**Parts of this post appear in “Hunger” in the Winter 2011 issue of The North American Review.
It’s that it makes you hungry. After a great meal you may find that you are full. Maybe you flirt with satisfaction. But then comes this baseline buzz, this mewling hunger that begs, always, to be fed. And more, better: with finer attention and intelligence, greater tenderness and cheek. There is nothing sadder than the end of a great meal, knowing what comes next.
Of course, we don’t stop eating because we are afraid we might get hungry again. Well, some do. The delusional think it brave. Anorexics, saints, champions of causes. Breastless, bellyless, skin-and-bone bores.
Ah, but one grows weary of speaking in code. If only I could write about food today. If only I had some proud little edible to share with you. But reader, I have to say, I have suffered the most spectacular string of failures in the kitchen this week, and while some failures are instructive and useful and can show us who we are, others exist only to break our hearts.
A quote: All human toil is for the mouth, and yet the appetite is not satisfied.
When I’m not writing for the blog, I have been writing about this, about hunger and fullness and the failure of satisfaction: the hope that hunger brings and the despair that fullness brings, and the endless cycle of one replacing the other.
It’s hard to notice this and then to avoid veering into one of those Biblical-sounding aphorisms about the state and nature and toil of mankind. That’s not what I’m saying. I am not so bold. What I’m saying is: where did we get the idea that we can ever be satisfied? She did us no service, whoever it was who made us believe it.
I am sorry to disappoint, reader, but today I have no answers for you or for me, only this string of blue photographs: meals half-eaten or already finished; husks, shells, crumbs; bites taken, cuts made; the mess that follows the feast.
I don’t have any answers but I can tell you I am eating radish sandwiches today. I’m eating radishes with a vigor dreamed incompatible with vegetables. And while radishes, bread and butter make a good meal–rich and simple and nourishing–they do not tempt me to stuff myself to the point of despair. After all, who ever complained of feeling full up to here, up to their necks, with radishes?
There’s no way. I think of Scarlett O’Hara. Am I the only one who’s haunted by this scene? She has made it home, she’s hungry. The war is on. There is nothing left to eat at the ruined old plantation but some radishes, and she eats them, whole, unwashed, straight out of the dirt in the garden. Then she makes that heartbreaking oath, the one that guarantees her and everyone she loves an epic share of unhappiness, down to the end of their lives.
She swears she’ll never be hungry again.
A fatal error because, wonder of wonders, she seems to manage it. And reaps nothing from it but a dead child, a cold dark house and a view from the back of the man she loves. Had she been lucky she might have prayed for hunger, hunger enough to want to live, hunger enough to bury despair in.
Which, I suppose, is a kind of answer, isn’t it, reader?