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Hunger Cues

Read Thursday, 21 Mar 2019

Eloise Grills chews over questions of appetite and control.

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I was five, in the back of Grandy’s car. She had given me a whole roll of Hubba Bubba gum – one of those rolls that looked like measuring tape. With pluck and hedonism well beyond my years, I embraced Mae West’s axiom, ‘too much of a good thing can be wonderful’. I crammed it whole into my mouth. Trying to both chew and breathe, my mouth filled with purple goo and excited purple saliva. I choked.

Grandy had to pull over to fish the colossal lump from the depths of my grape-stained throat.

‘I’m not angry with you Eloise. I’m just disappointed.’

I played these unbecoming choking/fishing games often. I remember hard-boiled lollies wrapped in bonbon paper, sucking them down into the deep recess of my windpipe. My mother’s long fingers delicately extracting them from my gullet. Once I ate a whole box of my mum’s Maltesers and replaced them, and then had to replace the replacement. What’s better than quality? Quantity.

How do you know when the meal is finished? It’s over when I can’t stand up anymore.


All-you-can-eat dining is no longer in vogue in Australia. Is this because eating too much is now considered gauche? The flood of restaurants like Smorgy’s, Sizzler and all-you-can-eat Pizza Huts, which spread across the Australian suburbs in the Eighties and Nineties have all but dried up. Most likely it was food safety and hygiene laws that killed these cheap gorging palaces, what with their lofty standards and aversion to lukewarm mayo …

The joy of Smorgy’s on the Geelong Wharf. A cornucopia of fried potato, fried calamari, fried chicken, self-serve ice-cream bars, cookies, jelly, an oft-neglected salad bar. The animatronic show where Salty the Seal and King Neptune made quips about Geelong footballers, probably already ten years out-of-date when the restaurant opened its doors. With its weird water features, plastic plants and shining replica seahorses, Smorgy’s was the kind of underwater fantasyland commensurate with what I’d seen in The Little Mermaid, except instead of sea creatures frolicking out of harm’s way, we siphon them down our throats.


There’s a theory that the famous Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines – those small-headed, big-bellied statuettes of the Stone Age – were actually self-portraits, moulded after women’s own bodies, looking down while pregnant (though I like to think with their bellies very, very full).

There are so many ways to say you’re full. I am sated, satiated, stuffed, crammed; I packed it in; I wolfed it down; I made a pig of myself and blew my house to the ground; I’ve eaten myself out of house –

Out of home, alone

I put it away


Always Hungry? How to Tell if You Really Need to Eat
How to Recognise When You’re Full (before you eat way too much again)
Three Signals You Have Eaten Enough
7 Telling Signs You’re Overeating (and what to do)
8 Signs You’re Overeating
9 Reasons You’re Hungry All the Time


My parents and I go to buffets on holidays
My parents and I armed with big white plates
Three platefuls, clean, and then one for dessert
I’ll grind your bread to make … more bread
My parents and I the white whales
Gorging, gorging
I saw Goodie Grills dancing with the devilled eggs!

I spy someone eating something not available at the buffet!

I spy fried chicken – over there – I swear, I swear!

When we went to the States, we mostly ate drive-thru along the side of the Interstate, but when we were in the dusty outskirts of Missouri we couldn’t stand the lack of greenery so we went to Golden Corral, a buffet which later became the Gorging Corral in family lore: plates and plates for $9.95; free soft drink. The hostess said that she’d never met anyone from Austria before …

What’s better than quality? Quantity.

Have you seen that episode of The Simpsons where Homer eats the entire all-you-can-eat buffet and sues the owners because they kick him out before he’s full?
The episode where Homer eats until he is super-obese and his wife doesn’t want to fuck him anymore?
The episode where Homer enters an eating competition and his competitor dies … and then Homer becomes a trucker?

In The Simpsons, the spectacle of Homer’s gorging stand in for Americans’ greed. I remember in the nineties, however, men I knew proudly identifying with Homer’s excessive appetite, wearing t-shirts to family barbecues emblazoned with glistening pink donuts. One design: Homer, hard belly jutting upwards like a table, beer can resting on it with the slogan ‘Livin’ La Vida Sofa’. Taking pride in the lifestyle Homer allowed them to sink to.


How to separate need from want? Hunger from thirst?
An article: when you’re hungry for something specific, you aren’t really hungry.
Funny, because I could eat a horse, drowning in lukewarm mayo …
How long does it take to feel satisfied? Twenty minutes? After seconds? After thirds? Twenty years? A lifetime? An un-predetermined gestational period?
Are we full yet?


In movies, like Jaws, once the shark gets a taste for human meat, we know the characters are toast. Maybe we are all one bad day, one accidental nibble away from scoffing slabs of mortal flesh. And then, anarchy!

Old women snatching babies up like trophies!

A huge pot in the forest, with garlic and cloves and fresh herbs, like a tepid, salty bath!

The meal isn’t over when I’m finished. The meal won’t end, not even when I’m dead.

But maybe when we’re all dead and buried – and the worms eat us and then the birds eat them, then the birds are eaten by someone/something else, and then whatever eats them is eaten too, and so on – then the world itself will be eaten like an ice-cream scoop by some god or being with a bigger appetite than we could ever comprehend. And then something or other eats that god, and so on, until each cosmic accident is hoovered up like warm ice-cream soup, then may we leave the table, please?


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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.