the quarantine diet

Alissa Nutting Quarantines With Anthropomorphic Cereal

“It’s a built-in quarantine buddy, almost as if Cinnamon Toast Crunch knew this was coming.”

Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold. Photos: Getty Images/Courtesy the Vendor
Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold. Photos: Getty Images/Courtesy the Vendor

Last week, New York and Grub Street asked some of our favorite past Grub Street Diet subjects to keep one-day diaries of what they eat while self-quarantining, which we’ll be running over the next few days. Here, author Alissa Nutting takes us through Monday, March 23, a day of Reese’s-fueled conference calls.

So, I don’t cook. This decision is part of my overall system of grief management. The best way I can explain it is this: Say you and your amazing boyfriend break up. You miss him, so you figure you’ll try dating one of his best friends because they have a lot in common. You soon discover, though, that instead of this familiarity helping your sadness, it actually makes it worse. Those same ingredients do not add up to magic at all with the friend. They just remind you of your ex, make you long for the real thing, and cause you to feel far lonelier than dating no one at all.

That’s how cooking goes for me. It just makes me remember the dish someone else made, and how much more I’d rather be eating that one. In cooking, you literally have to taste your failure, which is painful. I’d rather just eat cereal.

Many would argue that quarantine is the perfect time to experiment in the kitchen! But I would argue it is absolutely not. Things are bad enough right now without me serving myself a plate of friendly fire. Cooking baffles me. It’s a highly specialized skill, like brain surgery. What reckless system insists I should attempt an omelet with zero training? If cooking were an after-school special, I’d play the role of a prescription-drug habit and the ingredients would be the high-school quarterback: I would completely destroy their potential.

All this to say that while quarantine is new for me, being quarantined from the kitchen is not.

On Monday, my tenth day of shelter in place, I began the morning with a Theranos-capsule-size container of Oscillococcinum. It’s filled with tiny white balls that go under your tongue. They look like beanbag filling, which is a fun sort of wish fulfillment, because as a kid whenever a beanbag would tear and I’d see the filling, a part of my brain would say, Try eating that! I never did because I feared death too much. But this is a safe role-play.

Their vial also makes them seem like the type of thing someone would use to poison their wealthy, overcontrolling mother on Law & Order. Apparently, this is how to trick me into regularly taking a supplement that can improve my health: Package it in a way that gives me the vicarious thrill of ingesting a deadly potion! I love how tragic and Shakespearean I feel when I knock one back. Lately I do them three times a day. I’m not that sure what they do. I saw them recommended on a doomsday-prepper website and figured, Why not? Allegedly, they dissolve in your mouth, but I’ve never been able to confirm that because I cannot resist the delight of crunching them.

Work is of course virtual. Our writers’ room now meets via Google Hangout. In the mornings I really love soda, so I bring two cans along. There’s something about the effervescence of the bubbles that perks me up. I think that’s probably how most people feel about showering. Full-body showering is way, way too much for me in the mornings. Let me breathe for a second! But a sunrise Cherry Coke Zero throat shower — that I can gladly handle.

No one else eats during our hangout, probably because they ate breakfast beforehand. I used that time to sit in front of a space heater and look at memes on my phone. Oops! Don’t worry, though. Recently I picked up a bag of thin, white chocolate peanut-butter cups (they were out of the non-thin chocolate ones). Initially I was bummed. But that changed fast when I realized that if you eat them (relatively quickly) on Zoom, etc., they’re not recognizable. They don’t look like peanut-butter cups. What are those? my co-workers probably wonder. Is Alissa a glutton, or a super-zealous Catholic pounding Communion-host wafers? It’s impossible to tell! No one is going to question it, especially in times like these. If they do, I can say, “Don’t persecute me for my religion.” (My religion is candy.) I ate several. I don’t think the exact number is relevant.

For lunch, I had a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Most of the things I eat fall into a color palette of “yarn used to make those macrame owl wall hangings in the ’70s,” browns to oranges. One nice thing about the CTC box I got: The back of the box features a large, anthropomorphized piece of cereal with a cute expression. It’s a built-in quarantine buddy, almost as if Cinnamon Toast Crunch knew this was coming. Conspiracy alert!

Next it was time for the teleconference and phone-meetings portion of my day, which is my least favorite, so I let myself have a Hostess cupcake. In the box of them I bought for quarantine, they are individually wrapped, which is a shock! I’ve always known them as twins in the wild. So, I ate one, but there was a feeling that something was missing, and that sense of loss was pervasive throughout the day. What am I forgetting? What item on my to-do list isn’t checked off? I watch a lot of true crime, and remember a story about a husband who killed his wife but kept showing up to neighborhood group events without her, and everyone was like, Where is your wife?! That’s how I feel about these cupcakes. It can’t be solved by simply eating another one, because that one will also come on its own and give me the same sense of unease. I just have to “deal with it.”

Before starting my afternoon work, I drank two pouches of Emergen-C (two bags, one cup). Then I did a shot of Lypo-Spheric vitamin C. Basically it is like drinking a neon loogie. You put a tiny amount of water in a cup, then you squeeze out this condiment packet of orange goo into the water and swish it around until the loogie is floating, then shoot it back like tequila. You just try to not have it hit your tongue because it tastes absolutely horrible. Then I drank a packet of raspberry Ultima Replenisher. It’s sold as a “keto” electrolyte drink. Perhaps my diet is so not-keto that it is somehow keto? Every day I think I am getting sick and worry, and that reminds me to go drink all this stuff.

For dinner, I went back to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but this time I added half an individual-serving bag of mini Oreos. It’s the culinary equivalent of me loosening my tie. Time to relax! But not really, because I had a lot more work to do, since I kept checking the news and getting derailed. One good thing about cereal is that when you eat it at your desk you can still feel like you’re getting a two-course meal. When the cereal is gone, you get to drink the milk!

I stopped alcohol about a year and a half ago — given my diet, my system has enough challenges. So, when I want to treat myself, I’ve gotten into premium waters. I guess water also makes a lot of sense as a treat when your diet is mostly junk food. I let myself pull the trigger on opening a gallon of Tru Alka. (Don’t worry, I won’t binge it all in one sitting!) It’s 9–10 pH stable and ultrasmooth. This helps the 8 Garden of Life Raw Perfect Food Green Superfood Juiced Greens Powder convenient on-the-go capsules I take to go down.

Yes, I realize this is not the same as eating vegetables, but it’s where I’m at for now. We all have to bloom at our own speed. Plus, now that there’s a pandemic, I can pretend this is altruistic. I’m letting all of you have the fresh veggies! I’ll go without for your benefit!

I chased it with two ZzzQuil capsules, because I sure haven’t been sleeping. Have you?

*A version of this article appears in the March 30, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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