Narcissit? Who me?

Monday, May 23, 2011

You Can't Take it With You...


As most things tend to go, my experiences nourishing myself more closely resemble the turnip scene from Gone With the Wind, as apposed to, say, the dinner scene in The Sound of Music. While I often make a point in crafting outfits from my curtains (evident in both examples) I rarely have fresh produce. Tests performed by medical professionals or, really, anyone with a white coat will indicate that I am alive. From this fact it can be heretofore be deduced that I am receiving sustenance and despite all evidence to the contrary (ie. the sallow coloring of my skin) I am not desperately malnourished. It should come as no surprise to some, and a great shock to anyone who has ever seen my body type, but when it comes to food: buying it, cooking it, or even dealing with it, I am completely un-participatory.

It wasn’t always like this, when I was seventeen I thought I had everything all figured out. I had a car and was able to leave school during my lunch breaks. A huge deal for a "farm kid" who had been forced to eat packed lunches alone on the bleachers for the previous 10 years. Splitting up my day with a visit home, with all the chocolate milk I could drink, was a revolutionary concept  (chocolate milk being the number one reason why adolescence hit -and stuck to me- like a ton of bricks) Since my mom worked a lot, and my own culinary skills are inherited from my father, I took charge of my mid-day feedings. Baking up sheet after sheet of McCain Super Friestm while I watched the News at Noon, or Doctor Phil, licking Lawry's seasoning salt of my sodium inflated digits was and still is the happiest memory from that time period. With a set schedule and parental supervision over all food purchases and oven maintenance I thrived, nay, excelled at putting food into my body. Sure, everything was beige in both color and flavor, but I was getting three meals a day. And isn't that the point? 

Moving out on my own was a momentous occasion. Not only did I have to leave behind my parents, my aged cat, and my wicked collection of tea-stained paper, I had to leave behind my identity as the anti-Mother Hubbard. Never, in my entire existence had I once gone to the cupboard to find it bare. My parents are extreme grocery shoppers, constantly refilling the reserves on the off chance of the world falling into a hundred year nuclear winter. They sleep easy at night knowing that should that day come, their children’s children’s children will eat well because of their preparedness. Leaving them, their debit cads, and the well-stocked pantry shelves behind me on my haphazard journey into academia was one of the saddest moments of my, admittedly sheltered, life.

In my own apartment, in the “big” city, with a large student loan burning a hole in my pocket, I showed remarkable restraint for a person of my age. Adding more throw pillows than necessary (or healthy) for a boy my age was my single largest vice. While my sister, in a similar situation rebelled against my mother and the Canadian Food Guide by going out, buying, and then consuming whole tins of iced tea mix (dry) and name brand froot-y cereal; I on the other hand merely added to my DVD collection (on Future Daniel’s dime) and I never gave much thought to food and it’s consumption. Yes, there were more restaurants around, but my first year away but I don’t think I went to any besides the one near my bus stop where my friend Alison and I would dine like kings on chicken salad croissants. Sure, I could have yucked it up by binge drinking and making 3am fast-food runs, but that didn’t work into strict schedule of crying myself to sleep and calling home 8 times a day.
When people say that you can’t fight genetics, I know first hand that it is true because every once in a while I would feel the pull of the grocery store and head out to restock my shelves. It must have been the same pull my parents feel but the things I bought came in boxes and vacuumed sealed bags. All I ate for 4 months came that way and remarkable I didn’t notice any real difference in weight or waist size. I had adopted, to borrow a phrase, a “no carb left behind” diet, and it seemed (at least momentarily) that I could stay eating like this forever.

But whether it was because of the media, peer pressure, viewing my side profile in a large mirror at the bus stop, or just my own tendency for self-flagellation, I decided sometime during my second semester, that things had to change. Because I was bored, ill-informed, and was only taking three classes, I decided to “go green.” Everyday for an entire semester week I came home from my one, eight-thirty class and made myself, what I thought to be a healthy and reasonably sized salad. Filled with sumptuous ingredients such as bacon bits, whole blocks of cheddar cheese, turkey, walnuts, with enough full-fat ranch dressing to drown a horse (lettuce was used primarily as a filler) I found a salad could be just as tasty as a box of pasta with cheese sauce. Crafting my own salad, because of the size –generally twice the size of my own head- had a median prep time of about 45 minutes. Which was good because it allowed me to put off all the really annoying things I had to do, such as “studying” or “paying bills.” Thinking about “eating right” kept my mind out of mental traps like “grades” and “attracting sex partners.” Eating literally ate up all my free time, and I was happy for the distraction. School was really boring, my friends and I had all fallen into the “good ol’ days are gone” depression, so for a minute and a half  food, both the proper and improper consumption of it, filled a void in my life.

DISCLAIMER: it should be noted here, that I am not now, nor have I every been what anyone would consider “fashionably” “unhealthily” or even “reasonably” thin. I don’t have an eating disorder, nor do I have the will power for one. I have a wide frame, and the adjectives best used to describe me are “thick” and “agrarian.” Despite my best efforts (bi-annual trips to the gym, and the less than optimal calorie burning exercise of intense jealousy) I remain this way. My thoughts on food are neither obsessive, nor negligent. I am neither here nor there on the matters of diet. It should be said, however, that from where I stand, I should be there. Everyone looks longer, leaner, and more fuck-able.

For me, the most life-changing event ever to occur to me, was the completely misguided decision to move in with two of my closest friends. While you parents were stuck with you, and your siblings could slam a thousand doors in your face and still sit next to you at supper, those relationships, no matter their state or their condition are far less delicate than the friendship of those you share a toilet with. Living in close quarters with your entire social circle is fun, don’t get me wrong: all night parties, splitting a movie rental three ways, and forming a middle of the night, completely sober, conga line are all benefits. Three people who would rather sit and talk to one another, bitch about one another, or stay locked in their rooms for days at a time rather than participate in domestic chores is a major drawback. Because we were poor (which we secretly loved) we couldn’t afford to live in a place with a dishwasher, and no matter how you sliced it, short of drinking directly from the tap, dishes were dirtied. We weren’t culinary wizards by any means, but we could dirty dishes like sons-of-a-bitches. Because we were friends, and therefore had some things in common he would usually all just ignore the problem, each hoping someone else would take care of it. I don’t want to say that during those periods my laziness won out over my hunger, but it totally did. If I was hungry I reached for something that could be eaten with my fingers, over the sink, or directly from the package. Anything requiring heating was definitely out because even using the microwave required a plate and those were all used up weeks ago. When it finally reached a fever pitch, one of us would break and fly into a productive rage, cram earphones into our ears, play angry music (or in my case The Lion King soundtrack) and wash the month’s accumulation of dirty flatware. Exhausted after 27 sink-fulls of water and three hours of dishwashing, we would vow to never let it get that bad again. Until we let it happen all over again.

Almost as rarely, and without as much anger and angst, my roommates and I would act completely out of character and declare days “cooking days.” Such days were different from our regular habits because the recipes would require us to neither tear open a package with our teeth or to simply “just add water.” Javannah and Senn (not their real names) would come into the kitchen (it was rarely my decision) and begin an almost sitcom-y clanging of pots and pans to peak the other’s interest. Because we were nosy, needed to see exactly who was responsible for dirtying what, and didn’t have a whole lot else to do, the two non-participators would rush into the kitchen to see what was the matter. This not often heard domestic clatter spelt trouble, but it could also spell full stomachs, so once we figured out what was happening (and fingered the blame accordingly) we would stick around to see the end result. Often it was cookies, or various “one pot” dishes, or the type of pasta where you boil it in one pot and heat the sauce in another (an act so incredulous, and decadent, the delusional party performing it must have felt they were some sort of dishwashing professional or a Rockefeller)

When the party shut down, before the friendships did, and we all went our separate ways I began living with a never-ending parade of lost souls; folks who would show up for odd intervals, at odd hours, who, overall, had little effect on my eating habits. But because I have a delicate psyche, and like to know for certain I am not sharing a sink with an axe-murderer, I moved again.  Because they were apparently rubes, or horribly ill-informed a couple invited me to come and live with them. Taking me in like a stray cat, the duo feed, housed, and patted my head when I brought them dead birds. Even though I lived there, and was provided with hot and fresh meals, I couldn’t stake my claim to any part of the kitchen, and felt no real need to. This was the beginning of the end for me culinarily speaking. Taking a box of mac and cheese out of the cupboard and pouring it into a pot of boiling water became, over time, nearly unimaginable. Going to buy staples of my existence such as peanut butter and earl grey tea seemed insurmountable.

Maybe it was because I spent this year living in an undiagnosed depression, but it was during this time period that I lost interest in a lot of things. Working a job that put me in close proximity to homeless people, and unattainable goods, my hobbies revolved around taking long evening walks by myself or with a friend. Staying out till late at night, sneaking in, as quietly as possible after my ‘landlords’ had gone to sleep and sleeping till well past noon were skills I mastered during this time. What I began to suffer however was any skill that had kept me alive up to that point. 

Once during an evening walk of about 13 square kilometers, my companion for the evening asked if we could swing by the grocery store, as she needed materials to make her lunch the next day. The grocery store was on our route, and the walk to her apartment was quick and convenient. Yet, I reacted thusly:

“No,” I said, “If you’re going to buy groceries, I’m going home.”

 Since it wasn’t the middle of the night this was a ridiculous response, and since up until this moment we had been having a very nice conversation and a pleasant stroll it was completely inappropriate.

“Haha,” she laughed, hoping to dispel the tension, which had just arisen “It’s just a few things, it won’t take me long. I promise.”

“No thanks,” I responded curtly, “I have absolutely no desire to step foot in a grocery store today.” To add emphasis I crossed my arms in a way that brought to life an idiotic first class passenger of the Titanic, unwilling to get into a lifeboat, preferring to take their chances by calling shore and chartering a yacht.

“It will seriously take a second,” she said calmly, clearly understand that you don’t go shot for shot with a crazy person.  “I just have to buy some turkey.”

“No. I’m going home.”

“You won’t spare 30 seconds to grab some turkey? You’d cut a perfectly nice evening short because you don’t want to walk into a store and grab some luncheon meat?”

She was right. I knew it. There was clearly one person that was overreacting here, and that person was me.  It was within her rights as a hungry, sane person and my friend to make a request such as this. It wasn’t a superfluous want, but a real need. She had a job, and would like to eat halfway through it to ensure her brain didn’t start eating itself, as mine had clearly done.  But I wouldn’t back down. The entire walk to the grocery store I unloaded onto her all the problems with grocery stores. The wetness of the produce section, having to pick out a grubby handled cart with a wonky wheel. Lines, packaging, the conveyer belt, and with the stupid little dividers; everything about grocery stores, and the history of merchant/consumer relations made me sick to my stomach. I couldn’t mentally process stepping foot inside. The cool air, the suctioning sound of the doors in the freezer section, and the grown men in white shirts and aprons, at that moment described my personal hell. All this was expelled onto my sane, patient friend in a ranting diatribe. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t.

Because she knows me, and because she is a reasonable enough person to spot a crazy spiral a mile away, stood her ground. She made me come with her. By asking me as a friend to come with her, help her out, and to stop being a complete fucking idiot, she saved herself a conversation that could go something like this.

“Daniel, would you like to come out of the house now?”

“No!”

“Really? It’s been seven days since you’ve stepped foot outdoors.”

“I don’t care!”

“Well, by house I really do mean sewage pipe. Do you want to come out of that sewage pipe?”

“No! My kids aren’t home yet! I’ll have to wait to ask them what they would like to do!”

“Okay, that’s fair. But just to reiterate- this is a sewage drainage pipe, and those aren’t your children. Those things you call your children are really just a pack of rabid raccoons that are awaiting your imminent death so they can pick your bones clean. Wanna come out now?”

“Okay, but I’m not stopping for bread on the way back to your place!”

Because it was the reasonable thing to do (note to self: go against instinct) I went into the grocery store. And because she has known me for so many years, Jenn (who happens to have been one of my roommates, but I won’t say which one) decided I needed to eat something and bought me an egg salad sandwich that I devoured in much the same fashion that my raccoon children would have done me. Afterwards, I felt much better.

My current state of affairs, when it comes to procurement of food, hasn’t changed much. Like all my affairs, it could be said to be in dire straights. I’m absolutely game for heading to the store at midnight to buy a box of Oreos, but ask me to squeeze a grapefruit or tap a melon, and you’re going to be watching me walk away. How I survive says more about the people around me than it does about my efforts. A typical weekday will start like this:


"Have you eaten?" my friend Jessica will inquire in a mid morning phone call (she knows not to call to early). 

"Yes," I'll respond. 

To which she will invariably counter with "Today?" 

"Oh, no…" I’ll say, because I haven’t, because it slipped my mind.  

Then with a quiet sigh, and an almost audible shaking of her head she will not only offer to pick me up on her lunch break, but take me back to her house to provide me with a nutritious lunch. She knows, as my former employer that left to my own devices I would probably either let myself starve, or make really bad decisions regarding my food intake. In my eyes a venti chai tea latte more than makes up for it's lack of nutritional value with it's addicting flavor and proximity to my apartment. She, like many others have taken a special interest in keeping me alive. Why? I have no idea. Probably to see some sort of pay out for years of service, or pay back of all the money I owe them. Either or. 

As the current “landlord of my uncertain fate” the recipient of a lot responsibility burden shit-ass luck that accompanies me where ever I go, falls to my brother. Everyday when he returns home from work, he goes through a checklist or questions:

“Have you left the apartment today?” he asks first.

“Yes” or “No” I’ll respond, completely dependant on my luncheon invitation, or if any good movies just came out.

“Have you applied for any jobs?”

“Yes,” I’ll say just to get him off my back.

And lastly:

“Have you eaten?”

“No.”

He really is a kind brother. While we share the same interest is preparing food, he does enjoy eating it. It is probably due to the fact that he works eleven hours a day, because unlike myself, has an appetite around meal times. Surely fulfilling a promise he made to God, or more likely, my mother he often buys me dinner. I owe my survival to him.

It’s not that I don’t get hungry. It is just that I am very apathetic when it comes to food. I would eat a bag of Crasins, just as soon as I’d eat prime rib. I appreciate, or at least I think I appreciate, when food is well cooked, but I could just as easily be me delighting in the fact that I didn’t have to procure it. When my stomach gets rumbly, I don’t often picture the food pyramid, and what snack I should be choosing to quiet it. I reach for what is at hand, and be it a wine cork, or a rare truffle I’m easily satiated. Give me something with flavor and a texture and I’ll be sure to enjoy it. As other people I have my favorite foods, but without immediate access to them I’ll go without. But, put a bag of M&M’s in my line of vision, and it’s recommended that remove your hand, less you lose a finger.

Truthfully (and in a nice neat conclusion) my thoughts on food stem all the way back to my healthy predilection with morbidity. While some people plan weddings, I think about my funeral. While people dream of wearing white, and pledging everlasting love, I dream about looking down (or more likely-up)at all my mourners. I’ve probably promised everyone I know that can carry a tune, their own solo at my interment. It’s not healthy, but who ever said I was?  When it comes to nourishment, sustenance, substance, and when you come right down to it-food I have a simple phrase the lessens its importance. You can’t take it with you. While money, and property can be passed down, furniture can be sold at auction, and literary royalties can be paid for decades to come, the food we eat leaves us with out a lasting impression. So whether I eat foie gra, or French fries, it doesn’t really matter to me. I prefer to spend my time, investing in less ephemeral activities. Say, for instance, writing long winded, and unwanted essays and posting them on the Internet. 

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