Where’s the Beef?: My Eating Habits Through Bourdain, Sedaris, and Berry

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.

 

Works Cited

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.

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Four Days

Thick layers of smoke and tobacco cloud my earliest memories. I remember my father’s hand cutting through the wispy trails in a casino restaurant, back in the day when you could smoke in a restaurant. I also remember the week his body was loaded into a hearse – the years of cheap cigarettes and ubiquitous puffs of smoke invading his lungs finally caught up to him.

The day seemed as mundane as any other day. I rolled my eyes when I saw my mother calling. Couldn’t she just text me? I thought.

“Your father is sick,” she said in her accent. “Come to the hospital.”

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived. Then I saw him. He was pale and gaunt – the color from his face drained, leaving a ghostly visage I barely recognized. The hospital bed engulfed him, a sea of white, sterile sheets made him appear fragile.

“I don’t want any more tests,” my father insisted to my mother. His voice matched his outward appearance.

I sat down by the window.

“I want you to find an article that I saved-” my father said.

“What article?” my mother interrupted.

“-it’s about how doctors die-”

“Doctors? Where? What doctors?”

“-it’s in my files-”

“Files? What files?”

“Just listen!” my father snapped.

I looked out the window. I tried to find my parents house, even though I knew it was impossible. A white bird flew overhead. A car had a dent in the passenger side door. A yellow piece of debris fluttering into the side of the hospital and fell. Two people in scrubs stood outside by a shrub and talked.

“There’s an article from Reader’s Digest in my files,” he instructed, each word said like a task given to Hercules from the king Eurystheus. “It’s about how doctors die. They die in their homes. I want you to look into care outside the hospital. Where Mom was before she died. I don’t want to be here. What’s the place Mom was before she died?”

“Hospice,” I answered, still trying to find something, anything else, to look at.

“Yes, that,” he said.

“Hospice?” my mother asked. “Kido, do you know what that is?”

“Yeah, it’s, um,” I hesitated, trying not to let my voice break. “They, um. They help with, um, sickness, I think. People who are sick.”

Their voices blurred together, but I knew they were talking. I just kept staring out the window. If I turned around, I would see him, and then I would have to admit he was dying. No matter how hard I stared at the cars, I still heard snippets of their conversation.

“I’m tired, Nee. I don’t want anymore tests.”

A doctor entered and spoke with us for fifteen to thirty minutes. It was lung cancer. They had some things they could try, but, at most, he only had two months left. Then she left.

He made the decision to refuse treatment. I wanted to ask him to try, to fight through it. To come out of cancer stronger than before. But I couldn’t. He taught me not to order people around and to respect the decisions that don’t directly affect you. I couldn’t tell him what to do, even if his decision created a knot of sadness, anger, and fear deep in the back of my throat.

Before I left, I said to my father, “I’d prefer it if you lived.”

On Thursday, my mother texted me that my father was moved to a hospice.

On Friday, I cried and prayed to a God that I doubt exists.

On Saturday, Jon and I arrived after the hospice workers moved my father home. He was in the middle of the living room, writhing on a bed. He wore a diaper and a shirt that kept coming up.  His eyes were yellow and glazed, looking at nothing in particular. His distended chest was purple from the injection sites. He was wheezing and kicking at something that wasn’t there. A thin tube of liquid attached him to a machine that compressed and ticked. I smelled something strange and astringent, like rotting eggs, blood, and antiseptic. My mother and my uncle were watching the technician setting up the machine, asking him questions.

“Hey, Mick!” my mother called to my father. “Kido is here! With Jon!”

The technician told us that a night nurse was coming over later and, after he finished with the machine, he left. Then we sat in silence. Jon held my hand and I just watched my father fling his arms at his sides and snore. He was in the home he purchased, hopped up on drugs, struggling to breathe, and wearing a diaper.

I looked around. At my mother’s yard sale nicknacks, at the things that were shoved against the wall to make room for the bed, at the family photos, at my mother’s sewing machine, at my shoes that had goddamn skulls on them.

“The blood is tainted,” my uncle broke the silence. “The liver isn’t cleaning the blood. It’s going to his brain. That’s why his eyes are yellow.”

“I thought it was lung cancer,” I asked.

“It spread to his liver,” my mother said.

We were silent again. I looked at a hospital bill. The single visit from the doctor was five hundred dollars. The hospital room was a thousand. That’s what my mom owed immediately. That was the first of many bills.

However, the hospice care was covered by Medicare. A small relief.

After a few hours of sparse moments of talking, Jon and I contemplated leaving, but the hospice van stopped in front of the house. Carol was a rotund woman with a big smile and curly red hair to match. When she took his diagnostics, she moved with him, instead of trying to get him to move the way she wanted. She smiled the whole time and told us everything she was doing, and I nodded along, even though I had no idea what she was saying.

“It’s wonderful that he has a family,” she said.

“There’s another one coming,” my mother said to her. “She lives in Washington, D.C. We’re a small family, but we’re close. There’s more, but they’re in the Philippines.”

Carol’s eyes lit up, “My daughter’s husband’s family is Filipino!”

“The Little One has been there. This one,” she pointed at me, “not yet.”

“We’ll go, someday,” I insisted. “Alyssa is just Alyssa. I motioned between Jon and me, “We are double the people and double the money. We’d like to go. Jon needs to leave the country at least once.”

“I’ve been outside the country,” he insisted.

“An American resort in Mexico doesn’t count,” I retorted.

“I learned ‘un cerveza, por favor,’” he said devoid of any Spanish accent and with a big smile on his face.

My mother pointed at my father. “He’s been quiet.”

The moment of levity made me brave. I picked up his wrist between my thumb and my index and middle fingers. “I feel a pulse, but something’s weird.” I looked at Carol and she opened her satchel of medical supplies.

I dropped his wrist. His eyes were wide open. Yellow and black pointed toward the ceiling. His body was stiff, his extremities were pointed out, and his skinny limbs looked alien. Dread punched me in the gut and I stumbled backwards. I realized what I had done. It wasn’t his pulse I felt – it was my thumb’s pulse through his wrist.

She didn’t have to say anything – I knew. Tears inundated my eyes. I stormed out of the house and sat on the tailgate of my mother’s pick-up truck. Jon followed me and squeezed my shoulders. I refused to go back into the house, so Jon went back in to get my phone. I called my sister. We cried together on the phone and she moved her flight for a later date. The hearse arrived after I hung up. My eyes hurt so much I couldn’t see the men who said, “I’m sorry,” and pushed the gurney. But my eyes focused on the white sheet – the only way I could look at him was as a body shaped space under a sheet on the way to an autopsy.

I haven’t smoked in years.