“in order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”*

this post was written on sunday night, september 21. it’s now monday, september 22, and i’m sitting in a coffee shop across the street from chicago’s union station.

cloud gate, aka "the bean," chicago

cloud gate, aka “the bean,” in millennium park, chicago

tonight i walked the few blocks from the hotel i’m staying in with my boyfriend to a diner in a section of chicago called south loop. i’d assumed it’s called by this name because there’s a light rail sort of contraption that hugs the area, but upon doing the wikipedia thing, i found out that the origin of south loop is unknown. but, when i hear the name, i think of a neatly tied ribbon, which is downright pleasant, and it actually is pretty nice, complete with a trader joe’s and elevator-building apartments. it’s also not nearly as filled with homeless people as the other sections of the city we’ve been roaming for the past four days. chicago has so far made new york look, in comparison, positively free of the mentally ill and drug-addicted folks society has abandoned to the streets. ’merica.

at least, on this chicago trip, no one tried to choke me on the street outside of a bar. i don’t remember what i’d said to that girl to piss her off, but, boy, was she mad!

so i rolled up to the diner solo, as my boyfriend was at the time in a large hotel conference room showing and analyzing footage of his interactions with girls as a learning tool for other guys. at this point, i’ve eaten alone so many times, it never strikes me as strange, but when i stood at the please-wait-to-be-seated sign (fuck you, hyphens. why can’t i use small caps in wordpress?), the host (because he was a dude and not a hostess, though host makes it sound as if i were about to attend dinner theater) peeked around me. considering i’m not even 5’2”, the options for who might be hiding behind me were few.

“just you?” is what he said, to which i answered a neutral, unmodulated “yup.”

and then he puckered his lips and crinkled his brows in thought, nodded, grabbed one menu, and led me to a counter seat so my ass wouldn’t take up too much real estate in a booth or at a table. he wasn’t so much judgmental as observant, and i wasn’t offended—only surprised, i suppose.

it seems as if all i hear or read about anymore, especially when it comes to being a woman, is independence. having our own careers, traveling alone, raising a child alone, starting our own businesses from scratch, etc., etc. but every time i look at facebook (which, i’m happy to admit, has been pretty infrequent nowadays), someone has posted yet another fucking article or top five list on how to be happy, and there’s always something on there about being comfortable alone, learning to be alone, spending time by yourself. i wholly give my credence to these prescriptions and similar, but independence seems to be en vogue, something people say more than they practice.

i feel the same way about glorifying the benefits of kale. kale is great for you. kale is delicious, whether sautéed, in a salad, in chip or smoothie form—however you want. eat it with your bare hands out of the bag like i do.

amtrak train (nyc > chi)

this is the snapchat photo i sent to my friend in nj while i was working on the lake shore limited amtrak train to chicago.

i actually whipped out a ziplock of it on the train to chicago and ate it like popcorn (yes, everyone, i took a train not a plane to chicago, so please ask me again why i would do this and tell me why it sounds crazy), and the guy next to me gave me the same look as the host’s in the chicago diner. i guess maybe he’s more sophisticated and makes his pesto with kale (which is a thing i didn’t know you could do until i googled it a minute ago), so i understand his reservations about my low-class kale eating.

but everyone needs just to eat kale if they want to and shut the fuck up about it.

 

the eleven city diner, south loop, chicago

the diner in south loop

anyway, it’s still odd for a woman—maybe anyone, to be honest—to have a meal alone. you can grocery shop alone. you can mail letters and go to bookstores alone. you can pick up dry cleaning and get your nails done and hair cut and buy wine and go running, but eating a meal in a restaurant alone is another matter, especially if there doesn’t seem to be any tangible reason for doing so. i didn’t walk into the diner with a huge backpack to show that i was just passing through. i wasn’t wearing sunglasses indoors, earbuds jammed in my head to show i was either having an emotional breakdown and didn’t want to be seen crying but felt the need to have dinner in public, or i was massively hung over and looked like a hollowed-out avocado. i wasn’t carrying a laptop nor did i have a bluetooth in my ear to indicate that i had important business to attend to on a sunday night.

which i totally did. i had to talk to my friend in california on gchat and eat a huge omelet with spinach.

(they didn’t have any kale.)

almost two years ago to the day, i’d been sitting in a dusk-lit square in madrid, staring at a spanish menu and trying to figure out which item(s) could easily be made vegetarian, when i glanced over and saw a women eating alone. she had a book, a meal, and a glass of red wine, and she looked to be in her late forties or early fifties. madrid was the seventh, and last, country of my trip across europe, so by that point, i’d had at least one breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, coffee, dessert, elevensies, second breakfast, and alcohol session by myself, and the first time i’d consumed something alone—when i’d self-consciously sat in a café in rome and had espresso—seemed to have occurred eons, not weeks, ago.

madrid, spain

the restaurant in madrid where i ate my first madrid meal. the woman on the right may or may not have been the poor lady i was hard-core judging.

still, i found myself wondering about the woman, and why she was dining by herself. did she need to get away from her man/woman, did she even have a significant other, was she divorced or widowed, was she a spinster with one hundred gatos, did she have no friends . . .

i guess i could have hypothesized that she was eating alone because her pickup artist boyfriend was teaching the intricacies of game and dating, but the idea didn’t cross my mind for some reason.

then i thought, really? you’re eating alone and you can only wish you had one hundred cats!

in all seriousness, the thing is, that lady looked content. eighty-six that. more than content, actually: happy! happy in the i couldn’t give a fuck way, which, to me, is the height of happiness. i realized my curiosity was laden with judgment, and i thought instead about other things, like ordering patatas bravas and queso fresco and a tortilla española (no wonder i gained five pounds in europe), and what i would do for the last two days of my trip. i was getting closer to independence in that madrid tapas bar than i’d ever been before, and i see it now as the preparation i needed to do what i do now, which is to freelance alone and eat alone and not speak to another soul for sometimes an entire working day. today i’m closer still—though not close enough to ignore when a diner host “observes” my solo status—but i’m nearer to happy, for certain.

someday, may the supermarket shelves be bountiful with kale, stocked end-to-end with kale chips and kale pestos and kale salsas and kale cheerios, and i can gchat and eat omelets and take an hour to drink one cup of coffee sans spinster hypotheses and en paz.

 

*albert camus

“do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? it’s made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!”*

IMG_4079

photo by me. painting in the background by my pops.

just as an aside, i googled “corn crying” when i was first looking for a photo for this blog, and a picture of carlton from the fresh prince popped up. i found this to be highly . . . not unusual.

being a vegetarian, and my reasons for why i am a vegetarian, used to be a topic of conversation my friends enjoyed grilling me about, and was probably the one thing that most often infuriated them. i’ve since taken on a myriad more annoying and infuriating opinions and lifestyle choices that make my vegetarianism seem borderline hackneyed, but that’s okay. i haven’t gotten on my soapbox about foregoing flesh for quite some time, so i figured it’s appropriate for me to take a break from blabbing about running and relationships and instead focus on bashing the united states’ food-processing system.

plus the next thing i was interested in discussing was something my other friend told me, in light of my last post, to put on the shelf for a few weeks. she’s a doctor and clearly smarter than i am, and is also a bit concerned i might lose all my other friends if i don’t shut up.

anyway, around 2008 (or 2007, i can’t remember now), i bought a book called fast food nation. i had watched the movie supersize me, and a lot of what i saw regarding food production, processing, and distribution in this country alarmed me, so i wanted more information. plenty of things hang out on my list of pet peeves (it is written on a scroll i keep nailed to my wall; i add to it daily), but one thing in particular that drives me absolutely loony is when people hear something or read something and consider it gospel.

“i want to see insert name of movie,” i might say.

“it’s not supposed to be good,” insert silly person answers.

“said whom?” (i use proper grammar even in common speech.)

“. . .”

“is this because the daily news gave it only three stars?”

“. . .”

i’m protecting the innocent here, but she knows who she is. love you. 😉

so i read fast food nation, in defense of food, and a bunch of newspaper and magazine articles, watched food, inc., and started actually paying attention to the labels on my food. it was also at this time that i started using a web site called sparkpeople.com, which helps you track your diet and exercise habits, down to every last milligram of calcium and burned calorie. i remember telling my friends that i had figured out, by tracking my food intake for months, which nutrients i often missed each day so as a result i bought vitamin supplements for them if i couldn’t get the nutrients via food. one of my friends then said:

“wow. you’re going to live forever.”

that’s kind of the idea, being that i have a lot i want to accomplish before i get the hell out of here. i don’t believe in an afterlife (atheist is another one of the charming nouns used to describe me), so i think i have but one shot to do this life right. really quickly: sparkpeople.com is an awesome web site. i don’t use it so much anymore because i’ve virtually memorized the caloric and nutritional content of all the foods i regularly eat. a few weeks ago i estimated how many calories were in the omelet i consumed (did you know that each egg white contains seventeen calories?), and even my boyfriend was 10 percent impressed, which, for him, is impressive in and of itself.

no one wants to hear about chickens pecking one another to death because they’re in confined, dark coops or how in supermarkets meat is sprayed with chemicals to make it look more fresh even though it’s starting to turn or that pesticides can cause oh so, so many health problems and diseases. (see what i did there?)

a friend once told me that she, too, read fast food nation, was appalled, and then promptly “forget” everything she read so she could go back to eating whatever she wanted. ignorance is bliss, i suppose.

i’m not a peta-poster-toting girl, i don’t slap i brake for animals stickers on my car (though, to be fair, i don’t exactly have a car, but there isn’t a sticker on any sort of rear end of mine), and i don’t go around telling everyone about the dangers of consuming meat. i, actually, love meat! i think that animals are meant to be eaten. i think, in fact, that they taste pretty good. if you were to kill a deer on your property and make venison stew, shit! i’d eat it! put some taters in there!

i don’t eat meat because i think that the us’s way of dealing with food—bigger, faster, fattier—is absurd. we’ve gotten spoiled. we want asparagus all year so we ship it from who knows where, burning up a ton of fuel. we want big, shiny apples without wormholes, so farmers blast them with chemicals. we don’t want a steak for special occasions, which is what people used to do. we want it all the time. so farmers (more like factories, really) need to pump out sides of beef like gangbusters.

which means, they have to get those cows bigger and fattier, faster. and what better way to do that than to pump them full of corn? there’s plenty of corn, because it was subsidized by our government. so what to do with all that corn? well, let’s overfeed it to cows (who are supposed to eat grass, mind you, given their gi structure) and chickens and whatever else to bring them to market sooner. and increase the amount of saturated fat in their flesh.

red meat isn’t terrible for you. in fact, if raised properly (on grass, in an open field, without hormones), it is downright healthful and full of heart-healthy omega fats. but feed a cow corn, and its meat is porous with heart-attack-inducing saturated fats. this isn’t so nice for the cow, either, but being that i’m a human, i care about this situation’s effect on humans. what are we feeding ourselves? what are we feeding our children?

so my deal with meat was that its industry seemed to be the worst offender, and i decided i was going to stop encouraging this criminal by refusing to fund its evil shenanigans. i don’t eat meat; i don’t pay for meat. i don’t like how eggs come about either, so if i eat them, i try to go with the organic, cage-free varieties or buy local. i also try not to eat things that aren’t in season or anything containing high-fructose corn syrup. hfcs might come from corn, which comes from nature, yes, but it’s been processed like crazy. and yes, everything is “processed.” if you snip a tomato from a vine and smash it up into marinara, you’ve created a process to turn tomatoes into sauce. but when i say process, i mean taking a thing and bullying it, playing the “i’m not touching you” game with it and forcing it into becoming a whole other thing not even remotely resembling its former self. i’m going to say it: hfcs is the joan rivers of food, though she was willing, and i’m sure that corn isn’t (can’t you hear millions of kernels now? screaming little corny screams as they’re squeezed into being synthetic-tasting sweetener?).

i basically said all this once to my friends while we were drunk. it went over well. meaning that we fought about it and then decided to agree to disagree and never bring it up again. except when we have functions together and need to make sure the vegetarian has something to eat. frozen boca burgers, anyone?

so here i am, on my high horse, looking down at you barbaric, meat-gnawing plebeians. okay, not really. honestly, when it comes to food, i will usually only explain my beliefs behind not eating meat if i’m asked. or if i feel like blogging about it hundreds of people. but to be honest, i’m looking out for our best interests! wear fur! buy a leather bag! i don’t give a flying fuck! i just ask that you think about, for a minute, what you’re putting in your guts and how whatever that foodstuff may be will affect you, your health, and your family for years down the line.

 “as i sit here, eating my processed food.” (my mom, after i read her this post.)

a few second later . . .

“tell them i have a garden,” she just added, in a very small voice.

*roald dahl in charlie and the chocolate factory

hey, this wasn’t mentioned in your craiglist ad. . . .

summer colds are interesting specimens. there is something about hacking your lungs out in ninety-degree weather and nearly 100 percent–humidity that doesn’t seem quite right. and yesterday, for about an hour, every time i swallowed, my left ear popped. today i learned that i should probably invest in real tissues, as blowing your nose on napkins from pret gets old after a while.

earlier today my roommate typed me a list, from some article in a magazine, of five foods nutritionists actively avoid, and we both cried a bit because, of course, we enjoy most of these things, if not all five. it’s time to get real, gchat-style:

roommate: my whole life was just ruined. self-serve yogurt. damn it

me:  my fave. what else

roommate: “fat-free” foods. animal products with “unnatural” feed products. fiber bars (damn it!). specialty coffee drinks

me:  god damn it

roommate: why do they not put like fried chicken or mozzarella sticks? french fries?

me: haaaa bc they’re givens??

another discovery was that flip-flops ruin our feet. i’m happy to report that i walk two miles or more every day in the summer. wearing flip-flops. on cement. i spy bunions (man, i hate that word) and i spy arthritis in our near future.

speaking of words i hate . . . this morning, my other roommate was drinking a protein shake over the sink while I was eating my oatmeal at the counter, and she remarked that the shake was awful. when i asked why, she said that if she doesn’t drink it quickly enough, it turns to cement. i said that this reminds me of how, when you are about to drink an irish car bomb, you need to drink it immediately or else it will curdle. at the sound of that word, she almost vomited. i felt bad, but i also thought it was hilarious. the night before we took quizzes from oprah’s magazine. i just thought i’d add that for good measure.

bunion. curdle. clammy is another. i also hate the word panties. all it does is conjure up images of pedophiles. one of my editors recently changed panties to underwear in a manuscript. bullet dodged.

it’s supposed to rain like the dickens (yup) tonight. buckets. cats and dogs. clichés. wahhh. and if you were wondering, yes, i’m at work. back i go.