To Eat is to Survive. To Taste is to Live. To Savor is to Thrive.
For a long time, food was only about survival for me.
I liked food well enough growing up, but was primarily concerned with whatever story I was lost in or whatever game my siblings or cousins and I were playing. We weren’t allowed to leave the table until all of our food was gone, so I gobbled it down without complaint, most often as quickly as possible, and went off to do whatever. Read or play video games or finish drawing. I was always (and remain to this day) a nerd.
I didn’t know I had cyclothymia, but I can think back to my second manic episode. It came when I was nineteen. I’d been out of high school for two years, having graduated early to stay at home while my family moved to the foothills so my mother, the breadwinner of the family, could take a better job.
After the miscarriage I discovered pot was nice. I was nineteen. The man I was dating was 9 years older. He decided he didn’t like me smoking so I decided I didn’t like him and went to live with Karen and our friend in an apartment across town. I slept behind a bar in the living room of the apartment, a space about as narrow as a closet floor. This was my room. My earthly belongings consisted of books, clothes, and a Japanese lamp that had shelves to hold the books.
I maybe lived there for nine months before we moved to Santa Cruz. This is not the first time I live on someone else’s floor, but it is the first time since I was a kid that I am in what is considered poverty. They were great times, living with friends, getting high, parties, beach days, little to no responsibility.
It was during these nine months that I woke up every morning at 4 AM, smoked a bowl, ran 2-3 miles, read something, journaled something, walked or rode my skateboard to work, cooked at the local cafe slapping together burgers and waffles and salads and cooking eggs in whichever way whomever pleased all day.
Mountains of wasted food came back on those plates.
It is your typical greasy spoon, outrageous serving sizes, melt in your hungover belly grease-coated, butter laden, oil spackled, nasty delicious food.
I was already hypomanic though I had no fucking idea what that was or that I had it. Just, hindsight is 2020. Welcome new year jokes. Anyways, this food waste and the fact that this is what my life is, that this is what I do, that I produce the food that gets eaten by half conscious hungover party goers only for the rest to be thrown out, it settles unhappily in me. Perhaps my first manic episode came shortly after learning how we treat our food before it gets to the truck and to the cook. I will have to see. I don’t think I have any journals from that far back, but I recall a radical shift in my consciousness towards food after discovering factory farming was something I partook in without knowing. I felt dirty. I felt complicit in something evil.
I stop eating for a while. I start to feel sick every time I look at food. I eat weird snacks like grilled mushrooms in butter lettuce with organic slices of expensive cheddar I can’t afford but do because my conscience hurts more than my bank account. I do not eat enough and am quite skinny when we move to Santa Cruz where I am enrolled for my first year of undergrad. The AA was half finished when I graduated high school and is successfully under my belt after the dreaded Statistics class, so I’m not too worried about managing the study load.
What I do not expect is the rest of it.
We get to Santa Cruz, Karen and I, having left our men in Tahoe. Here we face our demons.
Karen begins to drink more heavily. Once she drank half a gallon of Carlos Rossi to herself in an afternoon. Back then I was impressed. Now I want to scream into the past, “Stop you dumb bitch. We’re supposed to grow old together.”
But I had my own demons to face. I got up to go to school at six AM. Took a coffee with some weed tincture to my literary theory class. Loved that class. Killed that class. I still study literary theory for fun. I AM a nerd. Then it was history, world lit, and literary criticism. I loved school at Santa Cruz. The professors were knowledgeable, engaging. The campus was beautiful and I would get high on the hilltops between classes just staring over the ocean, reading or writing. Then I’d head home, change, eat a huge salad, my only meal of the day, run five miles, and go to work where I waited tables for a sexist pig who tipped based on how short your skirt was that night. I had one skirt but he was more generous after each sake bomb of the night. The nights his wife was there were the worst since he couldn’t drink. When he couldn’t drink, our tips sucked. I’d work until midnight, smoke a bowl in the parking lot with the girls, head home, do my homework, pass out at 12 or 1 AM and do it all over. The lack of sleep was nothing to me. I slept 3-5 hours a night until I was fifteen so this didn’t occur to me as a sign of hypomanic. I was so busy with school and work, it hardly occurred to me I was only eating 1 meal a day.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have been better off in the dorms. Working to afford an apartment on our own in Santa Cruz was rough and Karen’s job skills were in retail. Retail jobs in Santa Cruz did not pay a living wage. Waiting tables and getting tipped hardly paid a living wage. Karen came to work with me after a while, only for us to discover that the service industry isn’t kind to people with diabetes.
Once again, I was sleeping in the living room on the couch. It didn’t bother me. I was hardly there anyways. Then my stomach started to hurt. I went to a doctor who told me I had IBS and I could take a pill for the rest of my life. For the next three months I worked on elimination diets, discovering shortly that I was allergic to gluten, or at least intolerant. I tried to deny this later and wound up in the hospital anemic and undernourished.
“I’m allergic to gluten,” I told the nurse. “But I drink beer.”
“Well stop drinking beer.”
I eat gluten today, in moderation, and my body is well nourished. Moderation is an amazing thing.
Anyways, the hypomania leading into the school leading into a schedule that required only five hours of sleep a night and one meal a day saw the full fledged development of my eating disorder, bulimia. It was strange. I found myself throwing up because food just didn’t sit right. I remember clearly thinking that it was strange I was throwing up, that this couldn’t be an eating disorder since I was trying to eat, that probably I was allergic to something or there was something going on in my gut.
Meanwhile Karen’s alcoholism gets worse.
I start to get tired.
A teacher hands one of my papers back near the end of the quarter and tells me to rewrite it. “I know you can do better.”
It does not occur to me that he has at least 300 students and is willing to let me rewrite a paper because he knows I can do better. It doesn’t occur to me that is something remarkable.
I rewrite the paper, am told it could go to publication if I’d be willing to edit and expand on a few parts. I leave that quarter and that paper behind, hardly any energy, and head into the next quarter unraveling at the seams. I need insurance to go to the doctor, but can’t get the classes I need for my degree because there are twice as many students at the school now than there were ten years ago and the writing program is impacted. I enroll in a Jewish Bible study course to stay full time to keep insurance to go to the doctor who tells me to take a pill for the rest of my life. I am taking English 103 for the third time since it doesn’t transfer from my AA so I am paying to take a class I could teach at this point. I’m paying out of state tuition because the lady at the admin office needs my birth certificate or social which are with my mom who I barely speak to since the move and the emancipation. I’ve lived in this state my entire life.
Karen is getting so drunk she lays hands on me and I decide this is enough. I make it halfway through my second quarter before I move to Sacramento where my boyfriend is at. He’s cheating. I figure it out and deny it. My eating disorder turns into something demonic and alive. Over the next year it consumes me. I’m tucking burritos at Chipotle, learning knife skills (it’s actually a required lesson in their hiring process at this time, which I think is cool), making friends. Karen moves to Sac too. She and I spend less time together. This is when we grow apart.
And then I turn 21 and we are out at the Irish bar downtown every weekend. I come home hammered. I eat everything in the fridge on my days off and throw it up because it feels wrong. I move in with the cheating cunt boyfriend. My head is fucked at this point from booze, weed, and a lack of nutrition that is about three years running, and from dating someone who gaslights and cheats. I become delusional. I’m thirty thousand dollars in debt for a year of college uncompleted. No degree to show. They call me about paying back my student loans while I kill a black widow that lives under our front door.
This moment stands out somehow. I couldn’t stand being inside anymore, thinking there was some demon living there. This is the house where I start cutting, where I watch reruns of America’s Next Top Model and learn what Americans think is beautiful. I try that lifestyle–being skinny and beautiful. I prefer chillin outside with the black widow and talking to the people at the student loan center.
I’m in rehab six months after turning 21. I’m in rehab because I called someone and said, “If I don’t get help, I’m afraid I’m going to die.”
I went 29 days without eating anything but lemons, cayenne, and honey. Oh and the wine.
I drank super salinated jugs of water to flush out my insides. I threw up until my throat bled. Once I thought I had a stroke over the toilet and that would be how they would find me.
The rehab program gives me a scholarship that is the equivalent of one uncompleted year of school at Santa Cruz.
I still have tons of medical bills after the blood tests and prescriptions.
Three months later, I walk out of rehab eating three meals a day with 8-16 oz protein, some kind of grain or carbohydrate (which feed your brain–carbs are good for you and should take up a quarter to a third of your plate), fats, minerals, and sugars all in proportion, along with two snacks in between, one after dinner if I want. No caffeine. No booze. No nicotine. No processed sugar or dietary beverages. Every ounce of food that went into my body for three months was nutritionally valuable and my brain healed and my gut healed.
I laid on my mom’s couch binge watching Dexter and Weeds for two months. She waited outside the bathroom door when I peed or showered and I had to sing the ABC’s or anything I could think of so she knew I wasn’t throwing up.
I was off the Xanax and Zoloft one month after moving back to Tahoe where I lived in a tiny room that was used to grow weed before I moved in. I meet kind people there and still gravitate towards the cheating cunt sucker instead of moving on.
This is the healthiest my body and mind have been in five years. I’m back working at the greasy spoon. I make friends with old friends who I thought I’d never see again.
I stop eating right and start drinking again and smoking pot.
Healing for three months bought me time I guess. Time to discover that a lifestyle change is more than a trip to rehab. I go to school again because my friend asks me to take a creative writing class with her. I get a scholarship to transfer to a four year college that is forty five minutes away and that I have somehow never heard of despite having grown up in Tahoe. I get a degree. Go through a couple shitty boyfriends.
Life feels hollow and empty. I have forgotten why the fuck I started school. I don’t even like writing anymore because I’ve had so many wonderful writers tell me how to do it better for so long that I’m following all of their bird like chirps in my mind instead of my instincts. The rules make my creativity rigid, then sterile.
I graduate and start teaching. I am too jaded to inspire my students and quit. I go back to cooking. I love cooking. I start to remember that food heals. I suck at cooking and have to learn and be patient and humble and present and I have to taste and smell and be engaged with my food and other people’s food all day every day.
I get frustrated by my lack of ability, by other people who are here cooking as disengaged as nineteen-year-old me was, not giving a fuck. I get angry about how many people around me don’t give a fuck. I become so angry, which is alarming and unlike me.
Anger is my call to action. This means something to me. A good diet could have been the difference between a successful happy life and the weird clamoring for purchase of an existence I’ve been living.
What if all I had to do all along was eat well? What if I was always in cooking jobs because I was meant to cook good food and eat good food?
What if I had learned to value food and nutrition enough to take time out of my day to make sure those needs were being met? What if going to school and work full time are what caused me to not eat…what if doing the right thing by going to school and working hard actually led me in the absolute opposite direction of what was right for me? They did. This is why I do not teach.
Now it’s time to heal for real.
I’m thirty now. It’s been 9 years.
The regimen is no caffeine, no nicotine, no booze, no weed, three balanced meals a day, 2 snacks, and a walk.
I start with no booze, and discover that the depression from no booze is rough. I take SAMe which I’ve done a product review of. It sends me into hypomania and I drink to level out I tell myself. Drinking feels bad. My stomach hurts. My body feels icky and my mind is cloudy. I stop. It’s an on and off battle, but I slowly replace booze with knitting and reading and writing and food and tea and phone calls.
There is no reason to drink except that my brain thinks it’s relieving. My brain’s reward center has been hijacked and I have to learn to give it new rewards, other rewards that require time, patience, and work to achieve like a knitted hat, a trip to the museum from the money we’ve put away from not drinking, or a nice home cooked meal.
I am learning to slow down.
I am learning to taste my food.
This morning I have two cups of coffee and I write. I haven’t had breakfast. It’s noon. Breakfast is the most difficult meal of the day to achieve, so I will start there.
Eat a balanced breakfast every day. Continue to not drink (which is helping the budget).
Start with one week. Seven days of balanced breakfast and another seven days of no booze. We are slowly adding responsibility, slowly adding quality to action.
Things are slowly, steadily, improving.
It is very clear to me that my choices could have been better. It is clear to me, also, I have done my best.
We go to the ER this morning. DJ is sick and I’m worried sick. They prescribe pain meds after a cat scan for an unspecified abdominal pain that is preventing him from eating. They offer no solutions for what to eat. They offer saltines that hurt his stomach. I ask about what we can feed him and they say the BRAT diet. Bananas, rice, applesauce and the nurse says, verbatim, “The T thingy. I forget T.”
T is for Toast.
They prescribe pain meds for abdominal pain for a patient who cannot eat and offer no dietary suggestions other than an Acronym the nurse can’t remember. I mean, he’s probably been working some grueling hours, not going to harp on him.
Many doctors are not required to learn much about nutrition. They are trained to perform miracles on those who have already been hurt. They aren’t trained to tell you how nutrients feed the brain and body and why it’s important to eat balanced meals three times a day with snacks in between to keep your brain and metabolism functioning.
Nutrition is preventative health care and if you get to the ER, well, it’s already an emergency.
Here is a link to a table describing symptoms that can be caused by simple vitamin B and C deficiencies. This website, mdedge.com, also has tables describing symptoms of deficiencies in Vitamin A, D, and E. In order to look at the rest of the site, one has to be a member as it is part of a professional network.
Sometimes the information is there. Sometimes information is kept from the general public. Sometimes information comes at a cost. Access to information and knowledge have historically been the rights of the privileged. Just read about what the printing press did to religion and how illiteracy contributed to the Christianization of Western Europe. Did you know 1 in 5 Americans is considered functionally illiterate?
“PIAAC defines literacy as “the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” (p. 61, OECD 2013),” says NCES.ED.Gov. “By race/ethnicity and nativity status, the largest percentage of those with low literacy skills are White U.S.-born adults, who represent one third of such low-skilled population.”
“Through the International Activities Program, NCES supports a variety of activities to provide statistical data for cross-national comparisons of education. On behalf of the United States, NCES participates in the International Indicators of Education Systems (INES), a program of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of 35 member countries,” from ( https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/SurveyGroups.asp?group=6).
Those stats come from this site: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2019114 which allows for public access to literacy studies, though there is another link that is purely for private access and requires a special licence to access for reasons of privacy.
Here are two other sites proclaiming the U.S. literacy rate with completely different results and their own methodologies should you be interested in further pursuing this subject on your own.
Back to that privileged info thing. The internet wasn’t always here for us to learn from. This is wealth at our fingertips, if we can interpret it, which requires literacy and critical thinking which can, for many, increase with practice. That means the more you read, the better your life can become because you are better able to process information. On the other end of that, you can be like me and read so much you forget how to do normal.
Vitamin B deficiencies can cause:
- “strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
- difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
- a swollen, inflamed tongue
- difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
That is one deficiency in one vitamin.
Some people have gone so far as to say that vitamin B12 can prevent Alzheimer’s. This article specifically states, ” Although there is a relationship between low vitamin B12 levels and cognitive decline, clinical studies—including those involving people with Alzheimer’s disease—have not shown improvement in cognitive function, even doses of the vitamin as high as 1000 micrograms,” which might be a good indication of the preventative nature of proper nutrition.
Keeping this in mind, I may have some damage done that mere nutrition cannot reverse, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that proper nutrition can significantly improve my current quality of life.
This is what #foodfulness is about. I believe that along with mindfulness, kindness, taking responsibility for one’s actions and position in life (whether or not that’s exactly your fault), and humility, foodfulness, or respect for and appreciation of one’s food, where it comes from, and how it heals, is essential to a healthy life.
There’s a lot Americans do not know about food. There are a lot of foods that are inaccessible to some Americans. Those are topics for their own essays.
Next up: What is a proper diet?