Relearning how to eat
Food writers in general strive to make their writing experiential, but the truth is that most of us stay in a fairly narrow sensory box. We taste the sharp kick of vinegar on simply dressed greens. We see the bright green of a nasturtium leaf and smell the vegetal waft from broth. We may use dynamic verbs like hit, snap, or tickle, but we rarely give any thought to the mechanics of a meal, what happens to bring fork to mouth.
When suddenly you lose the use of one of your arms, however, that tends to be all you can think about. A few hours before last week's Live Fire!, I tripped and fell on my fully outstretched arm, fracturing my right radius. Not knowing the bone was broken, I spent the evening in a sports mesh sling, nibbling bites from L'Oca D'Oro, Emmer & Rye, and Franklin Barbecue with some help from friends. It was a lovely evening filled with wine and laughter. I hardly noticed that my elbow couldn't bend.
It's damn near the only thing I notice on my body now with my arm wrapped in an unwieldy splint and slung unceremoniously. Eating, really the most important part of my job, has become an endurance sport. I can only use a knife by clumsily dragging food through the cutting edge, and my use of chopsticks has the precision of a military drone. I slosh spoonfuls of pho onto my coffee table and drop heaps of rice onto my lap. The appearance of togarashi spiced quail on Sway's recent Songkran menu kickoff brought me to near tears. Anything that I can pick up with my hands is now a godsend.
It's not as if I have ever been a particularly elegant eater. The manners I have picked up over the years may be good enough for a Waco country club, but no one will mistake me for an Astor. Still, even that small measure of politesse is gone now (along with any attempt at style, but that's a story for another section). Thank God that injury gives you a pass.
But that's really the least of my concerns. Far more vexing is that eating has now become exhausting. On the Saturday following the fall, my friend Amy (you know her as the Chronicle's news editor) graciously carted me off to Central Market while I was hopped up on codeine. I threw anything I thought was easy into the cart – salami, Délice de Bourgogne, pistachios, cut veggies. What I didn't think of was how difficult it would be to eat it all. Nutshells had to be pried. Bread had to be torn. Opening the confounded lid that was keeping me from slathering Love Dip on everything was a hacky modern dance involving teeth, underarm, and (briefly) feet. By the time I got to the food, I was too tired to eat it.
If there is one good thing to come from the injury, it's that it has forced me to be more thoughtful about food. Pain is bearable and I've never put too much stock in dignity, but hunger is not something I can ignore. In less than a week, I have developed techniques for eating long pasta and sticky rice (OK – that one is just using my hands). If you see me making a mess of myself, try not to judge me.