Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stupid Eating

For the past 48 hours I have indulged in a binge of stupid eating. Let me explain.
Stupid eating is a deep winter affliction, occurring mostly from late January to March, when the days are short, overcast, brutally cold and largely useless.
It snowed here a couple of days ago, just a few inches but enough to render the area spastic. Schools close; the government hunkers down and hibernates like an overfed groundhog. People go a little crazy driving, and they hoard: orange juice, Bounty towels, milk and eggs and toilet paper.  The media screams. A couple of years ago, the Washington area was the victim of a snow-locaust (so clever!) and now every time a flake falls, the headlines holler. Have I mentioned that it is 15° outside, and that with the wind-chill factor, it feels like 14°?  And that I worry constantly that my 20-year-old furnace will die in the middle of the night, causing me to freeze to death in my sleep? All this leads to stupid eating.
I work from home. It’s a very nice, small home, I might add, built in the mid-60s when energy was cheap, and so the windows are single-panned and the doors drafty. In winter, a candle placed on a sill will flicker. I wear too many clothes. My office is my basement, cool in the spring and summer months but frigid otherwise. It’s there I write, I rewrite, I edit, I ponder the next page, create and destroy plot lines and characters, and generally have an excellent time, so excellent, in fact, that on occasion I will neither see nor speak to anyone during the day. Some people find this sad and somewhat alarming.  I do not. I don’t watch daytime TV; this is a morally reprehensible habit that can lead to brain-death. I vacuum and dust and polish and make sure the toilets are Tidy-Bowled. I sweep the kitchen three or four times a day. I do the laundry; I check to see what’s in the fridge, or the pantry, or the cabinet where I no longer keep a collection of one-pound bars of dark chocolate. The latter have been replaced by trail-mix in an utterly useless effort to cut down on calories. I decide a piece of cheese is well-earned and in order, perhaps with a slice of that multi-grained bread which looks much better than its taste, and the tiniest bit of Prosciutto ham. And some mustard, of course, to tie it all together. Stupid eating. It is the only thing to do when one is snowed in and inspiration has either run out, or is threatening to abscond if not given a treat.
Not that being homebound is a prerequisite. One reason for the obesity epidemic in America, or so I have read, is that seven out of 10 hardware stores carry food items. So do all service stations, Office Depots and Staples stores, pharmacies, Walmarts, Autozones, TJ Maxxes, bicycle shops and Toys-R-Us. We are awash in food, and bad-for-us food, at that. And over-eating, like all addictions, is neither a matter of low morality nor of self-control. We are programmed to eat. In times of stress or unhappiness, when we are lonely or frustrated or simply bored, we eat. We crave sugar, fat and salt, and the foods that offer such combinations are almost impossible to resist. Especially in winter.
On top of it all, I am somewhat of a food hoarder. Blame it on being a postwar child in Paris, France, when food was scarce. I believe in having many cans of soup in the cupboard, and at least four pounds of frozen fish-sticks and chicken nuggets in the fridge. It’s important to have enough supplies on hand--potatoes, carrots, vegetable stock--to make six quarts of boeuf bourguignon at a moment’s notice, or maybe a tasty bouillabaisse. This makes me feel safe in a cold and dangerous world. I eat stupidly because I am momentarily uninterested in doing anything else. Yesterday, for example, I spent five hours working on a book I have been commissioned to write, and a couple more hours on two books of my own.  I struggled with the dialog of a play I am writing. I ate another piece of cheese, the last ounces of some excellent home-made beef stew (with a dash of Indian spices, if you please), and two turkey breakfast-sausages from Costco. Also, a chorizo from the Latino deli. And a handful of trail-mix, in lieu of the missing chocolate.

The silliest part of all this is that I go to a gym five or six times a week to get rid of my excess poundage.

Both Aristotle and Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote of man as an essentially rational being. I completely disagree. We are irrational, bombastic, destruction-prone and wasteful. We foul our own nests, are prone to catastrophic miscalculations and have little respect for what we do not understand. And we stuff ourselves at every opportunity. Stupid eaters.

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