Of being “down and out” in Paris, George Orwell writes, “For half a day at a time you lie in your bed, feeling like the jeune squelette in Baudelaire’s poem. Only food could rouse you. You discover that a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs.”
Even for someone who has never experienced this degree of suffering, it’s not difficult to imagine the physical inertia, the complete disinterest in life, the degeneration of one’s sense of human-ness, that Orwell so neatly describes. If I’m bedridden from a food-related malaise, it’s because I’ve been an overindulgent piglet, not a deprived belly of a being. Yet the images here are so potent that I almost feel I can empathize with Orwell’s plight by virtue of living vicariously through him.
O wins me over by conveying his hunger without romanticizing it, but what strikes me most is how he presents food as fundamental to the human existence. By “human existence” I mean physical survival, but also the presence of intellect and of soul: food as something that enables me to ponder its significance in the first place. I recognized how cut off I’ve become from the notion of food as the mode of survival, too wrapped up in it as a form of pleasure or a medley of sensations to appreciate it on the simplest level. The idea that hunger chips away at one’s humanity has always made sense on some level, but in Orwell’s terms, it does so specifically because it reduces man to where he feels his suffering most acutely. Reinterpreting the above, one might say: hunger sucks in part because when you’re hungry, you can think of or feel nothing else, and so can think of or feel nothing at all.