Story

Hunger

Food.

My relationship to food has always been a little fucked. As a tiny orphaned refugee kid, all the kind members of the congregation from the church who raised me spoiled me with so much chocolate and candy my baby teeth went black as death and fell out pretty much all at once. Then for a time I had two whole sets of messed up adult teeth, because nature was working hard to fill all those gaps and gave me twice the grill a human needs. Many complicated corrective procedures at a series of dentists was for years from that point necessary.

During elementary school, my parents at the time forced soft bruised apples, tiny boxes of raisins, and day-old brown bread salami sandwiches upon me. I stashed all these uninspired brown paper bag lunches in the wooden chest at the foot of my bed until the signature smell of rotting food and an eventual cloud of flies gave me clear away. I coveted my school friends’ lunches of soft fresh white Wonder bread peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches, chocolate bars, fruit roll ups, and rejected the lifeless day-old shit I was given instead. Lectured and punished, I nursed a child’s rage against my parents and felt depression about food and all life.

Kids, right.

In eighth grade, it was all secret lunch trips to Mcdonald’s and Dairy Queen. I thought I was sophisticated for strictly preferring Mcdonald’s and never setting foot in a Burger King. In high school, I loved the shit they dished out at the cafeteria. Top heavy oversized carrot muffins and giant freshly baked chocolate chip cookies were my daily breakfast, I couldn’t get enough. My interest in fast food continued too, Mcdonald’s, Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and Taco Bell were passionately all my favourite places.

I then found myself employed at a famous small town Mennonite tourist restaurant that served pretty decent food and I’d stuff my fucking face during every shift I worked there for a full 5ish years. The Mennonite women on staff made incredible pies of all kinds in these huge stone cellar type ovens, I ate hundreds of every kind of delicious pie imaginable for most of my teenaged years. I also chowed delightedly down on instant mashed potatoes that I’d arrange on a large plate into a big mountainous volcano shape and make a kind of molten well in the center which is where I spooned in a heap of raspberry pie filling. This was my favourite meal. When people made concerned faces, I’d draw expert comparisons to Thanksgiving Dinner’s mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. The Thanksgiving Dinner comparison for some tempered the strangeness a bit. Others at the restaurant would come across my carelessly stashed instant mashed potato mounds with the central molten raspberry pie wells and make fearful exclamations. If I was present, I’d imitate their confusion and wonder and say, “What the fuck right. That’s some seriously fucked up shit.” Full Pontius Pilate. Washed my hands clean of the situation.

I often came to work with an enormous empty hiking backpack and left with the thing crammed with containers of instant mashed potatoes, soups, pies, chicken and ribs. If we took food home, we were supposed to pay a certain amount per pound which I refused to do because the food otherwise every evening was thrown away. I rejected the idea of paying for garbage, my thinking was, “Fuck that shit.” My boss liked me a lot, so if he ever caught me in the middle of this deft procedure, he mostly let the thieving slide, I think because, despite all my raving excess and constant gluttony, everyone always worried I was starving.

During breaks, we got to eat however much of whatever the fuck we liked if we bought a mere $2 meal ticket. I took massive advantage of this arrangement, and always had about ten consecutive plates heaping with food and pie. One of the main supervisors was a short enormous miserable woman that would always shake her head and say shit like when she was my age she too used to stuff her goddamned face but not to worry my pretty little head because my constant ravenousness was sure to catch up with me, my miracle metabolism wouldn’t last forever, one day I would be just as old and fat and miserable as anybody. During these tirades, I would chicken wings wink and mashed potatoes grin, make like I couldn’t goddamned wait for the eventuality. It seemed my cheerful nature and orphan girl voracity made even this sour-faced heifer still somewhat sort of secretly like me.

By the time one of my worst mothers forced me too young to live on my own, my brown-noser, goody-two-shoes, all-the-teachers-and-the-parents-of-my-friends-are-my-real-friends reputation suffered a bit. I skipped school, had some girls over, we each ate our own whole pies loaded up with vanilla ice cream, laid around in a big living room pile and watched Stand by Me on repeat. We passed eventually out from the excess, bits of pie all over our bodies, sticky smears of ice cream smudged on dulcet faces. Girls gone serious the fuck wild. I was confused next day when the principal called my house to check up on me. I thought it was some friend pulling a prank, boy was I embarrassed by how I handled the call. I tried not to let the seduction of endless pie and classic American cinema again lure me into playing hooky.

During university, Taco Bell took real precedence. I also regularly gloried deep into pub food like pizza, burgers, nachos and French fries loaded high with cheese. I loved restaurants that brought out complimentary loaves of bread, I’d devour the whole loaf after smearing each slice thickly with butter. I couldn’t get enough of stuffing my face with freshly baked rolls and butter smothered bread, especially if the shit came constant and free. Nothing could kill the famished orphan in me.

I was a terror at all-you-can-eat buffets, because my orphan mind couldn’t reasonably or responsibly process the opportunity. I laboured under the emotional psychological pressure that I had to eat my money’s worth, so I raced through eating as much as possible, barely stopping to chew, think, or breathe.

My sister and I had unspoken contests at all-you-can-eat buffets as to who could eat the most. I usually won because the stress and the pressure got to my sister every time and sometimes almost immediately. She’d barely manage just a half plate of wilting salad while I was already roaring several times through all available appetizers and entrées. Our friends present would watch our progress with equal parts horror and fascination. I’d more often than not get to the point where the waist seam of my pants would cut into my stomach from how bloated and full that part of my body was. Once my sister’s belly bloat was so undeniable, the button of her pants went zinging right off. It ricocheted around the restaurant while the two of us clutched our middles, shut our eyes tightly and shook with silent laughing. Our friends would gaze neutrally at us until our mutual spasms ended. This sometimes took a while. While our friends waited, one of them would say, “Fucking Christ. Yup. They’re doing it again.” Such comments would just make us shake with silent laughter more until we cried. It’s still a wonder to me how either of us had actual friends.

I was always raised to eat everything on my plate, even if I was full, and it took years to undo this thinking. I now know not to heap my plates with so much food because I can always get more. I also know when I’m full, I can easily put the food away and finish it later, so neither do I have to stuff myself nor waste the food. Funny how such simple shit can take so long to be learned. I guess when I was a kid and living in a house with a million other children, I had to approach meals under states of wildness, frenzy, and speed, if I was going to get anything to eat. Most of the other kids were aggressive, fast, and huge, and I was left with nothing if I didn’t with precision and purpose lunge at the food.

First year university, I moved into a house full of freaks. The inscrutable Gothic crossdresser who lived in the attic by day managed overnight the 24 hour Tim Horton’s across the street. Another housemate and I would spend whole nights at Tim Horton’s doing homework, eating Boston Cream donuts with straws stuck in them to suck out the filling, and drinking countless cups of coffee. We ignored the looks and judgment of all other patrons and each night carried on contentedly. At dawn, cracked out and sleepless, high on sugar and caffeine, we’d trudge across the road home laden with a garbage bag filled with castaway donuts. During the years of working at the restaurant and the Tim Horton’s routine, I never cooked or bought groceries ever, I pretty much exclusively ate chicken, ribs, instant mashed potatoes and pie from the restaurant, and coffee and donuts from across the street. Fucking good shit. Nice setup. Goddamned paradise really.

When in my late teens I went vegetarian, I snuck my roommate’s fried chicken leftovers a couple times, until the guilt from sneaking sunk in. It took me a bit to truly say goodbye to chicken, goddamn I loved that good tasting shit. Growing up, I enjoyed Kentucky Fried Chicken drumsticks so much, my father at the time used to get a whole separate tub of them just for me, and gave the other shapes and remaining pieces to the other kids. Whenever some stray child tried to have one of my drumsticks, I’d rage along inflexible raised voice lines of, “Get your own goddamned chicken, all these hundreds of greasy tasty drumsticks are motherfucking mine, so beat it, kid.”

Then I started hanging with much more enlightened types, young intellectuals, artists and musicians who introduced me to classic literature, foreign cinema and underground music. I became a fan of Ingmar Bergman, Wong Kar-wai, Akira Kurosawa, Kim ki-duk, Yukio Mishima, The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Haruki Murakami, Bill Hicks, Merzbow, Masonna, The Pixies, The Cranes, The Specials, Fugazi, Kafka, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Nabokov. I began to focus on art, animals, health, the environment, politics, philosophy, and I stopped eating meat. Still, it took me a very long time to move from vegetarianism and become vegan because of my persisting interest in dairy products, with a specific and unconquerable preference for cheese.

My almost unvanquishable longstanding obsession with cheese I kind of blame on one of my mothers, because she had an affair with the dairy farmer across the street. From that point forward, it was always butter, cream, ice cream, yogurt, mayonnaise, and all forms of dairy pretty much 24-7, at every meal we basically had milk straight from the cow’s teats. We also put a ton of white sugar or loads of salt on everything, we drank pop and synthetic juices loaded up with the million different types and kinds of sugar, we ate chocolate and candy and special occasion Dutch desserts all day long between meals, even on regular days, not just on special shit like Christmas. We didn’t need a special occasion to stuff our motherfucking faces. When I think about it, I have no idea how I’m not a raging diabetic, or even how I can breathe normally and move around, how I have working organs, limbs, hands, and feet. I’m surprised I’m not some barely mobile thousand pound amorphous human heap with just a slash of slats for eyes above a constantly chewing mouth rammed full with too much food and teeth in place of a face. It might be a miracle that I can both walk and run instead of only being able to loom sluggishly forward like a ten tonne amoeba on a slowmotion rampage.

At seventeen I lived briefly alone with my sister in a little house and we both adored McCain’s Deep’N Delicious chocolate cake. My sister caught me with a big spoon once just shoveling that shit straight into my mouth from the pan, she lectured me about at least cutting out a square and putting it onto a plate. I was all, “Bitch, please.” In the dead of a later night, I went down to the kitchen to get a glass of water because I woke from a coughing fit. In the pin drop empty dark silence of our midnight kitchen, I saw my sister in feral woman’s crouch in front of the partially open refrigerator door. Startled, she turned half around. There was McCain’s Deep’N Delicious chocolate cake all over her fingers and chocolate smudged incriminatingly all over her face. She was actually in the act of hand to mouth shoveling of the cake. The demure lighting from inside the fridge upon her stooped and guilty form gave the total image a kind of grotesque poetic beauty, there was to it all a soft and lurid grace. I looked at my sister. My sister looked at me. We neither of us afterward ever spoke of the moment. Our looks said all of the things.

After a visit to some relatives in France, the family as a parting gift gave me two huge boxes of specialty Belgian chocolate, one for my sister, and one for me. I ravaged both boxes while waiting around at the airport, I ate every single chocolate piece before I even got on the plane. When years later I confessed, my sister was a little bit pissed. The half-year I lived and worked in England, my daily breakfast was a jumbo sized Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar, a can of coke, and an oversized piece of carrot cake. I honestly didn’t think this meal was all that bad for me, and I certainly enjoyed my menu of choices and tastes. There was nobody there to set me straight.

It took my current indescribably hideous outrageously severe high intolerance for me to finally permanently turn my back on dairy. I know dairy is seriously fucked up, but there’s still moments when people are enjoying the shit out of cheese and I’m struck by a depth of envy. Then the remembrance and familiarity with the severity of my dairy intolerance kicks in and I can transcend most all desire and craving. Severe food intolerances can be more a blessing than a curse, a kind of “beautiful disease,” instead of an inconvenience or actually bad thing. In my case, I have no resistance, no sense of proportion or moderation, with shit like the deliciousness of cheese, it’s all or nothing for me, so actually I’m grateful that something beyond myself forces me at all times to behave correctly.

Once at a family Christmas party, I stood before the tables tremendously arrayed with all manner of pies, cakes, cookies, quiche, cheese platters, and dishes covered in butter and dressings. I thought fucking what the hell, it’s motherfucking Christmas, I’ll eat whatever I goddamned please. That night I lay naked sweating, shivering and shaking upon a cold gray slate bathroom floor, hunched over, slumped, twitching, wrenching, writhing, making weak appeals to a God I didn’t believe in, and spent several repulsive hours shaking, shivering, shitting, puking and giving birth to Satan basically. Fucking worst night of my whole life. Dylan was there too, once my feeble calls for assistance made their way to him. Dylan muted his terror and dismay behind a zen mask of grim love and cautious sympathy. Hours of abhorrent agony made me see. It seems with me it takes shit to get severe for me to take shit seriously. Good thing I’m not addicted to plastic surgery, porn, or gambling. Cocaine is a hell of a drug. Fuck dairy.

I had no idea my eating habits were still very bad really until I met Dylan. He was for years extraordinarily good at keeping his comments to himself and withholding judgment. Gradually I learned that my approach to food was vastly disturbing. When we met, I was vivaciously living on a near exclusive diet of 99¢ ramen instant noodles, Kraft macaroni and cheese drowned in ketchup, steamed white rice jauntily topped with a fried egg, butter, and a ton of grated cheese. Breakfast was a bowl of Cap’n Crunch followed by vanilla ice cream. I drank daily many extra large Starbucks dessert coffees with six sugars and four creamers each, and I still adored chocolates, chocolate bars and candy. People often remarked about my energy and how “crazy” I seemed, I think they thought I was perpetually on speed or meth or crack or PCP because I was so talkative and hyper and excessive, even though then I had very little idea about any of those type of things. When people inquired as to how I wasn’t a million pounds moving land mass from all the constant sugar, salt, fat, butter, candy and terrible shit I was always stuffing into my face I said, “I cough a lot, plus I am high anxiety. My six pack is from the coughing and my anxiousness is my only diet secret.”

It took years for me to appreciate vegetables. I still don’t really dig kale or broccoli, but I love kale when it’s juiced, and I like broccoli steamed. It also took me ages to stop dousing everything with shocking amounts of either sugar or salt. My friends and family growing up taught me that caring about good food that was organic, not genetically modified, and locally sourced, was mere hippie bullshit, and that only smug self-righteous west coast people who thought they were better than other people cared about that shit. It’s depressing and unfortunate that it took me so long to unlearn this type of self-sabotaging backwards thinking. Now here I am loving the shit out of things like green tea, organic locally sourced food that is not genetically modified, running, stretching, exercising, drinking a ton of water, breathing deeply and getting sufficient sleep. I’m a grown ass woman now. I still have some step back moments but thankfully not many. My 32 severe food intolerances really help (despite also making my life slightly less fun and a little more difficult) and Dylan’s influence too, toward all this cultivating of good habits to take place of the bad.

And sweet Jesus there was a lot of bad.

Now when I subject my body to things that aren’t good though, I feel almost immediately sick and unwell. My body just rejects the bad to such a degree that whatever’s bad must end happening. It’s a blessing and a revelation, it’s beautiful to finally be here, but let me tell you, the shit wasn’t easy. It took my whole goddamned life to get this right.

Recently we were at a restaurant and I was kamikaze diving into some Hamachi Kama, which is one of my longtime most favourite dishes. I love that shit so much Dylan jokes on my gravestone he’ll get them to carve, “Here Lies Hamachi Kama.” I was so hungry and excited when it arrived, I charged at the grilled fish with force and speed. I clutched, chewed, chomped, and made agitated gnawing sounds. Bits of fish flung about my face, which became wet and covered with juices from the food. Dylan gazed at me and kept his expression mild. There was calm horror in his eyes. I went “Oh” and willed myself to slow the fuck down.I was needlessly acting like a deranged and starving woman on a feeding frenzy.

Sometimes I forget I’m no longer at the orphanage fighting for resources with the other kids. I’m also no longer on the dairy farm lunging for sustenance with several strapping young lads as my competition at meals. There is no need to hurry, to be greedy, or to rush. I have no competition, not even Dylan, since he’s been forbidden fish for months because he’s all full up on crazy shit like too high levels of heaviness in metal. We all bear our crosses. I at any rate can finally eat at a normal pace and with an unbroken sense of peace. Food no longer needs to be such a wild and demonic experience, or a crazy frenzied frantic fucked up thing. I’m a grown ass woman now, and I’m free to eat slowly and well. I’m free to eat like a person who is healthy, happy and loved, thank God. Actually thank Dylan, and thank you 32 food intolerances.

Bon appétit, motherfuckers.

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