Food For Thought

Deciding to lose weight is like stepping headfirst into a tornado: one friend swears by the caveman diet while another plans to starve themself two days a week for the rest of their life. Meanwhile threads and forums populate the web with the same vacuous drivel, encouraging us to fear our food and try made-up detoxes which regard daily eating as some kind of dicey past time.

Of course when your dress size is tipping – nay keeling – into the next size, and every dressing room magically transforms into a brightly-lit crime scene littered with balls of clothing, desperation kicks in.

I’ve never been fat in a way that compromised my health but for a long time I slid down that tunnel of self-despair reducing myself to strings of adjectives  – hideous, embarrassing, fat –  criticisms I wouldn’t think to call anyone else.

When people ask how I eventually lost weight they seem sceptical that it was as obvious as walking each day, cutting out bread and trying my hand at mindfulness. And there were other important factors too of course,  like learning to cook and substituting ‘diet products’ (low cal, high sugar soups and things) for vegetables, grains and pulses.  But mindfulness has been the unsung hero in my new outlook towards food and life.

I’m a fussy eater. Like a reaaaally fussy eater. I won’t eat meat and I hate anything with an unusual texture (I’m looking at you courgettes) so when I find something I love – and I mean really love – the urge to plough through it becomes too much. I inhale everything in sight, trying to fit in as much in as I can without considering whether I’m really hungry or what I’m even eating. I can devour entire loaves of bread or several portions of pasta in one sitting failing to recognise that I’m full until it’s too late and my stomach’s sore and protruding.

My mum was the first person I heard mention mindfulness. She used it to reduce stress and become more aware of the world around her. When she told me about the exercises – focussing on breathing, contemplating movement – it sounded facile and slightly new-age. But over time I started adapting it to what I was eating, and in turn learned to appreciate food in a way I never had before.

For me, mindful eating isn’t about diets or giving up food, it’s about experiencing food more intensely. When I eat now (especially if it’s something I like) I try to eat it slowly, putting my fork down while I chew and tuning into the flavours, the aroma, appreciating the colours and presentation of the food.

Over time my appetite has reduced (or maybe stabilised) and I can finally recognise when I’m full (content to be precise), reducing all that preventable stuff like indigestion and bloating. It’s still testing of course and I’m not an expert by any stretch but in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, Smile, breathe and go slowly.

Off The Handle

Why I’m far from enamoured with Jil Sander’s Paper Bag

Everyone knows that self-labelling is the reserve of unimaginative teen TV characters but if I had to box myself into an all-encompassing one-word category (two words in fact), then I would probably call myself a ‘Fashion Pragmatist’.

Not that my Fashion-411 hasn’t been a victim of mistakes: over the years I’ve incurred the wrath of skinny jeans and discovered that ‘bursting seams’ is more accurate name-wise when your thigh circumference is wider than a twig.

There was also a rather unfortunate headband phase in 2009. That May, I purchased an authentic duck feather band, which malted on my face at Trinity Ball and incurred a 2AM sneezing fit.

Shortly after Trinity Ball and armed with a value-pack of headbands that could turn even the flattest of hair into an Amy Winehouse-hive, one of my silver bands was stolen from my head… BY A MAGPIE.

And on the topic of hair, I won’t be forgetting my ultra-covetable 2008 Alexa Chung fringe, which after a three-week growth spurt looked more Rod Stewart than Alex Turner-WAG and Queen of MTV.

Anyhow, as a self-confessed Fashion Pragmatist, it goes without saying that the release of Jil Sander’s new and super-yearned-for It accessory, ‘The Paper Bag’, sent a chill up my spine (and not because of the three hundred dollar price tag attached to an object that I could otherwise have, free of charge, from my local McDonald’s.) No, for me, Jil Sander’s bizarre new tote brought up memories of a summer abroad, which ended rather dramatically with, yes, a paper bag.

The story dates back to last summer when I visited New York on a J1 visa. My visa permitted me to work for a four-month period and in that time I had several jobs.

My first job lasted merely two-hours and involved my overweight, sweat-drenched boss taking me aside during my two-hour training shift to ask if I had a boyfriend. When I said no, he clapped his hands together, ran off and returned with a plastic cup filled three-quarters with vodka. It was a short shift but it ended with him singing, ‘Oui, Je T’aime’ and me – obviously petrified – laughing awkwardly as I ran for the door.

Before I could make my speedy getaway however, the head cook Carlos had chased after me (also scary) and slipped a business card into my hand. He quickly and quietly explained that the card was for a restaurant on the Upper Westside. He told me to go there, ask for a job as a waitress; to tell them the surname-less cook ‘Carlos’ had sent me, and also that I should avoid coming back.

Cue my sceptical squinty face.

Diligently, I decided to head off and find a subway station. I caught the 3, travelled uptown, of course got lost, flayed my heels, blamed the cosmos for the lack of free Wi-Fi and eventually found my destination: a small Michelin star restaurant with a sign advertising fillet mignon and foie gras.

Given my earlier prospects in a downtown greasy spoon this place was divine. And better still, they needed me to start the next day.

Excitedly, I hit up Midtown to buy some comfy black shoes in Clarks. I figured that comfortable shoes were essential when tips were as high as two hundred dollars a night! My pupils had practically turned green and dilated into dollar signs. THIS REALLY WAS THE BEST COUNTRY ON EARTH!

Except, I didn’t receive tips for three-weeks, and when I did I discovered that newcomers were only entitled to twenty dollars per shift.

Two-weeks later I received my notice and discovered that I had in fact been filling in for a staff member on holidays. It was all news to me. I collected my final payslip which was less than the price of my comfy black shoes.

Down on my luck, I spent the following morning pounding the pavement with my CV and within 90 minutes was gainfully employed at a café on Broadway as a Barista-cum-Cashier.

I worked there for two months, and towards the end of my trip I decided that I would stop working around a fortnight before I headed home so as to catch up on sights and chill out before my final year in University. But my plan was extended following an incident featuring a Jil Sander-esque paper bag.

One Tuesday, during a busy lunchtime, I got pulled from the coffee bar and asked if I’d do tills. I was happy to oblige and headed down to the other end of the café and got to work. The line was moving swiftly and as I took cash from a woman who was speaking animatedly on her phone, I put her sandwich into a brown paper bag and placed the bag in front of her so she could take it and leave.

What happened next was unprecedented: the woman angrily slammed her phone onto the counter, stared at me and in little more than a whisper asked, ‘Are you retarded?’

Of course I thought I’d misheard and squinted with confusion. She repeated herself, louder this time, shouting, ‘ARE YOU RETARDED?’ Okay, so I had heard her.

I was baffled and more than a little taken aback. Who uses the word retarded and what, if anything, had I done wrong?

My boss – who was equally predisposed to chronic mood swings – ambled over to ask what was happening. Holding up the bag in front of the whole café, the woman shouted, ‘THIS LITTLE BITCH GAVE ME A BAG WITHOUT HANDLES.’

So there it was, I was ‘retarded’ because the café did not stock a larger variety of carry bags. Except, instead of my boss explaining this to the woman, he rounded on me instead.

‘WHY DIDN’T YOU GIVE HER A BAG WITH HANDLES,’ he demanded. Confused, I looked at him and said, ‘well, erm, we don’t have any. I don’t think we ever have.

Wrong answer.

Apoplectic with rage, my boss directed me to the back room where he shouted at me for ‘ratting him out in front of a customer.’ I was stunned: a woman clearly in desperate need of anger management classes had just called me ‘retarded’ because the café didn’t stock lunch bags with handles. And my boss agreed with her analysis.

I’d had enough. I finished my shift and told my manager that I would not be returning. And after a surreptitious left-to-right glance he said, ‘yeah, I don’t blame you.’

Last month when I saw Jil Sander’s new It bag I had two thoughts:

1) I’m so glad I live in Ireland where minimum wage is higher than $7 per hour.


2) Jil Sander has obviously never worked in the fast-food business.