All I’ve ever really wanted to be is a writer. I want to be able to express myself through words, to write down my life, to tell stories about the lives of all the fictional people I have inside my head, to think myself worthy of poetry, to have nice stationary and a phenomenal desk. I’m working on it. I’m shuffling through my second degree with the word ‘writing’ in the title, making sure I put writing on my schedule for the day, keeping a notebook near 95% of the time. I’ve even managed to say “I’m a writer” out loud, in front of real people a couple of times. I am passionate about writing and books, I enjoy the community, I like the events, I live on it. Only I don’t… I live on food and water and sunshine and sleep. I find it so frustrating that these things take up so much of my time. I’d say I probably cannot live without literature and writing, but without food, water, sunshine and sleep, my body would literally shut down and I would literally die. And right now I’m hungry.
I’m trying to read an essay but I’m finding it really hard. It’s such a great essay which really interests me but I can’t get through it because I’m thinking of an experimental way of making sushi. To me, cobbling good meals together nine days after I did my last food shop is more exhilarating than taxing. Once the hunger pangs start, the wheels of my brain start turning: crispy flavoured seaweed sheets that are supposed to be eaten like crisps, half a bag of microwavable rice and quinoa mix in the fridge, rice vinegar and tamari, half an orange pepper, a questionable cucumber and some Indian pickled mango. I’m thinking of mixing the rice and quinoa with the vinegar and a pinch of sugar and microwaving it, hoping to get it sticky and sushi-like. Hoping the seaweed crisps are malleable. Hoping the cucumber hasn’t gone off. I’m feeling excited about mixing Japanese and Indian cuisine with the pickled mangos. It could be a work of art, my next Instagram post, or it could go terribly wrong and I could defrost the soup I froze a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know… But I’m trying to read this essay and I can’t focus on how funny it is because I can almost taste the sushi I have whipped up in my imagination. I’m supposed to be a writer but I am forced to use up my creativity on feeding myself. It’s also a real drag to go to Tescos and spend money I don’t have on food I feel I deserve. The main reason I deserve the food is because days after I should have gone food shopping, I’m still finding myself sitting in the library mentally checking my cupboards, creating potential options for dinner. I use my creativity to make the most of every morsel. I could arrange the sushi all nice in a tupperware for tomorrow’s after-work snack, so that this time tomorrow I won’t have hunger pangs and can actually focus on what I’m reading rather than what to have for dinner.
I have a pretty limited diet. People often ask me why, when there’s a whole menu of delicious options, I opt for a portion of chips and a side salad with no dressing. No, I’m not one of those eaters who is painfully boring, I love food. My body is just a little high maintenance. Rather than listing all of the things I can’t eat, I simplify by diet into phrases that people can understand. ‘I’m a gluten free vegan,’ is the embarrassed response to those who ask about my choice of chips and salad at a restaurant whose menu is bursting with meat, dairy and gluten-filled options. Both terms, ‘vegan’ and ‘gluten free’ come with such strong connotations. The term ‘Vegan’ goes hand in hand with long armpit hair, hemp necklaces and a penchant for lecturing, and ‘gluten free’ is for stuck up people. Combine these dietary elements, and you come off as a bit of a dick. However, I do it because it’s what my body needs and I’d rather feel embarrassed for a little than in pain for a lot. Also, the embarrassment is waning with time; I’m more comfortable explaining my diet and less afraid to ask waiters to adapt meals for me than I was when I began this ‘eat myself well’ journey.
Just to clarify, I never actually call it ‘eating myself well’, but I guess that’s what I did. Since being on this diet, I’ve been able to eat so much more than I ever could before, because the food I’m eating has fewer calories so I can eat and eat and eat (to a degree). I got healthier, I experienced less pain, and I lost weight. My point is, I had a choice. I could have chosen to buy expensive, processed foods that are boring and convenient, and I could have stuck to the conventional vegan and gluten free recipes and eat the same few meals constantly, inevitably winding up miserable. I didn’t chose that option, I chose to get creative. I remember writing a list of my favourite foods and experimenting with them in my parents’ kitchen; learning about food, finding out how to adapt meals, and making tasty accidents along the way.
I go through phases of foods I like. A while back it was kale. I wanted to have kale in absolutely everything in absolutely every form. I fried it with chilli and garlic and had it on a sweet potato. I baked it with celery salt to make crisps, put it in bolognese, used it as the base for a stew, a soup, a curry, for pesto. I massaged it with tahini to make a salad. I steamed it, I made it into cannelloni, lasagne sheets, noodles. I wanted kale in everything. My next obsession was aubergine. Then it was broccoli. Now it’s chickpeas, I guess. I toyed with radishes for a while but when I’m thinking about what to eat for the week, I find myself thinking about chickpeas a lot.
I long to be skinny and toned, but I love inventing recipes and eating them more. I’m not worried about how much I think about food though. My BMI is normal, and I think if I exercised more regularly, my body would be my idea of alright. The only thing I’m worried about is that I am so obsessed by food that I find that when I’m trying to do things I should also be passionate about and motivated by, like reading an essay, I can’t. Maybe it’s because of the whole ‘if you don’t eat, you die’ thing, maybe it’s because in the silence of the library, the rumbles from my stomach echo around at an embarrassing volume. Maybe it’s because I know I would be able to rustle something up from the fridge in five minutes but this essay is going to take about half an hour to read, then a while to think about, then I’ll probably have to read bits again, and only after that will I arrive at a place where I am as satisfied as I am after a piece of make-shift sushi.
I still want to be a writer, but I think I’ll have to work it around meal times.
Poppy’s dissertation was a selection of essays entitled “I’m Trying”, in which she explored her human condition, the millennial generation and the act of trying. “Hunger”, the first essay from the selection, explores competitive appetites for writing and food.