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  • Anna Byrne

Milk.

This is a short piece I wrote about a life described by the food and drink that sustained it. What flavours describe your life?



Milk. Your first taste after your first breath.


At three, you throw the mango slice, mini-pretzel and cheese cube to the floor and say, Never ‘gain, momma. Bad, momma. You don’t remember this but when you are told, you can’t imagine a time when you turned down snacks.


At six, you take your Fraggle Rock lunch box out at your desk. It’s your first and you even got to pick it out. You’ll keep it until you’re eight and replace it with a She-Ra one. You unwrap the soggy tunafish sandwich (really, it’s Miracle Whip between two pieces of Wonder Bread with one-sixth of a can of tuna, the other five-sixths in your siblings’ lunches), among the store-packaged cookies and plastic rectangles of cheese and crackers, each with their own little red stick to dip and lick. You wish you had the nerve to ask for a trade.


Running through the rhubarb patch on the side yard, chased by your brother, you come around the corner and there, strung-up from the cellar ceiling where Dad’s just been working and where he’s left the door open just-so, are Miss Piggy and Kermit, your two rabbits. You don’t eat the stew that night. Mom blames Dad.


By 13, you’ve given up peanut butter because it’s so fattening, eww. Instead, you eat jam on otherwise-dry toast. You record this in your diary (15 cals/tsp x 2 = 30; 92 cals/pc bread x 2 =184; Bfast Tot. = 214).


A year later, you’re skipping breakfast just to make it to Period 1 on time.


While you are still underaged, (no need to mention an exact age), three shots of vodka are followed by a regretful purchase of street meat. You swear never to eat schwarma again, but after emptying your stomach into nearby bushes, feel better and belt out You Oughta Know by Alanis.

Though you feel a little young at 24 to marry, you decide to make the most of it and serve both the lemon chicken and the pan-seared trout with parsley vinaigrette. The ‘accompaniments’ will be grilled vegetable risotto, balsamic asparagus and roasted potatoes with herbs. The dessert buffet includes an ice cream bar, Mother’s pies and of course, the triple-layer raspberry, coconut and ganache cake.

Over sushi, five years later, you tell your spouse you would like a divorce, tears dropping into the miso soup. Later that night, your best friend will bring red wine and salt and vinegar chips, your favourite.

You travel. You keep track of countries by cuisine. Snails in Paris. Goat knee in Mozambique. Roast crickets in Java. Aloo gobi. Königsberger klopse. Gallo pinto. Pho. Tagine.

You return, and by your mid-30s, settle on the Canadian west coast to take up veganism and pipeline protests. You begin making your own kombucha and sauerkraut, both of which your darling new husband refuses to try.

At 42, you are cutting cheese and unwrapping crackers for your nephew who is visiting. As you slice, you think back to the story of your throwing cheese from the highchair tray at three, and the weird orange not-cheese of the school lunches you used to covet, and you thank your lucky stars for your Mother, again.


When your father is 75 and you are 27 years younger, he is diagnosed with cancer. His appetite is replaced with nausea and he can only stomach ice cream. Still, you try to feed him spoonfuls of peanut butter to fatten him up.


At his funeral, the guests sit around eating florescent-green coleslaw and sandwiches cut into triangles. Your mother has felt the need to make her specialty butter tarts, at a time like this. Spurred by the sudden realization of mortality, you run out and buy whey protein isolate and a pound of bacon. Your mother breathes a sign of relief that you are over ‘that phase’ of veganism.


When she dies, you stop eating.


You stop eating for the first time in 67 years.


Still years later, you sit at the card table, sipping weak coffee doused with milk (made by a staff member under strict orders to make the Costco-can stretch). Out of the 730 coffees you’ve had this year, it’s a fairly-average cup. You think about the family reunions you used to have, the picnic tables laid with newsprint, the fish and chips tossed hot from the oil. You think of the communal meals in the dorm during university and all the potlucks you’ve had with friends.

You think of that time—that surreal, did-that-happen?—time of long ago. That pandemic, what was it called? Comid? At any rate, what you missed most was the meals with those you love. You think of the 35 tons of food you’ve eaten since you took that first breath on the planet (what would your 13-year-old self think of that). And you wonder, after 84 cakes to celebrate those years, which kind you’ll choose for tomorrow.

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