The Panda’s Feeding Habits

(Craig Campbell)– November 1st, 2010: the last day I had full feeling in my tongue. The following day I had all four wisdom teeth removed. While extracting one of the deeper ones, the surgeon damaged a nerve and cut off feeling and taste from half of my tongue.

It’s not that big of a deal; I’ve all but forgotten about it. But it does make my sense of taste less discerning. In high school, I used this to excuse the general laziness I felt toward food preparation. (I’ve never actually learned how to cook.) Eating at the table became eating at the counter, became eating straight from the fridge. Except for the occasional dinner with my mom, meals devolved into an endless series of daily snacks. I could take the time to make myself a sandwich, or I could just eat this hunk of cheddar instead.

Oh dear, I shall be too late!

Right before I left Amherst for the summer, I was talking with a beloved English professor about courses I should take. He advised me to look into an ‘anthropology of food’ class, and noted that almost every major work of literature makes some mention of food. Clearly, eating is an extremely important human ritual. Most other countries hold their cuisine in higher regard than we do, ie siesta = commercial shutdown = digestion nap. But my dining style was ultra-American – there’s just not enough time.

And then I went to Amherst, where I was forced to completely rewire my attitude toward food. The most obvious (and disorienting) difference was that I could no longer eat standing. Really. In addition, food intake was now clearly defined and divided into the narrow timeframes for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating once again became a social activity.

At other schools with multiple cafeterias or pay-as-you-go meal plans, it’s easier to slink away into the shadows of solitary dining. But at Amherst, everyone eats at Val, so if you’re eating alone it’s not like your friends are going to be eating somewhere else. Because it means you’re actively choosing to be by yourself, there’s a certain stigma attached to eating alone. This is both a good and bad thing. It forces us, before arriving, to make plans with other human beings and share interaction over (albeit shitty) food. We have to be social.

Granted, most of my Val meals weren’t better constructed than my standard cheese and cracker dinners at home. All too often I arrived at the table with 6 bars of vegan mush, a stack of cucumbers, and a cup of coffee. But I was always sharing that experience with someone else. The front room became one of the primary social arenas for my friend group. We complain about Val to no end, but many of the connections we form with other individuals at Amherst are made directly over pizzapalooza, ravioli-stravaganza, non-grilled grill-marked chicken, and tofu bricks.

Now I’m back home for the summer, back to eating bowls of cereal instead of taking 10 minutes to prepare a decent plate of food. I find myself averse to going out to meals with friends, because why pay when I could be the same amount of full for free? The longer I’m home, the more I find that the “changes for the better” that I’ve attributed to myself at Amherst are more due to a change of place than my own volition. We think that we change and grow out of old habits, but often it’s only the setting that changes, and what we perceive as personality differences are just adaptation to a new environment. Now that I’m back home, I have the same resentments, priorities, annoyances, and thought loops that I have always had at home, that I was glad to leave behind when I went to college.

So maybe, in this last summer home, I should try to hold my head high and depart from these undesirable patterns permanently.

peace up A-town