Thursday, April 13, 2006

Just When You Thought It Was Safe
To Go Back Into The Diner…

(A tribute to author, Peter Benchley, 1940-2006)

What is it about the words “All You Can Eat” painted on
plate glass that causes a normal, rational human being with a normal, rational appetite, to turn a Sunday morning breakfast into a feeding frenzy?

Suddenly the happy chords of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” on the restaurant’s Muzak tape are replaced by…
dunt-Dunt, dunt-Dunt…dunt-Dunt-dunt-Dunt And those of us ordering the traditional $3.95 breakfast special, brought to our table by a waitress named Ida Mae, watch in awesome wonder.

The creatures move in eerie unison toward the buffet bar. Toward steaming mounds of sausage links. Teetering piles of patties. Crusty heaps of hash browns, an over-abundance of bacon, and a mountainous ecstasy of scrambled eggs.

They advance, zombie-like, eyes glazing over, turning steely. They circle, in this ungodly diner’s dance, surveying their prey while, at the same time, sizing up the competition.

They seem to come from everywhere now as though on cue from some silent signal. And then…it begins. Mothers pushing past their own children. Old ones with a renewed sense of vigor, elbowing in. Big ones, that obviously never miss a meal or the snack in between, vie for dominance as they hold off the rest by lingering over the hotcakes. The impatient group forming behind them begins to get edgy--a scene that could get ugly. And we, the civilized, in our comfortable booth with our paper napkins placed neatly on our laps, a lazy Susan of “Syrups of the World” spinning slowly before us…look away, on the pretense of buttering our English muffins.

But morbid curiosity pulls our attention back to the frenzy, something akin to being tempted to order those “Savage Predator” videos from National Geographic (oh admit it, you’ve almost dialed that number). And as we feared, it’s not a pretty sight. Teen-aged busboys risking life and limb to clear away the empty bowls and swearing profusely under their breath at the “friend” who got them the job. Waitresses afraid of getting an arm caught in between while re-supplying the biscuits and sausage gravy and vowing to go back to cosmetology school just as soon as payday comes around.

And then, as though by yet another mysterious signal, all is calm. It’s over. Peace reigns supreme once again. The buffet tables bear little evidence of the morning’s carnage. A few withered sprigs of parsley, shriveled orange slices and gory splashes of tomato juice cocktail on the sneeze-guard are the only telltale signs of the fight that was waged only moments ago. Even the loathsome oatmeal is but a memory now.

The creatures, their voracious appetites now sated, return to their peaceful coexistence, pay the cashier, and pick up their complimentary toothpicks (“individually wrapped for your convenience”). While we, smug in our booths, confident in our higher rank of civility and self control, watch them leave…
as Ida Mae brings our second order of hotcakes, bacon and hash browns.
Oh, and may I have just a little more butter, please?


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Best Part of Aaaccking Up

Unlike Marjorie Morris of Ainsworth, Iowa, I’m fairly certain I’d be giving up my caffeine habit if I had found a dead turtle in my package of freeze-dried coffee. In a recent news article, Ms. Morris told Iowa City reporters that even though she didn’t find the turtle until the package was half empty, she would continue to have her morning beverage, only “now she’d be a more mindful consumer.”

Ok readers, let’s think about this carefully--“until the package was HALF EMPTY!” According to my calculations, that’s approximately sixty-four cups of dead turtle-flavored coffee. I have but one response to that. Aaackkk!! Personally, I think this is just the kind of thing that might bring my coffee consumption to an abrupt halt, mindfully or otherwise.

When I read this story, I thought immediately (well, after the initial Ack! wore off) of those tiny weevil bugs, sitophilus granarius to be exact, that get into bags of flour and other grain foods. You know, the kind of insect that can disguise himself as the crumbs of any breakfast cereal, and you don’t find him until you’ve made your way to the bottom of the bowl. Oh admit it, you’ve started your day like this a time or two.

You pour yourself a hearty bowl of Fruity Tryglyceride-e-Os, innocent of the fact that as you eat your cereal, several granarians, as they prefer to be called, are re-hydrating themselves in the milk along with it. A fact that will become nauseatingly obvious with your last spoonful. And then…there they are, bobbing to the surface like so much flotsam and jetsam, their little invertebrate bodies all plumped up and ready for bug business. And now, you’re ready for business, too, but of a decidedly different nature. It happened just like that, didn’t it?

Now readers, let me ask you. Wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to start a new diet? After all, our Mr. S. Granarius has seen to it that you won’t be touching carbohydrates for at least the next millennium. This will, no doubt, give our Basic Food Groups’ Pyramid a new architectural look. It’s not so much a pyramid any longer, but rather more like an experimental Frank Lloyd Wright that never really caught on.

I see the possibility of a whole new diet industry emerging thanks to Ms. Morris’ fortuitous discovery. Just imagine the impact that a well-placed chicken foot could have when packaged in your favorite butter brickle ice cream. And imagine the look of happy surprise on the face of your cardiologist when he reads the results of your latest cholesterol check.

Dr. Rube N. Rubberclogs: “Why, Mr. Flabbasket, I’m happily surprised by the results of your latest cholesterol check! Let me guess, you’ve been enjoying, “New! Rhode Island Red brand, butter brickle ice cream?”

Mr. Flabbasket: “Say Doc, good guess! But, then, I suppose that’s why you get the big bucks, ha, ha! Can I put my clothes back on now?”

These “New! Weight-loss Enhancing--Sabotaged for Your Convenience” products will have to be labeled clearly, of course, to avoid consumer confusion. A catchy logo perhaps, to alert the buying public that a particular product contains a little “dieter’s surprise.” How about a picture of a turtle peeking out of a coffee cup, in honor of Ms. Morris?

So, until this new marketing strategy takes off (FDA approval pending), let’s not look at these “oops episodes” in our nation’s food processing industry as cause for alarm, suspicion, or long, drawn-out law suits that end up as Emmy nominations for Boston Legal. No, let’s just look at them for what they really are.
The first step to a healthier you.

Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the writing of this column.