The ABC Diet July 21, 2011Posted by Jennifer in : feminism,food , add a comment
I wrote this chronicle of an alphabetic diet about six years ago. At the time, I was a single New Yorker with free time in spades and a complicated relationship with food. On each day of my ABC Diet, I ate only foods that started with the corresponding letter, starting with “A” and ending 26 days later with “Z.” Reading this on my plane ride home from Vegas, I realized two things. I should have taken a Xanax on X-day and it was time to post the story.
Foods begin with A rarely, and those that do mix badly. A-foods are mostly munching foods, so throughout the day I snack on almonds, apricots and apples. I read about a woman who spends two years in near isolation to write her book on menstruation, meanwhile eating mostly red foods and drinking only red beers. Such commitment dwarfs my own attempt in constructing artificial boundaries.
My caffeine addiction is painfully clear by evening, when my head pounds so violently I can hardly breathe or think. I run to the grocery store, where I buy an assortment of caffeinated teas, which includes one entitled “Awake.” Lying on my couch practically paralyzed, I can’t even boil the water for tea.. I throw up, in the bathroom. Apparently, my body did not take to the absurd combination of raw avocado and asparagus as a dinner.
Still nauseated, my head pounds as I climb into bed at 8 pm, the earliest I’ve gone to bed in years. As I fall asleep I think about how easily my mind is able to group the foods that I’ve eaten into the category of ‘A’; I even had a dream the night before about apples, almonds and avocados. In contrast to this neat mental organization, my stomach cannot comprehend the bizarre combinations that I’m ingesting, bringing into focus the mind-body conflict. The animal parts of me are not in alignment with my human cognition. A primitive stomach, an over-refined mind.
I wake up at 5 am. My brother Greg is also awake, so we take the subway into the city together- it is the loneliest hour in Manhattan. I buy a bagel with butter, some blueberries and a banana. I feel pure with the letter B, until I break down and stop to buy a cup of “black coffee”, hoping to avoid the catastrophic coffee withdrawal of the day before. Greg asks a stupid question to the cashier, “Do you have breakfast foods that begin with B, my sister is on the ABC diet” She laughs, mentions bagels (duh), and then says: “That sounds like a fun diet, I’ve never heard of it. But shouldn’t you wait for C to have your coffee?” Half an hour later, in Washington Square Park, I give away half the cup of coffee to a homeless man who claims to be Bob Dylan.
For lunch I have steamed beef, broccoli and brown rice. I wolf it down. B is a far better day than A.
Although my diet is more focused on nouns and adjectives, at night I venture to a local café called Verb. I purchase a moist brownie from a barista with a name that starts with a B. He looks like he divides his time between rock-band practice and the gym. B. accosts me in mock formal diction:
“I see you preferred to purchase your beverage from another establishment.”
I explain to him why I am drinking black currant tea.
When the next customer comes along, he doesn’t want to stop chatting: “Come back on ‘X’ and we’ll fix you up a good drink with lots of protein in it” I leave the café pleased, because I’ve rarely been able to advance conversations with attractive cashiers further than “do you have soy milk?” But the ABC diet is not all about eating brownies and meeting beautiful men at coffee shops. Results are atypical.
My dad always jokes that he’s on a permanent “C-diet”, “I see it and I eat it.” Any diet that prohibits a large group of foods will make most people lose weight. The ABC Diet is perfect for someone with a totally open palette, like me, while it’s pretty terrible for vegetarians, diabetics, picky eaters or carnivores. A friend recently asked me which foods I don’t like but I had a lot of trouble coming up with an answer. She on the other hand, went on about a hatred for rice.
Although C is a haze of delicious offerings, chocolate, cheese and coffee, my appetite is still held back. Throughout the ABC diet, I continually reject offerings that I would ordinarily consume without thought. I go to an art opening where they are serving only Blue Ribbon beer. Just after, I go to a bar to drink Coronas with a friend who orders a plate of onion rings, which I can’t touch. My roommate brings home a party spread from work, with bread, fruit and cheese, which is the only thing I can eat. There are no crackers.
Tonight, I eat with my friend G. at Hop Sing, a Chinatown restaurant. There are so many New York’s, so many side streets, personalities, energies, neighborhoods, restaurants and types of food to eat. It’s overwhelming at times, causing me to take the same pathways, rarely veering into unexplored territories. The ABC diet forces variety. Eating pork dumplings and duck smothered in black bean sauce, I promise myself to explore Chinatown more often.
Later that evening, G. stops at a bodega for a coffee and a sweet. I get a decaf coffee and try to convince her to buy a Double Chocolate muffin so I can have some. G. teases me for tacking on ‘decaf’ and ‘double’ to make foods legitimate: “This ABC diet of yours- it’s like a word game.”
I have a brunch date with D., a furniture designer. We settle in at a cozy French café, and once our food arrives, D. takes a big bite of his chicken sandwich and implores me to try it.
“The thing is, I’m on a diet…”
“What kind of diet allows you to eat French toast?”
“I’m on the F-day of the ABC diet”
After thinking and talking about it for a bit, D. approves of the ABC diet, and even suggests getting Frapuccionos later, which brings up a crucial question in the ABC diet: Do brand names count? Impulsively, I decide that yes, they do count.
At night, I go drinking with a friend and order Frangelicas and Fuzzy Navels and soak it up with French fries (double points!).
I’ve always had a particular weakness for ice cream, and recall certain weeks of my life where ice-cream has been a mainstay. Like in Venice, when I savored a tiramisu and raspberry gelato, while strolling underneath canals and amidst biennale exhibits. The treat was delightful, but also gluttonous: it was my fourth gelato of the day. One brutally cold January, my teeth ached too badly for solid food so I subsisted on Ben N Jerry’s, tomato soup and various juices. Despite the pain, I liked having my choices for dinner whittled down to a Rocky Road milkshake or carrot juice. When ice cream is the only choice, ice cream changes from a guilty pleasure to a necessary pleasure.
Most of the foods I eat on J-day annoy me in their gastronomic incompetence. Jalapenos don’t belong in corn bread. Jasmine tea is a poor substitute for coffee. Jell-O is for children. Jellybeans are for children too. Jack and coke is a drink I would never choose to order if I wasn’t on this stupid diet. I feel like I entered into a sexy game, only to find myself too proud to turn back when the alphabetic restraints start to hurt. The worst thing about the ABC diet is that it requires one to eat a lot of junk food. There are so many different names or kinds of candy bars and desserts, but fewer ways to label healthy foods. I long for some healthy, delicious meal like a salmon salad or tofu stir-fry.
In my past dieting history, I would quit after one or two days, but even more often, by the afternoon. As a feminist, I felt embarrassed whenever I wanted to lose weight, and would be secretive about it, denying it at all costs and immediately ordering chocolate cake if someone asked if I was on a diet. But the ABC diet is different. As much as I want a cup of coffee and a healthy meal, I refuse to drop this project. More importantly, I feel no shame to be on the diet. And I think it’s because the ABC diet is rooted not in self-hate but in fun.
The bright moment of J-day comes serendipitously, when I run into a lesbian friend, T. on the street, who asks me if I want to grab dinner. I warn her I am on a highly restrictive diet: “You don’t have to lose weight,” she assures me, but when I tell her about my diet she laughs, and finds a bar and grill with Cajun Food. I order the jambalaya and lick the plate clean.
I’m surprised that it is so difficult to think of foods that began with K, but my brother is not. “Of course K is going to be hard-it’s an unusual letter. Don’t you know K is worth five points in Scrabble?” Upon checking my scrabble set later, I see that Greg was right. The only letters more valuable are J, Q, X and Z.
At some point during my diet, I saw a petite Korean designer at a cafe, working away on his laptop. The intensity of his focus piqued my curiosity, so I peered over to his screen and saw intricate designs of letters—prompting me to inquire upon his favorite letter: “Probably K,” he replied immediately, “It’s exotic, sexy, one of the newer letters in the language.” He then explained why he thought so many brand names such as Klondike, Kit-Kat (I eat one for a mid-day snack on K-day) and Krispy Kreme begin with K; they have a certain commercial punch, and don’t carry the soft or hard ambiguity that C sometimes does.
Knish is my first meal of K-day. It costs only a dollar fifty, and I get what I pay for. It is a concentrated slab of blandness, palatable only after I smear on globs of spicy mustard. I find some solace in knowing that bread stuffed with potatoes is the ultimate anti-Atkins meal.
Dinner is kielbasa. I’ve lived near a large Polish population for three years, so it’s about time to try the glorified hot dog. It’s tasty, but afterwards my heart beats at a disturbingly quick pace.
Today I visit F., a friend who is about to go on a 7-day juice fast. F. has done some modeling work, resembles Charlize Theron and is sometimes stopped on the street for autographs. Despite being slender already, she often embarks on new diets. This time, F. assures me that the main point of her fast is not to lose weight, but to instill discipline, though she admits guiltily, “Ok- I am psyched to lose ten pounds.” I can relate to her double purpose to lose weight and gain control. The freedom to eat whatever you want brings a responsibility to choose wisely and know you can only blame yourself if you come back from a birthday party bloated from cake and mojitos.
In preparation for her fast, F. is limiting herself to raw fruits and vegetables. Luckily, she has mangos, mesclun and mushrooms in the refrigerator so she can eat her raw foods and I can eat my M-foods, both of us in peace with our respective diets.
I remember avoiding an enticing platter of cheese danishes, chocolate croissants, bear claws and lemon tarts, sitting down with a carton of yogurt and a banana. A fit man sat down next to me at this breakfast buffet. Sixteen at the time, I watched in surprise as he scarfed down two huge raspberry danishes dripping with frosting. Eating two danishes would never be that simple for me. I might experience heightened pleasure in a haze of gluttonous guilt, because food, like sex can be even better when illicit. I became sad with the thought that I may never be able to enjoy sober over-eating with such pure sensual pleasure.
I was wrong. On the P-day of the ABC diet I eat pepperoni pizza and pecan pie (both double points!) with a masculine, careless abandon. There is no guilty aftertaste.
The surprising number of Q-foods is well chronicled in White Men Can’t Jump (1992). The character Gloria, played by Rosie Perez, goes on Jeopardy and tears through the category “Foods that Begin with Q” with answers such as “quince” “quiche” and “quinoa.”
When I was a teenager, I was hyper aware of the first letters of boys I date. Promoting my obsession was the junior-high school way of opening a Coke Can, a popular recess game in my circle. Not simply by flipping the tab, but flipping up and down, reciting the alphabet until it loosened- the letter on which it finally broke off was the first letter of the next boy I was to date. Of course, this game allows for human intervention. I remember if I had a crush on a certain Rafael, I would be very gentle till say- “M”, when I would begin to push the tab with all my strength- perhaps jumping the gun, the tab might fall to the floor on Q.
In alphabetic dieting, Q is surprisingly easy, but in alphabetic dating it would be the toughest letter. I imagine extending my repertoire of hangouts from downtown and Brooklyn into Harlem, Chelsea and Queens, looking for my beloved Quintin, or alternatively, Quandrew.
I cheat today. After ordering takeaway quesadillas at a Mexican deli, I walk into a coffee shop, where the aroma of espresso intoxicates me. I take out my wallet, purchase a coffee, and rush home with the exhilarating feeling of fugitive activity, like I’m a kid again stealing a Snickers bar from the corner-store.
For dinner I have U-don noodles with a date, who also orders U-don noodles. He’s annoyed that I won’t drink whiskey with him: ‘I can’t believe your diet includes beverages.” I can’t believe I’m going on a second date with this guy. The last time we went out was when I was traveling in his hometown London. The date ended badly at 5 AM, when I caught him guzzling scotch from a bottle and kissing another boy.
Today is the dreaded day of the ABC diet. There are no foods that begin with X, except for a protein bar I find called Xtreme energy, which come in Chocolate Raspberry and Orange Carrot Supreme. I’ve eaten two by 4 pm. They taste like candy. In the evening, my friend B. stops by and we walk around. After a few hours, I feel dizzy and want to go home. Nothing is as fun as usual when fasting.
To coax myself to sleep, I contemplate yogurt and yellowtail, the foods I eat the next day.
For the last day of the ABC diet, my friend G. comes over and cooks ziti with zucchini, and I uncork a bottle of zinfandel. The Miss America pageant is on T.V and we decide to watch it as we eat—though we do so with a detached air of superiority. As Miss Michigan struts down the aisle in casual wear, tight jeans and halter-top, the announcer explains that a month ago, she read a tabloid that called her fat, “So she lost ten pounds! And she goes to Harvard! Smart and looks great in jeans- can’t beat that.” I watch and laugh, but really I am sad for all the female energy poured into diets. For years, I’ve been frustrated by the tragicomedy of the dieting industry. As these thoughts roll through my head for the thousandth time, I realize that having used the alphabet to express my bewilderment makes me feel better. My diet was a psychological success, though it may have been a failure by traditional criteria: I lost just seven pounds instead of the expected twenty-six.
Back to A-Z
I break the ABC diet at midnight (On previous days, letters had switched at 6 am), drink a double latte and dance till five in the morning.
On the day after Z, I go out to brunch with girlfriends. Looking over the menu, it occurs to me that I can order whatever I want, regardless of the letter that the food begins with. I choose the sampler platter, which includes a tiny portion of everything on the menu- A pancake, an egg, a sausage link, a slice of bacon, a corn on the cob, a side of potatoes and a small fruit salad.
I’m back to the American good life, where there are no restrictions on what I can eat. I trust I will be well fed, but as for satisfaction- there are no guarantees.
Poker Fairytale is Live! July 5, 2011Posted by Jennifer in : art,feminism,poker , add a comment
Poker Fairytale is up and running and I am in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. Life is good. Check out one of my favorite videos below and look for an essay about the site on this blog soon.