“What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization: to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick!”
Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual
Thursday is my acupuncture day with Nicky. My appointment is at 1:00 pm, in Toluca Lake, and my morning has been hectic.
When lunch time approaches, I realize that I won’t make it on time to go home and have a slice of the broccoli and cherry tomato quiche leftover from the night before. So as I drive on Canoga Avenue, in Woodland Hills, I see a Whole Foods and decide to get a juice I can drink as I drive: cucumber, spinach, apple, ginger, celery, and lime. I also grab a KIND bar, pay for my ‘lunch’ and run to the car. The map on my phone says I’ll get there in 35 minutes; it’s 12:20 pm, and I hate being late.
My healing session is relaxing and restoring, just what I need. Afterward, as I walk towards my car, the clock reads 2:30: I am too early for my other doctor’s appointment. “I can stop at Coffee Bean,” I think. The unseasonal October heat that is afflicting Los Angeles is killing me: it’s 109° F and I can barely touch the steering wheel.
“Iced Americano, please,” I ask the barista. The young brunette with tattooed arms shows sign of gratitude for having AC, but also of compassion for the exhausted look that customers bear on their faces.
The coffee has been brewed to perfection, bitter and intense, so strong that its aroma reverberates in the back of my head, energizing every cell of my body with its ideal mix of ice and caffeine. I just add a splash of milk and a pinch of cinnamon, then I rest for a few minutes, before getting back on the road to Van Nuys, where my doctor is.
“I spent ten dollars in drinks today,” I realize as I merge onto the 101 N toward Ventura.
This isn’t the first time that I meditate on the all-American habit of picking up food and drinks on the go, anytime, anywhere, anyway, whether by foot, or without even getting off the car. I don’t use drive-throughs, and I don’t regularly stop for coffee at every corner, but I myself seem to have bought into this habit, from time to time.
As some of you know by now, I grew up in Avigliana, a small town in the north-west of Italy, and also in a culture in which there isn’t nonstop availability of food and drinks for purchase. There, most of the stores close between 7:30 and 8:00 pm, and most of them also have two days of rest, one usually being Sunday; by evening, only restaurants are open. We don’t have drive-throughs, and if we want pizza we must drive to the restaurant, park our cars, and either sit at a table, or take the food home. Locals usually cook, dining out is a special occasion.
There, if I feel like having coffee and I am not at home, I have to find a café and drink my espresso, cappuccino, tea, or hot chocolate on the premises. There is no such thing as to-go paper cups; when I want something I really have to go and get it, I have to pause in whatever else I am doing, and enjoy my chosen beverage.
“We have coffee at home,” my mom always said when I’d ask her why we didn’t have breakfast at the bar, as we call coffee shops in Italy. We were never wealthy, so breakfast at the bar was a superfluous expense; moreover, mom has always been an excellent cook, and so were both my grandmothers. We ate at the kitchen table.
When I moved to London, first, and a few years later to Los Angeles, I remember finding Starbucks and the like at every corner, a cool and modern feature of the American-style life I had always fantasized about; I was very young, and that’s what I had seen in the movies. In those days, I didn’t have the money for extras; I wasn’t sober, and my three jobs were just enough to pay rent, utilities, food, gas, and my addictions. I didn’t even have health insurance, so an americano from Starbucks was a treat, once a week or so. I would think about it twice, before spending three or four dollars on a beverage that I could make at home.
To this day, I don’t get coffee on the go on a daily basis; I work from home, I don’t need to. And when I’m out all day I tend to make my own lunch. So when, on Thursday, I spent ten dollars for my drinks, I thought about the consequences of our lives on the go.
How beneficial is it for us to have endless choices, options, and availability of goods? How healthy is it for us to have food everywhere we go? The carwash has food, and so does the pharmacy, the gas station, the esthetician, and the laundromat. Hospitals sell junk food in their vending machines, and even fancy cupcakes in Beverly Hills are now delivered through an ATM-like metallic box painted in pink (Sprinkles).
I know traffic is insane in big cities like Los Angeles, but nobody ever died of hunger on their way home from work. Food corporations bombard us with commercials of girls in bikinis eating burgers that drip fat and cheese, they haunt us with Oreos, Snickers, Twix, Lay’s potato chips and spoiled little girls who would rather eat Cheetos on their lunch break than a meal their dad has prepared for them. What we are subjected to, every day, is disturbing, dysfunctional, and disrespectful.
They are turning us in compulsive consumers of mocha frappuccinos, vanilla soy lattes, and caramel macchiatos.
This ‘modernity’ isn’t the American life I had fantasized about; this is manipulation of our brains through the legally-sanctioned poisoning of the food that should nourish it. If you don’t believe me, read the ingredients next time you grab a quick ‘pick-me-up’.
On Thursday, I was really bothered by my two drinks on the go, and not for the ten dollars. I was upset because I no longer believe in the modern ideal of getting what we want whenever we want, however we want, wherever we want. After much suffering, I actually don’t believe in the I want paradigm any more.
Eating in the car, or as we walk in a hurry from point A to point B, doesn’t deliver the same nutritional value that that meal would, cooked and eaten at home with the people we love, or by ourselves. The paper cup we drink our coffee and tea from doesn’t convey the same intensity of flavor that a ceramic mug or a glass does.
It’s not just about the money, even though is with that money that we unconsciously feed the food and pharmaceutical corporations billions of dollars every year; it’s about self-love, care for the world we live in, and the world that will be our children’s. It’s about what was, what is disappearing, what might never be again.
We make a choice every time that we walk by Starbucks, Taco Bell, Coffee Bean, Shell, or any vending machine. Let’s buy a book with that money, an album, or flowers for our living rooms. Let’s bring our water from home, and do our part to eliminate plastic. And with that money, let’s buy a new ingredient to make every meal a sacred moment of our day.
“We are not only what we eat, but how we eat, too.”
I made Halloween Pepitas as a TV snack; try them at home and let me know how they come out. RECIPE.