And We Forgot The Taste Of Bread: Soylent, Day Four, Five, And Six

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So a long-time Internet crush of mine was in Ohio, and I’d agreed to drive down to Columbus to meet with her.
What do you do with a girl in a strange town when you can’t take her out for coffee?
What you come to realize when you’re on Soylent is how omnipresent our food is as a social construct.  Want to see someone?  Go out for coffee.  Have a date?  Take her out to dinner.  Have friends in town who you really love?  Cook a meal for them.
But if I wanted to have a space where Kristen and I could sit down in and chat in relative privacy that didn’t involve food – because God, if you put me near an iced coffee I would drink that fucker quicker than the dog steals your dinner – then I had only one other option.
And it seemed a little, shall we say, aggressive to suggest renting a hotel room on our first date.  Particularly one that charged by the hour.
Yet when you take away the shared comestibles, you come to realize what a restaurant’s true purpose is: it’s a neutral, pleasant place you can pay someone else to allow you to talk in public.  Which is super-useful.  You don’t want to go over to stranger-danger’s houses, or even necessarily have friends over to yours if you’re messy.  Or maybe there’s not enough space.  So you go out to a restaurant, which gives you a low-key and interactive thing to do that doesn’t involve you wandering around looking at stuff.
The “not looking at stuff” is key.  We eventually settled on meeting at the arboretum, which was nice, but not exactly private.  And it was a little awkward, talking about polyamory and the kink scene and oh, did you know she used to be a porn star? in a big echoing room when there are small children playing with the koi at our feet.  We could have found a bench, but then we’d be facing straight outwards, not at each other, and given that we’d been exchanging texts for years and the novelty of this whole experience was the actual presence of her pretty eyes, I kind of wanted to look at her.  And yes, the flowers and the brickwork were nice to look at, but often kind of distracting from actually catching up because we’d be discussing her past history with her ex and we’d round a corner and a parrot was cawing in our faces.
What I needed was a nice place to sit down and have people bring us the entertainment to poke at on our own time, and then pretend they didn’t hear us talking about Queen Victoria’s sex life.  (Because honestly, that’s how I roll: historical kink.)  When I tip you well, Mr. Waiter, that’s my way of saying “Thank you for sufficiently covering your smirk when you overheard us.”
Despite the lack of entries, I didn’t skip the weekend’s Soylent-blogging – I was actually collecting data, trying to see how awkward a rather social weekend would go when we couldn’t have food.
And I am sad to tell you that Gini and I flat-out cheated.
We had a Home Free concert to attend on Friday with two friends, and I suggested meeting up for dinner beforehand.  Gini was horrified.  “We can’t go out for dinner!” she cried.  “We’d just sit there empty-handed like fools!  What would they do?  Would they also eat nothing, in some fucked-up Guantanamo hunger strike solidarity?  Would we look the waiter in the eye and stir goop into our glass and say, ‘Sorry, we’re taking up seat space and stuffing your tip up your ass?’  There is no dinner now!  There is only Zuul!”
Then Gini said, “I don’t talk like that, Ferrett, would you stop exaggerating my words for comedic context?”
Then Gini said, “I totally talk like that all the time, I don’t know why anyone would think that that very nice, handsome, and above-all accurate reporter Ferrett would possibly misconstrue my words.”
But yeah, we punked out on the pre-dinner show, because it would have been totes awkward.  And we’d only been drinking Soylent for four days, and already we felt like a freak show.  Admittedly, we set out to be a freak show, and this whole “Let’s drink Soylent” was pure performance art, but we weren’t quite ready to go all Andy Kaufman and start entangling others in this whacky process.
And what we realized was that if we decided to do this full-time, we would have an incredibly awkward time trying to keep up a social life.  On average, we go out with friends three, maybe four nights a week.  Of those, about two to three involve eating as part of the catching up, whether that’s dinner at the Meyers or coffee with Karla or hey, new restaurant, who can we take there?  And the remaining night is usually a movie, and the best part of the movie is going out for a drink afterwards and dissecting why the hell Christopher Nolan thinks that turning the music volume up to 11 is an EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE.
And going out without goop is, well, kinda dangerous.  As noted, Soylent digests at a very consistent rate – if I drink a glass, I’m good for about three hours before I start to feel hungry again.  If we go out for a long evening and don’t bring our goop, then according to the rules to as to how we are doing this right now, we cannot buy a cruller or a bagel or a candy bar or a piece of fruit or Jesus think of all the snacks you can just casually buy and then imagine them not being there when you want them.
Being on the all-Soylent diet is basically like being on the Oregon Trail.  You have to pack your goop and stuff it into the back of your wagon, because once you hit those hills there’s no place to buy anything.  And if the concert runs long or you get stuck in traffic or you decide to go out afterwards, you will feel the dwindling nutrients in your stomach slowly shrink.  And if you get really hungry, then sorry, YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY.
Basically, the all-Soylent diet gives you a nice sharp preview of what it’s like to have massive food allergies.  And unless you’ve had those, you don’t realize how truly fucked up it is to have to carry your own food around with you, constantly monitoring your caloric input, inventorying what you have and making sure you can make it to the next day.
So we didn’t even bring goop to the concert.  We just chugged a lot of it, enough to hopefully get us through, and then left right away to go home and chug more goop.
Saturday, we skipped dinner at the Meyers, but when we walked in, we found that winter had arrived.  And Kat has an allergic reaction to snow: whenever there’s ice on the ground, she bakes.  Obsessively.  So when we walked in there were racks of cookies, three loaves of bread, the house filled with the delicious yeasty scent of a new loaf in the oven.
Strangely, the presence of the food didn’t bother me all that much.  At this point in the Soylent diet, I still crave food – anything buttery will knock me on my ass – but the scent is almost enough of an experience to get me through the withdrawal.  It’s a mild hunger, like you might crave gum once in a while.
And yet I found myself wanting to be social.  Everyone there was cutting up pieces of cheese, snacking on apples, noshing on this fresh hot bread – and my hands kept reaching out to take the bread, as though eating with them would somehow let me be a part of them.
Gini and I did not bring goop.  Because we could probably chug enough in advance to not be hungry.  And because mixing up a batch and bringing it would be awkward.  But at least for me, I felt like enough of a freak show being on this week-long experiment, with everyone asking “So how’s it going?” – and actually chugging the goop in public would have marked me as the alien I was.
I would not be sharing the warmth of this meal.  I would be drinking something else, something they found disgusting and freakish, and actually putting that into my mouth in front of them would have just emphasized my otherness.  And I wonder if that’s how it is for native Chinese when they come here and people mock their disgusting food, or any other immigrant.  Did they once have this social pressure of “Eeeyew, you really eat that?” – a subtle pressure that kept them pent with their own kind, where they could have a nice yummy haggis at home and not have anyone force them to justify this?
I thought Soylent would teach me about food.  What it’s teaching me about is how we react to food.
And what I’m learning is that food is so integrated with friendship that it gets really, really awkward to separate the two.
TOMORROW: So Where Do We Go From Here?

1 Comment

  1. kalvynevans
    Nov 17, 2014

    I’ve tried several times to be a vegetarian. Being vegetarian, in a house with a wife and children who are not, with a wife who is openly trying to break your spirit and get you to way meat, just because she’s a sadist, its impossible. You can resist something for a few minutes in a store, but not every minute of your life at home.
    A few times, I’ve tried fasting for three days. You become very aware of how much time one spends eating, because you have more free time than you know what to do with.

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