7/30/2006

Thought for Food


My hunger is deep but not wide.

That is to say I can partake with great relish when my appetite is with me, but it seldom is. Or rather it is only under a fairly fussy set of circumstances, a fact which causes me some consternation when I'm removed from my ideal element and expected to feed myself anyway.

I know it runs against the social grain on a fundamental level but the truth is that I prefer to dine alone. I don't want to talk to you, but if I have to I will, as long as I don't have to sit too nearby. I'm not one of those people too self-conscious to eat by myself in a restaurant -- it's my 'druthers. I enjoy a quiet booth with a view of the street, a good book propped open by the salt shaker while I pick over my feed.

This is why the dining room in the Old Schoolhouse is so clean: it is seldom used. It is my preference to sit on the floor. When we have company I do my best to dawdle in the kitchen so that I'm the last one to find a seat, increasing my chances of scoring a chair shoved to the periphery or even being obliged to sit apart from the guests entirely. If neither of these objectives can be attained I would rather delay eating until later.

Nothing is worse than being seated early in the game and then being hemmed in by other people, elbow to elbow, communally chomping like pigs at their trough. In such cases I sometimes have to sit beside somebody who's gross, which compounds the problem geometrically. That's people who chew loudly or with a high level of in-mouth food visibility, people who breathe funny when they drink, or people who just sit too close. When this happens I find excuses to jump up to fetch things or re-fill somebody's something in order to pass the time while the others maw.

I enjoy many different kinds of food, but only when the weather's right. This causes my wife some frustration. "Would you like some yogurt?"

"No thank you."

"But yesterday you couldn't get enough yogurt."

"Yeah, but that was Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. I can't abide yogurt today. I'd barf."

So, naturally, the most vexing part of my new full-time job is getting lunch into me. I eat at my desk rather than in any of the kitchens, which makes things easier, but deciding in the morning what I might be willing to eat five or six hours in the future is a game of divination suitable for Nostradamus. I'm as often wrong as I am right when I guess that I might enjoy a really tasty sandwich or some flavour of soup or a chunk of re-heated yesterday's dinner. Results are no better than random.

I tend to fall back on fruit. I can almost always eat fruit. Yesterday, for example, my lunch consisted of a clone banana, a Grannysmith apple, a tupperware disc of mixed blueberries and green grapes, and an individual serving of peach yogurt. My granola bar -- an item I've been consuming with delight for weeks -- was left untouched as the thought of eating it made me ill.

At work I only drink water, as anything else may give me a bellyache if I'm feeling wrong about it when it goes in, even if it's tasty.

The last time I was traveling in Europe and fresh fruit was hard (or expensive) to come by, I opted to eat jars of baby food. You know -- fruits or vegetables or pasta mashed into a liquidy pulp. When I was feeling particularly peckish I mixed it up a bit by munching on a cracker (I prefer saltines eaten salt-side down for optimal tongue contact). In order to keep myself sufficiently fueled for fun it was necessary to feed on these tiny portions almost continuously, thus giving the Scadinavians the impression that Canadians have no teeth. The Swedes make a killer strained pear. Ask anyone.

In the Baltics I ate only bread with butter. When I tried to fly home a stern man at the airport took away my knife, so I had to gnaw on the bread dry during the flight home. I was not bitter. I appreciate the importance of stopping hot-for-Allah Irhabim from spreading the West to death as much as the next man.

"Will I get my knife back on the other end?"

"Nyet!"

When I attended my brother's wedding at an all-inclusive resort in Quintana Roo I ate only bacon. For a week. It was the only thing my body told me was edible at the buffet. I knew my body was wrong but I wasn't willing to get into a fight over it.

My body is stupid. I have a terribly unkeen sense of smell and I think this has something to do with my odd choices. It isn't that I can't smell things, I just can't identify them very well. I'll say to my wife, "What's that smell? It smells like old socks."

"That's a bakery, honey."

"Ah...yes. Now I have it. Fresh bread. Yum!"

My body is convinced that the smell of seafood -- the smell that makes people salivate and say "I want some of that!" -- is a sign of spoil. I am able to sample only small morsels of seafood dishes before my body's conviction that I'm eating something that has turned becomes overwhelming. My idiotic somatic hardware can't shake the notion that fish are rotten, even when they taste good.

I like all tomato-based products but cannot tolerate eating an actual tomato.

I love spicy Indian food, Middle Eastern mushes of various stripes, African rice, wild game, Chinese anyting that isn't seafood, Japanese anything that isn't seafood, picante Caribbean patties, all sorts of non-fish pastas, all sorts of dead animals, vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds and breads, Thai food, salty Jewish chicken and sweet wine, hot Mexican salsas, eggs, dumplings, wraps, rolls, pockets, broths, gravies and jams.

I do not, however, love any of these things with any kind of consistency. Any of them are subject to a brief but intense repulsion without warning.

During a cross-continental road-trip with friends I came to the point where my distrust of restaurants with off-putting menus and my malaise at eating elbow to elbow with my mates each day caused me to admit nothing but cheeseburgers. "What should we eat?" my friend Plaid would ask.

"Cheeseburger!" I'd cry, quickly a familiar refrain.

Though I hadn't indulged in a cheeseburger in years, cheeseburgers became lodged in my mind as the sole thing worth consuming between home and the Pacific. Frequent mention of cheeseburgers led to everyone having cheeseburgers on the mind and soon enough we were all eating cheeseburgers no matter where we went. I have partaken of cheeseburgers in nearly every province of confederation, including several places which each claimed to have originally originated the famous Banquet Burger (all of whom were lying). I even ate a Mennonite cheeseburger, which was overcooked and bundled in lettuce like baby Moses.

(In fact, my obsession came to such a head that the word itself became my Internet moniker after that trip.)

I was under no illusion that cheeseburgers are the most delicious food there is, or even that cheeseburgers are among the harder items on a typical menu to screw up, but simply bowing to the fact that the idea of cheeseburger was making me hungry.

Maybe that's part of it -- when my idea of food and the actual product diverge too dramatically, I lose my appetite. The cartoonish archetypes of various foods in my mind may be somehow badly turned out.

Food frequently annoys me. I have things I'd rather be doing than dealing with eating. I use both my hands a lot, and hate it when one of them is handicapped by sauce or sticky. I'd rather deal with feeling hungry than deal with feeling nauseated by stuffing something in against my tummy's will.

Restaurants put too much on the plate. I order appetizers instead of meals when I can. I become irritable with waitstaff who will not be dismissed with a "I haven't much appetite today" excuse and instead pester me to give up what was wrong with the dish as prepared. "It's Thursday, okay? Fuck off."

In the United States the portions are double and sometimes even triple the size. I can barely dent them even when I'm ravenous. Also, since the staff down there are given electric shocks on their nipples if they're not supernaturally cheerful! all the time they tend to be really pushy/concerned over my appetite. On these occasions I wish I could release mustard gas in twin jets from my nostrils.

I hate going over to people's houses if they're the sort who sulk if you don't lick the plate. I want to tell them I have a disease or something so they'll leave me alone.

Italian weddings represent a special kind of trial for me.

In my briefcase I keep an emergency survival pack of edibles: granola, raisins, pepperonni sticks, gelatin candies. You never know when an eating situation might turn retarded, but you need fuel anyway. Or, at least, I never know.

I wish I did not need to spend so much thought for food.


12 comments:

Teddy said...

It must be incredibly difficult to be picky. I've never put up much with that sort, preferring to masticate with those who will eat anything and everything set before them; namely collegiates.

At my mother's table, if we did not like what was served, we were free to make ourselves a peanut butter sandwich. Jelly as well, if we liked. Of course, this meant that we ate what was put in front of us.

The results of such an upbringing are that my publicized standard regarding edibles is just that: anything that won't kill me right away. I have preferences of course, favorites (I die for Italian and exotic seafood) and such.

As I see it, food is a celebration of life, extending it by nutritionizing ourselves, and a celebration of our humanity, by showing that we have needs just like everybody else, and cannot indefinitely go without. I've always enjoyed eating with others because as I see it, it's admitting to them that I am just like them. That, and because food tastes good and it's always fun to see who can strip more buffalo wings, me or joe thinksthathecaneat.

TRH

Mark said...

Long and worth reading. By the way, I'm convinced that restaurants here in the US serve such huge portions so they can sell a $5 entree for $14.99. If I wanted that much food, I would have brought a friend.

Now I know I'm not the only one who eats saltines that way. I also understand the tomato product but no plain tomatoes preference.

On company while dining? My archnemeses at work are the folks who insist on talking to me when it's clear I'm reading. Dumbass people.

The seafood problem? You are not alone.

Carlie said...

I'm normally an adventurous eater who is pretty easy to satisfy...but on our honeymoon I felt suddenly sick and had a similar need for cheeseburgers. So, there we sat in a fine French restaurant eating and my new husband had something exotic and exciting and I ate a cheeseburger with a Coke. Sometimes that's just what you need. My husband never did really understand. My father-in-law, however, (his dad) resorts to desperate requests for peanut butter...on a spoon...creamy, on cruise ship trips that his wife drags him into. Too much decadent eating and all he wants is a spoonful of Jif. That's all his body will let him have. We understand.

That being said....remind me not to have you over for dinner.

Simon said...

I have ALWAYS insisted on eating my saltines with the salted side down. I shudder walking past the 'unsalted tops' boxes at the Superstore. They're SALTINES, man! Stop the insanity! Also, when eaten with cheese, it too must be cut into matching squares, but slightly smaller than the cracker so as to leave a perimeter. I just wish that Ukrainian garlic sausage came in square coils.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering is there any hope for a blook anytime soon??

don't get me wrong as much as I love Reading your regular postings
I would love even more a blogory (blog story)

thanks jess

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Jess,

The short answer is: yes, soon.

The longer answer is: over the past six months I've been acclimating to having a new job and having a new baby with colic. Time to write has been scarce. However, my probationary period at work is almost up (and hopefully I'll get a raise), and baby is over his colic, so we should be ramping back up to full production soon.

Meanwhile, I do have a new novella which will be issued in small chapters over a span of twenty days.

Two things delay its launch:

1) I am re-organizing my posting strategy, and from very soon forward all of my writing projects will be found at a new Cheeseburger Brown website. I am about 40% of the way through building the new site. Once my new credit card is approved I'll buy the domain and we'll be ready to rock.

2) The novella is finished, but requires editing. This is very high on my priority list. I'm traveling over the next few days, but hopefully I get the final tweaking done soon after. Also, I'm considering the idea of offering a printed book of collected short stories when the novella is rolled out, and I'm working on finishing up a couple of new short stories so I can include some things in the anthology that have never appeared on-line before (a sort of value-added incentive to buy thingy).

Stay tuned.

Love,
CheeseburgerBrown

Moksha Gren said...

Your road trip story has reminded me of a somewhat related event in my history. During my junior year of college, I took a school-sponsored road trip in conjunction with my UFOs class. We headed out west to see Roswell and Area 51. The professor was a bit eccentric (as evidenced by his course offerings) and decided that it would be fun to chart the changes in Mexican food as we moved west. Lunch and dinner for three days straight was Mexican. (Different reason for the repetition of cuisine...but the effect was similar to yours). Anyway, Dr. Milke and I were really enjoying the science...until the other 11 folks on the trip revolted and steered the van toward something less...well, less Mexican. So, while I can chart culinary changes in Mexican food from Missouri to New Mexico...I have no idea what happens between there and Nevada.

Simon said...

Re-reading your post today, I am driven to espouse a differing preference for dining companionship. That being I thoroughly enjoy communal gathering dinner type things. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chuck E. Cheese's... whatever.

A friend of mine once made the claim that the two most intimate settings we'll ever find ourselves in are those of either sharing a bed or breaking bread together. Since most of us will never share a bed (though there was that one trip to Montreal where five of us crammed into a hotel room for two...), the act of dining together is, to me, a catalyst for sharing more than just food.

I want and need a degree of solitude fully as much as you do, but mine is not to be found by distancing myself from the dining room.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

It is obvious that we have a consensus on the saltine cracker issue: salt side down. Many of you, like me, think suspicious thoughts about people who have the temerity to serve crackers with yummy decorative bits on top, thus denying our tongues direct access to the salt crystals on first insertion. Masticated salt just isn't the same as first touch salt.

Simon came back to say:

"A friend of mine once made the claim that the two most intimate settings we'll ever find ourselves in are those of either sharing a bed or breaking bread together. Since most of us will never share a bed...the act of dining together is, to me, a catalyst for sharing more than just food."

I couldn't agree more, particularly after having just returned from a long weekend at the cottage with friends, cooking and drinking and chatting and eating and playing together. That is to say, this aspect of communion is not lost on me just because it is frequently inaccessible. It is even possible that my appreciation of it is more acute due to longing.

Mark mentioned:

"By the way, I'm convinced that restaurants here in the US serve such huge portions so they can sell a $5 entree for $14.99. If I wanted that much food, I would have brought a friend."

My limited exposure to American restaurants had led me to be shocked at the relative affordability, an opposite impression. Nowhere but in America have I seen things like signs for "bottomlesss roast beef dinner - $5.99!" which is a concept frightening on several distinct levels. In Canada a roast beef entree at a cheap restaurant would cost at least $8 and it would never be "bottomless." Then again, it's been years since I've been to the United States and maybe that roast beef offer I remember from Arizona was an anomly or local quirk.

Teddy recounted:

"At my mother's table, if we did not like what was served, we were free to make ourselves a peanut butter sandwich. Jelly as well, if we liked. Of course, this meant that we ate what was put in front of us."

Dude, you and I are from different planets. Who would turn their nose up at PB&J as an alternative to something they weren't enjoying? My parents permitted no alternative selections for dinner -- it was eat it or have rumble-belly.

Teddy also said:

"It must be incredibly difficult to be picky."

Which is sweet, but the illustration as to why it is indeed so comes right on its heels:

"I've never put up much with that sort..."

A sentiment echoed by Carlie:

"...That being said, remind me not to have you over for dinner."

People who can eat anything anytime like to call anyone who doesn't share their appetite "picky." Linguistically this accomplishes two things at a stroke: 1) it generalizes everyone lacking appetite gusto as a common class, which implies similar experiences/symptoms/causes; and 2) the term itself puts the agency on the part of the eater, implying that being "picky" is a self-imposed condition one could shake off if they only had the character to do so.

Anyone tempted to rationalize the second point with anecdotal support is reminded to re-read the first point to see the flaw in their logic.

Like Carlie (who, bless her soul, I'm not trying to pick on), lots of people "understand" but can't help but say something quasi-snide -- usually considered to be little jokes, all in good fun. I also know Teddy to be a great gentleman, and I know he means no offense when he says he eschews the company of my sort of person.

In a small way, I feel this gives me some insight into what it's like to be a big fat person: everybody knows all you have to do to "fix yourself" is stop doing what you do, and folks make light-hearted ribs about you that, while innocent on their own, can prove exceptionally grating after the billionth chuckled repetition.

But hey, I just had a great eating weekend so I'm feeling good about my appetite navigation skills now. Nothing could dent my mood...except possibly for the insanely painful crick in my back that I acquired while waterskiing, which is causing me to stand every waking hour of the day since sitting has become...challenging. My physio appointment is first thing tomorrow. Whee!

Love,
CheeseburgerBrown

Mark said...

I can see how my comment wasn't clear. What I meant was, yes, I can get a lot of food for $14.99, but there is no option to get just the amount I need for $5. Unless I go for fast food, which is not what I want when I go out to eat.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Mark,

Oh, I follow you now, and see your point. The best thing I can grab for under $5 is a falafel, but I guess if you eat one of those in America they ship you to Guatanamo.

Love,
CheeseburgerBrown

susan said...

I am a very picky person from food to almost everything, i think. But I get a lot of negative comments. Everyday I struggle to pick and eat the foods in the kitchen. I seem to not like them. But I always ended up eating those salty type foods. :D