I’m trying not to stare while my coworker eats her lunch.
Our de facto break room is in use, so she is at her desk. I’m not sure what kind of sandwich she picked up from McDonald’s because her interaction with the french fries has me enthralled. She removes one fry from the red carton and bites. She chews and swallows before taking another bite. It takes her three bites to consume this single fry.
How can she do that? I wonder. I wouldn’t call this mindful eating since she is reading a book, but she is not distracted from her deliberate pace.
This is not how I eat fries.
I dump them out of the box to ensure even distribution of salt. I know my coworker skipped this step because she’s complained to me about how her husband salts his food before tasting it. Not me. I shake on crystals until the fries glisten or I run out of packets, whichever comes first. Then I grab three, four or five at a time. I shove all of them all into my mouth at once. I continue until I reach out and discover, to my surprise, that all the fries are gone.
I used to think my habit of eating quickly started when I was a teacher. During my thirty-minute duty-free lunch, I had to finish up with one group of students, hightail it to the staff room, elbow my way to the front of the microwave line, shovel in reheated leftovers and get to my next class ready for the onslaught of red-faced first graders resentful that recess is over.
At my first post-teaching job, I didn’t know what to do with an hour lunch break. I found that I still ate in the first thirty minutes. This was great when I started using the rest of the time to go for a walk, but exercise has since fallen from my routine.
The habit was even harder to break when I became a mother. I mastered the “cram in food while the child is asleep” maneuver when he was an infant. Once he was on solids, I added the “let’s not let this food I made but my son hasn’t eaten go to waste” tactic. But there was still no time to savor. I shoved food in because he was crawling off, and I was convinced he was about to stick something in the one socket that didn’t have a plastic protector.
It seems I always have an excuse to consume my meals in haste.
My stomach growls and my coworker glances up from her book. “I’ll be back,” I say and shuffle out the door.
I’ll eat my lunch in the car, like I always do. I’m afraid of the spectacle I would be if I ate my desk. Even with my coworker as a model of restraint, I won’t be able to slow down. I can’t help but observe her self-control and be filled with self-disgust.
Do I want fries with that? Hell, yes. Make it a large, too, because I’ll eat them so fast I won’t realize that I’m sated before I empty the container.