This is the second of three posts that take a quick look at what I have been eating for the last 39.8 years. Many of the details are glossed over to allow for more compact posting. Hopefully this will help illustrate the long and twisted journey that led to my new vegan life.
Standing on the steps of my dorm building and watching my family drive out of sight is a memory that evokes pure, undiluted nostalgia. My belongings were all unpacked in a small room behind me and five stories up, my car was parked a mile away at the freshman parking lot, and my tarantula was carefully wedged in my parents backseat on the way back to Gainesville because apparently the FSU Housing Department wasn’t progressive enough to appreciate really cool pets.
With my new found independence you’d think I would have rushed to the student cafeteria to try out my new meal plan. Shows what you know, Smartypants! Freshman are way too cool to rush anywhere. I used more of a cross between a saunter and mosey to reach my destination. It was pretty cool and it only took me a few minutes to realign my spine and hips before walking into the cafeteria.
Once I limped inside I was stunned to see the bounty within. Hot bar, after cold bar, after salad bar of what I coveted the most: unlimited quantities of Standard American Diet food WITH soft serve ice cream. They had all four food groups represented because this was 1990 and the only food pyramid from this era was the one I would make from pizza boxes over the next semester. There was a giant ice cold milk dispenser with both kinds of milk: whole and chocolate. There were pizzas, burgers, fries, soda and a salad bar with everything needed to make a Standard American Salad, including bacon… and everything in the place was ALL YOU CAN EAT! I accepted that challenge.
There was absolutely everything I ate or dreamed of eating over the next 14 years in that buffeteria. I was on a meal plan that allowed me to go twice a day all week without once having to hear my mom tell me that one slice of pizza was enough. As if. It was like fat guy training camp and I was determined to make the team. I entered college in the 180-190 pound range and slowly grew from there. The meal plan ended with my second year as a Freshman but by then I was a professional eater with little patience for nutritional value. Portion control meant being able to weave in and out of the tables carrying a platter of desserts without dropping the meatloaf sam’mich balanced on top.
The jobs I held over this fourteen year period also impacted my mass and volume. I was a cook, waiter, delivery driver and manager at three different pizza places on and off for a handful of years. At one of the pizza joints they actually took money from our paycheck each week but allowed us to eat all we wanted while at work. It was my duty to make sure that they regretted making me get my money’s worth out of each week’s deduction. I tried to break them, but all I managed to do was outgrow my Jimmy Buffet t-shirt collection.
I also spent most of a decade working in various educational settings eating USDA subsidized school lunch again, but this time with adult portions. One particular place doubled as an outdoor education center during the school year and a summer camp during the summer. This was already somewhere I called home because like my first college cafeteria, the food intake was only limited by the amount of food available and there was always plenty to go around. If not, kids were surprisingly willing to give up their own food when I growled at them.
During this period of my life I was also fortunate enough to meet and eventually marry my friend Shannon. Together we increased the Earth’s population by three. We had at least one of the three children in diapers consecutively for around six years. When you are surrounded by the trapping of early parenthood it can be very difficult to maintain your clean house, your well organized mind, and your good health. Of course, that is assuming you have any of these three things to begin with. Otherwise it just breaks you and it seems like only McDonald’s can put you back together.
As my weight continued its steady stock market rise to its 14 year high water mark of 292 pounds, I paid very little attention. Occasionally I would notice that new clothes were needed as my wardrobe continued to shrink. I tried a few 1980’s style diets and once or twice I even exercised, but nothing that lasted for too long.
During this time I transitioned from an 18 year old know-it-all to a 31 year old eat-it-all. I mastered pizza creation and all forms of BBQ cooking. I maxed out credit cards by going out to eat all of the time, honing my skill of juggling several self-destructive behaviors at once. I wrote close to 100 restaurant review articles for my college paper because I truly was an expert at dining out.
With these many years of eating experience, literally under my belt, I had reached a tipping point in my life. I would love to say that this was the fattest point in my personal history, but I’m afraid it took some serious dieting in the eight years that follow to reach the top of that morbidly obese mountain.
Good times, good times.