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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bread (and Chocolate) Alone

I think about food all the time. I think about eating it and cooking it, about buying it and giving it away. Chili cheese fries from Native Foods, chocolate cake and a glass of cold milk, deep dish pizza, vegan cookies I want to bake for Christmas, the toast and tomato salad I'm going to eat for lunch. I think about how little I should eat, and how many delicious and unhealthy things I can get away with tucking in without getting indigestion or becoming overweight. I wonder what's good for my body and what isn't, which gastronomical pleasures are worth stomachaches and a few extra pounds on the hips, and which aren't. And this bothers me -- it bothers me very deeply. It reminds me of how much of me is a body, cells and molecules, an implausibly beautiful and mind-boggling conglomeration of hard and soft tissue, electricity and water. And it reminds me, which is the more troubling element of all this, that I am a woman, that I am a woman in twenty-first century United States, whose mind has fed, among other things, on the philosophy that being fat is a moral failure, that health is a moral imperative, that what you eat reveals more than anything else who you are. I must believe all this; under the bright uncomfortable lights of self-examination, I can find no other explanation for my obsession with food.

During the past few days I felt under the weather, and I was annoyed with myself for getting sick. I had failed to keep my body strong enough, through good eating and vigorous exercise, to fight off whatever virus I'd picked up. I felt responsible for the cold I sensed coming on; I thought that my eating french fries on Friday was the equivalent of self-sabotage. If only I had stuck to whole wheat toast and vegetables, if only I had taken vitamins and gone to an extra yoga class, I would have been all right.

But it occurred to me, as I sat on the couch and tried, with increased irritation, to warm my feet and swallow the itchiness in my throat, that it's not as simple as that. Really. The world doesn't work like an equation; you don't put in an x amount of something and get a neat y. The body isn't a machine -- at least not a simple one, with straightforward inputs and outputs.

I find myself saying all the things the body isn't and can't quite say what it is. I find the Christian definition, "temple of the holy spirit," useful although I'm not religious. It seems to capture the paradox of the absolute significance and absolute insignificance of the body. Afterlife or no afterlife, flesh and blood matter in and of themselves, work their marvelous secret work all on their own, and yet the mind, consciousness -- I should have said this before: I'm talking here about the human body, the human mind -- seems separate from it and above it. All the language I know, that of Western philosophy of course, puts the mind in charge of the body, like a rider in charge of his horse. The quickest example I can think of, for this, is the placebo effect. The counterexample -- this occurred to me just now -- is fever- or drug-induced hallucinations. So -- neither body and mind is in charge. They influence each other, balance each other, exist in a tight and minutely complex relationship -- like a binary star system. I like this image -- how equalitarian and slightly grandiose and absurd it is. Being human in this eternally swelling universe is being everything and being nothing, perfectly logical and perfectly preposterous.

Tomorrow morning, if my cold doesn't get worse, I'm going to take a cooking class on chocolate at Sur La Table. I'm going to break my vegan eating rules, I know; I won't be able to resist the marvelous confections I'll learn how to prepare. My sister is coming with me. I look forward to this with an embarrassing, childish enthusiasm. I look forward to being reminded that food is about happiness and about connection with other people, that joy rather than health is a moral obligation, that discipline and abstinence work as rules not only to be respected but also to be broken every once in a while. There's a nice place there beyond discipline -- a little patch of grass, a table with a white tablecloth and tea things, cakes and scones and muffins and cucumber and cream-cheese sandwiches and, across from you, someone with whom you can talk about everything and never get bored. It's good to visit it sometimes.


Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Beth and I often dream of a garden in which we could have afternoon tea and talk forever. It's nice to know that the idea is shared.

December 01, 2006  
Blogger Rebel Girl said...

Let's make one!

or at least throw a little tea party sometime....

December 01, 2006  
Blogger madness rivera said...

I collected chipped, mismatched tea cups & saucers for a bit this for exact purpose. I threw one tea party once, for the girls. Sigh.

i think food on brain is actually maternal & nurturing. Your class sounds wonderful & Sur La Table is irresistable.
I miss you, C. Will you email me your address please?

December 02, 2006  
Anonymous Maven said...

Have you read this? Touches on some of the same food issues, in a critique of the "calorie restricted" lifestyle that is supposed to make people live forever.

December 05, 2006  

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