Friday, February 9, 2007

Fat Daddy

I should be studying, but instead, I just read this very good article about food and the many ways we misunderstand it in our culture. I recommend it.

Speaking of which, just a couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with my students about American cuisine. There were four students in the class, representing Taiwan, Mexico, France, and Korea. I think the Korean had been here longest, about six months. When I assigned the topic, their eyes lit up, especially the French woman's. She had some opinions, let me tell you what. What they mostly wanted to talk about was how big American portions are, about which they are incredulous. I did my best to explain it, mostly discussing the Protestant work ethic that the Pilgrims treated us to, and how one of their central beliefs was that worldly success is a sign that one is among God's elect. I pointed out that this belief has persisted, and has saturated even the most secular corners of our society. Our obsession with conspicuous consumerism allows the consumer to prove personal merit: "If I weren't a good, hardworking person, I couldn't afford this ________." This attitude extends to consumption of all kinds. Sitting down to a big, fat steak surrounded by delicacies of all kinds? That's power, baby, and might makes right.

I am, however, through careful thought and effort, a resistant consumer. I don't brand myself through purchases, I try not to waste my money on superfluia. Even so, I definitely consume more calories than I need every day. I eat too much. Way too much.

My dad was a big guy. After he died, I read his medical file, which characterized him as "morbidly obese." (Rhetorical Note: Did you see how I distanced myself from that? Nice, huh?) He attended Overeaters Anonymous meetings, which I think did him some good, and it seemed like he was always trying to diet, but never getting much of anywhere with it. I remember that whole cartons of ice cream would disappear between dessert and breakfast, and we couldn't keep cheese or peanut butter in the house, either. When my sister and I were little, we would go on occasional road trips and day outings with our parents. Dad would always pack a big cooler full of food, and it would sit on the front seat with him so that he could get into it at any moment. He would fill it with cold cuts and cheese and diet sodas, and probably some apples and crackers and things like that. Maybe sandwiches. He said that he packed it because he didn't want to spend money on road food, but I don't think I even believed that when I was a kid. He was always happy to share it, but it was really for him. I talked to mom about this once, and she said that maybe the idea of being without food scared him. If I'm to be honest, I'll have to admit that it scares me, too.

I should note here that I'm something of a paranoid. I got that from Dad, too. He was always on the alert for safety hazards. He always had an escape path should disaster strike. I myself am always aware of my surroundings, and I frequently wake up in the night afraid that there's a predator in the house. Specifically to the question of food, there has never been a day when there's been nothing in the house to eat. (There have been many days when there's been nothing I cared to eat, but that's different.) If I'm going out of the house for any length of time, I always consider where, when, and what I'm going to eat. Moreover, I frequently eat when I'm not hungry so that I do not become hungry. Right now, for example, I'm not hungry. (I had a nice lunch of whole grain cranberry-hazlenut bread with mascarpone cheese, pears, and honey. It was pretty good, though the pear could have been more flavorful.) And yet, what am I thinking about? Food. Part of this is because I'm procrastinating. I frequently think about and crave food when I'm bored or restless. But the moments when I'm not thinking about food are vanishingly few, and I think that one of the reasons for this is that I'm afraid all the time. I seem normal, I think, but I'm always afraid of these things:

1. serial killers
2. earthquakes
3. terrorist attacks
4. sarcasm
5. rapists
6. robbers
7. accident
8. illness
9. loss of loved ones
10. confrontation

One thing I'm not afraid of is hunger, and that's because I eat too much. My husband has a good union job, I have a chunk of financial aid in the bank, my mom and my sister live nearby and have stable, gainful employment. Absent citywide disaster, I'm not in danger of hunger. This, I can control. I feel like it's one of the few dangers in my life that I can vanquish.

More on this soon.

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