The Loving Belly is a unique collection by artist Courtney Whitman relating to the therapeutic benefits of combining food and music. Through personal essays and photography, the intersection of food, music, literature, and mental health is celebrated through unique culinary valentines to honor food and musical nourishment.
All meals, recipes, and food scenes in the blog are inspired by goth, industrial, and darkwave bands, from the 4AD catalogue to Drab Majesty to Hante., NIN to Clan of Xymox, Joy Division to Fields of the Nephilim.
“I’ve also created recipes/memoirs that are inspired by dark books in relationship to my experiences with mental health and traumatic experiences,” says Whitman. “Not music per-se, but would likely still resonate with…fans of post-punk. The photo series that accompany these projects are consistent with the dark aesthetic that runs across the rest of my work.”
Post-Punk interviewed Courtney Whitman about the blog and the meaning behind it.
When and why did you start The Loving Belly?
I started dreaming of having a food blog when I was in my early 30s, back in 2012. That was the year my digestion really started to fall apart, and I had to drastically change my diet in order to try to manage it. This involved lots of time spent hacking conventional recipes, looking for a way to prepare them that was compatible with those new dietary restrictions. I wanted to share those hacks with other people who were struggling with the same digestive challenges, and offer comfort.
But for years, the blog remained a fantasy and nothing more. I was undiagnosed bipolar type 2, and I was crumbling under the pressure of modern, mainstream, adult life: the office job, the grueling hours, the unsustainable levels of stress. It wasn’t until 2017, when a repetitive strain injury forced me to stop, taking me out of work for 8 months, that I was able to rest, recover, and reevaluate my life, creating space for The Loving Belly to emerge.
I couldn’t use a computer during that time, so most of my activities involved embodiment, and the kitchen was where I came back to life. I spent hours there each day, listening to music, working with my hands, and dancing while I cooked. The great reward would come at the end of the day, when I would sit on the floor in front of my stereo with a bowl of stew, put on a record, close my eyes, and eat slowly, giving the food and the music my full attention. It was a deeply restorative practice.
Do you think food and music are similar in the way they stir the soul and emotions?
In terms of stirring the soul, I think that both music and eating can be a form of meditation, a nourishing refuge in which to shelter from the pressures of modern life. A way to tune out the noise, ground into being, and alter one’s state of consciousness without taking a drug. Sharing a meal with someone socially can be special, but I’m also very fond of taking meals in solitude, where the only focus is the act of eating…And at the end of the day, one of my favorite things to do is to lay on the floor and do nothing while listening to music that I love, and just dissolve into it. Music is the easiest access gateway to the divine for me.
What were your favorite bands growing up?
As a little kid, I really liked the B52s and The Thompson Twins, and also the music of The Minneapolis Sound, that fusion of funk with synth-pop. My father was really into ‘80s New Wave when I was little so I was exposed to a lot of interesting music through him. But he was also a flower child of the ‘60s who had grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area and had the opportunity to see some incredible shows. He taught me about Pink Floyd, and that was something very special that we shared together. As a teenager in the ‘90s, I was obsessed with Nine Inch Nails, which paved the way to discovering the world of goth and industrial. I loved Skinny Puppy and Wax Trax! I loved all the 4AD bands, like This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins. But I also loved Sonic Youth, and more mainstream bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, which primed me for getting into shoegaze and psychedelic music later on. As a teenager, my sister was really into ambient music. She would take me for night drives down foggy country roads and play me songs like “In Dark Trees” by Brian Eno. I still remember those musical drives vividly and hold them close to my heart.
Who are your favorite new bands?
I think the post-punk genre is experiencing a renaissance of quality music, and it’s an exciting time to be alive as a music lover. There are so many new bands that I love, but the ones I have the most meaningful connection to are Drab Majesty, Tamaryn, and Automelodi. Another new darkwave band that I’m looking forward to hearing more from is Ruin of Romantics…I’d also love to give a shoutout to a beautiful EP many people might not have heard of: Sapphire and Steel by Primal Wound…they describe their sound as “Enyacore.”
Are there any synaesthetic associations between music from your favorite bands, and your favorite foods? What bands if any would you pair with listening to some of your favorite foods and albums?
I love this question, but honestly, it’s only ever happened a few times. Hearing “Dream on Fire” by Bohren & Der Club of Gore always makes me want a nice glass of red wine, and to just sit down, sip, and take in the decadence of that track. When I listen to Unknown Rooms by Chelsea Wolfe I want to binge drink ginger tea.
Can you tell us about your Joy Division recipe?
The Joy Division project was about my experience with orthorexia, which is a form of eating disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with eating healthy food, and that obsession becomes destructive. I fell into orthorexia innocently, as most people do: I needed to follow certain dietary restrictions in order to manage some chronic health problems I was dealing with. But as treatments failed to produce results, and those health problems worsened, food began to seem like the only chance for a cure. I made the dietary restrictions more extreme, and my orthorexia spiraled out of control. My life became dominated by restriction and fear, especially fear of food. It was a confusing and solemn place to be, for someone who had always taken such pleasure from food.
The story of the road to recovery from that period in my life is a long one, and I get into that extensively in the memoir I published to my blog, “I’m Not Afraid Anymore: Healing From Orthorexia With Potato Leek Soup + Embracing Unknown Pleasures.” But in short, as the medical problems faded away, so did my Orthorexia, and during that recovery period, while walking to work, I listened to Insight by Joy Division. It was a song I’d heard a thousand times before, but that day, it was different. When Ian Curtis sang “I’m not afraid anymore,” I felt the emancipation of those words in a way I never had before, practically skipping down the street with euphoria. That experience was special to me, and why I wanted to create a recipe to honor it.
Part of healing from orthorexia is beginning to gradually test the waters with the foods you are afraid of. For the Joy Division recipe, I worked with 2 ingredients I had previously brainwashed myself into fearing: dairy and potatoes. I wanted to reclaim them, and also use them to discuss food pleasure in conjunction with happy memories I had of eating potato leek soup when I was on a road trip through Ireland with my husband. The Ireland trip haunted me throughout the orthorexia period, because it was a time in which I seemed to be able to eat anything without suffering health consequences. The recipe was about letting go of fear, embracing things I had forbidden myself to enjoy, and finding pleasure in food again.
Can you tell us about your Drab Majesty recipe?
The Drab Majesty recipe was a way for me to honor what discovering their music meant to me during a time in which I was in a social media hell hole. I published the recipe to my blog alongside a memoir called “Instagram, Capitalism, and Vampires: Confessions of a Food Blogger + A Gluten-Free Venetian Feast for Drab Majesty’s Modern Mirror.” The memoir was about my negative experience using Instagram to try to make The Loving Belly be the way I earned a living, how that affected my mental health, my relationship to my art practice, and why I decided to go back to my day job.
Letting go of that dream was a long and painful process, and something I avoided for an extended period of time. Running away took various forms, one of which involved me going out alone to dance at a goth club right before Covid lockdown. The club had a glorious sound system, and it was there that I heard Drab Majesty’s “Oxytocin” for the first time. It was one of the most potent and transcendent music-listening experiences of my life, and I wrote about dancing to it in real time, and how it facilitated my catharsis. I became a massive Drab Majesty fan after that experience, starting with Modern Mirror since Oxytocin had been my gateway to their music. I was excited to learn that Modern Mirror is a concept album inspired by the myth of Narcissus, set within a contemporary digital landscape…The recipe I created, “Spaghetti Alle Vongole with Lemon, Saffron, Thyme, and Pinkish Wine,” is an homage to the wonderful cloaked Venetian gondolier photos of Drab Majesty that were taken by Muted Fawn in Venice for Modern Mirror, Spaghetti Alle Vongole being a popular dish in Venice, and the first meal I had when I was in Venice long ago.”
Can you tell us about the Nine Inch Nails Recipe?
There are actually two Nine Inch Nails recipes: “Roasted Cocoa Spice Pork Shoulder With Bleeding Heart Beet Relish + Love Letter To The Downward Spiral,” and “Stale Incense Old Sweat And Thighs Thighs Thighs: Persian-Spiced NIN Chicken With Forbidden Black Cardamom Rose Rice.” Ultimately they were excuses for me to have fun playing with visual influences that had made a big impression on me at a formative age, like the “Closer” video and the collection of videos for Broken, giving a BDSM treatment to food photography, while writing about my deep love for NIN.
For The Downward Spiral, I created a pork recipe to be in harmony with motifs of pigs that run across the album, with a heart beet relish on the side as a nod to the iconic beating heart in the Closer video. I published it alongside a short memoir about how validating and empowering TDS was for me as a troubled middle schooler, seeing NIN on The Self Destruct Tour in tandem with starting high school, and how magical that experience was, because it was my first rock concert, I had managed to get to the front of the stage, and Trent Reznor was my hero.The recipe I created for Pretty Hate Machine, “Stale Incense Old Sweat And Thighs Thighs Thighs: Persian-Spiced NIN Chicken With Forbidden Black Cardamom Rose Rice,” is more tongue in cheek, just a fun, line-by-line interpretation of some of the lyrics “Sin,” expressed through a food photography series. The spice blend for the chicken thighs is meant to evoke incense and is based on “Advieh,” a Persian spice mix made with cumin, cloves, cinnamon, rose petals, black pepper, turmeric, and cardamom. The forbidden black cardamom rose rice was a way to evoke taboo desire through food, and is cooked in a sweaty bath of rosewater, cardamom, pink salt, raisins, and ghee.
Can you tell us about the Fields of the Nephilim Recipe?
The heart-shaped “And-There-Will-Your-Heart-Beet-Also Muffins” made with freshly grated beetroot were created in tribute to my favorite FOTN album, Elizium, and the album’s final track, “And There Will Your Heart Be Also.” I published the recipe to my blog alongside a short essay about the beauty of the album and its metaphysical narrative of romantic love after death, including a discussion of the influence of Richard Mattheson’s book, What Dreams May Come, on the concept of the album. It’s on the blog as “Gluten-Free And-There-Will-Your-Heart-Beet-Also Muffins, Death Anxiety + Love Letter To Elizium.”
Can you tell us more about the Cranberries recipe?
I created “The Cranberries Sauce” out of necessity because I don’t generally eat sugar, and most cranberry sauce recipes contain an absurd amount of it, which I think results in a dish that tastes more like jello than cranberries. I wanted to create something where the tartness of the fruit came through, without any sugar, sweetened instead with a handful of raisins, a little bit of orange juice, and lots of comforting warming winter spices like cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. I published the recipe alongside a short memoir about my introduction to The Cranberries while channel surfing on a rainy day back in 1993, when I caught a fleeting glimpse of the last half of the “Dreams” video. I was very taken with the imagery of Dolores O’Riordan wandering through the green fields of Ireland in her long red coat, and have wanted a coat like that ever since. I’ve yet to find the coat, but “The Cranberries Sauce” and its vibrant garnet color is a bit of an ode to that longing.
Are there bands in the future you would like to combine with a recipe?
I’m currently working on an extensive project about my father’s death that involves Ministry’s Twitch and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. I’m also working on a summertime recipe inspired by an anecdote from Trevor Ristow’s excellent Sisters of Mercy biography, Waiting For Another War.
If you could host a dinner party for musicians, who would you pair together for conversation, and what would you serve them? (You can give us more than one answer…)
I’d love to host every band I love for a wholesome and restorative meal to revive them from travel burnout whenever they pass through San Francisco on tour. I dream of passing them steaming mugs of tea and letting them pass out on my couches, wrapped in blankets, while I cook for them.