Five Years Sober and I’m Still a Food Slob
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Five Years Sober and I’m Still a Food Slob


One night I sat cross-legged on the floor eating Del Monte green beans covered in thousand island dressing straight out of the can for dinner. I’d like to say that I was broke, that I was drunk, that I was stoned, that I was hung over or that I was pregnant, but none of the above are true. I was simply too lazy to go to the grocery store, or, more precisely, I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. On top of that, I was newly sober and living in a halfway house, so it seemed totally within reason to chow down on soggy green beans smothered in Wishbone-brand dressing when there was nothing else to eat.

I still haven’t accepted that I actually have to visit the grocery store more than once in my lifetime. The same holds true for doing laundry, for cleaning my room, for keeping track of my finances and for doing my taxes. I hate that I have to keep doing this shit. On top of that, no one gives me any star stickers for going to the grocery store, doing the laundry, cleaning my room or doing my taxes (the IRS should really start that, they might actually get more people to pay up).

This has been my mentality for 36 years, the mentality of a toddler: Why should I have to go to the grocery store? I don’t want to go to the grocery store! You can’t make me go to the grocery store!

My sober living was a very relaxed house and all of us women bought our own food. And since we shared a kitchen, there was a bunch of leftover canned food at the very back of the highest cupboards above the stove, plus leftover condiments and dressings in the fridge, all from former residents. And since no one wanted them, that’s what I’d eat dinner, often creating noxious combinations you’re not likely to see in Bon Appetit.

The irony is that I’m a food snob. I’m such a food snob I spent three years slaving on the line in high-end kitchens with award-winning chefs screaming in my face. I’m such a food snob I write about where to find the best X, Y or Z in LA. I like sprinkling Maldon salt on slabs of farmhouse butter from the Vermont Creamery and then slathering it all over a rustic overpriced baguette from Bread Lounge. I believe cleanliness is not as close to godliness as is the ability to roll a super-flaky croissant or pipe a smooth French macaroon. But when I was newly sober, if I had to choose between getting in the car and fighting traffic to get to Bread Lounge or loafing around the house in my pajamas all day and eating the green beans, I would choose the loafing and the canned beans.

Today, you won’t find me eating straight out of a can, or really anything out of a can at all since I can’t stomach the processed stuff and high sodium contents. But you will find me stretching my Trader Joe’s food supply out over days and days, way past the point when a trip to the store is necessary. It helps that the 12-cup pot of coffee I drink for breakfast shuts down my appetite until around 4 pm. But at 4 pm, my blood sugar plummets and I become so ravenous that if I don’t eat right now I will either kill someone or pass out. This is when I get desperate and eat spoonfuls of hummus straight (because I’ve run out of lavash) or ground turkey without any sauce or condiments or starch (because I’ve run out of ketchup, mayo, cheese and buns).

It’s not just that I’m lazy that I don’t go to the store, it’s also the sheer agony of visiting Trader Joe’s. They offer the best quality food for my budget (even well-known chefs do their shopping there), but even with one walking distance from my house but the insanity of fighting both the foot and vehicular traffic in the parking lot is enough to almost jeopardize my sobriety.

(By the way, I still haven’t figured out why they reorganize their merchandise three times a year. What’s with that? At least three times a year I walk in, head for the sparkling water section and wind up in the bread aisle—dropping f-bombs—because they’ve spontaneously shuffled shit around again.)

I have discovered that trying to live off things like canned green beans and thousand island dressing, hummus neat and plain ground turkey will lead to malnutrition—sadly, I need to actually eat vegetables, grains, fruits, proteins to survive. Malnutrition will send me crashing into depression (plus I’ll look like shit) and, with my energy depleted, it becomes impossible to get myself up out of it. A real Catch-22.

When I don’t eat nourishing food—or don’t eat at all—I really do lose it. If I’m smoking, it’s extra bad. Couple the nicotine (and CO2) with caffeine and I don’t need to eat for days. Not only do I look like a lithograph when I examine my face in the mirror, totally devoid of color and life, but I disassociate from reality.

Recently, after picking up smokes again and getting tangled up in a not-so-hot romantic mess, I found myself driving aimlessly through the rainy streets of Los Angeles at 1 am, hyperventilating, sobbing and convinced I had to drink because I was “losing my mind.” Thankfully, my best friend invited me over and the first thing she asked me when I arrived was “Have you eaten?” and I sheepishly peeped out “No” and she shoved a tamale in my sobbing face without much sympathy. I ate it like a rodent, with shaky hands and in little bites since I was hopped up on nicotine and romantic obsession—way too wired to have an appetite. But thankfully, Jackie forced me to eat that stupid tamale, and it turned my mood around completely. In fact, I kind of forgot about what I was upset about in the first place. My angst just lifted and, within 10 minutes or so, I was laughing.

There are some foods in LA—the tacos at Guisados, the kebabs and garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken, Suzanne Goin’s short ribs at Lucques—that literally solve all my life’s problems as they slide down my gullet. Those spinach empanadas at Grand Casino Bakery in Culver City also do it. Forget about drinking, forget about fucking, forget about smoking, forget about obsessing—with those fresh empanadas in my mouth all of my “isms” are satiated. And they’re only $1.75 a pop.

Today, the best I can do is be aware of my inability to nourish myself, and chip away at the problem in little bits. Sometimes I have to bite the bullet and splurge on a grab-and-go kind of meal or a Chipotle run, which I hate doing because it’s a waste of money for mediocre food, but whatever—it’s more important that I actually eat.

I’ve also gotten better at hitting up the Trader Joe’s. I’ve figured out that if you show up 10 minutes before they close (9:50 pm in Silver Lake) or right when they open (8 am in Silver Lake), they might actually have some stuff in stock. That should at least keep me off the canned green beans.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.