December 1, 2005

"'I'm sorry, I was hungry' has become a culturally acceptable way to apologize for brusque behavior."

Oh, yeah? Or is this just another topic the NYT editors discovered by reading blogs and whipped into an article that could seem to be about a new topic and then just happen to have a hip blogging angle?
In an age of electronic navel gazing, when people blog about their every emotion, the hunger-mood connection has been able to be fully expressed and, one might say, feed on itself. Thousands have told their cranky hunger stories online, from a famished driver who admitted to cursing at other motorists, to a woman who wrote that her honeymoon might have been an affair to forget had she not packed snacks.
I mean, I can't complain if this is their methodology. My main methodology is to read the NYT and find things to talk about. And then I can weave in some bloggish critique of the dreaded MSM.

But about this new social trend of adults excusing themselves for the babyish weakness of losing control when hungry:
A new vocabulary has evolved around victual despair, with the afflicted referring to their nasty moods as "food swings." Those who say their hunger frequently morphs into anger describe themselves as "hangry." And the word "hunger" itself seems to have taken on new meaning. No longer merely a physiological state, it is now also thought of as a mood....

Some people use their hunger as a verbal Get Out of Jail Free card. "Maybe I kind of enjoy the excuse to be cranky," said Fernanda Gilligan, a 28-year-old photo editor from Manhattan.

Yet many mercurial eaters do not stop at words. They try to control hunger-provoked dramas by scheduling their lives around their next meal. They stock drawers, purses and briefcases as if they were kitchen cupboards to ensure that sustenance is always within reach. For some, a granola bar has become as essential as a cellphone.

Anna Yarbrough, 26, a teacher in Boston, squirrels away nibble-friendly fare like string cheese, pretzels, apples and trail mix in her purse and desk drawer. If she and her husband have late dinner reservations, she snacks beforehand. A recent trip to a Celtics game required eating before tipoff and again when she got home. On her wedding day in October she was relieved to learn that there would be food at the hair salon.
Oh, lord, these people sound annoying. Do you have a cute slang term for getting cranky when people impose too much information about their private physical needs on you? (And do you have a cute slang term for getting cranky at the gratuitous mention of squirrels?)

Finally, there's the male-female angle:
In general men do not seem to suffer hunger-related moods as frequently as women do, or at least they are not as likely to admit it....

But why would more women than men be afflicted? "Offhand I can't think of any good, sound biological reason," Dr. Saltzman said. He speculated that the people who say they have food swings are eating smaller meals and therefore need to eat more frequently or that "psychologically they may have a lower threshold" for hunger.

Lisa Sasson, a clinical assistant professor in New York University's department of nutrition, food studies and public health, said weight consciousness might explain why more women report hunger-related moodiness.....

Dr. Saltzman said food swings may be harder to conquer if they are based not on physical hunger but on "emotional hunger," which is triggered by stress, sadness, depression or even boredom. Emotional hunger is harder to satisfy, he said, because "you can eat and overeat and still not feel sated."

[Blogger] Cherie Millns [writes] "My mother told my husband before we got married to make sure he always carried a banana with him, in case of a sudden cranky-pants emergency," Ms. Millns wrote. "It might just save his life."
"Cranky-pants"? Banana? I find that imagery distracting. But anyway, what's wrong with these people? It's one thing to get hungry and to deal with it by eating something, but it's quite another to make a conspicuous production out of it or, worse, to let it become a major issue in your love relationships. And to have your mother tell your husband how to care for you in the very way you'd care for a toddler? Is this really what's going on around America in 2005?


Dave said...

I remember reading some interview with Bill Gates in the mid-90s, in which the interviewer asked him how electronic communications would change the world. Gates responded that email created "frictionless commerce" by which he meant the cost to communicate with a business partner or supplier declines toward zero as email becomes more prevalent.

So it is with blogging: as blogging has become easier and more widespread, the costs associated with spouting your mouth off about all and sundry things has declined precipitously.

Interestingly, my grandmother often tells a story about how much her grandmother hated telephones when they were first installed. He grandmother hated phones, because suddenly it required no more effort than picking up a handset and asking the operator to patch you through to your neighbor, in order to engage in idle chit-chat.

Same principle, different technologies.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff with one 'f' said...

I thought the mother-in-law to new-wife advice stream was traditional! As is the infantilization of grown men. Maybe Mr. Cranky Pants is just a mama's boy.

As far as the food issue goes, I blame the boomers and the legacy they have created of instant gratification being the norm. Anything less than what I want, when I want it means the terrorists have won!

HaloJonesFan said...

I can't read the article, but does it mention anything about weight problems? The cultural idea that we need to regulate our mood with food seems like it would dovetail pretty nicely with the media theme that Americans are all fat and lazy.

Also, a useful maxim: A reason is not an excuse.

Ron said...

Isn't the cultural ideal for men to be 14 forever? No wonder they're mama's boys!

thepaintedgoat said...

I'm not sure having a few granola bars in one's desk makes "a conspicuous production" out of the need to eat frequently. Some people just burn up their calories more quickly, and no amount of bacon and eggs for breakfast is going to change the fact that we get hungry again before 10:30. Just ask my mother! I bet she warned my husband 10 minutes after he asked me out on our first date.

Ross said...

My wife is very well behaved, but when she gets hungry it saps her will to live in a way that always leaves me scratching my head -- especially when we ate the same breakfast together at the same time.

But yes, having a snack doesn't seem like fodder for the NYT.

James said...

I have a friend who once offhandedly mentioned how if she didn't get to eat all day, she'd often be a lot more irritable. But it was never used as an excuse. I'd sometimes notice she'd be a little off on a particulary busy day, so I'd keep that in mind.

But that's simply a real need to eat some food if you haven't ate for 10-12 hours, as opposed to this King Kong-Godzilla desire to smash and eat that these people seem to be having. "I'm sorry, I was hungry" seems to be a way to literally have your cake and eat it too -- no wonder America is so damn fat.

tiggeril said...

I thought this was an actual phenomenon. I read somewhere in the 345,239,654,323,554 diet articles out there that "grazing" or eating little meals through the day helped some people regulate their metabolism and keep from downing a giant 3000 calorie meal at one time because they were so hungry.

That, of course, means you have to go for the carrot sticks and peanut butter or apples and cheese instead of the venti mocha frappucino for your little snacks, though.

(Mmmm frappucino.)

reader_iam said...

(And do you have a cute slang term for getting cranky at the gratuitous mention of squirrels?)

Ok, dammnit, I'll bite:


(The word "peckish" brought it to mind.)

reader_iam said...

Btw, Ann: have you ever actually googled "squism" as a standalone?


k said...

Did I read that wrong? I thought the mom was telling the husband-to-be that his new wife (her daughter) would be a cranky-pants and kill him if he didn't have food on him at all times. Something I would bet the mom has been doing since the daughter's infancy to stave off her cranky attacks.

Of course, I immediately thought of the old joke, "Is that a banana in your pants... or...?"

And BTW, in our family, it is my husband who becomes the crank if no food has passed his lips in longer than, say, 8 hrs.

Carl said...

Two words conspicuous by their absence: blood sugar.

I am mildly hypoglycemic, and if I physically exert myself on an empty stomach I can get dizzy, weak and potentially pass out. One of the first symptoms is feeling a little more irritable than normal, so I occasionally carry a granola bar or something just in case.

I've never plead "hungry" as an excuse for cranky, but one of my sister's nicknames for me is "Mr. Grumpy-Bear". I think that's not quite on the same-level as "super-grumpy-mummy syndrome" or "cranky-pants" but I could be wrong.

Anyway, these people sound rather... shall we say... whiny-pantsish, but there is some shred of legitimacy to their complaints.

knox said...

They whole thing sounds made up to me, like a show they'd do on "Oprah" when they've exhausted all other ideas.

Bruce Hayden said...

Maybe the sexual difference comes from that men would gorge more, being the hunters, whereas the women would graze more, being the gatherers. I do think that women in general tend to naturally prefer eating more often than men do.

I don't know where the eating three times a day comes from. My understanding is that it isn't universal through all cultures.

chuck b. said...

Speaking of squirrels, have you tried mothballs to ward them away? I just read somewhere that one can ward off squirrels with mothballs tied off in old socks. Whenever I think of squirrels, I think of Althouse.

wildaboutharrie said...

I read it that way, too, k, the banana was for the wife.

I guess that was a version of the "sex talk" mothers traditionally have with their daughters the night before the wedding, with the twist of asking the husband-to-be to remember to bring a banana to the honeymoon. This mother-in-law was leaving nothing to chance.

Hnkn said...

We miss something larger going on if we focus exclusively on the food. Have you noticed that people carry *drinks* around a lot more? People carry bottles of water or other drinks every where they go. It strikes me as strange, as I never get so thirsty so far from a source of refreshment that I would carry around a bottle, you know, *just* *in* *case*. Like the food-carriers, the drink-carriers seem to be in the vast majority women.

I'm not sure why that is, but the two phenomena together suggest that we are more delicate than we used to be about even the temporary frustration of minor desires.

Timothy said...

I am also mildly hypoglycemic, if I don't eat I get irritable and quite, quite listless. I therefore eat all the time, and if I'm feeling hungry and irritable all I do is say, "gee, fellas, y'all about ready for some lunch?" Is it that damn hard to act like an adult?

Jonathan said...

I'm with Tim. People vary in their needs. If you have to eat, eat. Why the drama? Adults should be able to take care of themselves without involving an audience.

hnkn is also on to something. Some women carry bottles of water around. Is it because they take seriously the common advice to drink x glasses per day? And are these the same women who always have to pee? Hmm.

tiggeril said...

With all the usual caveats about correlation and causation, I wonder if it's related to more people being on more medications these days? A lot of medicines can cause dry mouth as a side effect.

Charles said...

Gratuitous squirrels would be "squirrelish" wouldn't it?

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Staying hydrated is good for the skin and keeps hunger pangs down. Madonna popularised the fashion-industry practice of carrying bottled water everywhere when her documentary "Truth or Dare" came out. Pretty soon every wannabe had a bottle of water in hand. Then came the yoga mats.

It's a sign that the person is enlightened and secretly hot but not, you know, self-concious of it or anything!

the Rising Jurist said...

I know someone who uses "Cranky Pants" constantly. As in, "Are you a Cranky Pants today?" I find it endlessly maddening.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

I am gonna go sexist here and suggest that women spend more time creating food theory (worrying about the effects of food on their bodies or how they might appear) than men, thus leaving themselves continually hungry (albeit sexier).

So because of bad food management from the get go, they end up nibbling on a little midday carrot snack, instead of just sitting down and eating two Wendy's Spicy Chicken sandwiches with a side of fries and a soda, like a guy would do.

When a guy gets really hungry, all he thinks about is either the size (cost value) or the taste (quality) of his food, with little thought of calories or how he looks while stuffing it down. This, and the type of food (protein), leaves him sated, and blissfully happy, while the woman remains hungry and constantly forced to scavenge for food she finds less embarrassing and damaging to body image (food like dandelions, grass, sprouts, tofu, cream cheese and tomato).

(The crankyness is further a result of the ubiquitous vending machines not having sprouts and leaves and dandelions)

Robin Goodfellow said...

To quote Ani DiFranco:

"Maybe you don't like your job
Maybe you didn't get enough sleep
Well nobody likes their job
Nobody got enough sleep
Maybe you just had
The worst day of your life
But you know there's no escape
And there's no excuse
So just suck up and be nice
Be nice
Be nice
Be nice... "

XWL said...

Is this really what's going on around America in 2005?

What is a stronger way of saying 'Hell NO' without becoming offensive?

There are too many column inches to fill in the ever shrinking printed papers, or it would seem with articles like this.

I suspect the Chelsea Gay in Toronto (My god, she's not even American!) interviewed is the Chelsea in charge of this blog and I get a strong body image dismorphia vibe from her food diaries (and the mannequin image up top).

If you are starving yourself you will be pissed off and cranky most of the time.

Some recent studies have attacked the conventional wisdom and suggested that people who hover slightly above ideal weight live longer and better than those that habitually hover below.

Obesity is a problem, being a little chunky isn't (and is probably a condition that humans were breed to be).

Give me a group of pleasantly plump folk over rail thin miserable models any day (or worse yet, miserable, thin, vegan models, one thing worse than people who choose to starve themselves are people who choose to starve themselves AND don't eat meat)

Joan said...

I've called my daughter "Little Miss Cranky Pants" on occasion, but she's, you know, 7. Referring to an adult as "Cranky Pants" is completely inappropriate, but hey, it sounds as if the woman in the article didn't mind being infantalized, so who am I to complain?

One of my three kids completely loses his self-control when he's hungry; when his blood sugar is really low, he just doesn't have as much resiliance and little things can really set him off. However, we identified this at a very early age, and he knows it about himself. It's the way he is, and he has to live with it; it doesn't give him a free pass to act like a jerk just because he's hungry.

Of course as a parent it's my responsibility to keep track of the time and last meal/snack situation, so we can try and avoid melt-downs. With a little planning and forethought, things go much more smoothly. But we don't make a big deal of it, we just get something to eat! It's just part of life.

In our family, it's the men & boys who get irritable when they haven't eaten for a while (or with my son, when he's had something with high fructose corn syrup; "Step away from the Snapple," is well-rehearsed line around here.) We girls cope whether or not there's food. In my albeit anecdotal experience, (non-pregnant, non-lactating) females can go without food much longer than men... but I've only a small sample.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

XWL said:
Give me a group of pleasantly plump folk over rail thin miserable models any day...

Wisely spoken XWL! Step back Kate Moss!

Joan said:
In my albeit anecdotal experience,...females can go without food much longer than men...

And men can go without shopping much longer than women. Why? Because men don't have a comfortable relationship with shopping in the same way many women don't have a normalized relationship with food. For women, going without food, consciously or unconsciously, reinforces their long term identity goals at the expense of having a happy tummy or mental state in the present.

Be said...

I do carry food with me whereever I go, as I've actually passed out on a number of occasions in subway stations and on the street. (Am so lucky I've not had my wallet taken while out for the count.) I try not to be miserable to people if I start getting the hungry headache, though. Hypoglycemia doesn't cut it as an excuse to be nasty to others.

Dactyl said...


Ron said...

I remember a TV show on the WB called "Grosse Pointe," a faux soap. In episode the bitchy actress has to overeat to try to win the Monica Lewinsky role in a film. She suddenly becomes nice to everyone on the soap! The director said to someone, "All this time I thought she was a bitch, and here it turns out she was just hungry!"

This post dregged up those neurons...

Buck said...

The "I'm sorry, it's because I'm hungry" excuse isn't new, but I suppose blogging about it is. My ex- first played that card with me back in 1975 and continued to use it throughout the 20+ years of our relationship. What I worry about is transference...when I pick up my eight year old son for our visits his backpack is FULL of snacks, "just in case." And my boy understands and all-too-often uses the "it's not my fault, I'm hungry" excuse. Mom may buy that, Dad doesn't.