At the breakfast bar, there were sausages, bacon, fried and scrambled egg, mushrooms, and black pudding. I had a bowl of muesli. “You’re so virtuous!” said several people, in resisting the fry-up. Rather, I took what I wanted at the time. Sometimes I want fatty meat, sometimes not. I can feel I want a particular thing to eat, or do not want a different thing, and it seems that is because of something in it; possibly my cravings could be fine-tuned, so that I work out what it is that I am craving and where best to get it.
I like a pudding, perhaps a chocolate cheesecake, after eating out. “It’s self-indulgent,” I said, possibly echoing what I had heard from others. “What do you mean, ‘indulgent’?” asked Lucy. Gosh, dunno. Er-
It’s really nice. If they get taste, texture and appearance right it is a treat. I don’t eat things like that at home, so it is rare for me.
Sometimes I pay attention to what I eat, and enjoy the physical sensations: taste, texture, aroma, the movement down my throat, the aftertaste. This is, bizarrely, called a “spiritual” experience: I pay attention to experience in the moment rather than ruminating about other things. I find this most with fruit. I will always remember a formal dinner in my twenties, when I was in my kilt and bow tie with interesting people making combative, intellectual conversation and the first mouthful of the main course grabbed my attention. It was wonderful. Even now much of the time I just shovel food down my throat, while reading or watching TV, or even talking in a restaurant. Or I am trying something, and it is interesting- what do I think of this?
After the main course, I want my chocolate torte with crème fraiche and raspberries. Is that just habit, picked up from others because it is the thing people do, and done thoughtlessly? We learn from others what is “fun”, or “indulgent”. If I like a pineapple carpaccio with passion fruit when I am out, why never buy one in the supermarket and scoff it at home? Am I signalling something, perhaps that while money’s too tight to mention I can still pay a fiver for a prosecco and chilli poached pear with raspberry sorbet? Is it just that generally one gets food to enjoy in a restaurant, fuel to survive in a supermarket? Boiling arborio rice to the right consistency- the water is fully absorbed one second before it becomes too dry- and stirring a tin of tuna into it, with a little pepper, is satisfactory. It is filling, the taste is pleasant enough though I do not dwell on it, I can have it once a week without great thought.
That moment when you need a drink, or eat all the chocolate box or the packet of biscuits- I don’t fill that function with food. I have other trauma-related behaviour. How could I condemn someone for that, living as I do? I eat healthily, taking moderate pleasure in it, usually I eat to live but sometimes to socialise too; it is no more virtuous than my ability at speling. It is how I am, how my life is. If I enjoy a pavlova served with fruit salad and berry coulis, I call that “indulgent” because I have learned to. “You’re treating yourself” says the world, or the culture, or my parents or companions. “I’m treating myself” I repeat. I enjoy it, I am sure of that. There we are with our “wicked grins” being not particularly wicked. I suppose puddings could even be sophisticated, though generally they are just a treat.
And possibly the word “indulgent” condemns those who respond to trauma with food. We do what we need to do. Condemnation and disrespect will not win over the overeater, and it is no-one’s business but theirs what they should give their attention, to improve their lives or not decline further, or even how much they should eat. I could make excuses for them around gut flora or metabolism, but excuses are otiose. Though we tend to our own healing, social support makes that easier, but too often instead we police each other, staring at the obese person, scoffing or condemning- and the trans person: I respond by taking less notice of the people around me.
That man in the bank went one stage further, singing to himself as he considered the autoteller. The man ahead of me in the queue remarked on it, and I said it probably reassures him, and is quite harmless, like an autistic person stimming. So the man in the queue started making personal remarks about my accent: “Oh, you don’t live in Swanston, do you?”