Iowa Writes

S VIREN
I Am What I Eat


Baby hot dogs: infancy. Stumpy and salty, bobbing in cloudy water held captive in a glass jar.

White bread (the forbidden fruit): preschool. Our house is a whole-wheat-only zone. But at Montessori, one station consists entirely of cutting slices of gooey white Wonder bread, an activity I attack with ravenous zeal, bringing home Ziploc bags of perfectly partitioned and now perfectly legal starch. Years later, I will begin requesting a fork and knife to dissect pizza and sandwiches, a sign that something about the pleasure of eating has conflated with the pleasure of cutting, Pavlov style, deep in my brain.

Chinese: elementary school. Caitlyn invites me to go with her family to a Chinese restaurant in the mall and her father orders the Pu-Pu Platter and I think: Why have my parents been keeping this from me?

Oranges: fifth grade. We move to Wisconsin and I burrow inside, reading L.M. Montgomery and eating and growing chunky. My staple is the orange. After school, I run into the warmth, find a book and, with elbows holding down pages on the kitchen counter, peel orange after orange until my fingers grow sore from pushing under thick skin.

Coffee: high school. We fly to The Village Inn weekend nights, my two best friends and I, leaning in over unlimited refills, sharing jittery poetry, crayon sketches, and occasional slices of rhubarb pie. I soften to the clink of my spoon against the mug, stirring packets of sugar into the darkness.

Baby hot dogs: infancy. Stumpy and salty, bobbing in cloudy water held captive in a glass jar.

White bread (the forbidden fruit): preschool. Our house is a whole-wheat-only zone. But at Montessori, one station consists entirely of cutting slices of gooey white Wonder bread, an activity I attack with ravenous zeal, bringing home Ziploc bags of perfectly partitioned and now perfectly legal starch. Years later, I will begin requesting a fork and knife to dissect pizza and sandwiches, a sign that something about the pleasure of eating has conflated with the pleasure of cutting, Pavlov style, deep in my brain.

Chinese: elementary school. Caitlyn invites me to go with her family to a Chinese restaurant in the mall and her father orders the Pu-Pu Platter and I think: Why have my parents been keeping this from me?

Oranges: fifth grade. We move to Wisconsin and I burrow inside, reading L.M. Montgomery and eating and growing chunky. My staple is the orange. After school, I run into the warmth, find a book and, with elbows holding down pages on the kitchen counter, peel orange after orange until my fingers grow sore from pushing under thick skin.

Coffee: high school. We fly to The Village Inn weekend nights, my two best friends and I, leaning in over unlimited refills, sharing jittery poetry, crayon sketches, and occasional slices of rhubarb pie. I soften to the clink of my spoon against the mug, stirring packets of sugar into the darkness.

Tofu hot dogs: college. I invent the perfect sandwich: twin slices of toasted wheat bread (I have matured, you can see), painted thick with mayonnaise and specked with shredded cheddar cheese, topped with two dogs, sliced length-wise, blanketed with romaine lettuce, sprouts, and thinly sliced tomatoes. The perfection requires fifteen minutes to complete, but I revel in the process, dancing back and forth from the toaster to the cutting board, my new puppy tracking me.

Indian: Amsterdam. During a late-night meal at a restaurant off the Damstraat stop, a girl named Erin first tells me that Indian food is an aphrodisiac. Whether it's her story or the Chana Masala, I walk into the wet streets that night suddenly awake to a new shading of intimacy. After that I fall in love with everything: fries in a paper cones topped with peanut sauce, chocolate bars on toast, pancakes covered in Dutch cheese and tomatoes.

Peanut butter: after college. I break up with my first love and in the following weeks begin eating peanut butter with a spoon, directly from the jar. It seems the only sustenance my stomach will allow, and I feast with measured desperation, scooping heaps onto a spoon and then watching them slowly disappear.

Key lime pie: leaving Florida. In my apartment near the Gulf of Mexico, I slice golf-ball-sized limes in half and squeeze their juice into a mixing bowl until my hands ache. Beside me are rows of graham crackers and sugar and sunlight. Later I will make this pie again and, though following same recipe, a change of location forces me to mix in store-bought key lime juice instead. I swear I can tell the difference.

Beets: At the farmer's market in Iowa, a new friend has extra beets and so gives them to me. I accept, not wanting to be rude, but really, I remember simulating puking when I tasted beets in preschool. Only I am in graduate school now and don't believe in waste, so later that week I wrap their rat-tailed bodies tightly in tinfoil and slide them in the oven. An hour later, when I rescue them from the heat, their skins slide off with the foil and I watch my hands turn magenta with each knife slice. Inside, their tips reveal snail-shell spirals. And, moments later, when I mix them with greens and nuts and feta moments, I remember again that tastes can change.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


S VIREN

S Viren is a former newspaper journalist from Florida and Texas working on her MFA in nonfiction writing at The University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on January 28, 2009

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