CW: Discussions of the lingering relationships between food and life events. No specific mentions of disordered eating, but please use caution if discussions of food and/or emotional eating are potentially triggering topics. All descriptions of the related life events are in the past, though they are mentioned in the context of eating those same foods again in the present.
Partner: “I need to make a small order before we leave. We’re almost out of toilet paper. Anything you need for the trip or before?”
Lavender: “Mouthwash. I badly need mouthwash. Also, maybe order a couple of Depression Pizzas so we have something in the fridge to eat when we get back? I don’t think we should pay DoorDash fees right after we’ve just eaten out for a week on vacation. And you know getting a delivery time for groceries is going to be dumb. We’ll end up on our own for the first couple of days of quarantine again. It’s probably going to be Depression Pizza time again.”
True story: during the penultimate 9th Circle of Hell-related crisis prior to the Crisis of 2018, I had virtually no energy to feed myself. This led to a couple of memorable months during which watching all of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel functioned in lieu of sleep – and during which I briefly subsisted entirely on string cheese and kefir. What can I say? Sleep was simply too full of nightmares in that long-ago year, and I often fall for my own particularly seductive self-imposed cognitive fallacy that even attempting sleep during trauma times is less productive than simply giving in and binge-watching epically long sci-fi series. (Also true story: string cheese is called “string” cheese because you are, apparently, supposed to pull it apart and eat it in small strings? Not just bite it off in chunks? I may have been “2020” years old when I learned that one recently!)
At that time, I had a graduate thesis to defend, and the associated graduate student
salary “stipend” that did not permit constant any take-out to shove even the pretense of a semi-balanced meal into me as that earlier crisis dragged on for multiple months. Eventually, I got the “productive” idea that – if I was only ever going to have the energy to cook once – I might as well make a full month’s worth of some freezable dish and just accept that it was all I was going to eat. Instead of persisting in that equally seductive cognitive fallacy that I would ever go grocery shopping and eat “healthy grab and go” perishable items that some writer of a guide to “how to feed yourself with depression” failed to think through.
While I was at it, I decided I would even go that extra mile while cooking to “take care of myself” by making my “one thing” include all the basic food groups: liquid, salt, veggies, and protein. Thus, I decided to make myself a giant pot of soup and eat that soup with my string cheese and kefir as part of a “balanced” diet. (Also true story: I was years from being diagnosed with dysautonomia and, thus, from being under doctor’s orders to consume ungodly amounts of liquid and salt each day. Yet – though my poor dissociative brain remembers just about as little of that prior Crisis as it now remembers of much of 2018 – it remembers thinking that “liquid” and “salt” should be considered part of the food pyramid back then just as vividly as it now persists in remembering that a Tablespoon of Cheez Whiz contains as much sodium as a prescription salt pill.)
I was alone during that prior Crisis. (Worse than alone, perhaps, as I was dating someone at that time who wasn’t that great to begin with and who would justify his own later infidelity with the fact that Hell had left me too “broken” not to discard at the earliest available opportunity. Hindsight is 2020, but this was years before 2020!)
Since I was alone, I accomplished the Herculean task of “taking care of myself” by making a massive batch of sauerkraut stew with kielbasa. And, I do mean a massive amount. I subsisted on that same recipe for crockpot sauerkraut stew with kielbasa for at least another couple of months.
So, it probably should have come as no surprise that when that period of my life finally ended, I was so damn sick of every damn ingredient in that recipe that I didn’t eat any of them again for about half a decade.
I so thoroughly discarded those ingredients in my mental culinary lexicon that I even forgot kielbasa existed until I later met my Partner. He once bought some and asked me if I would be interested in “trying” it as “something new” to “experiment” with while cooking!
I no longer hate kielbasa. If it is presented to me, I will eat it. But, to this day, when I go looking for simple pre-cooked meats that can be tossed into a casserole or some other low-spoon meal, I will almost inevitably go for a small ham steak, or a precooked chicken, or a basically anything else before I add kielbasa to my cart. I no longer dislike kielbasa, but my days of seeking it out seem still to be over for the foreseeable future.
My active aversion to sauerkraut persists to this day. I have, at least, evolved to the point where a jar of pre-made relish can be allowed to live in our fridge without it making me queasy to even look at, but that jar of relish is there for my Partner. Not for me.
In 2018, my Partner’s and my “sauerkraut stew” was even less healthy: DiGiorno’s frozen pizzas. When we bought them on sale, in quantity, they ended up costing us under $5/pizza and fed the two of us during a period when I was freaking out about not having a salary from my not-FMLA. They also were – and are – as simple to make as “Preheat oven. Take pizza directly out of freezer. Put pizza in oven.” (Also true story: for those astute readers who remember that I am allergic enough to wheat that I shouldn’t have it regularly – but not so allergic that I have the willpower to avoid it- yes, they weren’t great for me to eat in quantity in 2018. But, being “healthy” is hard.)
I worried about eating any one food “in quantity” back in 2018. I remembered the legacy of the lost kielbasa, which once I had genuinely liked. I had long, legitimately fearful debates with my Partner about whether – if we ate DiGiorno’s too often in Crisis – it might somehow destroy all of pizza for me forever. Because the idea of Hell destroying something good globally and “forever” still seems quite logical to me even in 2020.
And pizza – of all foods – was not one I was willing to sacrifice upon Hell’s altar. It’s pizza, for God’s sake! Some things must be sacred!
My Partner patiently responded that not wanting to create unpleasant associations with actually decent food was exactly why we should be buying DiGiorno’s pizza. Because “shit tier” pizza and “good” pizza are so different that they might as well be entirely different foods. If I was going to develop a half-decade long aversion to my equivalent desperation food of 2018, it might as well be food so banal and unimportant in ordinary times that its absence would be no loss. Further, in his estimation, I would be far more likely to develop no lingering associations between boxed pizza and trauma at all. Because boxed pizza was simply too cardboard to begin with that it didn’t have enough of a distinct flavor profile to ever develop traumatic associations with at all.
His theory held in the most critical way. I can still eat shit-tier pizzas, and they don’t hold any traumatic taste associations for me. His theory also simultaneously failed in that those same shit-tier pizzas he thought would survive 2018 entirely unscathed now have a permanent new brand name in our household. It’s not delivery. It’s “Depression Pizza.”
DiGiorno’s pizzas are that embarrassing-but-necessary-sometimes foodstuff we quietly keep around in the back of our freezer for those unfortunate times when we are both sick or having bad mental health and/or executive functioning days at the same time.
Depression Pizzas were the food that most sustained us through covid back in April. (Because, true story, “losing one’s sense of smell and taste from covid” and “trauma” produce surprisingly similar effects on one’s willingness to make and consume food.) I even tried to rename shit-tier pizza “Covid Pizza” on the grounds that, since it was now also the defining food of absolute tastelessness, wouldn’t I rather remove any and all of the last vestiges of 2018 from my freezer, including that food’s “name?”
But, the true association of DiGiorno’s Pizzas is – and probably always will be – with 2018. And, thus, “Depression Pizza” it is and always will be, it seems, no matter how many future pandemics we might subsist on Depression Pizzas through.
This led to some cognitive dissonance recently when we were planning meals for after our return from our mini vacation. We traveled to a “Red Zone” state, and, thus, we had to quarantine for two weeks upon return to the Northeast. That quarantine explicitly stated that the price of our fun was to “not be in public” for two weeks afterward.
We are not assholes, so we did as we were told. We got groceries delivered during our post-trip quarantine. We also – for once – correctly anticipated that it would be wise of us to have pre-planned some non-perishable frozen meals to be waiting for us for our first couple of days back home until our order had arrived. Hence the conversation above.
Eating out is great, but there is a weird phenomenon wherein sometimes it’s also refreshing (?) to return to eating one’s own “normal diet” again after a vacation. Generic home cooking can actually be oddly familiar after a week of continuous restaurant food. Sometimes “default” can be friendly, not frustrating.
I’m just not sure how I feel about the idea that “Depression Pizza” is actually an acceptable return to “default” after a week of restaurant food?
What the heck does that mean?
Do I actually like Depression Pizzas now?
I do not want to “like” anything whose name derives from Hell. Hell, I barely want to admit that I even “like” the food that Hell is most famous for, and it took me years to admit that, yes, Hell does have exactly two things I somewhat “miss” about it (storms and that one type of food.)
Could I say instead that I just like how “responsible” I was by having planned ahead to have some Depression Pizzas on hand as a neurodiverse girl whose executive functioning could easily have led to an empty refrigerator? I liked that feeling of being responsible, but not the food I chose to be “responsible?”
Does still calling them Depression Pizzas subtly mean the energy of 2018 is still imbued on them? Or has the term become a cute joke now that we have “reclaimed” DiGiorno’s pizzas as part of both the good and the bad of low-energy cooking?
Is it even still “Depression Pizza” once you’ve dressed it up with some fresh basil and thyme from our hydroponic herb garden and freshly grated cheeses that are long-lasting and cooked it on a pizza stone in the oven?
Is there something special about pizza such that, alone among all foods, “even bad pizza is still so good that even trauma can’t touch it?”
Or is it, perhaps, time to try again with some sauerkraut on a hot dog as another “novel” quarantine experience in 2020 to replace old memories?
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms