Needs

I used to sleep with two pillows. I’d lay one carefully on top of the other and fall asleep with my head elevated: my dreams took place very high off the ground. And then, one day, I slept over a friend’s house and he only had one pillow to give me. I couldn’t sleep. When I did drift off, my dreams were land-locked and boring. I woke up with a neck ache and quickly ended the friendship.

Soon, though, I got to thinking: maybe it’s bad that I can only fall asleep with two pillows. If I train myself to sleep with only one pillow, then I can be friends with people who only have one pillow to lend me. I can travel the world and stay at motels and hostels and campgrounds where one-pillow sleeping is the norm. People will applaud me for me easy-going sleeping habits and nominate me for public office. I will be a star.

And, pretty much, that’s what happened. I re-trained myself to sleep with only one pillow and now that’s the only way I can fall asleep. I reduced my needs and benefited enormously. For example, these past few days Craig and I have been hopping around like hobos staying at his sister’s apartment, a campground, Rena’s apartment, his parent’s house, and now–finally–a house they rented for the production team. But being flexible makes all of this possible. And it’s a perfect metaphor, I think, for the way people deal with food.

The more needs you have, the less you’re bound to enjoy. Picky eaters convince themselves that they have needs–that they need to avoid anything salty or they’ll get bloated, anything peppery or they’ll choke, anything spicy or they’ll schvitz. Dieters “need” to have three servings of fruit a day, ten glasses of water before they exercise, and forty bites of something green at least 80 times a week.

Needs can be exhausting. And, more essentially, they take all the pleasure out of food. Hypochondriacs will never know the joys of a rare juicy steak. They’ll never experience a frothy egg nog made with beaten raw egg or, for that matter, an authentic Caesar salad. Those who “need” a big piece of meat at every meal, will never celebrate summer with a simple seasonal salad. Those who “need” only familiar foods will never branch out and discover the wonders of Indian or real Chinese (not the kind you find in the mall) or something even more exotic, like Indonesian or Pakistani food.

The less needs you have, the more you’re going to experience. Of course some needs are medical: allergies to gluten or lactose. Others are ideological: vegetarianism, for example. Some are religious: being kosher, say, or giving something up for Lent. But, for the most part, food-related needs are self-appointed. Like the need to sleep with two pillows. Nobody needs to sleep with two pillows–nobody needs to give up bacon. The more flexible you are, the better your life will be. Now my dreams are filled with BLTs and Bucatini All’Amatriciana. Drop your needs and a one-pillowed bacon-filled life is yours for the taking.

16 comments

  1. Great post. I was a ridiculously picky eater when I was a little kid, and honestly, I think my parents forcing me to eat whatever they made is why I’m much more open to food nowadays. I still love my comfort foods and still avoid some foods just out of habit, but I love trying random recipes out on my friends and family. It baffles my parents, but what can you do? What’s funny to me is that the girl who once upon a time would rather go hungry than eat tomato sauce is now a writing major so she can be a food critic. =)

  2. I love this. Having the courage to try different things is one of my favorite traits. Even if I don’t like it, at least I tried it. Sometimes, you find something you love so much, you end up dreaming about it. Like fiddlehead ferns! Have fun with the rest of your trip.

  3. I never thought of it that way, but it’s very true. I don’t sleep with ANY pillows – maybe I’ve attained enlightenment :-)

    Newbie to your blog. I LOVE it. You make me want to cook!!! Btw that thunking sound you just heard was my mother keeling over in shock!! Cannot wait for the book.

  4. I am the pickiest eater ever! This post was written especially for me—thanks! You are encouraging me to be more flexible.

  5. Great post. I am often amazed at my 7 year old daughter who is very adventuresome when it comes to trying new things, including food. Of course, she needs at least 5 pillows in her bed each night – calls it “pillowdale,” whatever that means.

  6. Fun fact relating to picky eaters: we lose taste buds as we age (or perhaps they get less sensitive, not sure of the exact science), which is why some foods (mostly veggies, which can taste bitter with more taste buds) grow on us as we age. Throw that one out there to all your picky eating friends, maybe you can get them to try something new!

  7. Here, Here!!!

    I’ve even learned to take a shower kneeling in a tiny bathtub…and not complain about it (It’s actually the last bit that’s the accomplishment).

  8. It is true that taste buds are both lost and become less sensitive as we age – but i would add that it is the sweet/salty tastes that diminish first and the bitter/sour tastes that retain longer. ex: older people who have a sweet-tooth or add salt to everything.

    I appreciate the fact that people’s tastes change w/age. It’s been interesting to think back to certain foods that I didn’t like when I was younger that I now end up craving late at night!

    Thanks for this essay Adam!

  9. “I woke up with a neck ache and quickly ended the friendship.”

    That’s the most unexpectedly dry humour I’ve ever seen on the internet. Thank you!

    Being a vegetarian means that I wilfully miss out on a lot of interesting culinary experiences, so I make up for it by being very adventurous with the foods I can eat; it’s not worth restricting myself further because of fussiness. Very good post.

  10. The same thing happened to me! I used to only sleep with two pillows, then when I got older, I had to train myself to sleep with one because of … umm … well … sleeping in other people’s beds sometimes. Now I can’t imagine sleepng with two pillows. It’s so high!

    I also was a picky eater (cheese only pizzas, plain hamburgers, etc.) and now I order the weirdest thing on the menu. Maybe it happened when I dropped that extra pillow?

  11. What a cute essay! I still sleep with two pillows though–one for my head and one for cuddling… I can do without the cuddling pillow sometimes, but it’s always preferred :)

    I wouldn’t say I was a picky eater, but I think coming from a family where you have to meet a bunch of different needs (picky eaters, cultural eaters) definitely restricted my food choices. Moving away for university made such a difference! My mom wrinkles her nose at the fact that I make “western” food more often than Chinese food, and that I eat beets and Brussels sprouts on a regular basis :P

  12. I not only need two pillows, I also need a sleep mask and a fan. I’ve tried to change and it just won’t happen. Now, I travel with my mask, a small fan and an extra pillow. Problem solved and I get a great nights sleep.

    I moved to a small rural town from California. I tried to adapt to the food here, but once again, it didnt happen. I’d rather show people my way of cooking/eating ( which is a lot healthier and tastier) than give in to theirs.

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