If there was a pill that could completely replace a meal, I would take it. I’d still visit my favorite restaurant on the weekends or while on vacation, but workdays would be pure pill. Unfortunately, the only thing close to that pill is McDonald’s. Every day, 68 million people pass through those golden arches and get a quick, filling meal for a dollar without leaving their cars (Badkar). I’m one of those people. I’m not passionate about food like Anthony Bourdain, but I’m not as apathetic as David Sedaris. I’ve been trying to trace my food’s journey from farm to plate as encouraged by Wendell Berry and the film Food Inc, but when I wake up late, I can’t be too picky. My history with food is strange and different from their experiences and I am still learning, but we are all very different and in the cornucopia of culinary experiences, that’s fine if we all strive to make the world better.
Anthony Bourdain, a world-renowned chef, writes about his first experience with oysters in his essay “Food is Good.” He recalls his first experience with the mollusk “like…losing my virginity – and in many ways, more fondly” (67). Eating his first oyster during a family trip to Europe changed his life forever. It was the defining moment that launched his career and love of food. He remembers the “glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive (69)” just before he bit down and slurped the rest down his throat. He “survived” an adventure – his parents “hesitated” and his brother “recoiled in horror” (69).
When I was about eight-years-old, I was eating lunch with my father, my sister, my grandmother, and my grandmother’s boyfriend. My grandmother had a knack for finding strange restaurants and this one was no exception. It specialized in seafood, but not just any seafood. It had themed bowls of disparate kinds of fish and undersea creatures. I was going through a phase where I wanted to eschew remnants of my childhood and I refused the child menu. I ordered the best sounding dish from the adult side of the menu. The waiter asked my father if that’s what I really wanted. My father, who wasn’t paying much attention to me, told the waiter that whatever I wanted was what I was going to get.
Then I saw what I ordered – a bowl that would make Davy Jones proud. Chunks of swordfish smothered in red sauce and pieces of chopped up octopus with the suckers still visible. My father, thinking he could teach me a valuable lesson about knowing what I was ordering, insisted I eat it. Reluctantly, I ate the octopus – I liked it! My father made a mistake; he forgot he had a wife who cooked chicken livers and tongue and a daughter who wasn’t afraid to try any food placed in front of her. I ate different kinds of food out of curiosity and convenience more than anything. Unlike Bourdain, I didn’t feel stronger or braver than my friends or family. When I was eleven, I had sushi for the first time because it was at the Asian market my mother dragged me to so she could find something to cook for dinner and I was hungry. I bought Indian food from a street vendor in San Francisco instead of searching for someplace to eat. Yes, I happen to like Indian, sushi, and seafood more than other kinds of food, but eating the foods didn’t change my life in any way. If I wasn’t curious, I wouldn’t venture outside my comfort zone. Also, if I weren’t lazy and looking for the most convenient thing, I wouldn’t have tried all the street food I’ve eaten before. But I’m not ambivalent about food.
David Sedaris, humorist, writer, and frequent contributor to NPR’s This American Life (“Radio Archive by Contributor”) calls himself “a shoveller, a quantity man, and I like to keep going until I feel sick (29).” He didn’t care what he was eating as long as he got enough of it. I would never say I am like that but I’m sure I had more than my fair share of food. I order the meal. The number three – chicken McNuggets, fries, and a drink. Those items are more than enough for most people, but not David Sedaris. He purchased his sister’s chicken leg at dinner (30). My relationship with food is not about quantity like Sedaris, but it’s not about quality, like Bourdain.
I’m too obsessed with convenience. What is the closest thing to food I can find around me? I don’t even stop to think about where it came from, which I know is a problem. Both the documentary Food Inc. and Wendell Berry’s essay “The Pleasures of Eating” encourage the watcher (or reader) to investigate where their food comes from. For the first time in my adult life, I have the financial security to pay more for locally grown foods, or at least skip the trip to McDonald’s.
Food Inc. discusses the “production line” form of food preparation as invented by McDonald’s. One person does the same thing over and over every day, exploiting workers in the name of profit. This is the fast food process I have relied on for convenience and price at the detriment of my health. During Food Inc.’s call to action at the end of the film, they suggest a garden. Same with Berry. Instead of sticking my hands in germ-ridden dirt, I’ve tried to buy local at Farmer’s Markets and ask, “Hey, where’d the beef come from?”
My experiences with food differ from Bourdain, Sedaris, Berry, and Robert Kenner’s film, but I can still learn something from each of them. Maybe a memory with food wasn’t a defining moment of my life, like Bourdain, but I can appreciate his dietary bravery. Sedaris doesn’t worry about the food he eats and eats everything around him – I use him as more of a cautionary. I should appreciate the food I get. And Food Inc. and Berry can teach me to research my food and not just get the most convenient thing. I’ll save the environment in other ways, like meticulous recycling, reduced purchasing, and supporting charities like the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists. I won’t start my own garden, but I can always buy my food locally – make others roll around in the dirt for me.
Badkar, Mamta and Gus Lubin. “18 Facts About McDonald’s That Will Blow Your Mind.”
Business Insider, Business Insider, 20 Apr. 2012, http://www.businessinsider.com/19-facts-about-mcdonalds-that-will-blow-your-mind-2012-4/. Accessed 15 Sept. 2017
Berry, Wendell. “The Pleasures of Eating.” Food, edited by Brooke Rollins and Lee Bauknight,
Fountainhead Press, 2010, pp. 21-32.
Bourdain, Anthony. “Food is Good.” Food, edited by Brooke Rollins and Lee Bauknight,
Fountainhead Press, 2010, pp. 63-70.
Food Inc. Directed by Robert Kenner, Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Netflix,
https://www.netflix.com/watch/70108783. Accessed 12 Sept. 2017.
“Radio Archive by Contributor.” This American Life, National Public Radio,
https://www.thisamericanlife.org/contributors/david-sedaris. Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.
Sedaris, David. “Tasteless.” Food, edited by Brooke Rollins and Lee Bauknight, Fountainhead
Press, 2010, pp. 29-32.