Saturday, November 22, 2014

Eating Machine

Every day, during Carla’s twenty minutes of focused meditation, she thought about what she wanted to eat. Steaming bowls of noodles would appear in her supposedly clear mind, little bits of grilled meat on them, long strings of green vegetable. Fudgy dark brownies with mint-chocolate chips. The crisp brown edges of roasted potatoes. It didn’t matter if she meditated before she ate, after she ate, during fasting, right after a heavy meal. She always thought about food. It was like the meditation cleared all the extraneous clutter from her mind, and what remained was this purest need, this lust, this hunger. It was like, laid bare, in its purest, truest form, her mind was nothing but an eating machine.

That was depressing.

And so, as she meditated, she would pray: I wish I could stop being obsessed with food. I wish I could focus on important things.  Work. Art. Helping others. Anything but hamburgers, pies, omelets. Anything else.

And then, one Monday morning, when she got to work, she didn’t want her muffin. She had bought two of them at the bakery yesterday, beautiful cranberry muffins with a crust of sugar over the top. She had been so proud of herself for saving the second one, a treat for the first day of the week. But now, when she opened the greasy brown bakery bag, the smell made her feel kind of sick.

That doesn’t smell healthy at all, she thought. Which was a totally out of character thing to think. She liked to eat healthy and everything, but breakfast didn’t count. She would eat five muffins if she let herself; healthy was sticking to just one.

She took it out of the bag, set it on a napkin, tried to make herself admire its beauty. It had that nice crunchy sugar on the top, the bumpy cranberries popping through the surface. Objectively, she could tell, it was a nice muffin.

Just eat it, she told herself. Eat it fast so it’ll be over with.

She couldn’t get herself to start. She stood up, stretched, paced around the little office kitchen. Rifled through a newspaper someone had left on the counter.

Eat the muffin. Do it. Just start eating it.  It will be easier once you get started.

Okay, she could do this. It was just a muffin. She ate muffins like three times a week. She’d never had any problems before. She sat down at the table, pulled the muffin in front of her, broke off a piece.  Put it in her mouth, chewed. See. Not so bad.

She felt a wave of drowsiness wash over her. Bordom. She stared out the window, watched a cloud block the sun, expose the sun, block the sun again.


She stood up, paced the perimeter of the kitchen again, looked a different part of the newspaper. At this rate, it was going to take her an hour to finish the muffin.  Maybe she should just skip it. Maybe she could eat it later, in a few hours, after she had done some work.

She flipped a page in the newspaper, and there she saw the most beautiful picture. It was of a doctor in central Africa, treating villagers with malaria. The doctor was a pretty young woman in a headband and a white lab coat, kneeling at the side of a young boy in a hospital bed. He looked sick and sweaty; she had a warm smile. Under the picture, the caption read, “Compassion for Africa’s Poorest Children.”  The words sent a chill up her back, a needy shiver.

I want to help people in Africa, she thought. Which was crazy. She was a graphic designer. There was nothing she knew how to do that would help anyone in Africa in any way.

She flipped the paper closed so she couldn’t see the picture anymore. Went back to the table, sat, ate another bite of muffin. It tasted like white flour. Also like butter and sugar. Fats and oils and powders. She wondered if there was something she’d like better to eat—maybe yogurt? Oatmeal? But the thought of sitting still, shoveling creamy glop or oaty glop into her mouth seemed like the most tedious kind of chore.

Africa, she thought.  Go help people in Africa.

Mindlessly, like a machine, she rose. Walked to the counter, opened up the newspaper and stared in hunger at the photograph.

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