Monday, October 15, 2012

Food for Thought

I was a tubby little thing in high school. Probably wasn't as heavy as I pictured myself. But in my mind's eye, my friends were all beetles, rolling me around the hallways like a giant dung ball.
Did you say you have French or Calc third period?
The main reason for my unhealthy weight was that I ate like a death row inmate on the night before his execution. Given the number of foodborne toxins I ingested between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I am lucky I didn't end up with the diabeetus or embalmed alive like this guy.
I'd eat another Twinkie. If I could open my mouth.
I remember there was a grocery store down the street that served hot dogs, ten cents a piece. I'd order a dollar's worth and some Perrier and sit on the curb with my buds for lunch. When I say buds, I'm talking about my hot dogs. I'd line them up next to me in their little paper boats like I was their human mother, on whom they'd imprinted when I passed the roller grill. Not sure what the Perrier was about but I've got to believe it classed up what might otherwise have been a rather disturbing tableau.

That was Monday. Tuesday was 7-11 nachos. I'd get two paper boats, one for nacho chips and one for goop cheese and jalapeño slices. I think the Reagan administration classified the hot peppers as a salad so this one seemed pretty healthy. I always ran out of chips while I still had half a boat of radioactive pepper slurry. Not one to waste, I simply pinched the boat and tipped it into my mouth. If gluttony is a sin, on Tuesdays I paid for mine coming and going.

Wednesday was Taco Bell, back when their ground beef still came in single serving boil-in-the-bag plastic pouches and the menu had pronunciation guides. I'd order two buh-ree-tows, one en-chuh-ree-tow and a Bell Beefer, which needed no pronunciation guide since Bell Beefer translates to arterial plaque in any language. To this day, I have no idea what Mexican dish the Bell Beefer was meant to imitate. All I know is that it was delicious and that it came in a paper boat.
Just looking at it will make your insulin spike
Side Note: I just came up with the Rule of Paper Boats: NEVER eat anything that comes served in one. It's similar to the Rule of Wooden Sticks: NEVER eat anything impaled by one. God help you if your stick fud is served on a paper boat. You will likely have fewer lasting health effects if you simply sharpen the stick and stab yourself in the eye with it.

My guess is that bad teen eating habits are fairly universal. Somewhere in St. Petersburg, Russia, there's a teen girl who secretly trades her mom's delicious pirozhki for Slim Jims (which they call Fat Evgenys or, simply, Extruded Pig Sticks).

Yet, given how common this seems to be, I rarely see it mentioned in YA novels. This despite the fact that the cafeteria is considered one of the most cliché scene settings in the genre.

If food is mentioned at all, it's usually in passing or to emphasize how plus-sized a character is. But even my "healthy" friends ate horrendously in high school. My buddy Kevin was on the swim team and ate, like, a million calories per day in Big Macs alone because he was burning them off in morning and afternoon swim practice. I thought I could eat the same number of calories but it turns out burnt calories are not on the Verizon family plan, they don't get shared among participants. 

Food can be such a great way to get your readers into your story. Our great shared memories of fast metabolisms and greasy fries can instantly transport us to Anytown High, where the federally mandated healthy balance meals go begging while Cheetos are bartered like crack.
A dustless version was also developed. Known as "packing peanuts," they never caught on.
It can also be used for character development. Remember the kid who smelled like bacon and sat in the back row? C'mon, you remember Ricky Bacon, grew up to become the CEO of, the multi-billion dollar near-beer delivery service?

Even class can be denoted by food. Need to point out how fancy or rich a kid is? Describe his lunch with one word: arugula. You won't even have to mention his lunch bag is Louis Vuitton.

Food is such an effective storytelling tool because it incorporates taste and smell, both of which are intricately and powerfully linked to memory. If I mention tater tots, I bet most of you can remember how awful they were after just an hour when they'd gone cold, dry and tasted like cat butt.

The point is, everybody eats. And the last time many of us ate with abandon was in high school. Bring your characters to life by having them bite their teeth into a greasy local delicacy or character-specific treat. Your tasty descriptions will awaken your reader's memory of similar experiences and make your story more real.

At the very least, it will make them hungry at which time they'll reach for a Peanut Butter Snickers or something. And frankly, I can imagine no greater accomplishment than to be associated with such sorcery.

Damn. Now I'm hungry. Time to find me some Oreo meat. 

Copil's favorite meal is a SnickOrKatKiss, a Snickers, smashed inside an Oreo, stacked atop a Kit-Kat, wrapped inside a Hershey's Kiss. Copil also has high cholesterol. If you ever see him eating a SnickOrKatKiss, you should slap it out of his hands IMMEDIATELY! And follow him on Twitter (@Copil)


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