Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Food: Just in Time for the 2010 Holidays… (by Jeffrey Ross)

Do you ever grow weary of hearing about food? The following menu-based transcript may seem a bit hypocritical to those of you who know me, because I can’t turn down Chinese buffet or taco night at the local cantina. But please hear me out.

This country has a very strange and bizarre fascination, or obsession, with the culture of eating. Consider the cable TV industry. They inundate us with [very popular] exotic food shows, recipe shows, chef competition shows, man vs. food contests, strange brew chili cook-offs, campfire cooking seminars, holiday baking summits, angry master chefs shouting at foolish [ “you can barely cook a can of sprouts” ] underlings and pretenders and—well, you get the picture. Everywhere—the Religion of food is preaching and proselytizing and accepting tithes….

I’m not sure when I started thinking about America’s overt, luminous, and manifest fascination with food. Perhaps, simply because I ride my motorcycle around so much in the evenings, in the “open” air, I have become hyper-sensitive to the aroma of frying pork chops, charbroiling hamburgers, gas-popping bratwursts, and that hard-to-identify odor of—well, just plain old food cooking.

No matter what time of the year, when I ride the 60 Freeway through the East Valley in Metro Phoenix, I can smell fajitas cooking at some nearby trendy bar and grill. [I can’t hear that lovely sizzling sales pitch, but I can smell ‘em from ten miles away.] Now I ask you. Who is eating all these fajitas at 8 pm? We’re supposed to be in a recession, for crying out loud—who can afford this ongoing prime time “fajita-fix”? But this gleeful sleep destroying newly suburban ritualized food fetish is just one example of the multi-cuisine food events occurring in every American city and village 24/7.

So, why do you all want to be Chefs, Head Cooks, Bakers, and Restaurant Managers? I suppose the money must be good. Or something.

Every high school and college has a Culinary Arts department—and CA teachers and students are constantly preparing, cooking and serving their dishes. Emails, T Shirts, posters, smells—everywhere proclaiming the glory of food preparation and cleverly catered gluttony! Careers in food! Cooking! Baking! Why bother taking your lunch or lunch money? Culinary is always putting on the feed bag! [Ever notice how we need subtitles to understand the name of a delicacy when they email us about Ciabatta or some such thing?]

Why bother to learn to read or to write? Slice and dice and chop! Go to the Restaurant, Young Man!

[Is Cooking an Art or Craft? I’ll leave that to the philosophers.]

How long till first graders are learning to baste, paste, and taste?

Where do all of these apprentice chefs find work? No problem, my friend.

Someone has to be constantly redesigning the menus, redefining the Customer Satisfaction Mission Statements, mixing up hummus, or glorifying the greasy, fattening, and stomach massaging Southern cuisine! Every grocery store has a deli! Every mall has a Food Court. Every school has a Bistro! Let’s Eat, My Friends!

There’s a potluck in every office, every day…. Who washes all those crock pots?

There are fast food places at every corner. “Look Mom! There’s a Jack in the Box and a Wendy’s and an In and Out and a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell and a Del Taco and a White Castle! What’s for dinner tonight? Pizza! Mexican Food! Korean! No-- Japanese! Village Inn! Sushi! Old Time Buffet!

More, more, more…. evidently restaurants are recession proof and thriving.

Yes-- Buffets, sit downs, five stars, up-scales, greasy spoons, resorts, mom and pop's joints --rustic and charming! Ach! They each have a chef and attractive and coy servers-- and each stylized and themed Food Palace will eventually be visited by a representative of the Travel Channel or the Food Channel or the lovely anchorwoman of your local TV news morning show.

[Plus, you can read online reviews of every restaurant and fast food joint in America within seconds of sitting down at your computer. Everyone has been everywhere to eat! Yum!]

Every meeting you attend has food now—and lots of it. Finger foods of every design, beanie weenies, quiche, deviled eggs, and spinach dip! Endless chips and salsa, brownies, short bread cookies, chicken wings, alfalfa based spreads, pâté, rye crackers…. So many potlucks, baby shower bake fests, concerns about the donuts still left in the Boss’s, Dean’s, or Principal’s office….

In the 21st century, every event is an excuse for a big meal—every promotion, demotion, phone call from a telemarketer, successful trip to the gas pump, sunrise or sunset—each has become a special event that begs—even necessitates—a fusillade of food from the local eatery!

But there is more. You are not safe in your domicile!

Chances are good that, when you answer the door bell, cheerful kids [Boy Scouts, Little Leaguers, and eager students from the local elementary school] are selling cookie dough, pizzas, pretzels, or coupon books shouting discounts at restaurants, eateries, and bistros…. “What-- $12 for a bag of pretzels? No Problem!” “Buy 20 entrees and get one free! Such a deal!”

Whew. I need a break. Just start naming, Walt Whitman style, any food words that float through your hunger-wracked Mind. The list is infinite….

Pizza, pasta, pork, provolone….
Cake, caramel, calzones, mutton ….
Goose, potatoes, bell peppers, squid, lobster, asparagus, corn-on-the-cob
Enchiladas, salsa, halibut, liver and onions, runzas,
Leg of lamb, head of pig, brisket, steaks, chops, tenderloin, shark,
Cream sauce, red sauce, cheese sauce, white sauce, Alfredo sauce, soy sauce and hot fudge sundaes, honey ham, BLT
Gravy, pie, egg noodles, yams, mashed potatoes, olives, antipasto, bacon bits,
White beans, pork and beans, frijoles, quesadillas, green beans,
Aussie Chicken, pickled beets.
Crunchy, sweet, sour, gamey, vinaigrette, sea-salt, cayenne pepper
Kraut, eggs, bacon, pancakes, omelet, sausage links, bologna ring,
Turkey, stuffing, dressing, gizzards, apple pie, oysters
Shortbread, wheat bread, French bread…
Chicken wrap, turkey wrap, Swiss cheese, skillet dinner….

My, My. Sure is good. Hm-Hmm! [Pat your belly and loosen up the ol’ belt a notch or two.]

I haven’t even hinted at gummy bears, honey buns, movie theatre popcorn, cheese fries, onion rings, potato chips, popsicles—the omnipresent dental-destroying candy, fat rich snacks, and capillary-debilitating deep fat-fried side orders—they seem suited for a different topic. But yes, they are out there, waiting to be eaten.

Something tells me there must be more to life than waiting for a plate of twenty dollar beef flesh to be delivered by a way –too-happy food services professional-in- training. But what is? Soda? Football? Rice Cakes?

Big meals, especially during the holidays, make me uncomfortable for hours. Think of all those upcoming high maintenance holiday parties, with pastries, cookies, banana bread, and irresistible dips and appetizers.

This year, I will fight the Power—and resist Holiday dining and the ensuing weight gain. Yes!

But there is something about Chinese buffet…

[The author, Jeffrey Ross. is a semi-retired college professor from Gilbert, Arizona.]


  1. tl;dr version:

    everyone needs to eat multiple times per day, and businesses have popped up to provide that service. Jeff Ross resents this and feels personally attacked by it.

  2. No, he is not personally attacked, just very tongue-in-cheek about the prevalent practice of constantly eating in our society. Food, food everywhere, what else does a society in recession have to ponder? But now the real question??? Are you Robert Flay or the real Bobby Flay, at which I am impressed that our colleague is recognized.

  3. It's a very simple equation- FOOD IS LOVE!

    When we cook, we are nurturing the most basic of needs. It is by these three basic elements upon which human beings continue to exist. The air we breathe. The water we drink. The food which nourishes us. It is with this loving notion we cook for ourselves and for others.

    Whether its serving up Hot Head burritos, a gourmet meal by Charlie Trotter, or a hot dog from Tony Packos, ultimately, what our food relays the message to our fellow man that we care and want to see you thrive.

    Jeffrey Ross is seriously remiss of this nothing in assessment. Never is this more true than in lean economic times. By offering up an ever expanding array of food offerings, we are signalling, sure, times may be tough, but you will be fed.

    Judging from the brash commentary of Mr.Ross, maybe he is best served dinning at Ed Debevic's- that notoriously brash eating establishment known for its less than warm accouterments.

  4. Salinas Chick, WessexNovember 17, 2010 at 4:01 PM

    Mr Ross, I enjoy a can of smoked oysters and a good cup of tea almost more than anything else.
    Ah, on a foggy evening, I love to sit by the fire with a pot of good Earl Grey tea, some crackers, and mutton stew. For desert, I relish an apple or plum. Such fine dining. I sometimes wonder at the American fascination with eating.


  6. Jeff totally had me with his description of riding his motorcycle through sinister, tantalizing, and dangerous streets…like a suburban Easy Rider. Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle knows that you experience your surroundings on a very intense level. I can just imagine his nostrils flaring at the scent of frying pork chops and his ears quivering at the siren call of popping bratwursts. And I’m a vegan. J

  7. I work in a corporate office in New Mexico. I cannot believe the number of emails I receive (company emails) that are calls for buffets, pizza orders, donuts, potlucks, bake-offs, left over lunches, free grapefruits, baskets of chilies.
    I'm also asked to purchase cookie dough, candy bars, m&m's, fruit baskets, brownies, Carmel corn, peanut brittle, cookie flower arrangements, food baskets, white elephant snack items, and culinary fruit pies offered by smiling kids, uniformed lads, beret topped grinning women, and corporate friends meeting their child's school fund drive. ALL focused on caloric consumable gifts.

    Goodness. Doesn’t anyone ever work?

  8. Jeff, I drive my patrol car on the same freeway you mention (US 60) daily. I have had some of the same thoughts as these odors surround me as I issue yet another traffic citation for someone traveling 85+ in a 65 zone. I often think "this country is at war and in a recession how can this be?" I just couldn't put it to paper the way you did. Thanks, TJ Huffman AHP

  9. I concur to a degree, but also believe our sense of taste provides exquisite memories that easily and quickly return us to certain times in our lives - though some are not always pleasant. The aroma of scallops have a very negative connotation for me, for instance, while the wafting aromatic delights of Italian food makes me feel a completely different way. We all need food, though this country is indisputably obsessed with it, as you contend. You mention nought of home cooked meals enjoyed in the company of family and friends and the companionship and familial relationships that are fostered because of such events. I rarely eat out, preferring instead to control my portions, as well as the overall gastric "delights" that I allow to nourish me. The reader infers not necessarily a distaste for that which is tasty, but rather an offense to the over indulgence of the culinary opportunities that are so readily available. While I certainly feel strongly that dietary restraints should be a more prevalent reality in our society, beyond that people simply feel good when they eat. And if feeling good in a recession is a sin, what else are we to not only enjoy, but which also sustains us in the most basic of ways? KC (w/great respect & admiration for the author)


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