The Northville Review
an online literary journal
The Diet

Lydia Ship

As the trend grew into a way of life, unbiased news stories were almost impossible to find, but perhaps the most-watched coverage was during the first year, at the height of the pill-meal furor, when Barbara Walters came out of retirement to interview a devout pill-taker.

“It’s easier to choose,” the housewife explained, braiding her fingers over her crossed legs. America stared at her legs. She’d begun a new career as a yoga instructor. “I’ve lost fifty pounds.” As she spoke, her wide-set eyes seemed to expand further toward her ears.

Did she ever allow herself a bite of sautéed mushrooms? Walters wondered. Didn’t she miss Thai chicken, or warm oatmeal and honey?

“No way,” said the woman, giving her elbows a flap. “Now I don’t have to worry about food, ever again!”

Many of our friends were only just beginning to sample personalized eating habits adopted by their mothers and more precious than low-carb or gluten-free diet varieties: calorie journals, apples-and-gum-only lunches, homemade exotic juice cleanses—and that’s when the pills went on the market. The pill boxes promised filling, well-balanced meals in thirty tiny baggies of five capsules each: dairy, veggie, starch, meat, fruit. The pills, unlike the notorious Everlasting Gobstopper, did not expand and transform into various gastronomical taste sensations inside the mouth. The pills provided all the nutrition and satiety of food without the taste, smell, and texture. The pills incorporated multivitamins. Naturally, the pills became a sensation.

“Food Free” t-shirts and bumper stickers zoomed into view on mopeds and Volkswagens. Doctors on hire as sales representatives made the talk show rounds, and women in America loved both the pills and the doctors. American women were the target demographic, single women in particular. Glamour and Cosmo articles rallied: No more extra trips to the grocery store! No more hours sorting coupons! No more washing dishes, wiping counters, storing leftovers! A single woman insisting on healthful but expensive pills such as salmon and blueberry would pay the same price for food. Grocery stores built pill buffets. As the pills grew in popularity, prices dropped. In six months, newly-svelte anchors reported American women losing weight in record numbers. At the same time, a rising resistance from men, husbands and boyfriends in particular, demanded double-blind peer-reviewed medical studies showing the effects of long-term supplemental diets.

In response, the pill manufacturer published studies completed over three generations.

In turn, husbands and boyfriends, some Congressmen, now under the non-profit status PRO-FOOD, took a Quality of Life position. What about the joy of eating? they asked, having long lost the Joy of Cooking argument. Eating is an intense pleasure, they argued, and eating palatable food one of the most blissful sensations. Why be deprived of this routine enjoyment? What was next? Taking pills to have babies?

In the media, the husbands and boyfriends were being accused of insensitivity if not misogyny, even though by then restaurants were complaining that none of their female customers ate. Still, the US economy had been stimulated, in part because women were buying new clothes, and even though Home Economics teachers everywhere were becoming obsolete and the Food Network went bust, home decorating enjoyed its biggest boom ever as even brides skipped kitchen incidentals in favor of duvet covers and bathmats.

When the Walters interview cut to commercials, half of America popped bags of microwave popcorn. The other half of us drank diet soda or decaf. Our boyfriends complained, but a new wave of boyfriends more tolerant of pills was climbing the ranks. At lunchtime in the cafeteria, though, tables were divided into Pill Girls and Food Girls, and the cool kids changed camps constantly. Half the time kids took a pill, missed food, and later ate that too. And since we used all our allowance on pills, we weren’t buying any more songs online and taking a chunk of our parents’ monthly income for the newest techno gadget, so tech companies got pissed and before we knew it, songs were coming out about food, food, eating and food. Teen and tween movies featured lots of food or took place in restaurants. MTV anchors were always eating. But in interviews, singers and models and actresses all bragged about pills.

Feminine resistance started in the zines.

Would you go blind to be pretty? Would you let someone remove your taste buds? None of the senses should be thrown aside for a medieval form of keeping women thin. Enough!!! Reclaim all five of your senses for the full life you deserve! FIVE FOR FULL!

One of our friends had “5 4 full” tattooed on her lower back and swore off pills. Of course, she had no worries—except for possibly a future misunderstanding in the bedroom—she was pretty. What about the rest of us?

Staring at our fashion magazines, the dashboards of our first cars with their oil lights blinking on, our extracurricular club projects and homework assignments and college applications, with everything we had to learn—we wondered, eyeing recipes, how this, too? We could see our moms sigh and fiddle through online taxes and new cookbooks. How had they done it when we’d been in diapers? And yet, the salty sweet of popcorn when we melted caramel on it and baked it in the oven, fifteen minutes, tops. We knew those smallest-sized clothes wouldn’t fit. But we didn’t have to overdo it, either. We wanted to care about how it felt. Inner-tubing, is what we mean. Sneaking somewhere late at night. Watching the stars in a falling sky.

About the author

Lydia Ship's stories and poems appear this winter in Barrow Street, Denver Quarterly, Devil's Lake, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, and others. She is a four-time Pushcart nominee and managing editor of The Chattahoochee Review.