Sitting on-top of L.L. Bean flannel covers, the Andrea Arnold directed season of Big Little Lies playing, the crumbs from a sleeve of unsalted Premium saltines rest in between my comforter and mattress. I am not alone, as they say, in this uncomfortability or this indulgence. And there is, of course, a market for this indulgence.
Lundberg rice cakes, the pinnacle of this food group, are followed by the likes of unsalted Premium Saltines, Original flavored Goldfish, Kim’s Magic Pop, Cheerios, water crackers, and any other (essentially) flavorless square, circle, or triangle shaped carb. General Mills, Nabisco, and Pepperidge Farm produce iterations of these desired snacks, typically artificially flavored and well salted, in undesirable varieties. With no flavor, airy textures, and of varying geometric and non-geometric shapes, this food group bears no nutritional value or palatable appeal. While, in all likelihood, these healthier versions were created for dieting, the methodology of eating these snacks does away with calorie counting or flavor profiles. The call for low sodium, MSG free diets has been commonplace my entire life, emphasized during the reign of nutritionist Michelle Obama and are undoubtedly one reason beyond these flavorless forms, but it matters not why but how you consume these objects.
Inhaling an entire sleeve of unflavored Lundberg rice cakes requires the body’s nervous system to be running flawlessly—grab, chew, swallow, repeat—while a nearly unconscious, hypnotic feeling remains. The pleasure is not about flavor or texture or even shape. Actually, it is about the mental illusion of binging on something unworthy of excess, something guilt-less. Akin to scrolling absently through social feeds, the enjoyment of eating, scarfing even, flavorless and non-complex carbohydrates comes from the fact that it is an autonomous act.
Contrary to most situational eating, with the exception of movie-theater munching, this function is a passive, repetitive motion. The act is also solitary: eating every water cracker off the cheese plate, sans cheese, is frowned upon while methodically eating said crackers out of their original packaging, on top of your covers, is a personal haven. Leaders in mental well-being and therapizing terminology, like Psychology Today, agree that repetitive motion and eating are both forms of self-soothing. Why not combine the two in the name of ultimate mindless, err I mean, mindfulness?
There is something comical about the practice of eating the undesirable in mass. At the risk of sounding like clippings from a militant vegan zine, it is equal parts defiant and stoic in an almost meaningless but funny way. Not only is it “push back” against eating norms (you are allowed to eat when and how much you want!), but there is something unwavering about someone who can eat a sleeve of unsalted saltines without toppings. Because the act is solitary, and supposedly self-soothing, there is no need to prove its usefulness or pleasurable nature to anyone but yourself.
Now, stocked up and watching Big Little Lies a year late, there truly is no one to share this experience with and nothing else to think about(at least I don’t think so?). Will this practice create a space of solitude each day or devolve into delirious repetition? Or has this practice always been delirious? Where did all my Cheerios go?