What do you do when your world, as you have known it for ten years, falls away and you are left with no distinguishing marks and no ideals on which to chart your course? When everything that defines you is lost?
She was numb. Glad of a momentary distraction from her gurgling stomach and mind unusually devoid of thought or notion. Five teenage girls sat around her table, one hurling her three-foot long, crow black braids, ivory beads drumming on her jacket as she turned her head, animated and sharing a tale as her eyes went back and forth around the room, clocking her fellow students. A girl with a brown bob in need of a shampoo, had decided she would allow her white furry, polar bear rucksack to remain grasping her shoulders throughout the lesson. The other three girls sat, tight, at the other end. A sassy mouthed blonde who kept her intelligent outbursts to a minimum, another who had joined the magazine project late and kept passing distracting notes on the back of her worksheet to her friend whos hair was the colour of slate and who mumbled just enough of a contribution to remain cool.
She tried not to feel paranoid that the pencilled notes were about her; of course they were, she was a new tutor with a funny accent. Fear scribed in the ditches of her brow and her fak smile probably looked more like she’d smelled something bad. She decided to attempt to gain control and explained simply that passing notes was to be done outside the classroom and now was the time to complete their assignment. A trickle of power dripped into her veins then vapourised into arid cracks. She felt torn in different directions like a Rubic Cube; so glad be tutoring, feeling sure she had something to contribute; and a nano second away from getting up and running back down the echoing corridor to freedom.
Her mind craved some momentary mental escape, it took a sideways step and she recalled the events of the previous night. She was in shock, she knew it. In the last ten years she had never even considered doing what she’d done last night. She’d been reeling in a rope for a long time, hoping the answers would be attached on a scrap of paper at the end. Just what did she have to do to feel satisfied? Permanetly, wholly and completely?
Who is this woman of whom I write? This woman is me.
‘Eyes are bigger than your belly’, my dad used to say, telling me I was a pig. It doesn’t make sense now, when I think about it years later, if my eyes where bigger than my belly then I’d be catwalk slim!
On the 29th October 2010, I read an article about a vegan blogger who’d hung up her ideals as a result of a doctor telling her she was harming herself by her diet choice. She’d denied the diagnosis for some time, agonising, before one day reaching for a meaty meal and appartently finding her satiety.
I had spent the last hour eating a large vegan meal and, delicious as it was, found I was left wanting more, as I often was. This time, the straw was too heavy for the proverbial camel. I’d had enough of dealing with the feeling of deep hunger and, taken in by another womans honest testimony, I grabbed my jacket and made my way to the deli in Chenery Park, half an hour walk South in the damp night. I fought back tears as I walked, my breath shallow, gripping, but my stride was purposeful. Faint hope rose like delicate bubbles in my chest and fragmented on the jagged edges of the devastation I felt about what I was about to do.
I wandered around the store in circles, the warm air heavy with the scent of garlic and roasting potatoes. My breath was so shallow and my face gripped in an anxious, deer in the headlights, stare. My brain was hardly registering, I gathered salad, tofu, my foods of comfort, then placed half a powdery boilded egg, a brussel sprout with a slither of bacon upon it. In the top corner of my take out box I placed a piece of shredded chicken. I handed over several worn dollars, my mind hovering over me, watchful. Back outside the air was mild, my metal chair cold on my rear. I couldn’t do this with an audience, thankfully the chairs around me were empty.
The tofu was firm, smoky and delicious, the salad fresh. I stabbed the egg and closed my mouth around it to chew. It tasted good. I had no thoughts for the animal, no thoughts that I was eating an unfertilized egg of a chicken. I fished around for the rest of the salad, the bacon slither bothered me, I shut out thoughts of the dead pig, waiting for the moment of fullness to come, the earth shattering realisation that I had been missing something for ten years….nothing. The small finger of chicken on the end of my plastic fork made me fight back the threatening tears. Desperate to end the feeling of emptiness, I released my jaw to chew….nothing, no exploding fireworks or crashing cymbals, my eyes didn’t roll heavenward like it did when I ate a vegan tamale or crisp, light veggie dosa. My second dinner of the evening, I was stuffed. I had gotten a scoop of buttery garlic mash potatoes. Delicous, but no more so than creamed with vegan butter. I was a tumble of emotions, I’d tipped over the edge from sustenance to full on mindless pleasure-seeking. I was fired up. Back into the store I ordered a cranberry, cream cheese, scone with a square of butter. It was warm, light, not too sweet and the best scone I’d ever tasted. I was surfing on a wave of pleasure. What followed was a bingeing frenzy…Hey, try milk chocolate…have that raisin Danish….ooh, how about that chilli, cherry and almond chocolate bar you’ve kept eyeing up like a potential date…I walked from store to store, stuffing down food…I gave half of my chocolate to the pimply guy behind the whole food counter in an pathetic attempt at restraint. Two hours passed from my inital voyage to find my holy grail. Did I find it in the distended stomach, bloated before me back in my studio room? Did I find it in the animals who died for me? Did I find something to end all my longings…. NO! Did I feel bad for what I had done….surprisingly not. I’d opened the door to check it out for size once more, to see if my beliefs held true or were just the result of habit or fear.
I felt brave…almost proud. Would I go back to eating animals? No. Not because of wanting to define my existence by some cultish diet, to have a cause to help me feel I am doing some good on this earth, or the need to stay slim, but because I had no desire for it. My body didn’t ache or crave the taste or texture. Would I eat a sweet, sticky, raisin Danish if I felt like it, or oven warmed scone? Hell yes! It would be worth the morning after swelling that made me look like a ‘no neck’ bullfrog…a 30 minute run usually calmed my glands and returned me to normal by lunch time anyhow. Would I eat a boiled egg in my salad? If I felt like it….YES!
I was quiet the next day, I made my body know there are consequences to eating so much food and fasted for the day. It felt powerful to gain control again. My rules remained with a few added chalk marks of difference. Mostly, I’d take each day as it came…decide in the moment, whilst not thumbing my nose at one of the seven dead sins – gluttony, which seems to be to make a lot of sense http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony and see the wisdom offered by gathering of belief systems http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2002/03/Thou-Shalt-Not-Overeat.aspx I need rules, restraints…without them I would come undone. If I care about myself I will be mindful of what I put in my body. I can’t have it all. I will also be mindful of my mind and if, on occasion, I decide I will savour a sweet Danish full of crappy sugar and wheat that gives me wind, then that is what I will do. Sometimes, even I get tired of reading the food labels and just want to have something…just because!
- It took me five days to write this, partly due to stuff and things and the waltz of life, partly out of shame and wondering if this episode was worth sharing but mostly out of respect for myself. I needed to allow last Monday’s events to settle and to become an experience of hindsight I pray I will learn from. Not to be so rigid AND to respect MY need for rules too. I thought I’d care what people thought of me but honestly…in this case…I don’t. Are my food issues over? Am I free of the tumble of emotions that come along with fork and sticky fingers…no, just like life, I remain a little perplexed. And the holy grail? Well, that is ever-changing, it’s is present in the experiences I have daily, I reach it sometimes in all sorts of ways. I do believe (probably) it will never be constantly in my grasp, a bit like a bar of soap gripped too tight. I guess like eating; we are hungry, we eat, we fell full, we savour, we digest and, after a while, we get hungry again.
I don’t get to eat with people frequently, or watch what others do or feel in relation to food so the only judge that bears witness is me. I met a girl the other day who took photos of people eating. I begged her to put them on a website, to display the cheese on chins, greens wedged between canines and cheeks stuffed like chipmunks. For some reason I can’t fathom, the sight of others enjoying, sharing and celebrating food touches a spot inside me, an f spot rather than a g spot.
Hey, so my friends, please send me your scoffing pics and I’ll post them here, or share your own experiences on how you relate to food. Hey, send a recipe. It’s good to share!
Thanks for reading. x