Tag Archives: Food

Out-Of-My-League Fatigue

I’ve been working on an assignment for the past year that requires reading massive amounts of text. I search for new words, senses, usage, or terminology on specific subjects, and when found, record the citation. Sometimes I’m assigned reading, and some subjects are covered by other readers, but in general I’m on my own. The point of the job is collecting ‘evidence,’ or instances of our language evolving in ways that may or may not mainstream. The citations are entered into a database that helps create testimony to the year the term first began appearing in print. No one can predict what terms are passing trends and which ones may someday become very relevant. A good example is the ‘prepper’ movement. A few years ago most people had never heard of a ‘bug-out bag,’ now, this 72-hour survival kit seems almost essential.

My favorite reading is magazines or books about subcultures, which could be anything. Mixed martial arts, extreme skydiving, low-riders, scrapbooking—even meth addiction—all have their own vocabulary. I’m always on the lookout for new or used magazines on subjects that may not have full coverage in a dictionary (who knew bull riding had such a devoted following?). The citations have to exist in print (rather than solely online) so they can be documented. It’s not my job to have an opinion on the reading material—but since there’s so little in the world I feel neutral about…

My least favorite magazines are the plush glossies catering to pursuit of the good life. These upscale manifestos extol food cruises, guided adventure tours, $5000 bicycles, BMWs. Full-page ads hawk plastic-surgery centers and financial advisors. They’re selling a fantasy that most folks can never have. Or can they? I’m so far removed from luxury that I’m bewildered by anyone who’s not in debt—but somebody’s buying this stuff. Who are you people?

Upscale cooking magazines are the most distasteful to me. Though they serve their purpose as sources for new food words, haute cuisine is to me the most boring, smug, and unappealing subject in the world. (You know why these meals are ‘fast’? Because they’re raw.) My diet is so simple it’s hard for me to understand the histrionics behind an out-of-season tomato.


From the time on Star Trek when Neelix had to serve dinner to the visiting Romulan dignitaries? Nope. Photo from Bon Appetit.

Today, the most popular cuisine is Asian and Latin American, so it’s assumed everyone wants their food at least 100K on the Scoville scale. Restaurant reviews have titles like Go for the Burn and key words are fiery, blistering, blazing, scorching, tongue-searing, combustible, code red. Begin your dinner with a jalapeño gimlet or Grey Goose martini with serrano chile and finish with Sichuan pepper ice cream and a chipotle latte. I feel like the only person in the world who just doesn’t get off on swallowing lava. But what do I know—I  was raised on fifty shades of cabbage.

Recipes center on beef, pork, or sea creatures. What goes unmentioned is overfishing, inhumane slaughterhouse practices, and the ever-expanding environmental destruction caused by the meat industry. Larger than life food-porn, shellacked with glycerin or beaded with Rain-X, has the opposite effect on me than what was intended—rather than inspiring flesh-lust, it makes me a little sick. A bite of meat comes with guilt that’s just not worth the taste. Read a Nature Conservancy right after a Bon Appétit and it’ll happen to you too.

And what’s with the word ‘slurp’? A word that evokes onomatopoeic visions of wet chins and icky sucking noises now cheerfully describes how to eat Asian food. It’s like a slurp-pride movement. Office workers happily slurp their pho ga; try the slurpworthy ginger broth with soba noodles; slurp your way through a brimming bowlful of yukgaejang.  And this: ‘Lush pork and heady broth you can’t stop slurping—it’s no wonder ramen joints are drawing droves of diners, chefs, and everyone on your Instagram feed.’ I’m not exactly sure what an Instagram is but I hope it doesn’t have audio.


Saliva Guy

We had to go to Tucson the other day for a doctor’s appointment. We went for breakfast at a family-style chain restaurant called Coco’s, similar to a Denny’s. The waitress was friendly and the service good. We were led to a comfy booth with a big window. The waitress went to get coffee while I took stock of my setting, and that’s when I noticed—we were surrounded by dead flies, debris, grit, and smears of unknown substances all along the top of the booth and the deep inset windowsill. The lovely large window had blinds—brown with crusted dirt and dust and grease. Also within my view was the big glass inner door of the restaurant, opaque from greasy fingers.

Maybe people don’t notice because we’re focused on the tables. But once you’re seated and start to become familiar with your environment, a booth is an intimate view of just how dirty most restaurants are. We ordered while some drama unfolded in the next booth. A man poured maple syrup over his pancakes and stuck his finger in that last drip when you tilt the container back up. He ran his finger around the rim of the syrup pitcher and then licked his finger.

Sitting there among my small dead companions and my feral neighbor, I didn’t really want to touch, use, or eat anything on the table. And what of those big laminated menus?

I’ve become kind of obsessive over the past few years about touching things that a million people have touched. Most people know that grocery carts are the biggest villain, often teeming with the big five: blood, mucus, saliva, urine, and feces. Other miscreants are door handles, pens, the stylus you sign with at the pharmacy or UPS, and purses and backpacks that have been on floors. Most supermarkets have disposable wipes available at their entrances now.

I may come off as OCD or as having some other unhealthy condition (which I do but it’s not this), but it’s a really big deal if I get sick. Like many other independents the recession has created, I don’t get paid if I don’t work. So I take getting sick hard, refusing help of any kind and becoming generally insufferable. All I want is to go to ground like a sick animal. So I’m careful about what I touch, and it’s become second nature.

I don’t live in a sterile environment at all. I live with a big pack of dirty beasts. But somehow all of them put together aren’t as dirty as a guy whose saliva ends up on a condiment jar in a restaurant. A family restaurant can be a savage land.