Trigger Warning: Death, Language related to Eating Disorders
Many nurses who work in hospice care and nursing homes report that in the weeks or months before a resident dies, they often lose their appetite. Loss of appetite over a long period of time can be a sign of grave illness. This makes sense if you think about it. Food is a means to sustain life. Hunger is your body’s way of asking you to help it do its job: keeping you alive. People often lose their hunger toward the end of life because the body is preparing for death. It can no longer process food, or it might give you pain to try, so it no longer accepts nourishment to spare you that pain. I don’t particularly support the idea that humans are like machines, but in this instance, the comparison fits. At the end of life, your body, the vehicle that has transported you through life until that point, cannot be sustained any longer. It has run out of fuel or spare parts, or it has corroded. It is done.
Many cultures attach a special significance to providing meals for others. The reasoning is actually not cultural or religious at all; it is something far more universal. Like I mentioned earlier, food sustains life. To give someone food is to sustain them, to tell them that you support them, that you want to see them grow and thrive and prosper. You want them to live a long and happy life. You tell them these things by giving them food.
I have reached the end of my time as an undergraduate, and today I went to a New Alumni Celebration. I ate a meal there, perhaps the last one I will eat as a student at the University of Florida. The university has probably fed me thousands of times since I started as a first-year. In the two years that I have been a resident assistant, it has given me the equivalent of 550 dollars worth of food every semester. In the two and a half years that I have been a student ambassador at Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, almost every event has provided free food. At any major events hosted by the Department of Housing, there is almost always free food. Many events held by student organizations on campus provide free food. Even some academic classes provide free food. With every meal, they have shown that they support me, they want to see me grow and thrive and prosper, they want me to live a long and happy life.
I remember all the people who have given me food. I remember all the places where my first mentor paid for the bill, even when we were with our whole staff, at Bento’s, at Mochi, at The Fat Tuscan. I remember Professor Logan taking me to Maude’s. I remember the supervisors who have cooked for my staffs, the people who have paid for me when I travel to their cities. I remember the friends who have cooked for me at all hours of the day–fried rice, bread, all manner of vegetables, poached pears, chocolate ganache, pastries, chicken adobo, curried pork, falooda, fried fish, kebabs, eggs, countless cookies–and expect no payment in return. Every one of them has symbolically said they support me, they want to see me grow and thrive and prosper, and they want me to live a long and happy life.
I know now why it never bothers me if people don’t pay me back for food. All the times when I have paid for someone else, or given something to someone, are some of the best memories, and with some of the people I love most. I remember the grilled chicken sandwich I bought for a friend who won her election, the Publix fried chicken we ate on a picnic table at Lake Wauberg, the time I paid for Asian Chao at the mall and we ransacked Forever 21, and so much cereal that is sometimes the only sustenance for some of you until mid-afternoon. I worry now that you truly will not eat until mid-afternoon. I support every one of you, I want to see you grow and thrive and prosper, and I want you to live a long and happy life.
You should never have to choose between eating or refusing sustenance because you feel embarrassed or self-conscious. Never deny your own hunger. To deny yourself food is to negate your own well-being. It is your own undernourishment. It is you allowing others to tell you that you take up too much space, that you are too present, and that you should be invisible. Do not ever give people that chance. You are alive. You do not need an excuse for doing what the living do.
In Hindi, there is a phrase, “jeetay raho”, that is used to say farewell. The phrase loosely translates to “be victorious”. Your body tells you every day that it is working hard to keep you well. Don’t ignore it. Your body is the vehicle to your dreams. Honor it, respect it, and fuel it. You deserve to be seen, you deserve to have a presence, you deserve life. Grow strong. Shamelessly take up space. Chase your dreams.