Winter2009

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On Something I Ate

Essay

Eaters

By Joeseph McCahill

It amazes me now to think of how far the things I eat have traveled before they reach my plate. I’ve eaten bananas from Panama, fish from Alaskan waters, cheese from Italy, grapes from Brazil, and rice from Thailand. These foods have varied travels on their way to my belly. They grow in water, earth, and trees far from human sight, are picked, cut, killed, fished, bundled, plowed, boxed and chopped by humans I will never meet who are paid far less than they deserve. They travel by sea, plane, train, truck and dolly before making their way to the markets and restaurants where they are selected, packaged, dressed and cooked for me. We have so much variety in our world, and the things we benefit from everyday have gone through so much to be gathered before us and enjoyed. Food is and has always been a commonality for humans. We eat different things and make them in different ways, but the fact remains, we all eat something.

I recall an incident from kindergarten that still makes me cringe. It was near Easter, and the class was given chocolate bunnies to take home as a treat before Spring Break. Before our afternoon nap our teacher reminded us that we “were not allowed to eat our candy until after school.” I didn’t hear her. In fact, I was certain that she said we were allowed to eat the candy anytime we wanted. While the kids were lying down on our mats, Ms. Rychlik went to her desk, and I snuck to my cubby where the candy was. I somehow managed to make more of a mess eating that chocolate than I ever had before or have since. While the kids were still resting she caught me. She scolded me, washed my face in a hurry, and threw out the rest of the amputated bunny. Defeated, I went back to lie down just as she turned on the lights and woke all the rest of the kids. I was heartbroken. She seemed to overreact. It wasn’t a big deal, still isn’t, but it’s just that I had never been in trouble before. An hour or so later, she took great pride in announcing to the class that she hoped we all enjoyed our break, and our bunnies. She then paused, stared at me, and announced that she had, “caught somebody already eating their candy.” I felt like she was calling me out for murder. She was in her eighties then, and years later when the old lady in The Simpsons told Bart that “every boy loves candy,” I shivered and thought of Ms. Rychlik and her aggressive reproach.

Food is different when you are on vacation. You eat out for practically every meal. You try more things, and encounter entrÌ©es that do not exist where you come from. I relate the vacation life with some of Hemingway’s writings‰ÛÓhis characters sending people to get them sandwiches, traveling to out of the way inns and hotels for great meals, spending countless hours talking and laughing over drinks. When you take the work and headaches of everyday errands out of life, meals and sleep are finally given their due duration and devotion.

Last January I went to Mexico with my girlfriend and her father to hide from northern winter. We stayed on the Pacific coast and feasted on gargantuan meals for four days. Our condo was just a walk from the ocean, and most of the restaurants we ate at were seaside. The seafood we ate in Mexico was fresher than anything I have eaten in the landlocked Midwest. On our last day, we discovered a tiny, leaning restaurant beside a hill. The owner greeted us before his grown son served us drinks at the bar and his daughter brought us our meals. I had Chile en Nogada‰ÛÓa rice and beef stuffed pepper covered in walnut sauce and pomegranates. It was one of the best meals I’ve tasted.

As the sun went down we walked on along the ocean shore. The beach wasn’t too crowded and the water was empty except for some boats in the distance. Then I noticed a single man with a net just twenty yards into the water trying to fish. We sat on the beach and watched the purple sun go down over the sea. A couple minutes later the man got out of the water with a few fish in his net. He was heading home. I guess he had found his dinner for the evening.

I have taken great comfort in food at times, cared for the preparation and the consumption methods, gazed at complicated menus and recipes, and chewed with precision to taste exactly what I have accepted into my body. At other times, I have reached my less than clean fingers into a communal bowl of cheese puffs and thrust my arm towards my mouth in a precise delivery motion to taste the plastic, orange creations for an instant, before repeating the dirty cycle. Food has always been there for me regardless of my sincerity towards it. It’s kept me healthy, eased my pain, held my interest, gotten me sick, gotten me better, and gotten me over many awkward conversations. For various reasons, many people go without food. Some can’t afford or find food, some have medical conditions where tubes replace proper food, some are making a political statement and some are so heartbroken they can’t allow food to come between them and their sadness. It’s not something I would ever like to experience. Food marks the time for me. Entire periods of my life can be summed up by saying, “that’s when I was eating Taco Bell every day for lunch,” or “I was on a big gyro kick then.” Grade school field trips invariably meant a Fruit Roll Up, a juice box, an apple, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When I went away to school I remember eating pizza constantly.

Throughout the most important moments of my life, I remember the conversations based on what I ate when I had them‰ÛÓI think of birthday parties and weddings and in most cases, regardless of the success of the function, food sustains as the lasting memory.

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