Well damn. I take a nap and the whole country is at war. Again. About food.
Social media is attacking everyone on their opinion about the White House dinner for Clemson’s football team (sooooo much, just Google that mess). Basically, fast food is garbage to serve people vs. ‘real’ Americans love fast food, cater them a proper meal vs. tax payers shouldn’t pay for meals for college athletes, they loved the meal! vs. they thought this was a joke!
It is definitely a new level of absurdity that an entire group of people traveled to the White House, dressed up, and ate fast food served on historical solid silver platters during the longest government shutdown to date. I tried to understand who pays for these invitations–if the President invites you to hang out, does the taxpayer buy plane tickets? Is it up to the individual? I assume it’s like going out on a traditional date: the person doing the asking should be the person doing the paying (unless the person being asked feels more comfortable paying their own way but does so in quarters because she’s broke but doesn’t want to be obligated on this outing that she really, really wants to be a date but isn’t sure is a date because no one ever said it was a date-date, not that that’s ever happened to me or anything). According to this 2014 article from the Guardian, “The cost of meals for some White House events, including state dinners and receptions, is picked up by the State Department or political parties….For private events, presidents pay for food and beverages, use of waiters and servers and setup and cleanup crews. Taxpayers are only supposed to pay for official government functions.” So…are athlete dinners official or just a fancy, expensive date?
Why is food such a divisive and controversial subject? Food is weaponized against every group, every class, every person in this country. If you have allergies to dairy or gluten then you’re just pretentious, if you eat fast food you’re uncultured trash, if you try to eat a healthier, more organic diet you’re a hippy, if you’re overweight then you’re just the worst across the board–crank that up by 1000 if you’re overweight and on any public assistance like SNAP.
Articles like this one from The Atlantic are popping up (again) announcing what a lot of already know or already experienced: college students are not getting enough food, especially student athletes. From Thanks for nothing: NCAA leaving athletes hurt and hungry:
“I called my coach after opening an empty fridge and told him “ Coach I ain’t got no food , no money , I’m about to do something stupid.” Arian Foster added.
“Our stadium had like 107,000 seats, 107,000 people buying the ticket to come and watch us play…I go to my dorm, open the fridge and there’s nothing in the fridge.… Why don’t I have something to show for what I did…. It’s total bullshit, but you don’t say anything because if you say anything, you step out of line and that will hurt your chances of getting to that next level.”
All of this has really struck a chord with me today. This entire day has been a reflection on gratitude, and how different my life is today than it was 20 years ago. Also, reflecting on my life 20 years ago makes me feel incredibly ancient. As I’ve mentioned previously, I home school my kids for reasons and Fridays are more of an independent/fun/hands on type day. Of course, today was Monday which meant that even my “easy” day fell apart but whatever. Fridays are for cooking and food science which is a wonderful way to incorporate literally anything you want into hanging out in the kitchen. Our previous classes covered easier things like kitchen safety, reading a recipe, fractions (baking), chemical reactions (baking) or how yeast is just farting into our bread and how that’s great (more baking). Now we’re moving on to eggs (understanding and labeling the biological structure), where our food comes from and how we process food in America vs. other countries. Today we discussed amino acids and how heat changes their structure. Boiling eggs doesn’t sound particularly fun, but it was and delicious. As an aside, watch/read (on hiatus) Silver Spoon because it’s wonderful and explains agriculture in a very gross and delightful way.
Here is where I am reminded of my current place in life and how different it is now. We boiled 18 eggs to observe the stages of denaturation. I bought a portable induction cook top specifically for use with the kids which is safer than them both perched on kitchen chairs over an open flame gas stove but also maybe kind of indulgent? The fact that I do not have to work and that I have the absolute luxury of teaching my kids at home. I’m living the whitest, middle classist, soccer mommy-est dream ever. And I know it.
I talk about all of this because when I hear all of this garbage in the news about food and food quality and how suspiciously people look upon those who do not have any I am amazed. I wonder if those people have ever been hungry–truly hungry. I have been hungry in blessedly short stints–days and weeks where I’ve had little to no food. I vividly remember the pain and sickness that comes from eating even a little bit after days of not eating. I can’t imagine long-term hunger because it never lasted long enough to do serious damage to my body. Long term starvation destroys muscle and brain tissue but usually the body is so weakened that the immune system shuts down first and infectious disease runs rampant. What a memory, to be grateful for only being hungry and not starving; short term sickness instead of long term damage. Thinking of having just one egg, let alone 18 WHOLE EGGS was at the time, completely out of reach. Protein is expensive and carbohydrates are cheap.
Specifically, I remember being down to one last bagel.
Long story short, I was broke, and my $5 per hour part time minimum wage job wasn’t doing enough to pay my $200 rent AND pay for utilities AND keep a car to go to work AND keep me in any sort of mental state to stay in college. Typical paycheck gone-before-received scenario and the last food in my apartment was a bag of 6 Wal-Mart (where I was working, of course) blueberry bagels. I am guessing it was about a dollar for the bag, as a current bag of bagels at Wal-Mart are $1.64. These 6 bagels were going to last me at least 6 days but on the first day I made the mistake of eating the first bagel like…a bagel. Cut in half, toasted in the oven (because who can afford a toaster?!) and devoured in its entirety in about 10 seconds. The biggest problem was eating that bagel didn’t take any time whatsoever. I eventually went to half a bagel a day but my genius moment was when I decided to slice the bagel into chips, bake them, and eat them one or two at a time throughout the day. It spread out my “meals” and gave me the mental security that I would have something for later, even if it was just a bite.
And that’s how I lived for a while.
Another time I remember driving up to the store to buy two of the tiniest cans of tomato sauce for 44 cents each. I had enough money to buy two and if I remember correctly, they were the 8 oz. sized cans (about half of a normal sized can). It was humiliating because this was where I worked–people I knew saw me, saw what I was buying and in proper form roasted the hell out of me for it. I played it off as if I had just ran out and only needed a little bit. I’m sure I cried after the fact, not just from the situation but also probably because the three strands of spaghetti were shit.
Moving to a different state, getting different jobs, the scenario stayed the same. If you’re sneaky, you can eat leftovers out of a trash can or steal expired canned food out of the break room cabinet once you’re sure no one remembers who put it in there. No one expects bank workers to not have money and not have food. I feel like my life was saved when I landed a job at a medical practice that paid decently, was closer to where I worked, but also regularly received catered lunches from pharmaceutical sales representatives. That was before I got married and was the last time I have ever been hungry. I think of all of this often because I don’t want to forget what that was like; how it felt physically or emotionally. Time and distance can make terrible experiences soften but forgetting would be a failure to yourself.
Would I change the past if I could? In a lot of ways, yes, of course. But that’s such a ridiculous point. I can’t, so I choose to be grateful for the compassion it taught me for others, for the intense desire to never let my own children have an experience remotely like that, and the internal voice to do my best to help others when I can.
In the mean time, I’m going to continue living this ridiculous dream life and keep trying to be grateful for all of it.