2018 Mizzou Advantage Writing Contest: 1st Place

Nature of the Beast

I’ve always been a glutton; there’s no denying that. I’ve always licked my plate clean, not out of obligation to use what I’ve been given, but to bring about a bliss that only eating can elicit. While I tear through a steak, snap into a carrot, or chew up a turnip, I feel as if I’m doing something inherently right. When I crunch and munch on everything in sight I fulfill a purpose never planted; I uncover a sentiment never sown; and when the deed is done, and I’m stuffed with the stuff, I earn an achievement never administered. With each bite I find myself closer to some universal truth; it pushes me to pick up the pace. The speed of my gobbling becomes inversely proportional to my chewing, packing my gullet at an exponential rate. For a moment the madness may seem to end when my mucous-membrane-matted tube-of-a-muscle drops the gratuitously gargantuan globs into my growling gut, but this is only an interlude, not an ending. A cycle of near-continuous cramming is established. As I grow fatter from clearing the platter I feel a nameless goddess toe her way to the tip of my tongue. In this moment of merriment, I go for the fated bite, but rather than gifting the enlightenment I crave, she vanishes and all that my trembling teeth receive are the frigid prongs of the fork that fed me. However, this sting of steel rarely deters me from going in for a second helping. One might call this a fruitless endeavor, to which I’d respond: “Nonsense, I eat fruit all the time!”

It could be said that I inherited my tendency of not chewing before swallowing from my father, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. In the early days, in the small hours of the morning – before my parents had learned of the time-saving lifehack that is milk and cereal in a cup – my father and I would race each other to the bottoms of our cereal bowls. Of course, he would always win; the movements of his spoon were far too fast for my pitiful eye to perceive, and he wielded his jaw with efficiency that I could not replicate. I could not match him, so I adapted. I upgraded to a comically large spoon and started to train myself to control my gag reflex.

To my disappointment, these table tricks gave no substantial edge against my seasoned competitor.

All I received were cocky smirks from my victorious pop and a habit of devouring all things whole.

This evolution in how I ate influenced what I ate. Soon taste and texture were no longer tantamount; no flavor could bring to fruition a feeling superior to fullness. For this reason, I spent several shameful summers of my teenage years choking myself on an never-ending, ever-tightening noose of noodles. I inhaled coiling, rancid rods of ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The packs of seasoning were scraps to me.

The water was waste.

Condiments? Unnecessary.

Every day I’d dangle those delicate, flavorless filaments above my head, and enviously admire their slender forms before lowering them to my maw en masse. The ensuing sensation of tens of tendrils worming their way from mouth to stomach would enrapture me. As I fed myself in the living room of our spacious cabin home, the heads of “Wapa Pete” the wapiti and his two nameless, white-tail cohorts looked down from each side of my sinful sanctuary – tailless. They too were envious. Plucked from the wilds by the tips of my father’s arrows, gutted by his blade, and glued to the wooden walls, they now collected nothing but dust. In my memories I can see them lick their lips – starved; as stomach-less facades of their former selves they can no longer graze. If given the chance they’d even dine on the bland, manila Indiangrass that still surrounds our log abode, the stalks of which eerily resemble the noodles I then consumed.

Am I no different? Am I simply a hungry animal, or was this subconscious submersion of slippery strands for someone else’s sake?

Do the hardy hands of a terrible troll – who seemingly wants nothing more than everything edible – grab hold, hastily hauling them into his hole? Is he the one who prompts my hunger’s pangs, when he bangs his meaty mitts against the crimson cavern walls? If he truly does exist – this minuscule monster who makes my life a living hell – I don’t hate him for what he does. He must be very lonely (and terribly bored), trapped within that claustrophobic cave; too rotund to fit through either exit, too accustomed to die within the puddle of acid, all he can do is claw at the walls and curse his keeper. When his scratches and screams are answered by strands of mana from heaven, I’m sure he pulls at each rope in hope that someone might descend from the other end. But of course, no one comes; no sane brain would spelunk with spunk into such gunk. He sits alone in sorrow, gorging on the gruel he was given to console himself, only adding to his thickness, unknowingly maintaining his role as the cover of a manhole. What a pitiful creature this troll must be, sealing his fate through self-indulgence.

I once pitied myself like I do this hypothetical being. As I sat in the crowded gymnasium of my grade-school, I shared in his loneliness. Sure, I was surrounded by those of my age, sex and religion, but none of them shared my shape. As I sleepily slumped against that grey brick wall and waited for the day to start, this situation would play out like clockwork. Prompted by the creeping aroma of an unknown child’s silent flatulence, the other boys would eventually – if not immediately – direct their eyes towards me. Any fingers that weren’t already pinching noses were used for pointing, directing the sneering mouths of the little devils to fire laughs and jeers that pierced my ears: shattering my confidence, warping my perception, and anchoring the monsters in my memories. As the logic of children so often plays out, any defensive response could be considered a confirmation of guilt, and so, after years of yelling, crying, and complaining, I realized resistance was futile. I decided to play along, accepting the role of “fat kid.” This mitigated some ridicule and scored me some “friends,” but normalized my unhealthy state, reinforced my gluttonous actions, and further degraded my self-esteem. As an adult, the shallow scorn and flimsy companions of my childhood are long gone, and all that remains is a bloated body, heinous habits, and cracked confidence.

Why then, do I no longer pity myself?

I’ve realized that I’m an innately impulsive person, and I acknowledge that I’m responsible for my own actions. I deserve no pity, for I knowingly put myself in this pitiable position. I understand the consequences to come, but I choose to consume mindlessly. I have the means to distance myself from my primal desires, and yet I’m still a slave to them. There was no great intervention by fate or fortune that influenced the mass of this lard-ass. I am a beast of my own volition, and there’s no pitying that.

Please do not mistake this coming to terms with what I am as a coming to terms with what I can be; even someone as lazy as I craves self-betterment. I’ve made genuine attempts at improvement through exercising and fasting, but such commitments only strengthen my hunger. I’ve come to the conclusion that food is the most important variable, for it is what gives my vehement voracity the power to coat me in fat. But what do I do? The instant gratification of taking a bite is too alluring to overcome for an ambitionless, impulsive peon such as myself. It doesn’t matter what you eat – if you eat too much you pay the consequences, right? Apparently not, because I’ve been gorging myself giddy for the past three months and I’ve lost 25 pounds in the process. All I really did was cut dairy and grains from my diet, started eating more meat, and then everything was hunky-dory. My meals now consist of the following foods: 6 – 8 eggs, a 1 to 2-pound mound of meat, garnished with globs of greenery, quite a few cashews, and a smoothie or two: a thick, cold concoction of blended bananas, pineapple pieces, and berries red, black or blue.

Despite the success of this diet – which has made me the happiest and healthiest I’ve been in years – I still feel slightly wrong. Is it my heightened dependence on meat that bugs me? Am I a selfish person for heavily indulging in a resource so energy inefficient? Every basic biology course that I’ve taken has beaten me over the head with the concept of ecological energetics – the study of how energy flows throughout food chains – so I cannot (in good will) feign ignorance. Simply put, the many meats are inefficient when compared to most other modern dietary staples. With the well-documented fact that livestock production is one of the leading contributors to global Green House Gas emissions, the danger in everyone quadrupling their meat intakes is made self-evident.

Should I be worried that I’m propagating a diet which is morally questionable from a socioecological perspective? For my specific case, I’d meekly say no. The meat that I eat is mostly venison, elk, and bear (but mostly venison) which my family and I hunted, and the eggs are from my family’s chickens. These wild, ruminant animals (excluding the bear) produce considerably less methane than your average beef cow and hunting them does not support the livestock industry. The main problem that I see with making this argument (and why I said “meekly”) is that the nature of the meat I eat makes me an outlier. These meats are not readily available to the average American, and for them to become so would only create another industry that contributes to the emissions problem. I may not be eating pork or beef, but I’m making myself into an example that could be copied and modified to include them, and therefore I might still be indirectly contributing to the problem. These ramifications do frighten me a tad, but that cannot be all of it; I’m far too selfish of a person to let global warming impact my decisions.

Perhaps my past is what pushes me to feel this way? Over indulgence is what slapped a shackle of fat around me, and yet here I am, freeing myself through feeding. It all seems so ironic and unnatural. If feels like I was arrested for stealing a Hasbro truck full of Monopoly board games, and after ten years of incarceration, the warden gave me a “GET OUT OF JAIL FREE” card.

It angers me. This need to feed was a curse that brought about this blight of blubber, making the last decade of my life lonesome and humiliating, but now the universe gives me freedom as cruel, insulting gift.

It terrifies me. I’ve grown to accept this world in which my constant consumption has negative consequences, but my reality has been flipped and the laws of causation now contradict.

I admit to thinking these irrational thoughts mostly in jest, for I’m all too aware that no universal laws have been twisted for my sake. Despite this knowledge, I still feel a sense of betrayal. I feel as if I am committing a great fraudulent act against the universe – my universe – by breaking the system. I feel like I’m cheating.

Ever since I started to hate my body, I’ve wanted to swap it with others. I’ve always wished to jump from this mortal coil, switch places with someone else, and walk off with their hard-earned handsomeness. But those were just fantasies, right? The stranger in the mirror begs to differ. As he continues to thin I become uncomfortably confident. His clothes loosen, his jaw sharpens, and his naked form ceases to disgust me.

I’m frightened to think that fat was what held in my humanity. Was it not this disgraceful donkey’s skin that taught me the rules of the world: giving me a place within?

I’m elated to think that fat was what held me back from humanity. Was it this cocoon of cellulite that kept me from the world: stopping this social butterfly from taking flight?

When these clothes no longer sit

On this body toned and fit,

Will a changed convexity

Sign the end of me?

Who can say?

The rest of the fat must fall away before I can judge the nature of this beast.

 

author photo
Conner Hennessy

I was born and raised here in Columbia MO, and I’m currently a Junior studying English at Mizzou. I have a wide array of lame hobbies which I rotate through monthly, including playing videogames, overanalyzing children’s cartoons, and making horribly amateurish attempts at drawing, writing, and photography. I hope to someday go beyond this mask of frivolous nonsense and expose my true self to the world, but for now I will keep up my unconvincing façade of intellectualism.