protests. They snub systems. They dance in parades. Often, they are renegades, but when they find each other, they strike bonds of fierce loyalty. Usually, their brashness leaves those around them believing they are untouchable, even though, if people stop for just a moment, they will notice plenty of stains on the Stain Makers’ shirts too.

The Stainless. They make meaning of chaos. As a group, they are prone to nostalgia, rituals, and traditions. Mostly, their energy stems from the belief in something beyond food fighting. Some of them recall a simpler time before food fighting, whether or not that time ever actually existed. At their core, they long to draw everyone back to the table, and they seek to inspire those around them to come and take a seat. They believe in welcoming everyone, but they probably have some qualifiers about what kind of behavior is expected once they welcome you. The Stainless don black shirts—elegant, efficient, and seemingly unstainable—and they remake the world. They carry hope for kindness and connection, using their stories to remind everyone of what is good and possible. However, they also struggle with denial and deceit because somedays the Stainless still throw food, and they are afraid of what everyone else would think of them if the truth got out.

The People in White. This team is smaller, and no one starts on it. People in White are tired and wounded. In fact, that is how they found their way to this team. Former Stain Makers grew tired of feeling defensive and watchful all the time; they hated getting demonized for pointing out the world’s brokenness and felt ashamed of when they themselves caused harm in pursuit of truth. The former Stainless grew tired of farce, working for a good world while letting falsehoods fester under the surface. Among the People in White everyone throws food less and tells others less often to stop throwing food.

Here, everyone wears a lot of stains. As far as I can tell, People in White are still passionate about the very same things that made them Stain Makers and Stainless. The difference is that People in White refuse to harm others or prop up systems for the sake of their passions. Instead, they spend their time seeking out the wounded. When People in White enter the food fight, they take hits from fiery Stain Makers and bear the lectures of the righteous Stainless, pushing through until they find a hand grasping from under a mountain of food. Then, they dig the one who is hurting out and invite them to leave the Food Fight.

Leaving the food fight isn’t about winning or losing, and it isn’t about judgment. It’s about embracing one another with kindness and curiosity; it’s about apologizing when we cause harm; it’s about respecting the stories that have shaped each of us. Ultimately, it’s about redefining our relationships with food, tables, and each other.

Redefining the way the world works is rarely easy. I’ve noticed in my culture People in White are typically labelled as weak and faithless. They are those who left the community, who told the truth about their addictions, who stopped engaging in the systems that keep the Food Fight going or try to shut the Food Fight down. Because People in White are for the people right in front of them who are bleeding. They think nothing else is more important. And we hate them for it.

I already told you, I don’t wear white. Not in my real life and not in life’s Food Fight. I’m hard wired to thrive on Team Stainless—achievement, storytelling, rituals, rules, and traditions make life feel safe to me. And as a person of privilege, I have often found comfort in my world’s institutions: a blend of church, school, government, and society all built for me.

More and more, I’m finding I have this nagging sensation that I’ve been focused on all the wrong things.

So here I go, basically dressing myself in a drop cloth to catch all of my human mishaps and mistakes. I smooth this new and unknown shirt, drop my hands, and turn back towards the Food Fight, fully aware I’m signing up to get eaten alive.“It will be fun while it lasts.”

Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world.  She’s a 31 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day.  For now, she shares her thoughts here.