How hunger shrinks the world – White Noise

The last post about American Appetites and  Glynnis’ sadness about dessert marking the end of a meal reminded me of another 1980s literary classic, White Noise by Don Delillo and the scene of the family eating fried chicken in the car:

No one wanted to cook that night. We all got in the car and went out to the commercial strip in the no man’s land beyond the town boundary. The never-ending neon. I pulled in at a place that specialized in chicken parts and brownies. We decided to eat in the car. The car was sufficient for our needs. We wanted to eat, not look around at other people. We wanted to fill our stomachs and get it over with. We didn’t need light and space, We certainly didn’t need to face each other across a table as we ate, building a subtle and complex cross-network of signals and codes. We were content to eat facing in the same direction, looking only inches past our hands. There was a kind of rigor in this. Denise brought the food out to the car and distributed paper napkins. We settled in to eat. We ate fully dressed, in hats and heavy coats, without speaking, ripping into chicken parts with our hands and teeth. There was a mood of intense concentration, minds converging on a single compelling idea. I was surprised to find I was enormously hungry. I chewed and ate, looking only inches past my hands. This is how hunger shrinks the world. This is the edge of the observable universe of food. Steffie tore off the crisp skin of a breast and gave it to Heinrich. She never ate the skin. Babette sucked a bone. Heinrich traded wings with Denise, a large for a small. He thought small wings were tastier. People gave Babette their bones to clean and suck. I fought off an image of Mr. Gray lazing naked on a motel bed, an unresolved picture collapsing at the edges. We sent Denise to get more food, waiting for her in silence. Then we started in again, half stunned by the dimensions of our pleasure. (220-221)

For Glynnis, the elaborate birthday dinner carefully planned and sequenced was a performance and celebration of her skill. Food conveyed her economic privilege and social status. In contrast, the family consumes the delivered fried chicken intensely individually as a primal pack. The shared theme of death and consumption in both books rely on food to highlight the death of one in the case of Glynnis and death of all in the case of Jack and Babette’s family. Hunger and death may make us human but how we live seems to be determined by how we eat, whether our appetites are insatiable, mindless or sadly both.

Wishing you mindful and satisfying eating,



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