This item is a chapter from the manuscript I am about to send off. Tell me that you really, really like it and think it may be the best thing you have read this year.
There once was a time when three a.m. called for a few slices or more of ultra-spiced pepperoni pizza following a festive evening of consuming considerable quantities of beer. Today, that same scary hour of the night is compelling me to rummage in the darkness of the night table in search of the hiding Rolaids bottle because I had dared to have raw onion on my hamburger at the barbecue earlier in the evening.
You all know what wee small hours heartburn feels like — it feels ominous and maybe lethal. You imagine the all major signs of an impending coronary feel exactly the same. A coronary of the sort that is known as ‘the big one’. The one that’s going to take you out, just like the one that killed your colleague Ralph — who was two years your junior – the previous year. But, probably it’s just heartburn.
Nevertheless, the heartburn warns that you must learn to be prudent in your eating habits. As everything in your life changes through your middle years, so does your relationship with food. What you put in your mouth may seem like a trivial consideration, but it ‘s not. It’s a reality that terrible eating habits kill a bunch of us every year and also contribute to a many chronic health problems, that range from obesity to arteriosclerosis to diabetes. Any refusal to temper the way we nosh is, as with so many elements of aging, yet another form of
middle age denial.
Men are more adept at denial than are women, especially when it comes to our relationship with our physiognomies. A woman, no matter what she looks like, thinks she is a dog, and is chronically resolving to bring about some changes. You look at your lady and see (with pleasure) a rear and tummy that seem tight, and breasts that would shame females a decade younger. Even if such a Madonna bod is not exactly the case, that’s what you tell her because you still adore having intimate encounters with this person. Really, though, what you say doesn’t matter. She looks at that same body in the mirror and sees Ma Kettle on a bad day.
A man, on the other hand, a man can scope out his body in the mirror and
even if he’s built like a sumo wrestler, he’ll nod in approval and utter, “Looking good, dude.” What’s more, he’ll believe it. Yeah, maybe a little extra avoirdupois around the middle, but don’t most guys have to buy new belts periodically because they’ve run out of holes on the old one?
As men’s relationship with their bodies is different from women’s, so is their relationship with food. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, while not unheard of in males, are much less common than they are in women. Likewise the majority of vegetarians and vegans are female. Sometimes males are forced to go along with such faddism if they live in a household crawling with nutrition-angst-obsessive females, but the general masculine need for sustenance involves something of the meat persuasion.
What is the male’s relationship with his grub?
Males develop their strongest affection with food in adolescence. Many teen boys sport tans throughout the winter due to their tendency to stand and gaze longingly into the refrigerator with the light glaring in their faces while they seek out the voluminous quantities of those fabulous foods that never seem to actually exist in the home icebox. Those foods only live in fast-food emporia, and that’s why adolescent males are so cherished by McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and the like. While girls may frequent these eateries as often as boys, they don’t consume the mammoth volume in burgers, shakes, fries, and onion rings that the lads do. Boys are mouth at one end, gut in the middle, and alimentary canal and ejection port down below. Teen girls, already obsessed with looking like Paris Hilton, guzzle diet colas, and then step outside to smoke. Smoking is good for for losing weight. Start at age fifteen and continue over the next few decades, and eventually you’ll lose every single bit of your weight much sooner than you’d anticipated.
Back to the boys. Any foodstuff is fair game for the male, and no apparent discomfort seems to ensue regardless of what is tucked away. Heartburn and dyspepsia are long in the future. Also, since the majority of males are still in
growth-spurt mode when their appetites are at their greatest, they don’t really put on girth of the paunch sort. They build up bulk but generally don’t get slobbish.
Then it all changes. Very rapidly. The first twinges of heartburn awaken at night. Certain substances begin to have the same effect as a trip to Mexico on a tourist. The middle becomes thicker, and thicker to the degree that maybe even the ‘D-word’, formerly restricted exclusively to females, enters the consciousness. An actual diet likely won’t be acted upon at this juncture, but it has become a consideration for future reference. It falls into that generalized ‘soon’ category that also applies to: quitting smoking, cutting back on drinking, exercising more, and going for a medical check-up. “Soon, hon’. I promise.”
The metabolism changes, you see. No longer can huge amounts be tucked away
without it affecting the scales the next morning. In fact, with middle age, men become aware there actually is a bathroom scale, and perhaps begin checking their weight. Something they’ve either never done, or for the more athletic, haven’t done since active participation days when a certain weight was needed for a specific sport. The cruel irony being that back in those days the guy who wanted to get on the football squad sometimes didn’t because he was too light.
Another vicious change in a man’s relationship with sustenance is that he finally in his middle years learns to appreciate certain gourmet delights. Burgers and fries, or even steak and baked potato aren’t the only items to be savored during our passage on earth. There are the ethnic cuisines of Europe and Asia. There are menu items he has only read about, or heard his wife talk about.
Furthermore, as his taste buds diminish in discriminatory powers with the
passage of time our boy wants his food to be spicier. Curries and Cajun become irresistible. But with the curries, for example (the hotter the better, no doubt) comes the other side of the scimitar. There are the calories in the meals; and the distress. Curry, our subject learns, is just as hot coming out as it was going in, leaving the sufferer in some situations with a bad case of ‘Bengali Bum’ as a result of the brutal passage of assorted blends of cloves, garlic, fenugreek and all the other savory stuff that goes into the mix.
At a personal level, I’ve had to cut back on the volume, and I’ve had to cut back on the carbs, which are my downfall. And most galling of all, I’ve had to cut back on, or cut out, many the things I truly like, or feel are integral parts of particular dishes.
A few examples: Raw onions and I severed our relationship over a decade ago. Sporadically I will make the attempt. I always regret it, to my chagrin. Green peppers went far away probably twenty years ago — about the time I realized I could still taste them three days after they were consumed. I became afraid that if I ate them just one more time, the reminders would stay with me forever. Potato
salad I adore. I also happen to make very fine potato salad that has been
praised by all and sundry (throw in a little horseradish, that makes all the difference). Unfortunately, I have no discretion when it comes to consuming PS and can eat pounds of it. It’s very weight-inducing. Consequently, and it hurts, I only make it three or four times a summer now, in very small quantities. It’s a painful thing to be so limited in my consumption, but at least having a little bit
enables me to carry on with some small hope. What do I want in the end, after
all, vats of potato salad or to appear smashingly soigné? Vain jerk that I am,
I’ve opted for the soigné.
My fondest foodstuffs however lie in the wonderful category of dessert. From
pastries to cakes to ice cream to puddings to pies to whatever is sweet and
tempting, I love them all. I could forego the main course any time in lieu of dessert. My wife, stepdaughter and I once went to a beautiful restaurant in a hotel on Maui. It was a seafood smorgasbord. We took a stroll around to see what fruits de mer were being offered before we actually picked up plates. As we got near the end of the main course smorgie, there were the desserts! Everything from Baked Alaska to Pavlova to French Pastries were sitting there in their glory. Through our main course as we gnawed on crab legs and scarfed down mussels, oysters and mahi-mahi, I remained obsessed with the fear that some bastard or other was going to take all the good desserts before I got to them. It didn’t happen, but that’s the allure that ‘afters’ have for me.
Now it can only be a once-in-a-while small treat after a sumptuous meal.
And, of course, once the little bit of dessert is consumed, the guilt immediately sets in because I know I’ll have gained at least two pounds.
So, can I say that our relationship with food gets better as we get older?
Yes, probably the relationship does, but the ingesting of it (in all its
ramifications) gets worse, far worse.
Sorry, I didn’t ever suggest that getting older was necessarily better —