By Sharon Dvora
Illustration by Maggie Hill
He was a pirate. I like to think of him in these dramatic terms, as I recall his life as sensational, brilliant, larger than life. He wore his bathing suit for days on end, packing smokes at the back of his boat on the river dock. He’d laugh and tell dirty jokes to the well-coiffed waitresses at the coffee shop. He wore tailored suits with velvet collars and polka-dot silk lining. He drove a salmon-pink Cadillac, and had his shoes polished and lined up on the washing machine. He led two lives. No—more.
My father was an alcoholic. But we always spoke of him as a recovered alcoholic. I grew up on AA meetings, the serenity prayer and the sharp contrast of my mother’s obsession with perfection.
We were to be the perfect family—well dressed, well behaved and well under control. This intense need for family order was her calling from an early age, as she grew up with addiction, too. A crazy version of it, as her mother—my grandmother—had a long history of psychological instability, and a percussive series of institutionalization and treatment with prescription medication. The eruptive nature of her chemical addiction and predisposition towards the erratic was a secret that was hard to keep.
She was a beautiful hysteric—colorful, flamboyant and very unlike the mother I grew up with. She was my very own Zsa Zsa Gabor, a Hungarian drama queen. The drugs contributed to the theatrics of the scene. The bottles were everywhere, along with collections of lipstick tubes and the putrid smell of expired powders and foundation. Her asthma machine, a marked fixture on the make-up counter, was caked in a palette of oranges and reds.
They say that everyone in the family is affected—by addiction, by mental illness. My mom insisted that alcoholism was a disease. And as if it were contagious, she was married to the task of keeping it under wraps. And so I grew up with a secret. My father was an addict. And he was sick.
Well, that was her version. For me, he was real and genuine and she wasn’t. He was out there, full throttle, alive, and she was repressed.
Maybe I’m the twisted one. I mean, addiction’s had its way with me as well. I’ve tweaked the story into a feel-good narrative. Contorted myself to meet family distortion on equalizing terms.
Family scripts are epic. We cast the heroes and call out the villains. Dad played the dashing swashbuckler in my version of the story. Mom—the antagonist.
Maybe it deserves a rewrite. I’d keep in the glamorous, eccentric details—jeweled cuff links, paisley silk moo-moos. Rather than cast myself with a bit part, I’ll step honestly into the role I’ve been playing all along. I keep digging for buried treasure. Like a kid with a Cracker Jack box, I’m jamming my fingers down to reach the prize. I know there are gems in there. So I’m diving for pearls—in my family’s treasure trove of addiction.
By Emilie Skytta
Illustration by Keith Carter
It is Easter weekend, on the cusp of spring, and the air is cool with a flirtation of fairer days to come. The sky is releasing large droplets of water at a rapid pace and I think to myself, “This feels like the East Coast,” until my friend and I turn a corner and we’re staring directly at a second-floor apartment’s front porch packed full of oddly displaced three-foot tall Barbie dolls dressed in pastels, large stuffed bunnies, colored woven plastic baskets hanging arbitrarily, and icicle-style Christmas lights draping from the rafters. Two of the dolls are twins and horrifyingly reminiscent of the girls from The Shining. This is someone’s Easter display and I realize that I am, in fact, in Portland, OR, where the unofficial motto is “Keep Portland Weird.”
They take it seriously here. I’m here visiting from North Carolina, and in three days I crammed in all of the standard activities one does when visiting this city: microbrews, strip clubs, VooDoo Donuts, Stumptown Coffee, Powell’s Books, a day at the coast accompanied by the obligatory Goonies movie tour and more microbrews.
To many Americans, food isn’t about survival. For some it’s a profession, an intellectual pursuit, the standard-bearer of our identity, and an obsession. But the vast majority of us are growing ever more removed from the facts of our food: from the earth it’s grown in to its journey from farm to store. Everyone “loves” bacon, but the methods of raising and processing a pig into a crispy slice of fat and salt are invisible to most. Still, our addictions and obsessions won’t be denied. Regardless of how perverse our connection with food is, we continue to eat it. This perversion causes widespread obesity, puts our most basic connection with reality into the hands of a billion–dollar marketing industry and turns our nation’s most fertile soils into a petrochemical–laden wasteland. We’ve turned food into a commodity machine focused on a mass–production monoculture that threatens our future.
Food obsession is complex and multifaceted. We obsess over its preparation, how it looks, how it tastes, how it’s grown and what it does to our bodies.
Blight wanted to explore it all, so we invited four food experts from the Portland region to dinner. We invited a restaurateur, a farmer, a dietician and a food advocate/policy driver, and we presented them with four courses, each representing a different topic about our local food systems and food obsessions. By examining these four perspectives, could we get a better understanding of what food means to us? Would the discussion become more than the sum of its parts? This evening, the food drove a conversation and the conversation yielded fruit.
(a) Nancy Becker As a registered dietician, Nancy has experienced firsthand the very real effects that food and food policy have on people. Nancy currently chairs the Oregon Nutrition Policy Alliance, where she has led efforts to curb the availability of junk food in schools and fought for increased nutritional transparency on food menus.
(b) Josh Volk Nothing is more essential to understanding food culture than a farmer’s viewpoint. From managing a farm to navigating government regulations and selling and distributing his wares, Josh has done it all. Through his work at Slow Hand Farms, he is well-positioned to shed light on how food is grown and sold as well as how global climate change and global food culture affects what and how we grow food.
(c) Ron Paul Ron’s experience navigating the halls of power in Oregon coupled with a food-centered life give him a unique perspective on how Portland defines its relationship with food. During his time at Portland’s Bureau of Planning, Ron advocated for a progressive approach to food planning and development. This insight into how food policy shapes food culture in Portland is important and often over-looked when discussing food culture, and we’re glad to have Ron join us.
(d) Greg Higgins The godfather of the Portland local food scene. Starting in the early ’80s Greg helped define Portland’s farm–to–table ethic. His hard work has culminated in a “Best Northwest Chef” award by the James Beard Foundation and the induction of his restaurant, Higgins, in the Fine Dining Hall of Fame by the National Restaurant News. We can think of no one finer to speak on the experiences of a Portland restaurateur.
Setting the Table
Blight: The overarching theme of the first course is superfoods and diet do’s and don’ts. We focus specifically on the fats, salts and sugars that pervade our cuisine and drive our addictions and obsessions, playing a main role in our satisfactions and abuses. What we have here is both ends of the spectrum. There are people who will only eat superfoods and people addicted to eating salt, fat and sugar. Can we design a middle ground?
Nancy: Emphatically “yes.” Fat, sugar and salt are all delicious and humans want them, but there’s also real food. To me, that’s eating low on the food chain and a plant-based way of eating that uses animal products to bring out the flavors. Foods are not intrinsically “good” or “bad.”
Josh: I’ve heard that in neuroscience, addiction can be as basic as enjoying one food or flavor while ignoring others. The sensory behavior can actually change the neural channels and that’s what causes the addiction. Essentially, you can consume anything provided it is done in moderation and you are also consuming other things at the same time. This way you’re not creating hard-wired paths, even though some tastes have a stronger pull than others.
By Joe Tamson
Illustration by Clay Cavender
I will bet on anything. Anything. Each Superbowl I’m the guy putting money on the coin toss, the flavor of the winning teams’ Gatorade and the length of the national anthem. I’ve played paper-rock-scissors for $20 a throw and put $100 on a woolly worm race. Hell, I even wagered on the pope. But, I’m not an addict. I’d only be addicted to gambling if I lost consistently and still continued to play. Some might negatively describe this as degeneracy. Among gamblers, “degen” can actually be the sickest sort of compliment. It means you’ve got “gamble” coursing through your veins, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In my vice of choice, poker, I’ve had days where I’ve won and lost in the five figures. I have played poker for a living, spent summers at the World Series of Poker and been booted from a casino for counting cards at blackjack. A good poker player plays the odds, operates within a bankroll and works to mitigate risk while maximizing earn. Successful poker is all about increasing equity based upon an abstract concept of what one “should” win on average by making the perceived best play while simultaneously accepting the vagaries of the card gods. The very best players can be as calculating as an actuary determining health-insurance rates. Risk is, perhaps, but an illusion.
Illustration by Kayla Mayer
By Sean Tichnell
Meet Lisa Brooks, a 23-year old young professional from Waukesha, Wisconsin. Lisa moved to Portland in 2006 to attend school and now works as a receptionist in a local hospital. She is bright and focused and has a penchant for organization. In her free time, she spends countless hours arranging and re-arranging items in her home and office, to make sure everything is perfect. She polishes and cleans, straightens, and uses rulers to position items on shelves, then does it again. Lisa uses combs to align fringes on throw rugs. Canned goods in her kitchen cabinets must be arranged alphabetically by type, with the labels always facing perfectly forward. Handles on mugs must always point to precisely 5 o’clock. At work, on her desk, papers are never in a loose pile, edges are always perfectly aligned and the stacks of them are true to the edges of her desk.
Salt and pepper shakers in restaurants drive Lisa to distraction because they are never filled to the same level or equally aligned on each table. Small things out of place send her into fits of unbearable anxiety. Because of her need to constantly organize, and inability to deal with chaotic environments, Lisa has few friends and a very limited social life.
There are accounts of OCD throughout historical medical literature with references to the condition as early as the 14th century, when compulsions were thought to be the work of the devil and treated through exorcism.