And We Forgot The Taste Of Bread: The Social Dynamics of Food

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So as a reminder, I’ve just started an all-Soylent diet for a couple of weeks, eating nothing but nutritional goop in an attempt to reset my system.

And here’s the weird thing: Gini started early.

That’s not the weird thing – Gini always wants to go NOW NOW NOW, whereas I’m like “Hold on, I’mma sleep on this sofa until the starting gun.” Her attitude was, “If we gotta start, I’ll go on Thursday” and I shot back with, “I promised myself a weekend of ice cream and I’m gonna get a weekend of ice cream, so I’m on Monday.”

She was, of course, miserable.

Transitioning to Soylent will do that to you. We’re used to being able to spike our blood chemistry at a moment’s notice – some caffeine to jolt us awake, some sugar for quick-release carbs, whereas Soylent is like a nutritional IV pump – it’s slow, and steady, and if you’ve been relying on “I’m feeling sluggish so I’ll just make a cup of tea with sugar,” you will feel like you’re crashing all damn day.

So she was grumpy the whole weekend.

And I still had to eat.

Thursday, it wasn’t too bad – I had dinner with a friend. Friday, I scavenged leftovers.

But come Saturday….

We went out for a drive to hunt Pokemon, which is what we often do on weekends – and we got stuck for an hour in line at the car wash. And by the time we were done with the usual chores, I was hungry, and I said, “Can we stop at the drive-in for some food?”

I did not say it unthinkingly. I spoke as sensitively as I could: “If we’re gonna keep going, I need to keep eating” was my tone. And she said “fine” and we went to my favorite drive-in and got burgers – this was my last weekend before the long haul, after all – and Gini was kind enough not to say anything as I scarfed down some calories, but the seething anger she was concealing made me ashamed to eat.

The ensuing Pokemon hunt was short and and not very sweet. She wasn’t in a mood to enjoy anything. So we went home.

And come dinner, I could have anything! My cardiac issues be damned, I could go absolutely bezonkers. And I looked through takeout menu after takeout menu, deciding whether I’d have rich peanut-sauce Thai or a thick Chicago-style pizza, and then imagining Gini’s sadness as the scents of these things permeated the house and she couldn’t eat…

For my wild Saturday night dinner, I had Kraft macaroni and cheese. Because I knew she hated that shit, and it wouldn’t make her sad.

And come Sunday, I didn’t want to eat. Food had become a barrier between us. I mean, I had a chocolate milk because Gini didn’t like that – but all the foods we’d shared once had, in the course of three days, become a barrier. No longer could I say, “Hey, I got the new Coke Vanilla Orange, come take a sip.” No longer could I say “I got corned beef egg rolls at the Chinese store, try them with me!”

I couldn’t even drink a beer without feeling guilty that Gini – who loves her wine – was going wineless.

I let the moments slide by until my stomach rumbled, then snuck out without telling Gini to get some food, and gobbled it down before she could find the evidence.

And that’s when it became clear how much of our food habits are driven by socialization.

I said this in my prior writing on Soylent:

“Gini and I have been thinking about how to restructure our lives to eat better, but what we agreed we needed to start was a hard reset – something to jar us out of our normal habits of ‘Oh, a glass of wine here will be nice’ and ‘Well, since you’re having a wine I’ll have this cookie.'”

And what became crystal clear once the good will had stopped was how much crap we were eating because the other person covertly tolerated it. We do have a certain detante in our household – okay, yeah, we’ll eat well tonight, but we’re out to dinner at a nice restaurant, of course we’re going to try the appetizers. And we have guests in town, don’t we want to have a drink with them?

Food is not only a social lubricant, but a bargaining chip – I’ll overeat a little if you will.

That only became evident when, in the course of a weekend, I went from a welcoming “Hey, you wanna go for Mediterranean food tonight?” to dashing out to eat as little as possible.

Which is… well, it’s something to consider.

Because once we’re off the Soylent, Gini and I will have to consider how to eat better. And we love fine dining – that’s a joy I don’t want to give up, because the thrill of going out to new restaurants with friends and experimenting with high-class mushroom-and-gin drinks and trying some new sauce are part of who we are.

But there’s also a fair amount of low cuisine that creeps in. A glass of chocolate milk here. A bag of Chex Mix there. Stuff we both know is bad, and not particularly comforting – more like background radiation – but we both go, “Well, you’re eating that, so I’ll have this” and the pounds creep up over the years.

And as I engineer the new dietary habits, one of the axioms of this is that Shame does not work. Shame has never worked for us – yes, we should go to the gym, but we know we’d rather be at home. What worked for us, exercise-wise, was when I devised a plan that kicked away shame and locked us into mutual support – “I don’t want Gini to go to the gym alone today, and this is a lot of money we’re spending and I don’t want to waste it, so I guess I’ll go.”

That’s worked for almost two years now.

So when I’m thinking of a new diet, it’s tempting to go, “Well, just have Gini and I yell at each other!” But that wouldn’t work in the long run. I’d feel bad for a while, but in time, I’d just learn to pig out in quiet, like some sort of caloric spy.

What I need to ponder – and keep in mind this is a personal solution, whatever works for you may well fall flat at the arena of our personal psyches, so slow your roll when suggesting your One True Solution – is how to engineer a solution where Gini and I support each other in positive ways as opposed to negative ones. Which is difficult, because neither of us want to eat healthy – we want to be healthy, and Jesus is there a distinction to be had there.

So I’m pondering. Because it’s become apparent how much we enable each other. And we have to figure out how to enable each other to eat more broccoli and less Chex Mix.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Mar 11, 2019

    YMMV, as you say, but I find what works better for me is trying to control access, either at the purchasing decision or in terms of storage. If something in the low cuisine category is either not in the house or is out of sight, I’m much less likely to consume it.

    -Alex

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