Thursday, March 17, 2005

Samsara: Why I Deserve to Eat Your Popcorn

I like to imagine that in my previous life I was a sixties radical or the number one wife of a Chinese emperor. But I think the sad truth is that the former me lived through either the Depression or a famine. How else to explain why a child growing up with well-stocked refrigerator shelves, packed lunches and frequent supermarket visits would feel compelled to write her name on a box of cookies in order to claim and protect its contents? Or that her teenage self and her friend Jen would buy Whatchamacallits from the school tuck shop to enjoy in privacy by the empty school pool?

You might think I’m turning towards the mysteries of reincarnation so I can avoid the simple answer: gluttony. But it’s more nuanced than pure and simple greed -- there are power issues involved, for one. For example, there’s what you might call the "hoarding, lording instinct". This is the term that describes the inclination to string out one’s Halloween candy until Easter and to occasionally re-count the stale pieces in a slow, elaborate fashion in front of one’s salivating siblings before throwing the whole plastic sack of it away in June. There’s also the “licking tactic”, whereby a candy bar or Popsicle eater responds to a request for a bite of his or her treat by licking it in it’s entirety and then extending it towards the bite-wanter.

In many instances, I think the sizing-up of portions, the choosing of the bigger plates, the counting of the number of potato chips left, the small battles over last bite, have more to do with getting a fair share than getting the biggest share. I don’t need to have the biggest of the two muffins, for example, it’s just that I can’t accept having the smallest one. Forget that you might be twice my size, or have just run the marathon, or that you skipped lunch -- it just wouldn’t be fair!

I really don’t know where this innate need to protect my access and right to food comes from if I can’t blame it on a past life. I used to have a whole child-psych theory that it had something to do with being the first-born child-- you know, protecting your rank from the siblings born to usurp it, that kind of thing -- but I recently had a conversation about these crazy food habits with Amy, the baby of four, and she confessed to many of the same faults.

So for now, I control myself at dinner parties and office gatherings -- I won’t wince if you snake a few fries and I might even offer you a taste of my pasta without asking for a mouthful of your salad in return. But until someone can come up with a better theory, I choose to console myself with the understanding that I have lived through some very hard times in human history, and that in contrast to my lifetimes of suffering, all of you with your laid-back relationships with food spent your past lives being very, very spoiled.