by tyrina toh, photo credits.
Everything begins at the dining table when you’re five and your parents nudge you lightly, pushing the plate of vegetables in front of you, with a slight frown and the all too familiar phrase hanging off their pursed lips, “You are what you eat.”
A few years later on your second day of school, you find yourself standing in front of the stalls in the canteen and fumble with the water bottle strapped across your chest and the Velcro on your wallet donning a glossy picture of your favourite cartoon character, eyes darting between the snack stall and the rice stall boasting of how their set meals were of great nutritional value, perfectly balanced for growing young souls. A toothy grin would flicker past on the uncle’s face as he leans over the counter and a grumble would be heard, soft padded footsteps following right after. But this does not occur on a daily basis, because on some days, even dry flaky biscuits tasted better than the salty eggplants gone cold.
In your third year of high school, you find yourself deviating towards the mixed rice stall on a daily basis regardless of how bland the vegetables may taste, because that’s the best you can get with barely fifteen minutes between blocks of classes spilling over four hours. They were good on some days, in their justice. Others may find themselves devouring waffles as they ran up towards their classes with the husky voices of their teachers resounding in their sleep-deprived minds. And perhaps coffee would suffice for the boy sitting at the back of the classroom with his hoodie flipped over his head throughout English class.
And on the last day of high school, you’re standing in front of a buffet spread with your classmates, a clean plate sitting gently on your palm. As a group of individuals flocked towards the salad bar, perhaps it might feel a little odd to be drawn to the fries and onion rings, but you sneak some onto your plate anyway, because food’s about satisfaction. The group settles down on the long row of tables after ten minutes of deliberation, and with the glasses of wine, coffee and tea on the table, you clutch onto your cup of fruit punch solemnly – and there isn’t anything wrong, yes?
At this point, it’s clear that when we were five, our parents meant that we had to eat healthily, because that’s the key to staying fit and having a fulfilling life.
Yet with articles and creative pieces about distinguishable traits between a girl who loved the tangy scent and taste of earl grey tea and a groggy boy who depended heavily on canned black coffee as his saving grace, we wonder if society is sending us subtle messages. And when faced with a clean plate settled on the table before us during dinner, the entire question lies in whether the kind of food we order, or decide to hastily pick from the buffet spread would determine the kind of person we were, and whether perhaps, being a coffee-person, as they all say, would definitely mean that we stand by our views with greater zest.
True enough, someone once asked, what if I drank a mixture of both coffee and tea, along with a fair share of isotonic drinks and lemonade?
Latching onto the notion that our gastronomic choices are indicative of our personality, we assume that it influences our mindsets on issues and eventually, our daily schedules and the things that we need to tolerate, or on the other end of the spectrum, get to enjoy. Take for example, how we liken fond encounters to strawberry yoghurt and periods of the troughs of our mood curvature to bland, lumpy vegetables. Sure enough, our plate would’ve been an unflattering cold mess after a day. But we’ll take what we’ve got, because it’s ultimately better than having an empty plate.
It’s undeniable that at the end of a week or so, our plate would hold more similarities to a stained palette than a delicacy. But here’s the thing: we’ve been told to avoid wasting food, and when faced with perishables, there isn’t much of an alternative besides swallowing them whole. And perhaps amidst the chewing and deep frowns creased across your forehead, you’d feel a lump in your throat. With a glass of water, or perhaps fruit punch in your cold hand, you bring it up to your parched lips and in goes yet another addition to the odd concoction – comfort settles in, and you’re faced with an indication of acceptance and the understanding that likened to the foul compound churning in our bodies, life does, at some point of time, devour us and chew us over. And as much as the past eighty- seven words might seem like blasphemy, there’s just one thing left to say.
Of gastronomy and life lessons, it remains that we aren’t literally what we eat and choosing fries over salad doesn’t actually say anything about our personality. Attributing our choices to personal preference as the main course, accompanied by pure chance and coincidence as side dishes, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deviating to the empty side of the buffet spread. And we can find no fault in being fun-loving despite indulging in black coffee.
A clean white plate’s deserving of one’s cravings, as long as it isn’t spilling over. And as long as you’re healthy.