It starts with a cookie

There are people who don’t like to eat in public — a problem Anu Lakhan doesn’t share

Illustration by Shalini Seereeram

This has a great deal to do with a chocolate chip cookie. That is to say, this is about almost everything worth thinking about.
A little known fact: the chocolate chip cookie is surpassed only by the egg as a perfect food. This fact is not quite so much in the public domain as one might hope, and for this I must accept full responsibility. If I am to go about establishing facts to bring the world closer to my liking, I must do something about my communication strategies.

And so we begin.

Eating in public is something I do often. Not just in restaurants or at picnics or in al fresco cafés, but on the street, in my car, in crowded shopping malls, at the theatre, and at concerts. It is a liberating and empowering experience, not to be rivalled. Perhaps overthrowing a loathed government or the fall of the Berlin Wall might bear comparison.

Strangely, some people do not like to be seen eating. At the extreme, there are those who do not like to be seen to eat at all. Fine difference. For example, I may not want you to witness the peculiar manner in which I go about the business of consuming anything involving fish. My approach is almost archaeological. There is the observation of the specimen from all angles, and the application of gentle pressure to the surface to determine the texture. Then comes the excruciatingly slow removal of fish flesh in delicate layers.

Why all this? For readers similarly afflicted, it is obvious: the dreaded pnigophobia, mortal terror of fish bones. Who would want the world to watch this tortured process? Even better question: Who would be willing to be seen with such a dining companion? I eat my fish at home.

About the people who do not want to be seen to eat anything, at any place, in any circumstance: their issues are far more complex than a mere, and entirely common, phobia. They fall into two main categories. They may be very thin and wish to incite the envy of their peers by giving the impression that they are made of self-restraint, and that is the reason they weigh seventeen pounds and have waists the circumference of a straw.

At the other end of the spectrum, somewhat large people may choose not to eat in the company of others for the very opposite reason. They will be judged and condemned as gluttonous. I am sorry the word “epic” has become so commonplace — used to describe parties, drunken brawls, and indie concerts — because it really is the right word to explain the extent of this tragedy. No one should ever be deprived of a dessert because of the censorious stares of onlookers. They order only coffee (black, no sugar) when lunching with others, as an apology. “I’m sorry,” they say. “See, I eat nothing, yet I have the aspect of an armoire.”

[pullquote]Do people mutter “oink” as I pass by? Do they wonder that I dare show how urgent is this meeting of baked good and myself? Possibly. Probably. But more than that, they want the cookie[/pullquote]

To those in the latter category, I wish to offer the wisdom of Jamaican sage Carl Malcolm, in his great work of 1975, “Fattie Bum Bum”, wherein he tenderly assures the object of his desire of his stalwartness. And yea, though with her he may “look like a mouse ’pon a one-dollar bread,” he has no intention of abandoning his pursuit “until [he] drop down dead.” What greater love, I ask you? What more chivalrous claim?

But I digress. This is about a chocolate chip cookie, and freedom. “I’m so busy, I have to eat on the run,” is the most common utterance you hear when you greet someone who just happens to be eating fried chicken in the comfort of his car. At lunchtime. A perfectly acceptable time to eat. The place you bought the battered and larded fowl didn’t have a table? You eat faster (and thereby better facilitate your busy existence) oppressed by your steering wheel than sitting in a fast food place? Really?

No, you just didn’t want to be seen. I gave up food shame around the time I decided I really did want extra condensed milk on my snow cone.

The thing that really set me on the path to food flaunting is a triple chocolate chip cookie. It contains the expected chips within, is frosted with chocolate, and graced with miniature chocolate chips on top. It’s also about the size of the lid of a quart of paint. Do people mutter “oink” as I pass by? Do they wonder that I dare show how urgent is this meeting of baked good and myself? Possibly. Probably. But more than that, they want the cookie.

This cookie comes from a fancy tea shop in a fashionable shopping complex in Port of Spain. Shoppers glide past swinging well-branded bags; they slip in and out of boutiques, jewellers, perfumeries.

I bite into the cookie, which is halfway out of its bag. With my non-cookie hand I twirl my handbag and, shoes permitting, skip.

I love this cookie. Maybe if I’d gone out with that boy I really liked in high school, it would have been like this. While trying (not very hard) not to gloat, I’d want people to see him holding my hand. I’d be proud to be seen with him. We’d be, like, together. And I know you don’t think I deserve him. But I did nothing of the sort then with any boy of any form, covetable or not.

I don’t care if anyone thinks I look greedy. I don’t care if they think I’m impatient. I publicly declare my need for this cookie — right now, right here. At last, at my advanced age, I have a shameless decadence.

Scurry to your kitchens, keep all those longings secret. I walk out into the sun with chocolate slowly melting on my fingers.