Originally published on Leacocks.com, a McGill University Arts publication, in January of 2013. At the time, I was living with four of my best friends in a small apartment with one kitchen and one tiny bathroom. It was wonderful.
It’s 2:30am and I’m eating a stacked sandwich.
I’ve been told time and time again not to eat midnight snacks. “It’s bad for you!” they say. “You put on weight if you eat before bed!” “You’ll have nightmares if you eat too much junk food late at night!” You know what? Just stop.
Look, I know it’s not the best dietary option, but I can’t say my dreams have ever been plagued by little sugary junk food demons spawned by that fudgesicle I ate while watching a late-night episode of Arrested Development.
I am a firm believer in the beauty of midnight snacking. Some of the best talks I’ve had with friends have been over a bowl of popcorn, a bag of chocolate chips, a cold dish of dinner leftovers, or while chain-eating freezies. Haute cuisine, to be sure. Even when alone, though, I end up snacking really late at night. Maybe it’s because I stay up late often, but I think it also has to do with my over-developed sense of culinary enjoyment. I love to eat delicious things, and I’m up anyway, and getting hungry, so I’m not going to suffer. Hey, the moon IS made of cheese, right?
When it comes to the time after 1AM, give or take, hunger becomes a strange, morphed cousin of the one we know during the day. Day Hunger is civilized. He is controlled for the most part, egged on by Boredom or Stress but usually restrained by Common Sense or General Self-Awareness. Day Hunger strikes when you actually need fuel, when it’s been a few hours since you last filled the tank and all signs are pointing to a decrease in blood sugar. It’s a physical hunger, and though I always try and incorporate deliciousness and enjoyment into every meal I eat, sometimes, Daytime Hunger is satisfied by shitty food eaten quickly between classes in the Redpath cafeteria.
Night Hunger is a different thing altogether. Night Hunger is relentless, all-consuming. Sometimes he is in cahoots with Emotions, leading to an unfriendly phenomenon called emotional eating. Night Hunger craves extremes- something very sweet or very salty is often the most appealing. Late at night, senses are dulled, the body is tired, and the general not-unpleasant sluggishness of staying up late is in full swing. At this time, tastebuds want something they can really feel, something to jolt them awake. Night Hunger remembers how good the first handful of salty, buttery microwave popcorn was last time, but neglects to remind you about how shitty you felt after eating the whole bag. Same with that tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
From a purely logical and caloric perspective, it’s often better to put something together and make an elaborate snack (or even small meal) at this hour than to grab a bag or box of something. When you grab a bag of chips, your mind knows what’s coming. You feel a strange euphoria when you start popping them in your mouth, one by one, then three by three, because the companies have chemically enhanced processed snacks to appeal to a part of the brain that just won’t stop. If you’re watching TV or a movie, eating becomes even more mindless, and before you know it, there won’t be any chips left and not only will you have ingested way more than necessary, you’ve given in to Night Hunger’s desire to pack you with sugar or sodium, which just doesn’t feel good. As a rule, I believe all eating should feel good.
Recently, two of my roommates have taken to making extremely elaborate 2am meals: last week, it was pork chops with rosemary, garlic and onions, served on a piece of toast with a fried egg on top. This week, fettuccine with pesto and freshly grated parmesan cheese with a tomato salad on the side. They have fast become a very unlikely source of culinary inspiration. They’ve embraced midnight snacking, dismissing the naysayers, throwing dietary caution to the wind at an hour of night where it would be ridiculous to care about calories anyway.
As much as a handful of chocolate chips and a piece of cheese are satisfying in a somewhat visceral, 3am kind of way, I was motivated by my roommates’ drive to not only eat late, but eat well even at these ungodly hours. The next time I found myself facing those ever-familiar 2am hunger pangs, about half an hour ago, I decided to put in a little effort and see what I could come up with.
Earlier today, I made a tomato, onion, jalapeño marmalade (which takes all of 15 minutes and is the best condiment ever), and I had just gone grocery shopping so I was fully stocked. I grabbed some bread, toasted it very slightly, slathered on the marmalade, threw on some turkey slices, and closed it on up. I took a bite, decided it was a little dry, and added some cucumber slices and a little bit of spicy mayo.
It was unbelievably satisfying. By putting in a little work and eating something of substance instead of becoming a human Wheat Thins garburator, I got to satisfy my physical hunger as well as my constant desire to eat something delicious that hasn’t been chemically engineered to be that way.
The next time you’re plagued by Night Hunger, I encourage you to reel it in for a second when you reach for the fritos. Don’t do it. Really. Step away, and think about something that Day Hunger would want to eat. Really ruminate on it for a few minutes, and then decide if instant gratification will win over slightly delayed but far greater pleasure. I think it shouldn’t. Take 5 minutes and make something worth eating.
To those about to snack, I salute you.