Thursday 18 July 2019

Diary of a food addict: 'Food is my north, my south... The rest of the day is only filler between eating'

Brendan O'Connor
Brendan O'Connor
Food glorious food, the simpler the better.
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Someone told me that my subject is food. It is apparently the only thing I write about with absolute authority and accuracy. And she didn't mean recipes or reviewing restaurants or anything intelligent like that. She meant writing about eating, in its most basic sense.

She meant, though she didn't say it, writing about addiction to food. I know this because I have come to realise that she, although she is very slim and generally engaged in some form of weird denial of food, is addicted too. What she connects when I write about food, are things that only another addict could empathise with. She gets it. The obsession. She gets that food is the focal point of everything, the geography of the day. Food is my north, my south. The rest of the day is only filler between eating. Sometimes I get so engrossed in things or so busy that I might forget about food for a while, which is a kind of a sweet release. But it comes back then, harder than ever, this obsession. And it punishes me for forgetting about it by doubling its hold over me for the next while.

I am not very discriminating when it comes to food. I am increasingly intolerant of tricksy food, of fetishism, of the elevation of food to art, of food as a pastime. I am intolerant of foodies and their prattle about foraged this and pureed that. I look on them as a hardcore alcoholic looks on lightweight weekend drinkers. They are merely dabbling. They are not truly committed as I am. It is not the centre of their lives. It does not define their every waking hour.

Unlike these connoisseurs I do not crave fancier and fancier food. As I go on, I crave more and more simplicity. If I keep going back to the heart of things, if I keep stripping back in favour of more and more elemental food, soon I will be grazing in a field. I want basic and gutsy and simple. I want the fewest ingredients possible. I want the least amount of preparation. The meals I remember are the simplest ones. Potatoes from the ground with butter on the west coast. Pasta with oil and chilli in Italy. Tiny shrimp, fiery sauce and freshly made soft tortillas on an island off Mexico. Fresh burrata with oil and some bread. These are the meals that remain with me.

But then there is the junk too. Sometimes I need an oven-chip-and-fried-egg-sandwich on processed bread. Or the most unnatural tasting, highly seasoned crisps I can find. Toffee Crisps, Ben and Jerry's Caramel Chew Chew ice cream, Tesco's own-brand jelly beans, one of the best jelly beans on the market. I am indiscriminate. I see the beauty in all shapes and all sizes and all flavours of food, from the divinely natural to the disgustingly unnatural. Sometimes I crave flavours and colours that don't exist in nature.

I love it all.

I largely manage to keep it under control. Because I know there is a hole in me, a huge hole of boredom and restlessness that craves action and satisfaction, no matter how short-term. It demands to be filled but it can never be filled. Even when I binge, and eat so much that I feel sick and feel like bursting, that hole can never be filled. As I put down ice cream after crisps and chocolate, moving through different flavours, textures and sensations just so I can stuff more into me, even as I am shovelling it in, I know it is not doing the trick. I am chasing the dragon. When I get into the business of comfort eating, I know it will never work. It will never give me what I need. It will never scratch that itch. And it becomes almost like abusing myself.

So largely I manage not to go to that place. Largely I manage to eat for pleasure, to not go hardcore, to understand that there is no point in going beyond enough, that I will never get the oblivion that I crave, the food morpheus will not come. Food is not a painkiller. Food is not a lover. Food is not a mother. Food cannot fill the hole. Food cannot make you whole. Food cannot answer those questions for you, or give you a hug, or offer you comfort.

So largely I manage to keep it in check. I try and enjoy food without needing to keep going. I try to dip in and out. I rely on the working day, on the distractions of life to keep me from eating all the time until I explode. Because I am capable of that too. I am an addict, a functioning one right now, for today at least. And if you understand this piece then you probably are too.

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