This post discusses eating patterns, insecurities, and preferences.
I have anxieties about food, though not necessarily those one might expect. I sometimes joke that it’s a chakra thing. At least, the chakras are a convenient framework to explain it.
Basically, when I am going through First Chakra Issues — times when I feel physically and fundamentally displaced — I only want to eat food that is both consistent in itself and familiar to me.
During my last week of school, for example, when i was packing up my classroom (I’m moving rooms again — whee!), saying good-bye to graduating students and non-returning teachers, and facing the overwhelming realization* that this class — this cohesive and interdependent group of students — was coming to and end and never would be again, my lunch choices started changing. Despite the fact that they were fresher and generally tasted better to me, I was no longer willing to risk the calabacitas that might be more or less spicy than last time; the lasagna where I might have to guess what, precisely, was inside; the salad greens that might be more limp or bitter than I was expecting. It suddenly became monumentally important that I know exactly what my food was going to taste like and that it was going to taste exactly the same each time.
So I began trading out. The freshly prepared hot entree for a Chicken Puck™ sandwich or the salad bar for peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonder white. To be clear, it was not that I was misinformed or operating under any delusions about the various ingredients and nutritional contents of these foods. In fact, I was well aware that generally speaking, processed meat like Chicken Puck™ does not give me the same strength or stamina as do other protein sources and that the refined carbs in commercial white bread (including Chicken Puck™ Bunz) pretty much set me up for a sugar crash in the afternoon. I do not even particularly like Chicken Puck™, white bread, or grape jelly. (Peanut butter is pretty much always awesome in my book, though.)
So why do it?
I think it’s safe to say, very simply, that this food is serving a psychological need that — at the time I eat it — trumps my physical needs for optimal nutrition. (I say “optimal nutrition” here because whatever its shortcomings for me, I’m still better off eating Chicken Puck™ and grape jelly than I am skipping from breakfast to dinner.) During that time, because of all the whirlwind and ungrounding that was happening, consistent, reliable food at school became more important than nutrition, became more important than how other people might judge me for my food choices, became more important than taste.
Now I’m sitting in an airport — waiting to fly across the country, waiting to make more or less public to my extended family the fact that I will be getting married this fall. Ungrounding all over the place. Particularly given that I’ll be in an airport or on a plane for about 9 hours, as well as the fact that I will be leaving the final airport past 9:00pm local time (when food obtaining and prep options will be limited), I again have food anxiety.
I mean, I know I can find enough food. The airport is filled with it — chips, sodas, and cheeseburgers can be purchased for many thousands of dollars each — and most fast food drive thru windows will still be open once I’m in the car again.
But. Airport food kind of creeps me out. Not only does a lot of it taste soggy, stale, unnecessarily greasy, and warmed-over to me, but it never really manages even the reliability of school cafeteria Chicken Puck™. Every food vendor in every airport manages its own creative twist on, “You call that food?” If it’s already not what I want and it might be unpredictably different than what I’m used to, I would almost rather not eat.
Except, I know how I get when I don’t eat for that many hours. Given the crankiness, the fixation with “must. eat. now,” and my tendency to eat too quickly and therefore cause myself additional discomfort — I’d rather not go there, and I’d rather not foist that me on the family members coming to pick me up. Like, it’s one thing to be Standard Food Time** hungry — in which case, can we either clarify that there’s food at home or stop to pick up something as it’s convenient, please. It’s quite another to have missed something like 2 of those while in crowded, noisy airports or crammed onto bumpy, pain-inducing airplanes, in which case, it is a stretch for me to keep up with the finer points of civility, where the fuck is the nearest McDonald’s (or wherever) and how are we not magically there now?
This time, however, I have planned ahead. As part of my packing, I went to my local grocery store and bought myself the ingredients for a trail mix. I did the bulk thing specifically so I could pick and choose foods that give me the best balance among taste, travel ease (e.g., does not melt or crumble much), and nutritional needs. I mixed them up and portioned them out (mostly so they would fit in my carry on more easily). I now have four baggies of dried edamame (not actually my favorite, but taste-acceptable and high in protein and fiber), dried apple (my favorite), cashews (my favorite nut and source of portable fat), and raisins (more sweet to balance out the nuttier flavors of the cashews and edamame). It’s food that will taste reliably consistent, that will taste good to me, that will keep me from getting too hungry, and — not to put too fine a point on it — that will keep me from having an IBD flare up on or as I need to board a plane.
I won’t say that it removes my food anxiety entirely, but it definitely helps to know it’s there.
* Yes, this is the
natural socially conventional order of things. Yes, this means I have done my job. Yes, this happens every year. That does not make it any easier.
** For me, this means approximately 3-4 hours after I’ve finished my last meal or snack, depending on factors like what exactly I ate last, what I’ve done since then, total intake for the day, etc. For other people, it may well vary.