By Erin Bennett
It had been almost five months of quarantine, three months into protests, two weeks of surging case numbers, by the time I understood that I was hungry.
It happened all of a sudden, this awakening to my hunger. I thought something might be wrong with me. All the groceries my husband and I usually purchased — hummus, apples, fluffy green kale — had grown distasteful, even as I stood before the open refrigerator with my stomach knotted. The neatly packaged snacks I kept in the office — date bars, lemon yogurt, carrot sticks — offered a temporary reprieve. They tasted like lunch on the Green, sunset-soaked walks to my car in the Dewey lot, but the reprieve was shallow. They did not make working forty hours a week at the kitchen table any more comfortable.
I was hungry, I found, for a turkey sandwich.
Cold turkey on a weightless sandwich roll, white cheese, watery tomato, sweet mayonnaise and bright yellow mustard. Singing, stinging yellow mustard. It tastes like three o’clock after school sunlight shining into my parents’ kitchen onto my piles of homework and my mother reaching into the tall cabinet for the secret bag of potato chips. Just a handful, she would say, just enough, and then we’ll put them away. She poured them onto the chipped sandwich plates that had been a wedding gift to her and my father, salt crystals glittering on shavings of gold. The fizz of ginger ale poured into a glass, ice crackling as it floated to the top. We work hard, my mother would say, we deserve a few potato chips.
I expressed this epiphany to my husband, that I was so hungry, that I was enraged with hunger, stressed, scared and shaken into hunger. When I said, with some embarrassment, I just wanted a turkey sandwich, I thought he would suggest some alternative, something without sugar or nitrates. Instead, he rose from his seat. Then for goodness sake, he said, I’ll buy whatever you need to make the best turkey sandwich there is.
My husband went down the road to Jake’s Market in Quechee and returned arms laden with Vermont heirloom tomatoes, Vermont cheddar cheese slices, Vermont seed-filled whole grain bread, turkey from Vermont, mayonnaise in a glass jar and the precious mustard. Living where we do affords us the benefit of beautiful food.
I understood that this is a time to pick your fights, and it is not the time to fight with your body. We are working hard, we have seen enough, and we deserve the sandwich.
My husband and I have kept supplies better stocked in the apartment ever since. I buy sweet potato chips and lemon seltzer. I wake up in the morning, read the news, weep a little over my bowl of tiny local blueberries while I work. At noon I make my sandwich and eat it sitting at the window with the sunshine and the mustard leaking onto my fingers.
If we are going to try to fix this, I’ve realized, we cannot do it hungry.
Erin Bennett is an administrative assistant in the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College and a graduate student in Dartmouth's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. She currently lives in the attic of an old house in Taftsville, Vermont where she enjoys reading, writing, drawing and leaving her pencil shavings everywhere. Her sketches can be found on her Instagram (@littlegnome_art)