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Food For Thought About My Hunger Strike

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On May 5th, 2011 I decided to starve myself.

I had been wanting to do this for a while and decided that the death date of IRA activist Bobby Sands would be a meaningful occasion. Bobby Sands was a member of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), which, in a nutshell, is an organization that supports a united (and, likely, Catholic) Ireland, free from British interference. I’m not going to go into whether I support the IRA or not, that’s for another blog, but I will say I admire Sands. He was imprisoned with other IRA members and went on a hunger strike with others to convince the guards to meet their demands- simple things, like the right to wear their own clothes and have a visitor once a week. Other prisoners followed after him in striking, so that when one died, there would still be healthy ones to keep up one massive protest- a clever, yet heartbreaking, plan. While on the strike, he was even elected to political office. Sands went 66 days before he died on May 5th, 1981. Sands wasn’t the only one to undergo a hunger strike of course- Gandhi, Chavez, monks of all religions- it’s a fairly strong and common form of protest. When someone denies themselves food, as I noticed very clearly, it freaks people out.

I wasn’t doing this to make a statement or look cool. I’m capable of neither. I just wanted to understand. Since the day I was born, I’d never gone a day without something to eat. None of us probably have. Food is one of the only things that will never go away. You need to breathe, sleep, and eat- all that other bullshit you think matters to you (your car, your phone, your television shows, your music collection, your antique soap dish)- none of that really matters at all. We’re conditioned to believe it does, but it doesn’t. So this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a human again- not some consuming entity whose worth is based on the amount of capital I can pump back into an imaginary “economy” or “country.” Side note: for those who consider things like god and morality “imaginary concepts”, explain to me exactly how those are any less “real” than saying, “I can kill you because you crossed this imaginary line!” or “I can buy this car because I have lots of a certain type of paper- in fact, I have a plastic card that contains all my paper, even though you can’t see it!” Let’s leave that at that for now. Back on track: I wanted to do a hunger strike- just one day- to feel a bit more human. I know what you might be thinking, “What a little bitch- I went almost a day without eating when I was working or studying for exams. Big deal, Drew.” And that’s exactly why this was legit- I chose not to eat. When you actually chose not to do something, as opposed to just forgetting or not being able to, it’s a bit different because you’re going to have to actively pursue something you don’t have to do.

I ate my last meal at 6:30pm on May 4th. I made shrimp and veggie hibachi with fried rice. It was pretty good too. What sucked is I had leftovers, so I had to spoon each morsel into a Tupperware container like I was wrapping up Christmas presents no one would ever open. I had a handful of MnM’s and some orange soda at about 10:30- and that was the last thing I ingested till well over 24 hours later. I wasn’t going to allow soda, milk, juice, or even gum on this either- nothing but water. I went to bed that night at about midnight after finishing ten pages of a Medieval British Literature paper, where I was proving that an unknown author’s poem Pearl was almost too similar to the Paradiso section of Dante’s Divine Comedy– I was right too, cause I aced it. Dante’s story was way better too because it had demons and a minotaur, but that’s not an academic argument. Minotaurs are sick.

The first real pain set it at about 2:30. I wasn’t able to fall asleep like normal, but then my stomach began tightening up in pain. Not grumbling, literally tying up in a knot of pain. It would have been easy to heat up some shrimp hibachi or even scarf down some cashews, but I laid there squinting my eyes until I fell asleep around 3:45, committing myself to something I didn’t have to. Those are sort of the only true causes though- the ones you don’t have to take a stand for, but you do anyways.

I wake up feeling empty, but not in pain- sort of like how you want to be when you want to run a marathon or skate all day or something. My only real item on the agenda for that day was to turn in my paper. You’d think that’d be good having no obligations or things to worry about while you have to not eat, but it’s the opposite- you have nothing to do but your daily functions: breathe, sleep, and, well, eat- and I got plenty of sleep and air. I turn in my paper to my professor and have a chat with him for a bit. He used to skate when he was younger (he’s young to begin with- late 20’s) and from what I can tell, he must have been pretty good and into it, because he knew obscure names and technical jargon. He asks me about my summer plans, we talk about Dante, and I catch him up on some of the skaters he knew back in the day before I head out to do some skating myself.

The next real pain comes about after I stretch out and warm up on my flip tricks at the Flat Spot. I remember doing a five trick line then, as I’m circling back to see if I can finish the series off with something more difficult like a 360 flip or switch frontside heelflip, my stomach clenches into a fist and sucker punches my abdomen from the inside. I almost step off the board. I cruise to a ledge and sit down right as it really begins to tear me up. It’s about 2:30pm. I should have had about two meals by now. I figure if I concentrate on learning some new tricks it will take my mind of the pain, so I push back out and start messing around with stuff on my mental list of things to learn. That works well enough, and after I get some water in me, I’m feeling strong again. I call my friend Rachel to see if I can skate her backyard halfpipe and hop the bus over there once she says yes. I’m a little unsure of where to get off since this is the number 5 and I ride the number 9, but I make a good guess and only have a short skate over to her place. My friend Ian and Lily are over here as well. He’s a sick photographer and she is too- both skate as well. I didn’t skate ramps very much up until about a month ago when Rahel’s ramp was finished, so I’m learning a ton and that takes my mind off my tummy. As the session begins winding down, Lily decides to bite the bullet and learn to drop in. The first one she just about made until she slid out at the end, so she gives it another try. She slips out again, and settles onto the flat of the ramp. She rolls over and begins what we think is an embarrassed laugh. It quickly becomes evident that Lily isn’t laughing- she’s broken her leg pretty bad. We all slip into “Oh, fuck” mode- which is an actual mode of thinking in which you look at each other and go, “Oh, fuck” for about five minutes until someone comes back to reality and decides to do something proactive. We lay Lily down in Rachel’s SUV and figure to go to an Urgent Care. Lily, however, is a straight soldier and wants to meet her sister out at a shopping center to give her the keys to her car. She doesn’t complain one bit the way there and even gives us directions to where we’re supposed to meet. My hunger doesn’t bother me until we get into the waiting room- Paula Dean is on TV for the hour we’re here. I try to occupy my mind by studying with Ian for his art history test (I was so happy I remembered about 80% of the paintings), and that helped. Rachel and Ian feel bad getting things out of the vending machine, but I realized seeing food wasn’t anywhere as bad as smelling it. By now, I’ve gone a good twenty four hours without food and I’m noticing smells everywhere- smoky, greasy, pungent- usually you never notice the smell of food unless someone points it out to you or it’s something new. However, this is your main tool for finding a wildebeest or making sure you don’t eat the wrong type of mushroom- it’s not exactly for noticing the “vanilla notes” in a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

By the end of the night, we’re back at the ramp, Lily with a fresh cast, and everyone eating pineapple pepperoni pizza (except me.) By this time though, my mind’s sort of off eating. I hurt a bit, mostly like I have a headache and like I got punched in the eyes from behind, but I’m good. I learned something no class could have taught me. I went over a day without food- and willing did it. At midnight, I head back to the apartment and ask Charles if he wanted some late night Cookout. At 12:15am on May 6th, I sit down to a lovely BBQ sandwich, fries, hushpuppies, and a Reese’s malt chocolate shake on the sticky patio of the Western Boulevard Cookout. It tastes pretty good (I’ve never had a bad Cookout experience in my 21 years), but I struggle to finish it all- it seems like a lot of food for once.

So, what did I take away from this?

To be grateful for having food? Sure, that’s sort of obvious though. Only a complete asshole would be actively ungrateful for having enough to eat. Am I going to be careful about eating in the future? I guess a bit. I’m still going to tear into fried chicken and try weird sushi (sea urchin is pretty funky but eel is delicious), but perhaps now I’ll be a bit less piggish. The main thing I got out of this was just to be aware of stuff and be nice. I can’t really explain that- we all know how to do that, we just usually skimp on doing it. So, cook for yourself every now and then. Eat out with friends. Try new foods, even ones you don’t think you’ll like. Donate food. Grow your food. Hunger is part of humanity and you really should feel it sometime. Really let it hurt you and see what the pain carves into your soul. In slowly killing you, it teaches you how to live.

That’s food for thought.

Listen to This: “Hunger Strike”- Temple of the Dog

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Written by dstclaire

June 7, 2011 at 12:07 am

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