'Red Raspberry Fruits' by epsos.de at flickr, CC BY 2.0

In our first sneak peek at Issue Eight, we’re delighted to serve up a delicious piece by Maria Tumarkin, discussing why Australians are becoming increasingly obsessed with food, even at the expense of other forms of culture. There will be more teasers to come over the following days, so stay tuned.

In a food court no one can stop me looking: two women, barely in their twenties, one of them dark-haired and holding the thing that beeps when your food is ready. Theirs is a wise order. The food, when it comes, looks fresh and good, its molecular structure seemingly intact, not destroyed by continuous re-freezing and re-heating. The young women eat, paying attention to what’s on their plates. It matters to them – not above all else; not above their conversation, which looks unforced, satisfying – but enough. You can tell.

We, my friend and I who have not ordered wisely but grabbed at stuff already made and on display – we who are like horses sticking heads in a trough, like children who failed the delayed gratification test – sit with our lumps of post-food staring back at us from plastic plates. The post-food looks like food, but it’s not really food. What is absent is not nutrients (this I can easily forgive) but a kind of matter. It is like greasy, coloured air that fills your insides and makes them swell: heavy, voluminous and devoid of substance. It is the continuation of void by culinary means.

After a while the young women get up. They didn’t eat much. The plate belonging to the blonde looks barely touched. It still has – but now in a scorned, jilted way – food spilling from it onto the table. Didn’t taste good? Wrong choice? Not hungry after all? Food waste is the basic currency of a food court. Yet I am surprised by how irritated this uneaten meal makes me feel.

A guy in his thirties – obviously hungry, obviously a new (illegal, I wonder?) migrant – is eyeing the plate from a distance. He holds a pizza box in both hands (someone must have left behind a slice or two), but how much more inviting all the rice, the vegetables, the bits of untouched meat on the plate across the aisle look. Still a touch warm too, I imagine.

The guy slips closer to the vacated table, glances around, takes a bite of the cold pizza which by now has become a decoy, then moves swiftly into a seat in front of the coveted plate while jamming more pizza in his mouth. We avert our eyes, pretend to be deep in conversation. Everyone deserves some privacy. He pounces. It’s a beautiful thing – a terrible thing, too – a hungry person eating well. And so what if it is off someone else’s plate, chewing fast, eyes on the prize, body balancing on the edge of a chair like a fugitive? So what? How this food must taste to him, how it must soothe his insides, how pleased he must feel for a moment with his brilliant catch. Desperation, humiliation, shameful inequity – they are all suspended in that moment. Let him eat, we can do the socio-economic analysis later.

Maria Tumarkin is an author and cultural historian. Her most recent book is Otherland: A Journey with my Daughter.

Pre-order Kill Your Darlings Issue Eight, or subscribe to the print journal here.