Back in 1989, Elayne and I were at EPCOT Center in Orlando, riding through “The Land” pavilion (I can still hear the song in my head, with this catchy little chorus: Let’s listen to the land we all love. Nature’s plan will shine above. Listen to the land, listen to the land…”). That is an interesting place, because it purports to show natural foods being grown in unnatural ways. Watching tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers grow upside down without soil, with tiny water drops falling on them reminds me of something out of “Sleeper”. Interesting, but creepy. Then again, that’s what everybody says about Woody Allen.
It got me thinking, that while it would be nice to have a easily sustainable food supply regardless of soil quality or water quantity, my experiences eating out lead me to conclude that most restaurants have moved to mass-produced, commissary-style food. In fact, we’re a half-step away from reaching into our refrigerators and grabbing a can marked “Food” and just digging in, like in “Repo Man.”
You know what I’m talking about: rolls that are exactly the same no matter what restaurant you go to, vegetables that are perfectly cut and cubed, food that gives you the sense that it was prepared a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…There isn’t a chain restaurant that doesn’t throw off that vibe to me. Whether it’s the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday (you know that the lettuce was in a bag in back or that the egg salad was cubed and mixed somewhere else, like Bayonne, New Jersey), or the vegetables at the Olive Garden that are always cut oh, so perfectly, where if they put enough dressing on the salad, it’ll wash away the smell of the rot. Some of those salads look like they were made before olive trees were discovered.
There is something very unsatisfying in eating pre-fabricated food. Unfortunately, most places seem to use partially prepared foods and I know that I can do better. While I might enjoy pre-fab homes and pre-fab concrete; pre-fab food, not so much.
This idea extends to the décor of restaurants too. I understand that massive chain restaurants rely on their familiarity so that all the outlets essentially have to look the same, whether in Framingham, Massachusetts or Cortland, New York. But whom does Applebee’s think it’s kidding? That goofy commercial where they have the coach hang the picture of himself on the wall-the only reason he has a tear in his eye is because he knows what food is coming. He’s thinking “For the love of Moses, can’t we go somewhere for real food, like Subway”!?
Speaking of Subway, how pathetic is their quality control? It appears as if they only allow the employees to put three thin slices of turkey on a sandwich, folded in half to make it look thicker. Then they load it up with lettuce and other vegetables that they shipped in a month ago. The icing on this cake is when they bag your food, and they slip in one napkin! G-d help you if you’re a sloppy eater and need 2! Finding a napkin in a Subway is harder than getting an audience with the Pope.
The long and short of it is, until we stop patronizing these places, until we stop buying into the propaganda machine that tells us that Ruby Tuesday is now making “steak burgers” and has a “fresh” salad bar, and that at the Olive Garden, we’re “family” (maybe so, if you’re the Mansons), we’ll be getting our food from a plastic bag, or a Styrofoam container, heated up in a microwave, or boiled in a bag, just like the Pilgrims and my Grandma used to make…
Now if you’ll excuse me, my Soylent green is ready.
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