Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eating Habits

My week got off to a difficult start yesterday. I forgot my Diet Coke for the ferry ride. It’s not so much that I really need the caffeine, as much as that I enjoy the experience of drinking the Coke while relaxing on my commute, reading select sections of the Sunday New York Times.

And then when I toasted my English muffin for breakfast, part of it got a little over done. I don’t like dark toast at all—it tastes too burnt to me, even if it’s just slightly overdone. I like it just barely brown. Then when I put the peanut butter on it, it was still a little too warm, so the peanut butter melted too much and was runny and dripped on my hand, and onto my plate.

So you can see things are off to a bumpy start for me foodwise. The sad thing about all this is, it makes me realize to what degree I am such a slave to habit when it comes to food. Take the English muffin: when an English muffin is split, there is a “greater” half and a “lesser” half, if you will. The greater half is more of a concave, while the lesser is more of convex, meaning that despite the nooks and crannies, the lesser half is more likely to let toppings slide off. For reasons that I can’t explain, I always eat the lesser half first.

When we got out for Mexican food (something that happens damned infrequently, because we have so many kids), and they set the chips and salsa in front of us, I always begin eating all of the broken chips first. I’m not sure if this stems from the old “diet rule” back in the early 90s that dictated that cookie crumbs had no calories, because the breakage causes caloric leakage, and that subconsciously I adhere to that, or if there’s some other factor at play here, but either way, that’s what I always find myself doing.

In any bowl of peanuts, I pick out the ones that are separated into halves and eat them first, then go through and eat all the whole ones. Peanut M&Ms are divided by color, and I eat the colors that I have the most of first, saving the lone red or yellow M&M for the last. I remember telling a coworker about this one time, and him coming to me later and, with great irritation, informing me that he now found himself doing something similar. If I’m eating the little candy bars from the jar at my office, I’ll get three—two of one kind, one of another, and kind of sandwich them. First, for example, I’ll eat the Twix, then the Snickers, then the other Twix.

I break the bottoms off of muffins and eat those first, then eat the top. This isn’t uncommon, I don’t think, but it’s not for the reason that some people do it. Some people, as I understand it, don’t actually like muffin bottoms, and only want the tops. In my case, it’s really just a neatness issue. It’s hard to open one’s mouth wide enough to accommodate an entire muffin. Cupcakes are the same—especially if they’re thickly iced, biting into the cupcake whole results in a “frosting mustache” that is fairly messy and unattractive.

When I eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger (which happens infrequently these days, but used to happen a lot more often), I make every effort not to bite into the place where the pickle is. I just don’t want that slightly acidic pickle taste in my first bite of burger. The interesting thing is that inevitably I manage to bite directly into the pickle almost every time. It’s uncanny. If I had the same experience with lottery tickets, I’d have won the jackpot over seven thousand times by now, by a conservative estimate. Maybe I’m using the wrong strategy for the lottery—perhaps I should be trying not to pick the winning numbers.

I used to be far worse about these strange eating patterns. As a child, I wouldn’t allow any of my food to touch, and would eat one thing at a time. The meat, which was not touching the mashed potatoes, would go first, then the potatoes, which were not touching the vegetable, then the vegetable last. Now I try to mix things up, and make each thing even out so my last three bites are one bite each of protein, vegetable, and starch. I still don’t like my food to touch, though.

I’ve been watching my own kids lately for signs of this weirdness, and I’m coming to the conclusion that they did not inherit my weird food habits. They had pizza Sunday night, and not one of them did what I always did as a child—I would eat all the toppings first, then the cheese, then lick off the sauce, then eat the crust. This was about as appealing as it sounds. I think I’m grateful my kids didn’t get that gene.

I guess that for all my weird food habits, it could be worse. I’ve known people who ate the same thing for lunch every single day, and ate it in the same way. That is, ate a peanut butter sandwich and always took the first bite from the upper right hand corner of the bread.

I know I’m not alone in all this. After all, the people who pry Oreo cookies in half and eat the “creme” filling out of them first, and then eat the cookies are perhaps the most widespread and prevalent example of unusual eating habits. (Although one must ask--if this behavior is so widespread and prevelant, does this then make it not an "unusual" eating habit, but a usual one? To ponder.) Then too there are people who count out or weigh out chips or nuts, either for portion control reasons, or because they’re just that kind of person. Or people who save the cherry on their ice cream sundae for last. Yes, I am far from alone.

UPDATE: The food aspect of my week has improved dramatically with the consumption of today's lunch. This consisted of homemade chicken salad (made with the remnants of Friday night's roasted chicken and homemade mayonnnaise), on toasted homemade whole grain bread (made Sunday), with fig jam. I know this sounds kind of weird, but it was awesome. I broke the bread into bite sized pieces, spread each with a little fig jam, and topped it with a forkful of the chicken salad. I predict that this combination will be repeated, since I have another container of chicken salad for lunch tomorrow. If things continue on this upward trend, it may completely cancel out yesterday's Diet Coke-and-English muffin incident.

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