The Half and Half Incident: What Comes of Exhausted Thinking

I was completely out of half and half. That was my entire shopping list as I dragged my tired self to the health food store.  It’s not clear why, but while I am frequently back to my old energetic self  in the mornings, as the day wears on to late afternoon, even making conversation feels like a giant effort. Only the threat of  undrinkable morning coffee could turn my steering wheel against its insistent pull homeward.

My mind was slow to register an old friend standing at the front display of the store, selling chocolate for his new business. We caught up for quite a while and I was cheered, not only to see him but also to feel a little mini spark of energy returning to my brain and body. In retrospect, however, clearly I was still too fatigued to think logically.

My old friend described a diet advocated by a doctor who had miraculously recovered from her MS symptoms. My diet already had a lot in common with hers—no grains and heavy on the green leafy vegetables. The doctor’s diet differed primarily in excluding a number of my staple foods: the entire category of dairy. The diet gave the doctor her life back, my friend said.

Getting my life back sure sounded good. “Leapt out of bed?” I echoed his description. “But no dairy?” I pondered the idea. Maybe dairy was my problem and how was I to know since I ate dairy every day. Maybe I should stop eating dairy. As an experiment.

My awake self would not ordinarily jump on a new diet bandwagon without any scientific evidence. One anecdote is not evidence, my scientific brain would have protested…had it not been asleep at the wheel.

Apparently, only my emotional brain was still on line. Thus, I found a new mission, stalking around the store imagining all the energy I’d gain from switching to dairy free everything. For at least a week, I resolved.

First, I picked up the dairy free creamer, which was to make my morning coffee as unappealing as drinking it black or with watery almond milk. I did not even pause to glance longingly at the organic half and half on the same shelf. Then I threw a coconut based yogurt into my cart. Not my favorite, but not entirely unpleasant, either.

Having taken the first steps on my ill-conceived diet plan,  I dove right down the rabbit hole, and picked up a block of fake cheese and a tub of its spreadable counterpart. I am not new to fake cheese and I noted that it still doesn’t even look quite like cheese. I suppressed a shudder of past fake cheese experiences. The mouth-feel, which ranges from paste to rubber. The initial taste impressions of processed cheese food product, though blander and lighter on the salt. Peppers or other seasonings hide some of the taste flaws, but still, the experience inevitably ends with a non-cheese aftertaste. Through all the various diets I’ve tried in my life, fake cheese has tended to leave a note of desperation on my palate.

Yet in that moment, at the combined real cheese and fake cheese refrigerator, the rubbery cheese-like product seemed to promise to put the spring back into my step.

Several days later at a restaurant with my dad and boyfriend, my stomach roiled as we waited for our meal and I refused  to eat any appetizers or bread or even salad dressed with dairy because of my new diet. Delirious with hunger I finally asked myself the obvious question: Wait, why am I doing this?

I suppose that my diet has always been something I could (potentially) take charge of in the face of whatever life threw at me that was beyond my control. In this case, unrelenting, overwhelming exhaustion. Maybe the diet itself was harmless, but waiting for dinner I had to admit to myself that I’d turned into one cranky person. I had removed a lot of foods from my already restrictive diet. If this was the price of getting my energy back, it suddenly seemed rather steep.

“I tried your jalapeño ‘cheese.’ It wasn’t that bad,” my dad offered conversationally.

I looked at him sidewise. “Actually, it was bad. In fact, it was just awful.”

“True,” he quickly admitted, as we both polished off our bouillabaisse.

When our server returned I ordered a decaf coffee with real half and half.

“Cheers” I said, officially dropping my non-dairy diet experiment. Salvation would have to come in some other guise.

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