Sometimes, it gets too loud in my head. There is constant noise from my thoughts, or music, or whatever podcast I’m listening to. It’s an ongoing conversation, even if I’m not saying a word. As I sit at my desk at my summer job, my brain tells me that it’s time for a break. I need to focus on something else, something that will finally allow me to relax. Thank God for lunch breaks. That blissful time of day when it’s just me, the food, and a good book. I might just be ungracefully eating out of a Tupperware, but I guess that’s part of the adventure.
The key to a perfect, relaxing lunch break is the combination of reading and eating. I need to take my eyes off the laptop screen after a few hours of working, and I need a meal worth eating to make the most of it. But what’s different about this method of calming down is that it immerses me in another reality: instead of tuning into my surroundings and living in the moment, I’m diving into other people’s stories. Although it’s silent, it’s like I’m listening in on their conversations.
I’ve tried to maintain a good variety of lunches so the days don’t completely turn to monotony. On my first day, I brought the classic peanut butter and jelly, though I’ve since spiced it up with pasta, dumplings, curry, and pizza. I even made a trip to a new local Japanese market for some onigiri and sushi.
Sometimes, I find that I can really savor my food when I’m reading instead of watching a show or movie. The carefully written words give me the headspace to connect with what I’m eating, whether it’s a sandwich that’s been quickly put together or flavorful leftover stir-fry from last night’s dinner. My brain isn’t trying to focus on whatever fast-paced action or intense drama is on the screen. At other times, however, I get so absorbed in the plot of a novel that I barely glance at what’s on my fork. I need to hone my multitasking skills to fuel my brain and stomach simultaneously.
My most recent attempt at wrestling the two wasn’t so far from reality. I read Crying in H Mart, a memoir by Michelle Zauner. The book is a reflection on Zauner’s mother’s battle with cancer, Korean food and culture, and her passion for music. Her poetic language perfectly blends her childhood experiences with food and her connection with her Korean heritage, making it a great read for someone who also loves food and writing. There’s something about reading about food while eating that makes me appreciate the food even more. I find myself getting food envy whenever I watch a cooking video or read articles about the latest dinner trends. I might not even be hungry, but whenever I read about Zauner traveling to Seoul for fresh seafood or scooping up warm rice to serve with a tofu dish, a craving for some type of snack emerges. As my eyes skim over the mouthwatering descriptions of her culinary outings, I am all the more grateful for the meal in front of me.
It’s always an interesting task to find a good balance between the words and the food. When I need to quiet all the noise, I get up from my desk chair. I watch the Tupperware spin slowly in the microwave. I keep an eye on the steaming contents and ensure the right temperature before taking a bite. I reflect on the taste, or I don’t. It depends on whose story fills the pages.