You Are What You Eat?



In 1991, which is quite a long time ago, I moved to Seattle. I knew no one, but my aunt knew a woman who lived in the north in Lake City and let me stay in her basement until I found an apartment. I wasn't there long, but shared the space with a woman renter. She was physical for a living, did yoga and ran every morning. She wore no make-up, had a girlfriend quite openly, and wore the crunchy Seattle wear one might expect. I, having had no real exposure to Seattle, out lesbians, Birkenstocks, or yoga, was entranced.  One day at breakfast I saw her eating a bowl of mixed up grain cereal, yogurt and peanut butter.

I don't know why this struck me as rare and exotic. I suppose I'd always eaten cereal with milk, or a piece of toast, or perhaps an omelet if I was extra hungry back in my college days. But something about the new woman (an athlete in my estimation), the new city (with all the adrenaline that comes with a cross country move), and this new combination of foods left me with an imprint.

This was health! This was new! I should eat it! Seattle!

And I have, on and off, for the better part of a quarter century. Sometimes I even run before breakfast, which was much more common in the cooler weather of Seattle, me running through the streets of Capitol Hill, saying hello to all the cats I'd see on lanais and fire escapes. Then it felt like the world was in front of me and all the newness of the city was mine to explore.

Seattle meant freedom, meant espresso with it's deliciously burnt bitter caramel mingled with milk, meant driving around lost and terrified and gleeful at my own terror at being alone in a huge city, in rain slicked streets. It meant curry and noodles and markets filled with things I'd never heard of before. It meant blackberries and good bread and tea houses. Seattle meant women with no make-up and men with lots of it, and gender non-binary before I learned the term, it meant tiny apartments from 1920 still smelling of dust and old wood, rain, a thousand words for rain, and me giddy that I'd pulled off...something? Existing? On my own.

And me, imprinting on yogurt, cereal, peanut butter wasn't just a new way to think about my entire breakfast experience. It was a gateway meal into a whole new hopeful life. Who knew what that moment in the kitchen lead me to,  or how I'd hold that combination of proteins, fats, and carbs as a symbol for decades?

One of my compatriots in BedPosts, Sadie Smythe, posted about breakfast foods this morning. She was noting how she dislikes the question "What do you do?" and would prefer to ask people about what they ate for breakfast. I relate to that for a number of reasons. The theater of "And what do you do?" is a ritual, something that must be asked and returned, a question to determine class and worth and networking ability and if one needs the other for a particular work related reason. It's a fair question for a corporate culture, but it doesn't really get to the heart of who the person is, not necessarily.

Sometimes a clever questioner can take that "What do you do?" and tease out very interesting stories. I like to say, "And how did you get started in that field or job?" because that tells me a lot about the path before.

Other times, I'll ask, "Tell me about you?" and see what comes. That works best (usually) in non-business settings. I have asked it of tightly wound attorneys or businessmen and get blank stares. The answer to "What do you do." is often "I'm a _____" as if that could ever encompass all of what a person is-astonishing thought. "I'm a doctor" does give a lot of information-I could surmise the following; hardworking, dedicated to study, possible savior complex, ability to be empathetic but possibly also detached, laser focus (if a surgeon), good memory, likes data, parents that pushed them into a particular class and life? Pushed themselves to get into a better life after living in ways they disdained?

It won't tell me things though, not about their heart. I think that's what Sadie was after in her post on FB this morning. What I do and who am I are sometimes in alignment, but who I am isn't necessarily what I get paid to do. Wouldn't that be interesting? Being paid to be yourself?

Doctors can also do improv comedy. Lawyers can also knit beautiful quilts for children in hospitals. TV directors can have space engineering hobbies, and writers might also build cars.

So I agree with Sadie that "What do you do? is a tired question. But, everyone has a story about why they like to eat what they eat. Or what they'd take with them in an emergency. Or their favorite childhood book. These are the things we do, we eat, we own in our lives, our stories about those moments that create who we are in the now. We are like the most buttery puff pastry, folded delicately and rolled, rested, rolled, rested until we rise and spread out into a beautiful creature, layered over and over with stories and history.

I know people will ask me what I do, it's a ritual and I don't begrudge the question. But I think I'll try to find ways to answer it that gets to the heart of "why" I do what I do, and I'll try to ask questions that give the other person a chance to share with me a breakfast that might change my life in ways I'd never expect.

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