Tuesday, December 30, 2008

She's Got Taste

When I bite into a cherry cordial I have to make sure everything gets halved. I hate to have the whole cherry get sucked out in the first bite, leaving a drippy milk chocolate shell with no prize inside. I hate milk chocolate. I watch the severed cherry half perched in its liquid nest expanding back to a candy red circle within a circle, having been momentarily squashed by the work of my careful incisors. Then I drink the juice out, and chomp the rest of the treat.

I hate commercials that sell milk chocolate to women. It's not good for us. And it's not even really chocolate. It's milk solids and butter with some brown on it. But they paint a picture of us all coming home from work and diving into a sea of sickening light brown that washes our cares away, or a velvety mud-colored blanket that ribbons around us, satsifying an itch for bliss that no scented candle or romance novel can deliver.

Chocolate -- real chocolate -- doesn't advertise. I hunt it down in the health food store's baking aisle, or in the pretend "natural" section at the supermarket. My chocolate, when not made palatable by maraschinos, must be espresso colored and preferably dotted with savory treats like pistachios or raspberries.

I have the TV on for noise. A male announcer just referred to a beautifully thin black woman's "wavering willpower." She turned down cheddar chips and chewed a one calorie stick of gum instead. She did what she was supposed to do, I guess.

After the cherry I ate an orange. A real orange, with a peel and everything. I pulled the most spotless fruit I could find out of a box labeled "Bonnie - Navels." My Aunt Bonnie and everyone in my family gets loads of navels for Christmas. We would go to the mantel to find our stockings weighed down with suspicious swollen toes. A friend of mine once compared an old lady's rack she saw by accident to "oranges in socks." I just pictured my sister and me staring up at the oranges in socks on Christmas morning, and tucked it away as one of my favorite disturbing associations.

Navels don't skin easy. I got impatient picking off all the white orange crusts and removing sour strings and seams. I arranged the sections in a white finger bowl ringed in stylized flowers of a distinctly nineteen-seventies mustard color. I plucked out a section that was starting to drip out its juice and stuck it between my upper teeth and gums. It was cold. While I chewed it around I piled the rest of the oranges in a blue bowl and situated it on the round kitchen table, slightly off-center. The navel section was refusing to go down. I stared at the bowl of oranges and the view made the tough, stringy citrus cellulose taste better.

I thought I might try that sort of trick with all foods from now on. I wondered if it would work with magazine pictures. I could eat a flavorless soy nugget and stare at a BHG recipe card showing a crusty-skinned, seasoning-dotted roast chicken, or eat the last questionable dollops of greek yogurt, separating at the bottom of the container, while gazing at dairy ads showing waves of ice-cold cream sloshing from white ceramic pitchers. All my food experiences would be enhanced to approach the expectations aroused by the food-photography spectacularity.

I did not bathe today. I wore two bathrobes, one on top of the other. I shredded bank papers for three hours. I finished reading a novel. I shredded some poems. And these tasteful moments with food-stuffs kept me alive.


  1. Robyn, I've missed you!

    *Shudders* Who eats milk chocolate? It's nasty. I liked it when I was 7, but it has a horrible processed taste to it (not to mention the horrible dairy products in it). As a vegan, I'm a dark chocolate fan all the way. When I have chocolate, that is.

    Milk solids and butter with brown in it, you make it sound as appetizing as it truly is ;) Why does it seem like in all commercials women are underwater despite being on dry land.

    Lately I've been researching the history of women's struggles with body image for a story I'm working on. It's simply astonishing how many ways not only women, but also men, are encouraged to meet an unrealistic ideal. The struggle with food is a big feature with women. I recommend Joan Jacobs Brumbergs books on the topic. Really fascinating, albeit depressing, stuff.

    Robyn, you're making me rather hungry for fruit right about now :)

    I've always had a mildly sensitive stomach. I was one of the only kids that would choose fruit over candy any given day. I've tried the thinking of something else trick the few times I've had to try something that I knew was going to make me vomit. Never worked so well for me.

    By the way, I just thought of this: best food-photography I've seen to date is in Isa Chandra Maskowitz's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. That's a book you don't want to look at on an empty stomach.

    I like how you ended. It was a very serene ending. It also reminded me that I have a novel that I have to finish today, so I must be running now.

    Excellent post, as always.

  2. I eat milk chocolate, Lauren ;-). I've started to like dark chocolate in the last couple years though, it might have something to do with me eating better foods and taking better care of myself these days. I think it also has something to do with not really knowing what the real thing is: the first time I had real maple syrup I didn't like it at all. I was used to the fake corn syrup stuff, and that's what I expected to taste.

    When I was a smoker I tried switching from "store bought" cigarettes (which is what a friend of mine called them. I think it's odd because unless you're a farmer who owns a paper mill, you're buying your cigarettes/cigarette components from a store) to buying tobacco from a smoke shop, and packing it into these stupid tubes. The idea was to save money, and smoke better tobacco which had fewer chemicals in it. I didn't keep up with it for too long, something was missing from these pack your own coffin nails. I'm convinced that my body had become accustomed to the chemicals they put in the "regular" cigarettes - preservatives, pesticides, children's tears or whatever they have lying around the Big Tobacco executive board rooms.

    My point, I think, is that while the real food (or whatever) might be better tasting and better for you, we can be conditioned to not recognize the things that make the original so great. My brain, to a lessening extent these days, sees chocolate as milk solids, butter, and brown. The real thing is the newcomer.

    Or maybe my point is that I would have looked way cooler if I had been rolling my own cigarettes instead of using those stupid tubes.

    Somewhere Pavlov is ringing a bell.

  3. I know what you mean about the pull of food chemicals. Those lab-coated men on the New Jersey shore have worked for over half a century to find the right olfactory and mouthfeel combinations that lead to repeat purchases (or maybe just addiction).

    McDonald's is the most interesting case to me. It tatses nothing like food, but it produces intense cravings. And it does become Pavlovian -- as a vegetarian I can't even eat anything there, but I find myself going there for salad, iced tea... The comforts of the two big yellow mammary glands arching up by the highway.


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