I skip meals sometimes. Eating doesn’t excite me, even though I used to relish meals as the highlights of my day. I remember breaking up the monotony of school–homework–sleep with mouthfuls of sweet and/or savory goodness. I miss looking forward to meals. I miss snacking.
In my daily routine, my breakfast is a medium coffee from Pret, black (dark roast if hot, iced if the weather and cold drink combination won’t freeze my fingers off on my walk to Towne). I only began drinking coffee last year, and I hated it for the longest time—not the taste, but rather the caffeine buzz that would keep me up way past midnight. I still hate it, because twelve hours after my medium coffee, my hands continue to shake, and my stomach stays tied up in nervous knots. Ironically, the buzz is also why I have it every day—I just need to stay awake.
That’s all food seems to be now—fuel to keep me moving, even if I yearn to cut it out of my life entirely. When I think about my spiral towards listlessness, I blame myself in three ways: my developing dependence on appetite–suppressing caffeine, my ambivalence towards all swipe–in dining hall food, and my fear of failing, in relation to both my own body and my weekly midterms.
I weigh 110 pounds, give or take five depending on what I’ve eaten in the day or time of year (give in winter, take in summer). I stand at a (measly) height of 5’1”. My weight hasn’t changed in a decade, and I stopped growing sometime during middle school. Unhealthy as it may be, I fear change. I fear the stretch marks on my inner thighs—from when I surpassed 100 pounds before turning ten—turning red again; I fear looking in the mirror and seeing a body that’s morphed into something different than the form that I’ve spent years prodding and observing. When I couple that with excuses like, “spend more time studying instead, you’ve got an orgo test next week” and “man, I really do hate when Commons has stir–fry,” I beat down any enjoyment I might get out of sitting down to eat a meal.
Lunch isn’t much of a problem. 11 a.m., a tomato mozz from the Accenture Café, or a fried chicken sandwich if they’ve run out of the former. Hot, salty, and fresh: I really do like the café’s food. But alas, dinner always approaches quickly afterwards. Dinner sucks.
I drink a bottle of Soylent (cacao) if I have work, or I’ll stop by Commons on the way home if it’s open. I’m as big of a fan of Soylent as Under the Button is of poking fun at people who drink Soylent. It does leave a horrible aftertaste, but the easily–consumed, satisfied stomach–feel after a bottle is worth it. And although Soylent is my go–to quick meal in-between active responsibilities, I also drink it on tired weekends, or on nights when leaving my dorm is difficult.
My tendency towards Soylent is a byproduct of the negative emotions I’ve developed towards eating. There are weeks when I hate my body, not because of how it looks, but because of how it feels. Pained without food, bloated with food. Never entirely satisfied. In the same way that I’m coming to terms with half–assed work being better than no work at all, I’m drinking my calories rather than skipping over them entirely. But although the liquid diet keeps my bloated fullness to a manageable level, I will admit that it’s not enough, not mentally. Eating at Commons gives me the same results—I appreciate dining halls for providing students with easily–accessible, hot meals, but I’m never excited to swipe in. I’m never upset, either—I’m just fine. Commons is fine. Soylent is fine.
At midnight, I get cravings for Nissin Demae Ramen, miso tonkatsu flavor. Nongshim Shin Ramyun Black used to be my favorite brand and flavor of instant ramen. It’s changed since Nissin Demae Ramen went on sale at the 99 Ranch my parents go to buy groceries.
Instant ramen reminds me of home. My mom makes our meals at home. In recent years, my dad’s taken over on Sundays, and sometimes on a weekday or two. I’ve been spoiled with nearly two decades’ worth of hot, lovingly–made Chinese food, always on the table whenever I’m hungry. I’m spoiled with the prospects of my favorite meals—pan–fried cilantro dumplings (dipped in sweet, homemade, garlic–infused vinegar), diced potatoes marinated with leftover hong shao rou and soy sauce, steamed gai lan—awaiting me whenever I return. I didn’t eat much instant ramen growing up, because my parents made sure that I didn’t have to.
Yet when dropped into a new environment, without the comfort of my parents’ cooking (or a kitchen), I turned to a food that was originally deemed for emergencies—for when my parents worked overtime, or when I had an unexpected snow day and was home for lunch.
When my dad talked about college, he’d always talk about his usual meals—instant ramen, with some bok choy and an egg thrown into the boiling water alongside the noodles. He found comfort in salty, brothy, instant ramen, and I do too. Unlike the usual non–Asian food served in Penn’s dining halls (I still don't know what grits are), instant ramen satisfies my palate. Nissin Demae Ramen flavors are reminiscent of flavors my mom uses in her own dishes (Five Spices (Artificial) Beef word–for–word describes how she cooks beef), and I miss, above everything, Mom and Dad’s cooking. I’m looking forward to going home.
In the meantime, I continue to grapple with my loss of appetite. I’m sticking to the daily meal routine I’ve laid out and I’m trying not to skip meals just because I don’t feel okay or idle enough to eat. My friends are also greatly patient in accompanying me to various Asian restaurants across the city (although none I’ve been to can yet fill my void of home–cooked food). I’m sure I’ll get out of this rut I’m in, whether it be through a miraculous, newfound love for pasta that I’m hoping will develop overnight, or a kitchen where I can cook for myself in my dorm next year, because I really do love food. I’ve just forgotten about it for a bit, is all.