According to some stand-up comic whose name escapes me at the moment, there are four basic food groups for the perpetually harassed: (1) nuked; (2) cereal; (3) takeout; and (4) canned. These four groups are not necessarily exclusive: oatmeal of the variety found in any cupboard can be classified as either nuked, canned, or cereal; depending on the temperament of the person eating.
Welcome to the age of instant food.
These distinctions came into sharp relief one night as I caught my old classmate Karla munching down on a bowlful of oatmeal as a dinner substitute. “I’m too tired to cook,” she wailed. “My double life is killing me.”
This isn’t surprising. Like many writers of her generation, Karla works by day as a lemming for a large business outsourcing concern in Makati and writes for a community website from her flat in Diliman by all other times. Sometimes, it seems as if her life is an endless parade of deadlines punctuated by broken heelstraps, broken men, and (on nights where it rains like the dickens) steaming bowls of oatmeal. Makati does that to you, or so I’m told.
When she gets home she is so tired that oatmeal seems like a sensible option. There simply is no time or energy left to cut, slice, dice, julienne, cook, and clean. Work does that to you, or so I’m told.
“Oatmeal’s fine,” she lies. “At least I get to lose weight.”
Distressed at her lack of concern for her culinary sanity I tell her of the four food groups from where her options may come. It’s not like she needs to lose any more weight. If anything, her exes have been known to complain about the meat on her bones (or lack thereof). Maybe she can find inspiration in the humor of a long-forgotten comic. Maybe not. I had to try. There must be more to dinner than oatmeal.
Karla’s unique experience presents itself with peculiar challenges. For starters, anything with rice is out of the question. Rice has to be cooked with copious amounts of water (not to mention power), not to mention that it’s almost impossible to cook a half cup of rice on a regular steamer. This is not to say that she could always buy rice on the way home: last I heard rice does not take well to public transport.
Off the top of my head, I rattle off old favorites mostly from the canned variety: luncheon meat, sardines, what have you. All met with sound rejection. All these must, for sanitation’s sake, be heated to a reasonable degree.
“How, pray tell,” she asks, “can any of these items be any better than oatmeal?”
Maybe vegetables are more palatable to her than meat. I heard once that all women pass through a vegetarian phase, so I bring up the notion of a salad. Perhaps she’s still to go through it. It’s worth a shot.
“Salads are great,” I say with some enthusiasm, “Not to mention cheap on the wallet.”
“Maybe when I was still a vegetarian,” is the reply, “But that was a lifetime ago.”
I think of something smart to say – something that makes any sense. Nothing comes to mind. For the moment, I am out of ideas.
With that, the conversation ends without having found resolution to Karla’s problems. I don’t mind and neither does she. Life does that to people, I’m telling you.