Have you ever taken note of how people eat? The next time you are sitting around a dinner table just take a few moments to quietly observe the differences in people’s eating habits. You will be surprised. They may be subtle – but actually quite noticeable if you really look.
I am acutely aware of these distinctive variations – not because I make a habit of watching people when they eat but because I am dependent on others to feed me. There is often a tendency for people to feed me as they would a child.
I remember the first time I was at a dinner party after my accident. It was a close friend’s birthday so everyone was eager to help. It was good to be out with friends – and I felt safe. Although, they were all supportive and sympathetic I could see that it was tough for them too. This was all new to us. None of us knew how to handle a quadriplegic. I don’t think we even knew what a quadriplegic was – yet. They all seemed to be depending on me to tell them what to do. I had no idea either. Eight weeks before I had been among the very same group of friends and there was no quadriplegic in sight. What now? I desperately just wanted everything to go back to the way it was. But, I knew – we all knew – that things would never be the same again.
One of my friends quietly offered to dish up for me and feed me. I was grateful that she didn’t make a big fuss about it. I hate to be the centre of attention. I looked on in horror as she brought my plate back to the table. All the food (including the bread) had been cut up into tiny little blocks. The food now looked totally unappetizing – and nothing like I had imagined when the delicious aromas filled the air moments before. Silently, I stole a glance around the table. The food on my plate bore no resemblance to the mouth-watering meals I saw on everyone else’s plate.
At that moment I felt just like a two-year-old. It’s no wonder I struggled to get Chad to eat sometimes when he was a toddler. I realized then that I had been trying to entice him to eat something that didn’t even look like food.
Although I was disappointed, I never said a word. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. But, I remember feeling so despondent and wondering if this is what my life is going to be like? Needless to say I ate my food with long teeth that day.
I soon came to realise that I needed to teach people to still treat me like an adult. I very quickly learnt to tell people what I wanted and how I wanted them to do it. I still have what I call “verbal independence”. My friends and family will tell you though, that is just a fancy word for me being bossy.
I don’t consider myself to be an exceptionally fussy or finicky eater but I most certainly do have my preferences and individual tastes just like everybody else.
Out of habit, people tend to feed me the way they like to feed themselves.
The “Feeder’s” preferences are usually unintentionally imposed upon me. They usually serve my food according to their own personal tastes. I find that if the “Feeder” does not like olives (for example) then they will naturally push them aside. I love olives!
I find myself constantly being subjected to the “Feeder’s” scrutiny, comments or judgment. I cannot secretly eat the skin of the chicken or the crispy fat of a pork chop without a health-conscious “Feeder” looking on in disgust and saying “Do you really want to eat that?” Er…um, yeah!
If the “Feeder” dishes up something I do not like, I chance having to offend someone by declaring that I don’t particularly like eating that. At risk of sounding even more like a real spoilt brat, I have to admit that I miss being able to hide my peas under the gemsquash. I hate peas!
Then, some “Feeders” have annoying habits which appall me but I am seldom brave enough to tell them directly – for fear of hurting their good intentions. Although most voluntarily wash their hands before feeding me, some lick their fingers whilst touching my food. Yuck! Those with young children often test the temperature of the food by touching it to their lips which seems perfectly acceptable if one is doing it for one’s own child. Then they tend to blow on my food to cool it down. Never mind the fact that I detest eating cold food. Others pick off my plate which is why I prefer to be fed after everyone else but usually people always insist – out of genuine compassion and care – that they help me first – another reason for me to feel like a child.
It annoys me if the “Feeder” is not well known to me and insists on sharing my fork. It frustrates me if they are unable to use the utensils on the table. And, I hate to have food messed on my clothing.
Sheesh, I’m not sure anyone is ever going to be willing to be my “Feeder” ever again after all these confessions. Help!
Eating in a public place can be very disconcerting at times. Have you ever been gawked at whilst trying to enjoy a plate of food in a restaurant? Who needs diet pills?
For many months after my accident I avoided eating out in public. I know people (in general) do not intentionally mean to make me feel uncomfortable. But, often their curiosity gets the better of them and they probably don’t even realise that they are staring.
I remember the exact moment that I made a conscious decision not to allow the ignorance of others and their intent looks to bother me anymore – although I later learned that was easier said than done.
It was an end-of-the-month Friday evening. Our favourite restaurant was busy as usual with a vibey, carefree atmosphere. There was an audible hush as our party was shown to the only vacant table right in the middle of the patio – something I usually avoided at all costs. That night there were no quiet tables available on the sidelines. I didn’t want to create more of a spectacle by making a scene and refusing the table. Besides, I could barely maneuver my wheelchair in that cramped environment – let alone turn around. But, I wished more than anything, right then, that the earth would swallow me up so I could quietly disappear.
Anyway, I hid my distress – as usual – behind my ever smiling mask and I attempted to enjoy the evening.
Soon after we began eating I was aware that some people kept on looking in our direction. One particular group was conspicuously turning around and some were even pointing. I felt so humiliated.
I was about to give up on my meal when I glanced down at my plate – the food looked delicious. I lifted my head defiantly, smiled directly back at all the staring eyes and chose to enjoy the rest of my dinner.
What I have learned is that each individual has a uniquely personal relationship with food – if you think about it. Although eating is usually a practice shared socially among others, it remains a distinctively intimate experience between you and your plate of food.
Bite-size, pace, manner and approach to eating differs from person to person –remarkably so. I know that most adults associate being fed with an occasional (or frequent) romantic encounter as a couple originating in all sorts of erotic thoughts and fantasies.
So, you may not understand my frustration with this feeding thing unless you have been in a position where you need to be fed – every meal, every single day for the rest of your life. Think about it!
I have no choice. I either starve or make peace with it.