20 Something: Let’s Talk About Food…Again

I actually wrote this for a comedy/satire class back in March and for some reason did not post it. I suspect the reason had to do with already having several posts dealing with my various food neuroses, but I was rummaging through some old files, and thought, why not? So here’s that. It was intended to resemble the writing style of Nora Ephron. Not sure if I succeeded, but it was generally well received by the class.

I have a love/hate relationship with food. I love the way it tastes, but I hate eating it. I love cooking, but I hate how much time it takes out of my day. I love grocery shopping, but I hate the cost.

Much of why I hate food stems from an inability to consume much of it. It is horribly expensive to cook for one person, even taking into consideration the possibility of leftovers as additional meals. This wasn’t an issue when I lived with my boyfriend. He ate enough for two people, so it was fine that I only eat enough for half a person. I sometimes wonder if that is what is meant by 2.5 children. Perhaps it isn’t actually an average, but rather a summation of how much each child consumes.

Another part of the problem is that I love a plethora of foods. I grew up in a single-parent household, which I now equate with a steady diet of Ramen. I don’t know for sure that all poor families consume disproportionate amounts of nearly instant noodles containing massive quantities of sodium, but I know that mine did. My love of variety makes my shopping list inordinately large for a bachelorette. Variety, while the spice of life, is now in my singledom the death of my checking account. I can’t stay away from recipe websites, and I can’t bring myself to cook anything with less than ten ingredients. Although I have a roommate who consumes three to four times as much food as I do, easily three-fourths of the food in the kitchen is mine. And, I go grocery shopping every Monday.

I love grocery shopping. I love walking down each and every aisle, whether I need anything there or not, just so I can see the wonderful assortment of food and shake my head at the prices. I have very specific opinions about every grocery store in my immediate and not-so immediate vicinity. Target is over-priced. Wal-Mart as a company sucks, but damn it’s convenient. Crest is an enormous wonderland of food items, but it’s rather out of my way. Uptown Grocery is the best place to get hard to find items, but it’s expensive. Sprouts has the best produce, but everything else is better bought elsewhere. Homeland is my go-to store for everything but instant meals, and its cheese counter is divine.

Last week, I tried to make a menu using recipes that only contained things I already had in the kitchen. The menu was mostly successful; my ability to stick to it was less admirable. The goal was to use the menu to clear out some of the overstock of food items in the fridge and to avoid eating out entirely—one week without fast food of any sort. Unfortunately, Papa John’s has half-price pizzas on OKC Thunder game days. I ordered a medium pizza and a two-liter of Mt. Dew. The pizza will last me four meals—at least. The Mt. Dew will go flat long before I finish it. I will probably drink it anyway, but with whiskey to hide the lost carbonation. This measure will fail as it always does, but I will do it anyway.

I used to feel horribly guilty when I threw out leftovers that had been hovering in the fridge for months. I thought about the starving kids in Venezuela, and I thought about how much money I was throwing in the trash. Now, the guilt is muted, and it is tinged with relief that I don’t have to eat that stew I made two weeks ago—for the fifth time. Somehow I always manage to forget when I’m cooking that a recipe’s recommendations for how many people can be fed by it are quite frequently dead wrong. I cut every recipe at least in half as a matter of course since the separation, and I still end up with too much food. I offer it to my roommate, but he has prima donna taste buds, which bicker with mine over the merits of red meat versus chicken. Obviously chicken is superior, and meals with no meat at all are perfectly acceptable—sometimes preferred.

But, I’d like to return to the issue of the recipe websites. I can spend hours scrolling through pictures of food that I would never eat, and somehow I still manage to find twenty new recipes that I will forget to try. Ethnic food is very popular. So are kid-friendly meals. I won’t test out any recipes that don’t have a picture, even though I discovered long ago that pictures lie. For a while, I was one of those people on Instagram. Those people who post nothing but pictures of their food: salmon drowning in Hollandaise sauce, what I assume was spaghetti, giant pot of stew, etc. I often regret not photographing every meal for posterity. I’m also one of those people who never rates recipes after trying them. I always mean to for the sake of others, but I rarely cook anything without adding five spices and an extra vegetable that wasn’t called for. It just doesn’t seem right to rate a recipe when I didn’t make it exactly as intended.

On the other hand, there are some people who seem to think that cooking is an exact science, and those people are crazy. I first encountered this type of person on a recipe review for my favorite website. The reviewer was ranting about other people who did reviews without following the recipe to the letter and how they couldn’t expect something to come out right if they didn’t realize that cooking is a science. That person was clearly insane. Cooking is an art form. There is limitless room for creative expression in the kitchen. Well, limitless except when you haven’t been to the store in a while and only have a small selection of food stuff on hand. This is why I go to the store every Monday. I would hate to run out of eggs when I need to make blueberry muffins at 2 o’clock in the morning during a snowstorm. This has happened to me. I ended up having to substitute a mixture of vinegar and milk. Along with the recipe websites, I have become an avid stalker of sites that detail acceptable substitution items for cooking and baking. I just can’t seem to keep eggs in the house despite almost never actually cooking them.

I have heard that a health-conscious person should eat five to six small meals per day rather than the traditional three larger meals. I have a diabetic friend for whom it is medically necessary to do this or risk blood sugar issues, but aside from this anomaly: who does that? Who has the time for that? Certainly not I. Besides, I can only imagine my grocery bill if I began cooking five meals a day. As it is, I’m lucky to get a cup of yogurt or a muffin in the morning, followed by some me-size portion of leftovers for lunch at work, and then one newly cooked meal in the evening. Now that I have listed that, I can see how I manage to consume less than 1000 calories in a day—including soda—though it does not solve the mystery of how I remain both alive and energetic.
I hope that no one reading this begins to suspect me of having an eating disorder. As a teenager, I had an aunt who was constantly concerned by my small food intake, and she repeatedly inquired as to whether or not I was in fact anorexic. I am not. Neither am I bulimic. Though probably somehow unhealthy, my food neuroses are not life-threatening—I think. And, the only way I would ever be tempted to throw up a perfectly good meal would be if I could guarantee that I could enjoy it all over again. Vomiting is a wildly uncomfortable act, so I prefer to reserve it for half-price whiskey and cola nights.

I recently discovered after having my wisdom teeth removed that my diet really isn’t that unhealthy anyway. I’ve spent about a week now eating nothing but over-spiced chicken broth, yogurt, and chocolate Malt-O-Meal because I am terrified of getting any food particles stuck in the holes where my adult molars used to be. I have had terrible headaches nearly the entire time, despite the kickass painkillers my dentist prescribed; I’m fairly certain that these headaches are a result of my limited food supply. Additionally, I don’t think I’ve ever been so continuously hungry in my life. There seems to be some correlation between food that doesn’t need to be chewed and the amount of time it keeps one full. The less chewing involved, the more often I need to eat. I am close to actually making the whole five to six small meals a day thing happen. It does not make me happy, and I’m sure it doesn’t make me healthier—hence the headaches. I miss actual cooking every time I boil water for yet another bowl of Malt-O-Meal, but mostly, I just want a sandwich. I don’t mean some lunch meat and a piece of cheese slapped on some Rainbow white bread at home, either. I want a serious sub loaded with veggies and dripping mayo and ranch. Once I’m able to eat real food again, I might eat those for a week.

And therein lies the one aspect of my food neurosis that I find distressing. Despite my love of diversity, every few months a particular type of food will come along, and I will fall in love with it. We will be blissfully happy in each other’s company for a period of two to six months, and then, the infatuation will vanish as if it never existed. This began with a love affair with frozen Twinkies when I was twelve. I insisted on there always being a box in the freezer for nearly a year until one day I realized that I hadn’t eaten a frozen Twinkie in about a month. The desire was simply gone. I haven’t had a Twinkie, frozen or room temperature, since then. That is the tragic part of this random fixation; once the passion disappears, it leaves a void of indifference in my stomach. That’s why I can no longer eat corndogs, chocolate-covered pretzels, or gyros. I am terrified that sushi will soon join the list.

My stomach is a petulant child. It rarely desires food, but when it does, it wants it five minutes ago. I can go nine hours without realizing I haven’t eaten anything, and then, like the monster from a B horror film, the hunger is suddenly destroying my insides. This is a problem where cooking real food is concerned. I have few time restrictions on when I can cook as I am often free of both work and school by five o’clock in the evening. The temptation is to wait until I am hungry to cook because my appetite is so thoroughly unpredictable. This is a mistake. By the time I know I’m hungry, my body thinks I am starving it intentionally, and it gets angry. To counter this, I often end up with a finished meal and zero appetite to eat it. Likewise, when my stomach decides it is full, it is on the point of explosion, and any more bites—no matter how delicious—are to be rejected as unfit for consumption. The stress of figuring out when to begin cooking is almost enough to make me give up real food entirely. Let me be clear: real food is food cooked at home from scratch. All other foods are imaginary compositions of corn starch and sawdust—not that I don’t enjoy those on occasion, too. One of the good things about being unable to tell how much food a recipe will produce is that I always have leftovers to take to work for lunch so that I can avoid these food imposters.

Sometimes I love food, and sometimes I hate food, but right now, I just really want a sub sandwich.

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