Friday, April 15, 2011

Food Miscellany

(No science was done in the writing of this entry.)

I wish I could say that I had taken this month-long hiatus to refuel my creative reserves. A skilled author would do this. I, on the other hand, just managed my time poorly and let things get away from me. Still, here I return with an extra-long post with a few issues that have chaffed me for some time. I couldn't think of a good way to string these into one cohesive, pithy entry. I also have way too many series going on as it is. So, I just threw them all together here.

Eating is one of God's gifts to men. C.S. Lewis said that God is the ultimate hedonist because He could easily have made something so debase and common very droll and boring. But instead, He made it awesome for us. Any even casually acquainted with me know how passionate I am about food. Not so much the preparation of food, but more the eating of it. Yet the world is fallen due to Original Sin and eating is no different. But what could be wrong in the world of eating, you ask. Behold just a few with fear and trembling.


Stuff spills. As much as we like to pretend that we are full-grown adults, most of us demonstrate the motor prowess of toddlers. The fancier your outfit, the more obvious this fact becomes. Man's desire for neatness in eating is one of the things that separates us from the beasts¹. It's inefficient, true, since you'll just spill even more Caesar salad and nacho cheese all over that expensive formal wear through the course of your meal. Nevertheless, our undying quest for culinary cleanliness (in addition to dead trees and man's ingenuity) has brought us the napkin. And while some readers may wonder why I dress formally and eat nachos for hypothetical examples, I wonder why we even bother to use napkins when they are so obsolete.

Napkins are perhaps the most dated and backwards invention at your dinner table. Imagine buying a High-Def 40" 3-D LCD screen TV. Upfront. In cash. Then you celebrate and christen your purchase by inviting your friends over to gather 'round the radio for another exciting episode of The Lone Ranger. Such is the napkin on your table. I ask you in all frankness, America, why do we continue to use napkins when a far superior creation is eager to meet all of your spillage needs.

I do not need to belabor the obviously superior performance of the paper towel... but I will. Paper towels have increased absorbency. Paper towers are larger in size; easily the size of an adult lap without being thin. Paper towels are not as easily rent asunder by water. Paper towels are roughly the same price for quadruple the performance. Ever wonder why good Southern barbecue or wing restaurants have a huge roll of paper towels at every table? It's because no simple napkin can handle drippy sauce of that magnitude.

But maybe most importantly at all, paper towels are always there for you when you need them. The napkin, meanwhile, is the most emotionally distant of all tabletop ware.


I remember during my sophomore year of college that the college dining hall staff began to vociferously demand that students use tongs at the dessert table. The tyranny of the dining hall staff on this tong issue may well have come from Georgia state health codes, but the power-hunger came from the depths of their dark hearts. Injustice in the regime was rampant. It could not be allowed to stand. My Tuesday-Thursday lunch club formed an underground resistance. Whenever any of those the middle-aged generalissimos turned their backs, we would snatch succulent snacks from the front lines. The Revolution became more brazen with time. I started to grab cookies off the table in plain view of the staff. I could barely hear their shrill shouts of "Use the tongs, please!" over the sound of both my logical and tactical superiority.

Here's what bugs me about tongs. I confess that I am not a scientist². Still, I know a thing or two about germs and plenty more about tongs. The idea behind the tongs are to keep the greasy, disease-ridden hands of the masses from touching the cookie predestined for someone else's mouth. You can rest assured that no one has touched your cookie except you thanks to the tongs, stainless steel saviors of dinner. I know lots of foolish hypochondriacs who relish the idea of tongs, alongside anti-bacterial soap and gratuitous amounts of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

I hate to destroy your faith in man, clean-freaks, but tongs are actually inferior to just grabbing the cookies yourself! Think about it; most people are only going to accidentally brush perhaps one or two other cookies on the way to their fated cookie, and even then only occasionally. Very few (though not few enough) are the idiots/villains who would runs their hands over all the cookies after forgetting/intentionally neglecting to wash their hands in the bathroom. But EVERYONE TOUCHES THE TONGS. Everyone! Instead of possibly one other person, you and everyone else in the room--idiots, villains, cold-sufferers, and all in between--touches the metal tongs. And then your hands, which have effectively rubbed against every other hand in the room, go right to the cookie. Which goes right into your mouth. Not only are tongs obnoxious appendages to the hands God Himself created, they're also not any safer for avoiding germs.

I always sprinkle botulism cultures on buffet tables.

Black coffee

In the 1970s, retired Master Sergeant Charles Helms stepped into a familiar Selma, Alabama diner with his children. Some twenty years prior, a much younger Helms had frequented the place while off-duty as a young army medic. Now he was back with his young children. Helms took his old seat in the diner. Several regulars remembered "Mr. Charlie", warmly reminisced with him, and fawned over his kids. A waitress took their drink orders. Sergeant Helms ordered coffee, his usual order at any restaurant all the time since and even before his time here as a regular here. The waitress asked if Helms wanted cream and sugar. It was a set-up. Her ears already anticipated his familiar yet-long-unheard reply. Helms took that cue with a winsome air of nostalgia.

"Why ruin a good cup of coffee?"

Grandpa made black coffee into a ritual for as long as I could remember. If family folklore like I just shared can be trusted, it was like that for even longer. So imagine my shame when I couldn't stomach the stuff. After all, I grew up thinking coffee was a drink for men and that was why boys like me couldn't stand it. By the 2000s, trendy Starbucks coffee had made inroads into the South and I was hooked. I could drink their creamy, sugary "coffee-flavored" beverages. But how could I sit at the kitchen table with Grandpa and pretend to drink coffee? My drink was cool, hip, and tasty. His drink put hair on your chest and defeated Communism. I knew that I wasn't really a man until I could drink that sacred black brew without flinching³.

I finally got there in college. I finished my first cup at a Waffle House in Tyrone. I took that manly sense of accomplishment back to Rome. There I shamed many in my dormitory by scoffing at their creamy, sugar-laden mockeries of the black brew. You may not understand, reader, how a drink can make you more of a man. No big deal.

It merely means you aren't a man.

A good cup of coffee ought to make you suffer. You know you have made your coffee strong enough when your first hot, bitter sip makes you angry at the world. That anger inspires you to not just seize the day, but to clutch it by the ears, knee it in the face, take a baseball bat to it, and relent only when it calls you "master". I have no quarrel with lesser, trendier beverages which feed the sweet tooth while rotting all the other teeth. I even enjoy these "lattes", "frappechinos", and "macciatos" on occasion. I really only get angry when these Italian milkshakes are allowed to masquerade as coffee. And don't even get me started on latté art. Dessert can be an art. Coffee is rage fuel.

Coffee, black as sin and hot as hell, tore down the Berlin Wall. Show it some respect.

¹ Except cats unfortunately.
² "But Thomas, you're a lover!" you loudly reply. But, friend, love is not a science; it's an art.
³ I really miss getting to footnote things. I hope it doesn't show.

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