One Bite at a Time 

Hundreds, including Fetish, descend on Oakland for a regional Overeaters Anonymous convention.

On the way to the Overeaters Anonymous convention, Food Fetish stopped by her local Walgreens for a quick snack.

Walgreens is great for cheap candy. There are bags and bags of Japanese Haribo gummi candy and a killer selection of Twizzlers, plus your run-of-the-mill Euro chocolate stuff like Toblerone and Ritter Sports bars. Then there's the crap that's always on sale, like the chewy, stale-y Russell Stover pecan clusters coated in some kind of bulk-bin chocolate.

More to the point, the Rice Krispie Treats were on sale. A few minutes later, the salesperson was ringing up one Hershey's "Limited Edition" chocolate/sugar cookie hybrid, one Rice Krispie Treat, and a NutRageous bar. Fetish was hoping to save them for later, but the Hershey's thing beckoned. After wiping away the incriminating chocolate and cookie crumbs — save your money, it was terrible — we headed down Broadway toward the Oakland Marriott and Convention Center, the meeting's host.

The generically tasteful hotel lobby was a hubbub of people and Samsonite. Patricia, one of the event's coordinators, sat at the registration tables. Dark-haired and slim, she didn't fit the preconceptions of what an Overeaters Anonymous member might look like. Sure, there were a lot of fat people here. But there were also a lot of slender ones. OA is for people who have all kinds of compulsive food issues, including bulimia and anorexia. "We're expecting about five hundred people, more then we've ever had before," Patricia said.

The theme for this year's Overeaters Anonymous Region 2 Convention — Region 2 includes most of the Western states — was "Recovery, Sweet Music for the Soul." To accompany the theme, paper musical instruments were scattered amongst the neatly stacked pamphlets and fliers. The lit table for "Young People" featured inflatable guitars and saxophones, and T-shirts for sale read: "OA Rocks."

The weekend shindig was packed with workshops such as "Circle of Life, Abstinence and Food Plan," and "Just One Look," a seminar for those who have lost one hundred pounds and more. On Saturday at 3 p.m., the meetings were in full swing. In the "OA Humor" session, overeaters discussed which five movies would best describe them; many of the titles contained food references — Eating Raoul, say, or Mystic Pizza. There was laughter enough in the room, but alas, a lot of it was from recovery-type inside humor, quips like, "Take my sponsor — please!" Had to be there.

Next door was "'Stop! In the Name of Love,' Relapse and Recovery," a discussion whose popularity was evident from the people sitting on the floor — all seats were taken. When the speaker was through, people could get up and share their own stories. One woman lovingly talked about her HP (twelve-stepper parlance for "higher power").

As with any twelve-step meeting, that which is most longed for was pointedly and poignantly absent. Yet although convention food was nowhere to be found except at the dinner banquet (salmon, chicken, vegetarian entrée) and in the hotel restaurant, food still was everywhere. People were talking about it, thinking about it, writing about it in their cloth-bound journals, and discussing their dreams about it.

At most recovery meetings, people talk about missing a glass — or a case — of good Syrah. Or sex with hookers cracking whips. Or what they wouldn't give for just one more, just one more, hit of crack. The ghosts at this meeting were the most succulent lamb chops ever. One person was haunted by a chocolate cake on a fifteenth birthday, 'cause that's when it all started. Another's memories of rare steaks topped with melting garlic butter collided with someone else's remembrance of warm Krispy Kremes, eaten on the sly, out of the box, all at once. All this food and shame and guilt permeated the ether and wafted under the fluorescent lights.

By five, the afternoon's meetings were over, and there were two hours to kill before the banquet. People — some clearly relieved — spilled out of the meeting rooms and headed elsewhere. After all, there were still other places in the Marriott to check out. The Hip-Hop Hospitality Room, in fact, sounded as if there could be some kind of activities going on that would take a meeting to get over. Fetish went there forthwith.

Alas, the room didn't live up to its name. (Middle-aged white people strike again.) Inside, a lone woman with grayish hair tied back into a fraying ponytail slipped beads onto a piece of string. Stickers of happy things like rainbows were strewn about the tables. Someone — SNL's Stuart Smalley? — had started drawing little pictures on a box and then apparently had grown bored with the project. It lay on the table, sad and discarded. "Oh, that's a 'God box,'" the woman explained enigmatically and continued with her beads.

The "Be-Bop Boutique" fared slightly better, with used clothes of all sizes and degrees of wear for sale. None of the clothes were over three bucks, and most went for a dollar.

When it came time to leave, Sasha from Los Angeles, a six-month member of OA, explained on my way out what she liked about the convention: "It feels like family, like there's a great feel of compassion. Like I'm home."

Sasha, keep coming back. It works.

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