I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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I love to eat.
I can eat more than anybody I know. Can. I don’t eat as much as I used to, but the ability remains, and every now and then I’ll kill two or three all-the-way pizzas and a pitcher of brew, for old times’ sake.
My body is a metabolic wonder. It weighs only 145 pounds, of which about 10 is identifiably fat. At one point it mysteriously rose to 160-something, then came down again to the 137-155 range, where it still wanders with apparent disregard for causality.
This isn’t an athletic body, although it works fine.
It just metabolizes. Food comes in, burns up, produces a modicum of motion and poop. That’s it. Some suggest magic, wondering how 5,000 calories in six pounds of food a day can produce so little heat, motion and waste. Beats me.
Now, you might think that I’m coating my blood vessels with a layer of arteriosclerotic goo. No sir. Although my cholesterol intake is on the gargantuan side (2-3 eggs, milk and a stack of toast for breakfast, junk food for lunch, pasta for supper — a typical day), both blood pressure and cholesterol counts always tend to run somewhere between normal and below-normal. So I am not a candidate for cardiovascular misfortune.
For a prodigious eater, I’m lucky. Until recently, when my 10-pound excess centered its formerly well-distributed mass under my belt, I had no need (or urge) to diet.
But I do see my body as the biological equivalent of a gas-guzzler — an old Pontiac, built to turn food to motion and waste with no concern for productivity or savings. Unlike a car, however, I can run well on a lot less fuel (although hunger produces pain — no kidding), without modifying the basic design.
So I diet. But not to save food. No, I diet on the dollar system: I have less, so I eat less. Money counts easier than calories. If the 1979 inflation rate was 14%, I guess that’s about how much less I ate last year. Even though I still out-ate everyone around me. Which means I still ate too much.
Ah, but what is life for? We eat to live. Love of food is love of life (by semantic derivation, if not by a more syllogistic rationalization). And I love food.
If my epitaph says nothing else, it should read: “We forget what he did, but he sure ate like a horse.”
Aside from sex with one of those Olympic gymnasts, my ongoing fantasy is to find a restaurant that recognizes me for what I am: an absolutely superior eater.
Three minutes ago my plate was full of vegetables and meat and I was the happiest man on the block. Now all that’s left is a half a cup of coffee. Three minutes — that’s all it took. Meat loaf, broccoli, applesauce, cornbread — I wiped the plate clean.
My waitress saw me eat. She knows. She cleared my dishes away as soon as I finished. Same with the cashier. I bet if it was up to them, they’d smuggle me a bit more of that meat, or some more cornbread at least.
They know my kind. They must — they see so many come and go each day. I’m the real thing: an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned eater. And it doesn’t matter what as long as it’s on the table and it’s not beets, mayonnaise, or canned peas. I had some bad experiences with those foods when I was a child, especially with the peas.
Now I’m an adult and I have my freedom. If I don’t want it, I don’t eat it, and if I like it, I’ll eat it up fast. Barbecue and slaw. Sprouts and salad. Thick ethnic stews with plenty of bread. Chinese foods with spices and textures and taste. When you’re eating good Chinese food it is so full of taste that you don’t want people to talk, or music to play, or anything to happen or move, because there can’t be more than one or two things in the world that are better than good Chinese food. Chinese food. . . . Could I ever use an order of beef and pea pods now. Or shrimp-fried rice.
Someone better lock me up. Or close this place down. Or both. Something’s wrong. This is torturing me.
Where, oh where, is the restaurant of my dreams? A restaurant where if you eat well enough and fast enough, you can stay and eat for as long as you want, compliments of the management?
All my life I have eaten. Once I ate so much I weighed more than 200 pounds. I was preoccupied with eating.
Most of my life I didn’t feel well. One day it occurred to me to connect eating with physical and mental well-being.
Why do we eat? Is it to nourish and replenish our bodies? Is it to stuff ourselves, to jam down our emotions? Is it to feel the warmth of a shared meal? Is it to fill a void or to avoid a feeling? Is it just something we have to do to stay alive? Eating seems to me to be all of these, and much more. Eating is so important to us that food is a political, psychological, economic, and spiritual force of great strength.
Food comes naturally, or can be processed into fuel that is either very efficient for our bodies, or barely maintains our bodies. Compare our body-machines with a car: if we put in gasoline that is mixed with water, or additives that it cannot use, or chemicals that it cannot burn, it will cough, sputter, and stop running before the fuel is used up, choked with the unused substances. With proper fuel in the car, the motor will run smoothly until the fuel is gone.
Eating is the process of supplying fuel for our bodies. Just as surely as the car-machine, human beings perform at peak with high quality food. With low quality fuel, we perform badly, spiralling into disease until we also choke on the substances we cannot use or rid ourselves of. The car of the body that sputters along ineffectively and dies choking on its own toxic material has not lived its full life; it has died before the fuel has run out.
Because food and eating affect the behavior and performance of every human on earth, it seems important to me to upgrade the fuel we use, and also the fuel of the future.
Clear thinking depends on high performance fuel, but most of the food available today is of very low quality, designed to make the most profit and with the built-in characteristic of keeping us operating at levels far below our capabilities. Think about a child of Cambodia or Africa who dies of starvation before the age of five, or a sugar-starch addicted child of the U.S., too fat to run, but just as surely starving slowly to death. Neither of these children’s body machines will reach their potential. Consider children who are fed proper fuel — clean, unadulterated, whole food. These children will be able to pursue their right to operate at high levels of performance and to help others to do so also.
How is it that food enables our thinking to become clear? It is simply chemistry. Food is chemicals, different atoms and molecules that react with the atoms and molecules that we are. As with all reactions, different compounds are produced. If these compounds can be used by the body, they are fuel; if they cannot be utilized by the body, they must be thrown off, neutralized, or stored. These are the substances that cause the body to choke and die before its time.
If a cell whose function is thinking must spend 80% of its energy processing and repelling wastes, it can only perform its function of thinking at a level of 20%. The same is true for cells designed to carry oxygen, digest foods, reproduce, detect light or smells, protect the body, or govern its workings; in other words, our total body. If I had a Mercedes I wouldn’t run it on crude oil. Why should I treat myself with any less care?
White sugar, white flour, processed, devitalized food, foods grown chemically on devitalized soil devoid of nutrients, chemical additives and preservatives, waxes and dyes to “beautify” — these are all substances our bodies must struggle against. We spend millions on medicines, herbs, and aids to digestion and relief from indigestion — all in order to digest foods that are indigestable. Most of us who read this magazine are aware of this, but are we aware of how we combine our foods, how we prepare them, how we eat them, how they are raised and processed, how and what our bodies use?
I suggest that food and eating are a necessary force for our evolution, both individually and collectively, and to neglect to learn about this process is irresponsible.
But where to learn? There are books, classes and theories on nutrition, foods, and eating, but many are conflicting in what they say. My solution to this problem was to take a few hours to sit down with a basic anatomy and physiology book to learn how my body works. Then I started experimenting and testing and thinking and soon I was able to form my own conclusions about how I should eat to attain a state of high performance. Sometimes I slip backwards into old eating habits and when I do my behavior, my productivity, my joy for life slip backwards, too, until once more I remember that this machine only runs well when I’ve fed it quality fuel.
I no longer weigh 200 pounds and I don’t intend to stop running before my fuel runs out.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Eating is the great substitute whenever anything is missing in my life. The immediate gratification derived from food makes up, at least temporarily, for lack of companionship, entertainment, or finances. An eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, cheese and I can have a great time getting acquainted in the kitchen.
But when I’ve spent a lot of time preparing a meal it’s difficult to eat it; it’s too hard to destroy what I’ve created. That’s where “comfort foods” come in; they’re easy to prepare and completely trustworthy. Some of my favorites include red river porridge smothered in brown sugar and milk, or whole wheat toast soaked with butter and honey accompanied by a good cup of hot tea. On other occasions nothing beats a big bowl of hot, fresh popcorn, heavy on the salt and butter. Vanilla ice cream or milkshakes (as long as they’re made with real milk), milk custard or fresh peach yogurt are as satisfying to me as Chivas Regal would be to an alcoholic.
After all these years, I can still see the sunny afternoons in sixth grade when Sally and I took our leftover lunch money and bought our over-the-counter, yet illicit, goodies, and then lay down in the tall grass behind the shopping center overlooking the Tappan Zee Bridge, and giggled about which boy “liked” us at school, or how we had noticed those underarm deodorant shields peeking through our math teacher’s blouse — all the while frantically ripping open packages of Fritos and Devil Dogs, Cheese Doodles and Ring Dings, with a swig or two of Tahitian Treat soda to down it all, as we started home to catch “The Match Game” on TV.
During the more sophisticated days of high school, the age of pizza was born, not so much for its culinary attributes as for the divine appeal of the pizza parlor as an ideal hangout. Boys, boys, boys, stringy cheese that burnt the roof of your mouth and endless, poisonous Pepsis.
With college, career, and competition, came the decade of the great diet. I tried them all, and I live to tell that there are better things to eat than cottage cheese and water-packed tuna. My friends now recognize me by my little pink saccharin packages. All my discipline and devotion has kept me perhaps at a reasonable size, but in my heart, I am the same old Fritos and Ring Ding girl I used to be.
Eating is as comfortable a part of my everyday life now as toothpaste and my old purple turtleneck. I have to eat my way, in my own style, to fulfill a need (gluttonous or stoical as it may be at any given moment). But a balance must be achieved somewhere between the need and the desire, the finest memory and the reality that it will probably never taste as good twice.
In all due respects, I believe that God made a slight error in assigning the mouth so many tasks. Speaking, kissing, singing, sighing and whistling take up so much energy — it seems to me that something as sacred and important as eating should go on somewhere else. It is so crucial to make the right decisions and so easy to make the wrong one! As of January 1, new decade, we are giving up sugar again. May my mouth cooperate with my head — which still believes that a less available and more selective orifice should be supplied. After all, what does a mouth know about nutrition?