The juncos and chickadees had a few choice words for me when they visited the empty bird feeders. However, it was the forlorn flight of the downy woodpecker and the release from my surgeon to bear full weight on my healing foot that motivated me to tighten the Velcro on my surgical boot and venture into the kitchen to prepare suet.
As lard and crunchy peanut butter microwaved into a slurry, I measured the sugar, rolled oats, cornmeal, and flour into a large bowl. I threw in a handful of sunflower seeds as a bonus. After combining the contents of both bowls, I patted the concoction into an 8” X 8” pan to harden.
In a weird way the nutty aroma appealed to me. Once cut into rectangles, they bore a striking resemblance to granola bars. The unhulled sunflower seeds stopped me from breaking off a corner and taking a nibble. (There’s fiber and then there’s WAY too much fiber.) The more I thought about it, the less weird the appeal became.
It smelled like junk food.
The medical no-weight-bearing-on-the-foot order anchored me to the couch with only necessary knee scooter bouts around the house. The sequester provided me with time to ponder life’s mysteries and everything else. (A month on the sofa is a LONG time.)
Why were we here on earth?
What’s the meaning of life?
Why did I crave junk food? (This inquiry fell into the “everything else” category.)
Mike, chief chef during my month banishment, served tasty, healthy meals which I greatly appreciated. I also appreciated that my scooter would not easily transport me to the snacks in the pantry and the Halloween candy atop the cabinet. This impediment curtailed the speed and frequency in which I stuffed myself with Cheetos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Why was it that I craved junk food when I wasn’t hungry?
Internet research revealed that my stint on the couch rehabbing created ideal conditions for junk food cravings. (If it’s on the Internet, it HAD to be true.)
While feeling sorry for my incapacitated state and limitations, I sought comfort and convenience in junk food. I easily tore into a two pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups after rationalizing the heart healthy benefits of its chocolate encasing the muscle building protein of peanut butter. (In reality neither the chocolate was dark enough nor the protein plentiful enough to offset the sugar and fat content.)
Restlessness caused by the uncomfortable surgical boot contributed to sleep deprivation which contributed to impaired judgment which contributed to me diving head first into an open bag of Cheetos before noon. It may also have been a conditioned response since unfastening my Velcro boot straps and ripping open a bag of Cheetos sounded uncannily alike.
Although seeking comfort and convenience coupled with sleep deprivation proved to be sound excuses for my bingeing, I’m indebted to Wageningen University & Research for providing the most compelling reason for my junk food cravings (and the weird appeal of suet) – evolution!
This Netherlands based group believed our brains evolved to remember where high calorie foods were located. In their study, test groups were 27% more accurate in locating snacks rather than, say, tofu. Apparently, the scarcity of vending machines in the Stone Age caused cave people to remember where Stone Age junk food could be found. These cavepeople needed Cheetos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (or their equivalents) to survive. Their brains paid attention and passed this skill along to our modern-day brains.
Which was why the suet cooling on the counter appealed to me. It was junk food. It was a high calorie, fatty food that my downy needed as much as cavepeople.
Would it be appealing enough to draw the downy woodpecker back into my yard? A month passed since I refilled the suet feeder. I hoped the need for high energy food in the winter coupled with bird memory would draw the downy. Generally, a bird’s memory of feeders is six months. So I had a shot.
I hung the refilled suet feeder in my wintry garden. After a few days, the downy reappeared. I celebrated with a handful of Cheetos and a side of Reese’s.
For interested birders I followed this suet recipe from the Rio Brazos Audubon Society.
1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup lard, 2 cups Old Fashioned Oats, 2 cups cornmeal, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour. Combine dry ingredients. Melt peanut butter and lard in microwave for 2 minutes or so. Mix well with dry ingredients. Press into a rectangular container. Cut into desired shape. Let them sit out a few minutes to harden.
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