June 15, 2009

believe the hype

This weekend we were at the All Balboa Weekend in Cleveland, which was wicked fun as usual. We did a lot of dancing, learned stuff, and made cool new friends, yay!

But the dark underside of all this sunny joy is the food one eats while at such an event. We brought some hardboiled eggs and some dried cherries and almonds, but that's about all we could manage on short notice and without checking luggage. We had no car, so we were limited to what we could walk to in between classes, which was basically a Walgreens and a constellation of chain restaurants. There were lecture-style classes during lunch, so there wasn't much option to go out for lunch if you were interested in the class topic.

We bought some Wonder Bread, Skippy Natural and Squeezable Smucker's Strawberry at the Walgreens, so we could have PB+J for breakfasts along with the eggs. The PB had palm oil and sugar added to it, and the J had hi fructose corn syrup in it, and the squish bread was basically just a puffy cushion to keep the sticky stuff off your fingers. Between all the extra sugar and the total lack of fiber, these PBJs tasted OK but made us feel kind of icky. We supplemented with milk, eggs and/or that trail mix, but it wasn't enough.

We ate hotel food, hot dogs and cold ham sandwiches for lunches, and one buffet breakfast of fruit, juice, pale "wheat" toast and bacon. Not much better, frankly, especially when one is dancing for hours on end burning calories like a maniac. The gala dinner buffet is just wretched, and I need to remember next year to email friends ahead of time and plan ahead to skip it and go out to the Thai place hidden away in the nearest strip mall instead.

Royal Red Robin Burger
And we ate at Red Robin, Gourmet Burgers and Spirits. I'd never been to one, so I wanted to try it out. Unfortunately it is one of those places encrusted with flair, desperately flailing to borrow character from advertisements and popular culture everywhere. Very nearly every worker in the building came over to ask us how everything was, and I am ashamed to say that the last guy got the full force of my Northeastern Bostonian reaction. My burger was pretty dry, despite chipotle mayo, onion strings, blue cheese and steak sauce, but tallasiandude's was actually pretty good, being a plainer style and having egg and bacon on top. The bottomless (!) fries made me sad, because they were the thick steak-fry style and soggy to boot. Why do people like this style of fry? They are NOT GOOD. NOT GOOD, I am telling you. Sigh.

And then in the airport, I needed to eat a full meal so as not to feel barfy on the airplane, which meant that against my better judgement I ate a chicken quesadilla and a buffalo wing. There was supposed to be beans and corn, but there were about 5 of each wedged in with the vast chunks of spongy industrial chicken. I was full enough to fly safely, but I felt so nasty the rest of the night. I couldn't even eat the delicious pea pod stems and dried scallop fried rice we bought on the way home from the airport.

The point of all this is to say that we both became highly aware of the way we felt physically after even a few meals of completely industrial, commonplace American food. My position on such things is primarily intellectual and hedonistic, generated from equal parts desire for maximum deliciousness and desire to have clean, healthy inputs. I am no food snob, I love me some Kraft dinner and flavor-crystal-encrusted potato chips. But usually I eat those things once and then revert right back to what I usually eat. This weekend there was no respite, just meal after meal of it, and it felt BAD.

It brought home the reality of the present food supply in America, and exactly why public health has gotten to the state it has. It wasn't just my intellect aware of this, it was my whole body telling me that it was displeased with the fuel it was getting.

I have plenty of access to unquestionably good food, some of it from my own back yard. I have a car and enough money. I travel. That's nice for me, and nice for the rest of the comfortable folks in Newton who love the farmer's markets and Whole Foods. I'm glad my access to organic foods, especially meats, is increasing, but the real trick is getting actual FOOD into the hands of people who for whatever reason are trapped in the mainstream supply chain.

I should be able to buy unadulterated peanut butter in the Walgreens. I should be able to get vegetables and unantibiotic-ed beef at Red Robin. And the chicken in my gala hotel dinner should not have the texture of cotton balls.

This morning in my inbox I found a few different links about just this sort of subject. There's a new movie out, Food, Inc., which hopefully will get a mainstream buzz like some of the global warming ones did a few years ago. Michael Pollan is making the rounds, and some legislation is being introduced focused on school lunches. And it's these school lunch issues that are the scariest to me. I knew that there was a bunch of junk being served in cafeterias, and I knew that kids prefer junk foods, but I didn't realize that the latter was at this point driving the former. I knew that kids didn't know how vegetables grow or where hamburgers come from, but I didn't realize they couldn't recognize lasagne as something good to eat.


Posted by foodnerd at June 15, 2009 12:34 PM

EIle va bient?t se coucher au fond de la mer brumeuse, Mais longue est la route, thomas sabo charmavant que les fleuves, Xiao et Xiang se rejoignent: Combien sont-ils, ceux qui rentrent au clair de lune, cette nuit-là? A la lune déclinée, les arbres du fleuvethomas sabo schmuck soupirent, mélancoliques.

Posted by: kalb at November 10, 2010 01:18 AM
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