Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.
This is Ben’s last post with us, so a special thanks and a warm goodbye goes out to him today. Ben has been writing with us since November 2014.
People talk about what they eat. It’s just what people do. It’s one of the things that binds humanity together, a collective ground where we affirm our sanity. This is something you realize when the meal today was the same as yesterday, which was the same as the last month, which was the same as the month before that.
How did it start? I’ve always gravitated towards routines, at times to my detriment, other times to my advantage. So, the plan was never anything I pursued intentionally; at the end of ten months living abroad, I simply realized, Oh, I’ve eaten the same thing for ten months at about the same time every day.
It ended because I moved back to my parent’s house, but it could have gone on for years. It’s a really lame super power, like being able to recite Keats’ poetry, having double-jointed thumbs, or figuring out which lid goes to which Tupperware—all things that will impress a drunk person.
The menu came together gradually, helped by previous traveling experience, Dutch heritage, and too much time alone. It was as follows:
Breakfast – Oats, milk, peanut butter
Lunch – Beans (one can of kidney/garbanzo), almonds/tuna (alternating), fruit, carrot
Dinner – 1/3 package of pasta, pesto, four boiled eggs
Pre-bed snack – Banana, peanut butter
It is a meal plan that will have you shitting like a cow with a medical problem for about five US dollars per day. The menu items were key, as you must strike a delicate balance between too bland and too much flavor. The boiled eggs are the perfect example, and when my sister suggested them, I thought, “damn.” They were that revolutionary.
To get something straight, eating the same thing is boring as all hell. I gained a measure of satisfaction from it, of course, or else I wouldn’t have done it. What is more interesting, however, is the interactions you have with everyone else. For those months, I lived in a hostel that was more of a group house, where about half the people stayed several months and others for a couple days.
On a lucky night, people could witness a dozen eggs being boiled at a time, for convenience. For some reason, by boiling more than two, I was daring new frontiers, a Lewis and Clark of the egg world. Honestly, it’s hard to convey the measure of awe reserved for someone who cooks that many eggs at a time.
On a more conversational day, I would kick back, as only an old egg hand can, and pronounce I used to boil thirty at a time and then leave the questioner to ponder that. If pressured, I would hold forth about egg futures, brands, disasters, shell peeling strategies, and the difference of free range vs. caged, of which there is precious little but the moral burden that weighs upon your soul.
For individuals who stayed past five or six nights, I was greeted with the mix of admiration and shock reserved for those Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire. Eventually, hostel residents gave me the title “Egg Man” in reference, of course, to “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles. Another nickname was “Bean.”
In time, I was destined to meet someone who shared my enthusiasm for at least one item of my menu. It was a German girl with whom I held nothing in common except beans. On a day when there was really nothing else to talk about—when it’s rainy and blustery and everything sucks—the conversation came about almost naturally.
Soon we were talking about type, salinity, can opener choice, the relative benefits of drained vs. non-drained, whether or not chickpeas could be considered a bean. I will never have that conversation again nor be able to express my relative knowledge of the legume field with someone of equal enthusiasm.
Though we never interacted much after that, we had a connection that surpassed our differences. I saw her once again in my travels, and the meeting was like two shipwrecked sailors coming together, who had inhabited the same island for years but didn’t know there was another person there. Beans, apparently, can do that.
On a separate occasion—after watching me eat chickpeas for several months—a girl from Cornwall, England expressed in the almost indecipherable accent, “It’s like you’re eating deconstructed hummus.” I decided then and there this was the most interesting comment anyone could ever make in reference to beans.
Admiration, curiosity, confusion… there were a lot of responses at meal time. In the end, my legacy for many will be the American who ate certain food. As an unintended consequence of this, however, I believe others took solace by my being there, and I was described several times as “furniture.”
Whatever you think about being compared to a couch, you can agree we all crave some consistency in life, something to reassure us that though everything else may be going to hell, it’s eight o’clock and that damn American is out there eating his banana with peanut butter. And—though I may not be the Dalai Lama, Jesus, or even fully employed—if that’s what I can offer, well, that’s all right.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/