After organizing an event that, to everyone who witnessed it, probably went fine, I had a series of panic attacks. When the majority of my dread-causing responsibilities concluded, I expected to feel relieved, which only made me feel worse when I didn’t, and instead found myself crumpled in a heap next to the entrance of a parking garage, unable to put off dishevelling until arrived at a more suitable location. Frightened by the extent of my inconsolability, I journeyed homeward through a cycle of crying, then fast walking toward transport, then crying again, then sulking on the sidewalk before boarding MUNI.
By the time I made it home, my most prominent desire was to dial 911 and be carted away, but that kinda seemed like a lot, so I instead ate a bowl of microwaved noodles and willed myself in the direction of friends, inspired by all the self-help articles that promise companionship makes you feel better. Aware that I had more “best self”-demanding activity around the corner, the grittier parts of me opted to rally.
Surrounded by revelry, I made it through exactly one hour of friendly banter before deciding that the articles were wrong – I did not feel better – and fleeing toward the nearest shade-providing foliage to begin hyperventilating under. I replicated the earlier cry/walk/cry/transit combo back home, then completed variants of sobbing and pacing in my room, then contemplated losing my mind in the company of an understanding friend. In the absence of one of those, I called the Alameda County crisis hotline, occupied with problems more pressing than taking a moment to locate the SF County counterpart, and talked to a nice man who said smart, gentle things in a soothing and validating way that only hundreds of hours of professional training can teach. I thanked him and meant it truly, then fell into a sticky sleep.
Six days after I met Octo for the first time, I invited him to move in with me.
On paper, inviting a stranger to live with you is a dubious and potentially dangerous idea. In practice, it’s tremendously exciting, lots of fun, and a rare chance to learn about yourself in an accelerated, yet low-stakes environment. It also makes for a good story, particularly if you’re both fresh off somewhat hackjobbed international moves, receptive to indulging in mood enhancers, and navigating the first few weeks of fancy new jobs.
Speaking for myself, moving in with Octo was weird and silly and special. Acting on our whims facilitated a slurry of lovely experiences: late-night cannolis and conversation, easy jogs along the Embarcadero, collaborative domesticity, reflections on power and how to wield more of it, one or two mutual confessions, a revival of my affinity toward clout goggles and mint it-it’s, and spirited conversation centered around acceptable uses cases for whole wheat tortillas (bad for burritos, good for wraps), the only two types of people in this world (cult leaders and cult followers), and how we plan to make the most of our limited, precious time on this earth.
On his track “Fast” from the album Death Race for Love, the late, Chicago-born emo-rap artist Juice WRLD delivers the following lyric: “I’ve been living fast, fast, fast, fast.” Like Juice, I, too, have been living fast (fast, fast, fast).
Over the past month or so, I have enjoyed a gratuitous amount of leisure activity. I’ve crested volcanoes, imbibed fancy beverages in fancy places, and participated in healthy levels of tomfoolery, much of which would make for excellent content fodder but cannot be shared online until I reach a protective level of wealth or status.
I’ve been thoroughly doused by a free-flowing spigot of experience, and the privilege of that is not lost on me. That’s why I’m disappointed to admit that I’ve neglected to truly process (and thus, truly appreciate) the vast majority of it.
My first job was a part-time gig at an acai bowl chain called Vitality Bowls. I was a junior in high school and incommensurately excited about making $10 an hour, the California minimum wage at the time. It was honest, hard work, and I came home after every shift covered in flecks of blended fruit and smelling of mopping solution. It was here that I developed the worldview that every person should work in the service industry at least once to learn what it means to be a good customer, and by extension, a good person.
At my peak, I could make an acai bowl from scratch in two minutes flat -- a mostly useless skill, but one I’m very proud of nonetheless.
Like most people with a healthy sense of curiosity, fascination with social conventions, and/or micro bangs, I’ve tried on a myriad of identities over the course of my life. Some I liked a lot and still routinely wear; others were borne from insecurity and abandoned as I developed the ability to express myself more naturally. Either way, vestiges of all the selves I have worn before trail behind me, like a bridal train composed of memories that I recognize as mine, but feel strangely disconnected from. For example, was I actually that self-righteous as a teenager? Did I really use to get my nails done every single month? What frame of mind was I in when I considered taking an insurance salesperson job based out of Houston, Texas? When did I become someone who runs for fun?
I am sometimes jarred by the circumstances of my life. For example, I am currently sitting opposite a Cartier Christmas tree in Taipei 101 and typing this on my phone, which is strange because I am from California and don’t know a single person in Taiwan. Even though I have lived abroad for over a year, I occasionally catch a glimpse of indecipherable script on a street sign and have to remind myself, oh yeah, I’m not in America right now.
I’m reminded of “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros, the ineluctable Common Core short story that begins, “What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”
Once a week, in the name of meal prep, I fill almost every container I own with brightly-colored, neatly-arranged, ready-to-go foods. I do this primarily for healthy, productive reasons: to nourish my body, to make efficient use of my time, to keep my spending in check. I do this secondarily so I can post a pretty flat lay on Twitter and impress three to four strangers.
Meal prep, in its broadest definition, is any active planning and preparation of food to eat in the future. This can be chopping fruits and vegetables ahead of time, cooking a massive quantity of food to freeze for later consumption, or making whole meals ahead of schedule. In this blog, I focus on the particular style of meal prep that I practice: preparing several individually-portioned meals in advance.
Among first-time meal preppers, the biggest mistake in approach is misunderstanding what meal prep entails. Learning how to meal prep is not simply learning how to make one week’s worth of food in a single go. It’s learning how to make one week’s worth of food in a single go every single week, in perpetuity, and actually eating it. This is a very different challenge.
Ultimately, meal prep is an exercise in forecasting. What will you, four days from now, desire to eat? What will you -- given the constraints of time, the temptations of the modern world, and the unforeseeable circumstances of life -- realistically prepare and consume?
As expected, meal prep will give you essential kitchen skills and easy access to high-vibrational domestic bliss. Both are a pleasure to possess. But more valuably, it will teach you how to apply self-knowledge to follow through on your decisions.
If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will eat for life. If you give someone a one-week meal prep plan, they will eat well for a week. If you teach someone how to meal prep, they will eat well for life.
As such, this blog post is not a step-by-step guide on how to make a specific menu of meals. If you want that, I can make you a custom plan, complete with a store-specific grocery shopping list, for a very reasonable price. But that would be selling you a product, and I want you to learn a skill.
This blog post is a series of helpful framings and advice to help you tackle meal prep in a wise, minimally onerous way. Section 1 presents the three dimensions of “good” meal prep -- healthy, yummy, varied -- and includes exercises to help you achieve all three. Section 2 provides handy tips to apply at different stages of the meal prep process, all the way from planning to plating. Rather than repeating common-sense advice, I tried to include original information and insights wherever possible. Section 3 acknowledges that meal prep can be hard, offers strategies to make it easier, and concludes with tough love about how you should do it anyway. Section 4 is a breakdown of my meal prep routine, complete with my actual thought process, to give you a more concrete idea of what meal prep looks like. Section 5 answers questions I didn’t address in the main text. Section 6 provides some reasons why one might want to meal prep, as well as details my own motivations. Overall, the blog aims to lessen the struggles associated with meal prep and to guide you towards a stress-free, individually-tailored, and maximally beneficial meal prep practice.
Before we begin, take a second to remember that you have spent a lifetime living and eating. You know what your life is like. You know what you like to eat. You know what you don’t like to eat. You know yourself. All of these qualities make you exceptionally capable of meal prepping, and meal prepping well.