In the past few months, at least two new pie shops have opened in Charlottesville. There’s something about a good piece of pie, and everyone has their favorite. Or do they? Is cherry better than apple better than blueberry better than key lime? Oh, better than pumpkin?? I had to make a decision today at Quality Pie.
This pie shop’s selection includes the basics. I looked in the glass case and asked the nice young man to tell me about the cherry pie. “Bing cherries,” he said, “that’s all I know.” Okay, fair enough. I like bing cherries. How about the crust? “All butter,” he said, “unless it’s for one of the savory pies. Then I think they use lard.” All butter works for me.
Their prices were decent too.
I make pie myself. I love to make pie. But when cherries come into season, I do not think of making a pie with them because they are so good all by themselves. So, yes, the cherry pie called my name. It was wonderful. Hat’s off to the baker at Quality Pie.
One bite into my very delicious piece of pie, I remembered another piece – half a piece – that made a great impression on me. This half piece came from a pie I made myself when I was still in college at Rutgers University (Douglass College back then, a part of Rutgers). I was living in a small apartment and invited a friend to come for dinner. I don’t remember what I made for the main part of the meal, but for dessert there was pie.
It was good pie. You’ll have to take my word. I served Penelope her piece and served myself as well, and we kept on talking, having a lovely time. Then something remarkable happened. When she was halfway done with her piece of pie, I mean when there was half a piece of pie still on her plate, she put her fork down.
She put her fork down and did not pick it back up again.
I was 20 years old and confronted with something new. Who doesn’t finish a piece of pie?
We kept talking and I tried to ignore this bizarre turn of events. Eventually I couldn’t stand it anymore. I turned into my mother and said, “Is something wrong with the pie?”
She looked me straight in the eye and said, “No, it’s good. I’m just full.”
If she had stood on her head or told me she would turn into an alien if she ate another bite, I could not have been more surprised. Full? I thought. Full? Sure… but… too full to finish a piece of pie?
“Oh, okay, just making sure,” was all I said about it.
Never before had I encountered anyone stopping because they were full. In my house, growing up, you finished what was on your plate regardless. You were grateful. You had vague notions of starving children somewhere. You especially finished pie!
This was a monumentally earth-shattering, life-changing concept for me, I can assure you. In front of me was Penelope, not an ounce of fat on her, politely putting her fork down because she was full. In my mind I saw my family, many of whom (including myself) either on a diet or about to be on one, always finishing what was on our plates. I understand this is a very small sample size and a very unscientific way to draw a conclusion, but I saw that the person who put down her fork when she was full even if she was eating pie was by all appearances healthier than the people I knew who put down their forks only when their plates were empty even if they were full.
I won’t lie. I had a hard time throwing away Penelope’s uneaten half. No chickens in my life then, nothing to do but throw it away. But another thought occurred to me. Penelope was listening to her body in a way I had never done, never thought to do. Her body was telling her to stop, and she listened. I had always listened to my mind, to the words that had been said to me so often: Finish what’s on your plate. Period. No conditions here. No if’s. Just finish. It’s wasteful if you don’t.
But (I now thought) if my body is telling me I don’t need it, if I’m full but I eat it anyway, isn’t that wasteful too, in its own way? Isn’t that asking my body to waste energy doing what it wouldn’t have to do if I didn’t burden it with food it doesn’t need?
Thus began a profound shift in my thinking about food. I still didn’t like having to throw away the half piece of pie, but what if I had given her a smaller portion to begin with? What if I had not assumed what her portion would be and had perhaps asked her how big a piece she wanted? (This too was a foreign concept – a piece of pie had a size, a set size. You didn’t mess with these things.)
What if I had asked her? She might have said Just a sliver please. And there would have been no pie in the trash.
What if I asked myself? What if I thought about my own portion instead of robotically taking what seemed a normal amount? What if I thought about, gave even a few seconds thought to, how hungry I actually was and adjusted my portion? What if I listened to my own body?
I had a full course load that semester in college and was working three different part-time jobs. It was a lot of juggling. And now one more thing to think about, one more thing on my plate! I can’t say this experience brought about an immediate change for me – old habits die hard – but Penelope taught me a great lesson that slowly worked its way into my own eating patterns. Sadly, I lost track of her after graduation and therefore can’t thank her for the part she played in helping me be more reasonable about food. But I wish I could.