An experiment in breaking down the boundaries between nature and society…
I sit down on a large stone bench on one of the sunnier days for lunch when the usual physical urgings grab hold. I have come prepared with the necessary provisions: fifteen crispy discs, known as “Magic Pop”, uniform in size, roughly six inches in diameter and a half inch thick, stacked in a clear plastic bag. They contain rice, wheat and corn starches, and extracted stevia. Each grain is popped and hot pressed by a gourmet grocer in a portable machine exported from across the globe.
These puffed cakes are my fodder. With a snap, one breaks along the edges of my mouth almost perfectly. I move the toasty bit towards the back of my mouth with my tongue, avoiding overly sensitive teeth which make too much chewing a chore and taking the extra breath required by a deviated septum that was never repaired. I masticate with the whole of my mouth, gums, molars and saliva, and swallow the bite in full.
I am reading, a distraction to ignore the flecks of starch-dust floating onto me and coating my clothes. Eyes focused on the paper, I feel in the back of my throat, a part of the alimentary tract whose name I cannot identify, but which I associate with glands, a dryness and the sensation that always accompanies the consumption of saccharin. It reminds me of the years when I used to down with pride a liter of diet coke in one sitting. Liquid, so I am told, can help the stomach temporarily expand, allowing for as much food to enter as possible. Artificial sweeteners can trick the brain into tasting sugar, but a side effect is hunger, ranging from the routine to the extreme.
I am compelled to take another morsel, rotating the disk slightly after each chomp, so I can, with the aid of increasing saliva, cram what room is left in my mouth with still more pop. A few chews, two or three at most, and I swallow. As a mouth breather (harping back to the deviated septum), swallowing poses slight challenges, cutting off my primary airway for breathing, holding my breath for slightly longer than I imagine others do in order to eat. And so I have become adept at holding my breath, of taking bite after bite after bite, swallowing as much as I can, until I must exhale and inhale again. Feeling moderately satiated, the dryness revives itself a second or two later. Each bite is succeeded by a slightly faster one. The sweetness of the Magic Pop tastes even better with its crispiness. Now I am stuffing my mouth with as big a portion as possible, letting saliva do its job of breaking down the grains without any effort. Waiting as little as possible before justifying the consumption of another disc, I calculate the caloric intake, rationalizing that two cakes are only 30 calories. That’s practically nothing. Four are only about as many calories as an apple…
This habit of filling my mouth has always netted commentary. My mother used to admonish me for clearing my plate too quickly. Gradually, she replaced real food with “diet” options, Ice Milk, Low-Fat Yogurt, etc. to accommodate my speed eating and the fact it would take twice as many servings to leave me feeling gratified. By adulthood, I developed different operations to entertain such gorging. When driving to work, I would pack the car with the most portable chips and jerky. For staying awake at night, I would devour heavy helpings of rice, usually without garnish, except for grated cheese, salt and pepper. The thickness of the rice would settle in my stomach, slowly dissipating during the evening along with my energy.
When I finally reached 80 pounds over my recommended weight, fearing my habits would kill me and determined to change who I had become, I faced the truth. Somewhere in my life I had lost my self-control. The satisfaction of mastication and taste, and the sensation of pushing food into my mouth until it could hold no more was all I understood. So, I switched from Turkey Jerky, rice and tortilla chips to vegetables, fruit, homemade kimchi and seaweed. These natural snacks, after the initial weeks of revulsion, soon supplanted their predecessors. Shoving in pounds of carrots or cabbage, their fibrous texture a challenge to chew, although less important than their presence in my mouth, I could eat with abandon while watching television, reading or typing emails. And I discovered Magic Pop. Often as a supplement to vegetables, I indulged first with just one or two at a sitting. Eventually their semi-artificial sweetness, reminiscent of the diet coke which I had abandoned, overtook their garnishes, until now I often prepare meals around eating an entire bag as quickly as possible. After all, a whole bag of 15 is only 225 calories.
As I bite into my first slice, little air bubbles induced by the heat press that makes the Magic Pop puff, slowly release while traveling down my esophagus on their way into my stomach. Caused by carefully manufactured air, I feel a pressure on the upper-most part of my stomach. Unlike the fullness of a Thanksgiving meal and its soothing calm of meat that feels like a soft comforter of skin, air bursts inside my stomach. The Magic Pop, as I ingest bite after bite, causes my stomach to swell. Within minutes, it unnaturally inflates until my shirt feels tight. I hunch my shoulders, attempting to suck in the balloon that is my stomach, as it rolls out from my chest. I remind myself that I can control this embarrassment in the same manner that I controlled my weight loss. I can avoid these processed pops and return to more natural foods, only carrots, apples and berries. Then again, this swelling happens with them also, with the head of cabbage I ate for breakfast, with the vat of seaweed soup I will likely have for dinner tonight. And after all, they taste so good. Maybe a little swelling is worth it.