Eating Out and Being Unafraid
Eating Out and Being Unafraid

Eating Out & Being Unafraid

Is it Nice to Make Fun of Food?

with Gordo & The One-Eyed Rooster

Rooster: When was the last time you felt that eating out was not a supreme act of faith? When was the last time you felt truly safe to eat in a restaurant? Most restaurants I go to I close my eyes and hope for the best and that frequently comes down to ‘does it taste passably well?’ I don’t want to think about what might have happened back there in that bleached, stainless-steel tunnel of a kitchen where half a dozen angry, disoriented people of uncertain ethnic and political mix are digging goo out of one-gallon cans to throw into lubed skillets flitting atop massive, explosive gas ranges. Where canisters promise that a dusting of their contents will make anything taste Balinese. Where greasy first aid kits sit precariously at shelf ’s lip waiting for the next severed pinky to cry out…

Gordo: What are you looking at? … I’m smiling. Can’t you see I’m smiling? Actually you have me laughing inside. It’s usually me that’s making some culturally insensitive slam. Tools and tool kits are sacred things man. What do you mean by ‘greasy’ first aid kits? You make it sound like the only good kit is a clean kit. You’re prejudiced, you toad. And what’s so bad about grease anyway? Life’s lube, ain’t it?

R: I’m serious here! What protects anybody who goes into a restaurant these days?

G: Gummint. They send out angry, lower-level bureaucrats as testers. They go round and make sure that restaurants are clean and that the food they serve is safe. It’s that simple Eduardo. They also accept tokens of the appreciation from the restaurant owners to speed the process along. It’s generally accepted that any owner willing to donate to the inspection process is one who understands the importance of efficiency. Any owner who refuses to donate is obviously hiding something, probably the fact that he’s not doing so well and can’t afford to donate. The system works my friend. The facts show it; more people die today of heart disease than of food poisoning and that’s remarkable given the simple fact that more people are eating at any given moment than are exercising their hearts. Stands to reason that the system is as safe as it can be.

R: You should be cleaning bathrooms at a Manhattan ad agency. You’re a nut. Let me ask my important question a different way. What sort of restaurant makes you feel safe? Or safest? When I go into a nice, up-scale restaurant I feel somewhat confident that they are competitive enough to want their food preparations to include only the best and freshest ingredients. They can’t afford to be ordinary and unsafe. And we know that if it tastes bad it’s probably not safe, right?

G: So ordinary is automatically unsafe? I’ll puncture that balloon in my own good time, for it does offer great fodder for some stand-up comedy. Meanwhile, so this farmer I know, we’ll call him Bertrand, figured out that it’s all in the name. Nobody cared about Arugula any more, out of fashion. So he changed the name to Swiney’s Jelly Lettuce and added a disclaimer to the labeling at the farmer’s market. “There is absolutely no proof that Swiney’s Jelly Lettuce retards balding.” The stuff sold immediately and everyone swore by its flavor and properties. Bertrand gives it a ‘naming life’ of two seasons, then he’ll have to find a new one. The future my fine-feathered friend is in colorizing the exterior of “deniability”. Restaurants could learn a whole lot from politicians. As in “didn’t say what I meant, said what the urgency of the moment suggested in a way that would stop the talking and never land on anything I had to defend.”

R: And what the heck does that have to do with eating in a restaurant?

G: Changing the name of the foods, the dishes, to gussy up how the consumer feels about it… therein lies the future of restaurant fare, because then you’ve changed the game from “is this good for me?” to “whoa Nellie, I ain’t never had this before!”

R: That’s got to be illegal. Isn’t it? I mean, what’s to stop some restaurateur from changing the names of his dishes and adding suggestive disclaimers? Next thing you know ‘McDonal’s’ will be calling them fried ground-beef sandwiches. That would be flat dishonest.

G: Huh? My salubrious friend, is there any ‘ham’ in hamburger? Is there any pop in popsycle? Is there any Benedict in eggs benedict? They’ve been fooling with us from the beginning. Ever since Vatel fell on his sword because King Louis ate oysters which tasted like mushed mussels ad men have been moving the target by calling dishes by names that assured deniability. Any dodo knows that there never was any burg in hamburger, never any sticks in fish-sticks, never any cord in Cordon Bleu, never a spot of pot in pot roast.

R: Okay joke about it all you want, but I really am serious here. As weather changes, global poverty, institutionalized war and mayhem, farm toxins, and corporate manure destroy our ability to get good, fresh, wholesome food from actual big F farmers, where else can anyone go to eat but to restaurants? Supermarkets get their food from farmers, so if they can’t get it…? And if we have no way of knowing whether restaurants are safe or not, how do we make plans that don’t involve surprise diarrhea and vomiting all the day long. It’s a problem I tell you, and one that won’t be solved unless we who care about food step up and demand some accountability.

G: You Dodo. Restaurants get their food from the same place, from farmers.

R: Hey, wait a doggone minute there champ. On Twigger and Farcebook, on LockedIn and MyPiece, I’ve seen lots of information about how a campaign is underway to make natural food stuffs illegal. Even read yesterday that food in general is hazardous to your health and that some are wanting to make it illegal to flavor synthetics to taste like the real stuff because it is just postponing the inevitable, nutrient diets calibrated for who you are and what you do – all synthetic all the time. And in that vein, Wickyourpedia is recasting certain words into a more appropriate contemporary definition-structure. For example “local” as it applies to food is now going to mean that a certain food “fits” the local expectations, since defining it in terms of proximity has proven to be confusing. Or “sustainability” will now run parallel to the Gatesian notion that ‘altruism follows – it cannot lead’; he and she say without a maximization of profits there can be no large-scale feel-good moments. So “sustainable” as applies to agriculture and synthetic foods means that which maintains an ever increasing level of profitability – in other words sustaining the Gatesian Maximization Precept.

G: You are brilliant mon petite, in a sauceless sort of way. I bet you a wet burrito food is here to stay. In fact I’ll wager it’s still here when you are long gone. And, as for those restaurants you’re worried about: went last week to the Sno-Cap Drive-in and had me a pastrami burger with grilled onions, even got to watch two young people actually fry it up and all. Saw her smile at him as she flipped that burger – evidence in full emotional color! Saw the real onion get sliced. Saw the burger sizzle, saw the fries fry, and saw the pastrami rami. It was eight bucks, it tasted marvelous. I’m certain it was real food, and I’d go back in a heartbeat to that mom and pop diner. Can’t say the same thing for the new steak house which keeps a padlock on it’s dumpster and silver drawers and where the cook is a better person than you are, just ask him. Let’s charge businesses extra to call themselves restaurants and allow that those which call themselves diners get to keep their tips instead of giving them to the inspectors. As your friend and mine, Thadeus Quinoa, says ‘turn up the flame Mama the frogs are napping.’

R: You do have a point there Gordo. Have to say that my travels to the valley of Lost Angels are punctuated by happily waiting in line at ghetto food carts for the burpiest hand food imaginable. No free $40 a head buffet in Lost Wages Nervada ever made me happy to be alive let alone digestive. Eat on, I say.