Junk Food Was Our Love Language

Junk Food Was Our Love Language

To feel close to my father, a man I never fully knew, I eat chicken nuggets(ˈnəɡət).

By C Pam Zhang

It’s autumn(ˈôdəm) again, the eighth(ā(t)TH) since my father died, and I’m craving(ˈkrāviNG) chicken nuggets.

When the pandemic began, I craved foods that happened to feel more virtuous(ˈvərCHo͞oəs). I was a frequent(ˈfrēkwənt) takeout customer at local San Francisco restaurants in economic(ˌekəˈnämik) peril(ˈperəl): beef noodle soup from a mom-and-pop on Irving(ˈərviNG), refried(ˌrēˌfrīd) beans(ˈbēnz) from a taqueria(ˌtäkəˈrēə, ˌtak-) on 24th Street, a pork chop(CHäp) from the beloved neighborhood spot on Divisadero(dəvisə). Every action I took was fraught(frôt) with the concept of doing good. I purchased stacks(stak) of books from independent bookstores, researched gardening(ˈɡärd(ə)niNG) gloves, donated(ˈdōˌnāt), downloaded a workout app, started reading “War and Peace.”

And then: depression(dəˈpreSH(ə)n), Zoom fatigue(fəˈtēɡ), a major life milestone passing without the ability to celebrate it, the deaths of public figures(ˈfiɡyər), the deaths of frontline workers, the death of a friend’s father, the deaths of migrants(ˈmīɡrənt) detained(dəˈtān) at the border, the death of a friend’s father, the death of another friend’s father.

Six months later, I was moving 800 miles in an attempt to outrun(ˌoutˈrən) a suffocating(ˈsəfəkādiNG) sense(sens) of doom, driving across state lines, every stop an exercise in anxiously(ˈaNGkSHəslē) navigating shared airspace and inconsistent(ˌinkənˈsist(ə)nt) mask policies(ˈpäləsē), and all I wanted was the ease(ēz) of a drive-through chicken nugget.

My father would have understood.