The Appetite Devil and Me

The older I get, the more I appreciate balance and simplicity in food.

As a kid, my appetite took the form of a little devil sitting on my shoulder, coaxing me toward the most imbalanced foods you could imagine. I had a proclivity for fatty, sugary foods, like ice cream, brownies, fudge, chocolate candy bars, and "breakfast" desserts like, danishes, doughnuts, and coffee cake.

And the Appetite Devil made it worse.

The Appetite Devil used to tell me that the more crap I amassed from my list of gluttony, the closer I would ascend toward ultimate food nirvana. Ice cream was good, but ice cream with candy bar pieces was better. Ice cream with candy bar pieces was pretty good, but candy-bar ice cream with hot fudge and peanut butter sauce was even better. Build me a candy-bar ice cream, hot fudge, peanut butter sundae on a brownie, and I'm still thinking, "Where the hell's my whipped cream?"

All the while, the Appetite Devil would watch over me, rub her hands together and say, “Just find one more thing to add...” always just one more thing.

Then, I would descend.

Have you ever seen a pride of lions tear into a freshly caught gazelle, or watched a hawk soar down from a treetop and spear a field mouse with its talons, then rip it's little beating hear out with its ? My attack would start with the same vigor, but contained a different level of dignity, which is to say, none.

Still, it was like I had killed the ice cream myself.

I remember loving the feeling of stuffing every cavity of my gaping mouth with food, to the point that chewing became almost impossible. The oral fixation definitely sated some other emptiness, like the worry of being poor and not having food, or the insecurity children feel that her parents don’t love them. As long as my mouth was stuffed full of food, all that unrest was put at ease. My mind would quiet. Food nirvana.

When it was over, when I had shoveled the whole thing into my mouth and slurped and slopped and gobbled and scraped my way to the bottom of the bowl and licked it clean, the Appetite Devil would bound up and down and squeal, “What’s next? What’s next?” The pattern was not unlike addiction.

Descending on an over-indulgent pile of fatty, sugary, chocolately goo was a motivating factor for at least 50 percent of everything I did before the age of 12. Trying to convince me to play my best at the last soccer game of the season? Promise me a trip to Friendly’s if my team wins. Need me to help out with the grocery shopping? No problem, as long as I get to skip off by myself for to the newspaper-confectionary store to spend the 75¢ I tucked into my pocket on a Kudos Granola Peachs-n-Crème square. Want me to join the family on Sunday morning? Easy. Just make sure someone brings a dozen doughnuts.

When faced with a box of doughnuts as a child, I would never dream of taking a cruller. “What’s the point?” First choice was always a Boston cream because it had doughnut and chocolate and vanilla pudding. If for some reason there were no Boston creams, I would look for something with buttercream filling and sprinkles and powdered sugar. In the rare even that the only doughnuts in the box were unadorned — not even a jelly doughnut to be found — I would take two halves (or two wholes if I could get away with it): one glazed and one chocolate.

Sometimes, like when I see a commercial for IHOP or Applebee’s, I wonder if most American kids my age grew up with the same mindset, because if the Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity breakfast can be on the menu of a national chain restaurant for 15 years, I’ve got to think I’m not alone here. (P.S. There is nothing “fresh” or “fruity” about that meal.)

Perhaps the difference is that I outgrew it.

It’s taken years to change, but now when faced with a Belgian waffle drowning in liquid caramel and a spritz of whipped cream, I feel sugar sores developing in my mouth just looking at it.

Don't get me wrong: I still love gooey chocolatey things. Just today, my friend brought over a "David's Cookie Deep-Dish Brownie Cake Made with Real Hershey's Kisses" from Costco, and I was the first one to carve myself a piece. The difference is now I will eat something like "David's Cookie Deep-Dish Brownie Cake Made with Real Hershey's Kisses" from Costco rarely, but more importantly slowly, picking and poking the different bits rather than cramming them all into my yawing face in one great forkful.

The word “overload” now has meaning to me. A really good quality vanilla ice cream can be so divine, but you can’t taste it if it’s buried beneath five layers of goop. Maybe the problem is I grew up eating cheap, crappy food, and the excess was designed to mask the inadequacies of each component (which I highly suspect to be true).

In any event, I now appreciate the approach of eating one or two high-quality things and discovering their own, sometimes more subtle, flavor complexities. There is nothing quite like an exquisite piece of chocolate bundt cake, unadorned or maybe very lightly flecked with powdered sugar. I feel like I can really taste the butter, salt, and caramelized sugars of caramel when it is pressed and wrapped into a tiny cube, then left to melt in my mouth alone, slowly, while I’m doing nothing more than thinking. That slowness, and awareness really, is essential.