The other day, I ordered a big cup of frozen yogurt with fruits for dinner. Not nutritionally ideal, but it was hot outside, I was feeling sad for myself, and it seemed to me that whatever it means to grow includes becoming acutely aware of how utterly useless it is to self-pity, yet still wanting to indulge the emotion. Hence my resolve to the inevitable: frozen yogurt for dinner. 

I remember so well the days of long lines at Pinkberry in Avenues, the first branch to open outside of the U.S., back when corporate expansion was cool. The import of goods is an ancient thing, but the import of a frozen yogurt brand that made up the cultural fabric of Southern California in 2007? That was hot. Of course, true to the nature of any market trend (I have zero business training), fifty other frozen yogurt shops populated our world overnight, and the fad died down. But we still have frozen yogurt. 

As a food product, I kind of forgot about frozen yogurt up until a while ago, when I just started craving it all the time. I’ve had this dinner at least 3 times in the past few months (and ideally I’d be having it more, if time didn’t pass by so fast), and it just does so much for me. The indulgence feels so simple, but part of what is so satisfying about it is the lack of fuss. I’m not indulging in the seasonal flavors, or the newest menu product. Plain frozen yogurt is kind of blah. It’s not hot anymore, and its marketability is low without the glamour of concoctions that recreate it in various dazzling forms like blueberry cheesecake or Madagascar vanilla bean or vegan and refined-sugar free. There’s no thrilling word soup for it right now. It’s so simple (just frozen yogurt and fruits) but not too simple that it ends up becoming a marketable gimmick of its own (I add pistachio sauce, unsophisticated and delicious), like the cooking purists who sometimes say things like a beautifully-roasted sweet potato and a sprinkle of salt and extra virgin olive oil is so much more delectable than, say, a plate of loaded nachos. I mean, I agree, it could be… but it also really isn’t.

It wasn’t always easy for me to indulge. For quite a while after graduating from college, I felt so much moral conflict with anything that involved conspicuous consumption. I didn’t have a clear understanding of how the world worked, but I had an inkling, as a creative person, that I was in a larger web of making stuff for temporary consumption before it all succumbed to the test of time and ended up in a pile of cultural trends, contributing to the endless cycle of creating, consuming, and then eventually, forgetting. It felt like a waste, and in some ways it always will be, but I was fresh out of art school and couldn’t think beyond the immobilizing fear that here we are as designers—actively creating the elephant in the room, consumption, and no one was talking about it.

Of course, everyone was talking about it. I moved to New York literally to get a degree in Design Criticism. I needed a space to think about the big guns: design, consumption, and culture. During one of the first exercises we did at a workshop, I shoved all the topics I was interested in into an umbrella category and called it Primal Instinct. Now I understand the word I was looking for was maybe something more like anthropology. Yet somehow, something about consumption still feels so primal to me. Ingrained, and not sought after. It feels like a standard mode of operating: drinking from the media and commerce firehose. The radio, the tv, music, podcasts, internet shows, photo advertisements, editorials, social media content, official news, opinion news, fake news, articles, billboards, essays, emails, newsletters, etc. When I break down my day into how much I consume, it’s overwhelming, sure. But my theory is that the reason it’s overwhelming is because materially speaking, a lot of this stuff is collapsing into a single user interface. Inexplicit lines are being erased, and suddenly, everything is interwoven. 

This isn’t an inherently bad thing. It makes new spaces where new things can happen, it presents opportunities, etc. The problem for me is when it becomes too slippery, literally and metaphorically speaking, like when my thumb swipes up and out of one app and into another before I have a chance to decide it. It’s such a passive way of doing things, which really takes away any measures of value, or joy. This is the reason I try to set boundaries, however random they may be. For a long few months of my life, I took a break from Instagram during the week, and re-downloaded the app on the weekends. This didn’t change my relationship to Instagram (I still have no idea what that is) but at least I got a grip over something that felt like it was consuming me and not the other way around. 

If i’m constantly in the thick of consumption, of seeing new things or hearing new things, I have a hard time remembering why I eat what I eat or why I buy what I buy or why I do the things I do. There’s too much noise, too much fuss, and too little space for me to just enjoy something. I haven’t completely learned the line between indulging myself versus indulging myself. The difference is almost invisible, isn’t it? Indulging myself can sometimes be a thoughtless and largely reactive impulse fueled by my habits of slippery consumption, like unlocking my phone in the middle of a hard cry. But indulging myself can also be having frozen yogurt for dinner because it’s something I can enjoy while still honoring the fact that things are difficult. The difference, maybe, is that one way of doing things collapses the necessary complexity of living a life, while the other simply makes space for it.

Original image by Lama Roscu on Unsplash

October 04, 2021 — Yasmeen Khaja

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