My complicated relationship with food, and the incredible events of 2005
I was alone on Thanksgiving. Nothing unusual about that, and nothing sad. It was by choice. Erin had gone to Texas to be with her family. I had stayed home in San Francisco, rather than travel all the way to Southern California to spend time with mine. My family didn’t really understand, but I had blamed it on work. They needed employees over the holidays, and wanted us to choose between time off for Thanksgiving or time off for Christmas. That was the truth, and almost every year of my adult life, I have worked on the evening of Thanksgiving. Later on, I would also work every Christmas when I decided not to travel then either. This year, despite making myself available, work didn’t even schedule me. I had the day off to be alone at home. That would be the first of three Thanksgiving Miracles I would experience on November 24, 2005.
I’ve never cared about Thanksgiving. I like it now for the small ritual of celebration we have at home. Erin no longer returns to Texas. She likes to cook a big dinner for the two of us. It’s great for me because I love her cooking. Every year, she will break down the details of everything she got wrong, that was cooked for the wrong amount of time, didn’t mix right, and now tastes “weird”. There’s at least one item on the menu, maybe the stuffing, or could be the turkey, could be the sweet potatoes, that she will refuse to eat herself because it’s “not supposed to taste like that.” It all tastes perfect to me. She insists I’m wrong, and maybe I am. She doesn’t particularly like cooking any more than I do. She doesn’t do it often. Maybe my taste buds adapt out of appreciation for her efforts. All I taste is the sweetness of the gesture. Or it’s possible… that she’s a fucking great cook! Ever consider that, Erin?? In defense of, I suppose both of us, sometimes the turkey is not great. But is it ever?
When I was a kid, I hated this holiday. HATED THANKSGIVING. I believe it’s tied to the hate/hate relationship I have with food. Sometimes I hate that my body requires me to eat food, but sometimes I hate that I have to prepare food in order to eat it. It’s such a nuisance! I like how plenty of foods taste, but I hate that the healthier something is, the more likely it is to go bad, rotting like a corpse that died too soon. The perfect food is ice cream, but unfortunately, ice cream is hardly perfect as “food”. I’m a picky eater, if you can believe it. I hate anything spicy. I don’t think soft foods should ever have something crunchy inside of them. I think bell peppers are from Hell. I went to a vegan restaurant one time and ordered corn chowder. There were bell peppers in it. Some people will read that and be like, yeah that’s how you make corn chowder. Some will think bell peppers are so insignificant that they’ll wonder how I even noticed. I was so disgusted that I still feel a wave of nausea when I walk by bell peppers in the grocery store. Just typing the words “bell peppers” so many times has me on the verge of PUKING. That was my reward for trying to eat healthy and vegan! Tricked with superfluous ingredients. Ben & Jerry’s would never pull that shit with me. Ben & Jerry’s lists every ingredient on the container and they have never betrayed me. I’ve never bought a pint of Chunky Monkey and been like, “why are there walnuts in this?” Of course not, because I have never bought Chunky Monkey. It is clear there are walnuts in it! There is no such accountability in the health food industry, or even for regular food. When you eat out, you never know when there will be tomato in an omelet, lettuce on a sandwich, or bell peppers in your glass of water.
My family never tricked me. My grandma would make Thanksgiving dinner every year, and it was GOOD. I wasn’t pressured to eat anything I didn’t want to. My hatred of the holiday was nobody’s fault. What I hated was the concept of food, and the concept of celebrating food. So much time spent on preparation. It didn’t seem worth it. Especially for the centerpiece, the turkey. It’s a whole project that takes an entire day, for an end result that is usually too dry, and never amazing. Even at its wettest and tastiest, it’s basically mediocre. At least to my obviously particular sensibilities. For what it’s worth, I also think steak is horrible. It tastes disgusting. I have also never tasted a wine that wasn’t the absolute worst thing my mouth has ever experienced. I have heard these things are not the case for everyone. Perhaps these palate anomalies have also forged my resentment against food, by making me feel like an outsider.
One year, when I was 14, I insisted that I would only eat fast food for Thanksgiving. I was determined. I would not submit to the fascism of tradition and eat anything that someone actually worked really hard on. It was never personal, but in retrospect, this was definitely insulting and I owe my grandma an apology. Sorry, Grandma. I still attended Thanksgiving dinner. I just brought my own meal, which had its own complication. For some reason, fast food restaurants are not open on Thanksgiving. So I had to pick up my order from Taco Bell the night before. At the dinner, I was surrounded by family, feasting on roasted turkey, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, yams, cranberry sauce. I had on my plate a single bean burrito from Taco Bell that sat in a refrigerator for 20 hours and was briefly reheated in the microwave. The middle was still cold. I found out Taco Bell does not taste as good the next day. I was happy. My mom encouraged me to eat any of the food on the table. One bean burrito was barely a meal on a regular day. I refused. All I wanted was a small tortilla wrapped around a slab of bean paste mixed with a few shreds of cheese, “red sauce”, and by request, NO onions. Don’t even get me started on Taco Bell putting goddamn onions in their bean burritos. I guess not even Taco Bell is perfect. But in that moment, it had served its purpose. I had won the night. Take that, Thanksgiving!
In 2005, I was ambivalent about the holiday. Having a day off to hang around and watch a movie at home was the most pleasant circumstance I could hope for. I had no dinner plans. No intention of eating anything special, certainly no intention of cooking something. Around noon, I went outside to check the mail. Our apartment was on the bottom floor of a duplex. A short pathway beside some grass led to the door from the sidewalk. On the left side of the front door was the stairway leading to the upstairs apartment. On the right was our wall-mounted mailbox. I reached in the mailbox and took out the DVD from Netflix I was expecting. It was raining, and I took a moment to take in the weather, to appreciate the empty streets and beautiful gray skies. I truly love a light rain and couldn’t imagine a more perfect day. A few feet from where I stood, sitting in the grass just off the path, was a box of donuts from Krispy Kreme. The night before, I had had a craving, specifically for Krispy Kreme. I had planned to check their schedule to see if they were open so I could have Krispy Kreme for Thanksgiving. Now, here was this box. I walked over to it. The box was soaked and looked like it had been stepped on. The clear film on the top revealed that there were still five glazed donuts inside, only one of them crushed. “It’s a Thanksgiving miracle!” I said, out loud because I was so excited. This was the second Thanksgiving miracle of the day. A free dinner just showing up on my doorstep! I sent Erin a text letting her know “I found donuts outside!!!!” She wrote back, “Holy shit, it’s a miracle!”
I’m 38 now, and I can’t fucking believe I ate wet donuts I found in the street. At 23, it was normal. I used to movie-hop a lot, buy a ticket for a movie then sneak in to two more. To feed myself, I would go through the theater as everyone was leaving during the credits, and pick up unfinished bags of popcorn. Sometimes I found a few nachos, sometimes even candy. I thought I was being clever and resourceful by eating trash, as opposed to fucking gross. Nothing bad ever happened, as far as I knew. I did used to get sick three or four times a year back then, and almost never do now. I never connected my frequent sickness to my open invitation to germs, but it seems there might be something there.
The movie I got from Netflix was called Blood Freak. It was from 1972. I had no idea what it was about. I rented it because I liked the title, and because the disc was put out by Something Weird Video. I loved their catalogue. The poster promised “A 20th Century HORROR beyond belief! Only the blood of drug addicts can satisfy the thirst of the BLOOD FREAK monster!” The monster pictured on the poster had a lumpy brown head with blood-red eyes and a long conical beak that went straight out. Blood dripped from the freak’s beak’s sharp teeth. My third Thanksgiving miracle was watching the film while eating all five delicious donuts, and discovering this was a turkey monster.
A biker named Herschell helps out a girl named Angel with a flat tire. They become fast friends, and she invites him home, where it turns out Angel’s sister Ann is hosting an orgy. Herschell is offered drugs and sex, but that night he refuses. He stays with the family for a few days, and eventually, Ann is able to corrupt him and gets him addicted to marijuana. Meanwhile, Ann and Angel’s father has offered Herschell a job on his turkey farm. Mostly maintenance, but one of the requirements of this job is taste-testing the turkeys with an experimental chemical added to them. The mysterious chemicals mixed with the already destructive drugs in his body (marijuana, exclusively) have an adverse effect. He becomes the Blood Freak, a man of the exact same stature but with the head of some special effects guy from Florida’s bizarre interpretation of a turkey. His new addiction is not only drugs, but drugs filtered through blood. Only the blood of drug addicts can satisfy the thirst of the Blood Freak monster! Herschell goes on a murder spree, chopping off limbs and sitting patiently under his victims as they endlessly scream and their blood pours into his beak. Incredible. I had inadvertently rented a holiday classic.
How could I possibly have a grudge against Thanksgiving after a perfect day like that? It’s still hard to get excited for it. I almost always request to work. However, I’ve given up my personal War On Thanksgiving. I still don’t visit my family to have a big dinner with them, although I have a handful of times now. I prefer a quiet week of watching movies and eating leftovers with my favorite chef and our two stunningly gorgeous cats. I am thankful for having that. This year, I am also reflecting back on some of the most miraculous moments of my life. I am extremely thankful for free donuts and a movie called Blood Freak.