Carrie Rubin is one of my favorite writer/bloggers. I’m not sure if the statistics would bear this out, but I feel like she was one of the first writer/blogger I started to follow and who followed back and ever since, it’s been, I hope, a mutually rewarding experience of reading and sharing each others thoughts as expressed through our posts. So, too, she has published a novel, Seneca Scourge, that was an enjoyable read. Now comes her second novel.
Eating Bull is Jeremy’s story. He 15 years old and obese. As he struggles to deal with his weight and life’s issues — like a surly grandfather who nicknames him Eating Bull, the school bullies who ratchet up their attacks on him, and the stresses that lead him to over-eat — he gets swept up in a lawsuit brought against the food industry. All while a murderer seems to be stocking the overweight.
Eating Bull is a murder mystery/thriller with plenty of potential suspects and questions along the way. It’s well-written with characters you want to cheer for, but not necessarily in an uncomplicated way. Even the heroes have their flaws. And it passes the key test of such a story … it’s a page-turner, pulling the reader along to the finish.
It also deals with a social issue that continues to grow in this country and I think Carrie pulls it off well. While one or two of the characters gets preachy and holier-than-thou about the issue of overeating and the food-eating industry’s role in the obesity epidemic, the book itself isn’t preachy. Those characters who are preachy — well, it fits their character and fits the arc of the story. It would be somewhat odd to have characters in their roles who weren’t somewhat over the top in their views of the issue. So, well done, Carrie, well done.
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Which leads to why this book is timely for me. I’m 51 years old and while I’m not obese, I’m about 10-15 pounds above what I’d like to be and I’ve battled that weight for a handful of years now. I remember back in my 30’s working with a few people who were older than me, who looked enviously at what I consumed and nodded knowingly. “Don’t worry. It’ll catch up to you when you’re 40.” Or 50. I shuddered at the thought that I would one day have to watch what I ate and swore that I would remain active enough through running and cycling and other activities that I would continue to be able to eat without care for years and years to come.
Well, yeah, maybe not. I have spoken these words: “I had a big lunch, I’d prefer something light for dinner.” My god, what happened to me? In addition to the inevitability of age, I tore a groin muscle a few years ago and it knocked me back a bit. My regular exercise routine took a big hit and it’s been a struggle ever since. For a lot of reasons and because of that, I’ve known I need to change my eating habits. And, damn, if that’s not ridiculously difficult to do.
Here’s the other thing … I have long said I really have only one ism. It’s ageism. I have long struggled with older people. I’ve struggled the patience needed because they move slower, think slower. You know, patience is not one of my virtues. Reading Eating Bull, I realized I’ve been wrong all these years. I have another ism. It’s weightism. While I would never call somebody fatso, or pig, or ridicule them for their weight, I have no patience for people who are excessively overweight. I’ve struggled to understand “how they can let themselves get that way.” Why can’t they control their eating? What is wrong with them? Don’t they realize what they’re doing to themselves and their families?
And I realized something reading Eating Bull — as Jeremy struggles with those life stresses and finds release in food time and time again — that I am no better and no more in control. I have my food/drink addictions and let them control me no matter how much I know not to.
For years I have battled to stop drinking soft drinks. And the battle goes on. Every morning, I say to myself “No Pepsi today.” And as the morning progresses, at work this happens and that happens, and rather than having the natural lemonade drink in the fridge, I crave the sweet release of a cold, carbonated, massively over-sugared Pepsi and more often than not, I give in to its siren call.
For a couple of years I have battled to stop drinking beer. And the battle goes on. Every morning, I say to myself “No beer today.” And as morning turns into afternoon and evening approaches, my commitment weakens and by the time I get home, well, a couple of beers later, the evening is done. The reality is that neither of these things is necessarily fatal to my existence, but I do know that my beer consumption has creeped up over the last couple of years and, given my general lack of physical activity (at least in compared to pre-groin injury), the calories are not helping me.
What’s even worse, however, is my inability to eat healthier. A few months ago, I set out to eat healthier lunches at work. Salads, crackers with hummus, carrots, a piece or two of string cheese. Something better than the pizzas, burgers, Mexican food, and the like that filled my weekly lunch menu. But, you know …
A couple of weeks ago, I made carne asada for tacos one Sunday night. There was left over meat, so I used it to make a healthy salad for lunch the next day. I dutifully packed it up and put it in the fridge at work. Where it sat for the entire week as those lunch time cravings took over. Just as Jeremy in Eating Bull did, I found release and satisfaction in the greasy goodness of a cheeseburger, in the spicy bite of tacos and chips and salsa. All sandwiched between sips — no, gulps — of the sweat, carbonated beauty of an ice-cold Pepsi.
It’s really kind of amazing how food does this to a person. When I was a kid, my mom packed lunches for us — they always consisted of either a bologna sandwich or a PB&J sandwich, a fruit, and a couple of cookies or a hostess product. Because of that sweet treat at the end of every lunch, it took me decades to kick the sweet craving that came after every meal.
And why is it that, when under stress, when dissatisfied with life’s events, we find comfort in the greasiest, fattiest, sugariest (is that a word?), most high calorie foods there are?
All I know is this … when I’m at work, and the morning has gone to hell, which it all too frequently does these days, and I’m thinking about lunch, there is a big blinking sign that says “Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi!!!!” And below those words are an image of the greasiest, cheesiest double cheeseburger you can possibly imagine. That salad in the fridge, the tub of hummus with the crackers? Nah … absolutely will not provide me with what I feel I need in that moment. And all too frequently, it is the craving that gets sated.
So, yeah, I get it now. Jeremy’s inner battles as described in Eating Bull are spot on and describe what many people experience, even if they aren’t obese. Battles. Daily battles.