November 26, 2014


I’ve been thinking a lot about my eating habits recently, and I’ve realized that I use food as a way to fill gaps, as a way to address a lack. This, of course, has led to some pretty unhealthy behaviors that I’m working on trying to correct.

Many times when I feel hungry, I’ve eaten only to realize that it wasn’t a hunger for food that was driving me, but some other gap: a need for activity, for companionship, for fresh air, for stimulus. Eating doesn’t fill those needs, but it displaces it, temporarily.

Yesterday, I came across an interesting piece about hunger” as a narrative device, as the key driver of every story:

Hunger is the beginning of every story. It might not be the most literal sort of hunger, but there is always something wanted, what the folklorist Vladimir Propp summed up as lack.” There is something missing–to get the shivers, to find a lost brother, to make a solemn princess laugh, to have a child– and by the end of the story, that absence is satisfied– the lack is liquidated.” 

If the story begins with the lack of a child, then hunger becomes central. Food often replaces sex in folktales, and witches with some rule-bound delicacy are the fertility specialists of choice, second only to daring the fairies to give you a baby hedgehog, a snow-child, or an infant the size of your thumb. The trouble starts when a childless queen is given specific instructions– eat the white rose for a boy or the red rose for a girl, but not both. Eat the fair flower and not the bitter, black one. Peel both onions before you eat them. Folklorists would group all of these motifs under the number T511– conception from eating,” with increasingly specific Dewey-Decimal-style numbers for conception from a flower or a fish, from swallowing a pearl or a peppercorn. Inevitably, the queen fails the interdiction, because she forgets the warning, or because the first thing she eats is so delicious she just can’t help it. Without that failure, there would be no story. Interdiction, violation: a rule is broken and the world is changed.”

It got me to thinking about my hunger, and what it drives me to do. What am I displacing when I eat with wonton recklessness? How can I satisfy a hunger — a hunger for conversation, physical activity, mental stimulation, or whatever it may be — in a way that doesn’t involve eating recklessly and unhealthily?