1/05/2005

the shock! the horror! the plain ol' nausea. i just saw super size me last night, and honestly, few movies have ever made me so physically uncomfortable in my life (the exception being "requiem for a dream", but that was a different sort of psychosomatic pain and didn't last for the duration of the film. actually, correction: there was one brief moment of respite for me in SSM, when that guy was getting his stomach stapled. i kid you not.). if fast food nation was too polarized for you, this might do the trick. and yes, yes, you'll tell me you know the statistics, you've seen the fat people. but jesus, have you SEEN so MANY of them, all in one go, and in all their blubbery splendor? granted, i haven't been back in the states for over six months now, and i haven't stepped foot in the midwest for at least a year. also, the politically-correct socialization of my adolescence wants to kick in constantly in these moments to remind me that there are those genetically inclined to outsize proportions or have thyroid problems, etc. etc., but christ, man, some of these people are just orca fat in a really sad, really wrong way. and almost nothing is more depressing than grossly obese children. the one thing actually that springs to mind are their school lunches. but how do you make sure your kids don't grow up to be fatty fat fat, fast food addicts? (and the related question: how do you ensure that your kid isn't a loser? but that's a whole other ball o' wax.) this sort of came up spontaneously while my sister and i were in puglia, in the southeast of italy. while my mother is honestly one of the best home cooks i know (and really, i say this as objectively as can be expected) and while we ate a good number of our meals at home, together as a family, connie and i certainly ate our fair share of mcdonald's, taco bell, hardee's, arby's, domino's, little caesar's, et al (for whatever reason, we were never big on burger king or wendy's). i even remember that, on the car ride to orchestra rehearsal once when i was 13, i managed to eat an entire 12" pizza by myself. as an after-school snack. and i remember being proud of that fact. i don't remember my mother encouraging or discouraging us (well, if buying the crap for us indicates impartiality in any way), but i imagine it must have made life easier for her, what with shuttling us around all the time and the constant demands on time of the suburban upper-middle class overachiever lifestyle. somehow my sister and i emerged from this hating junk food and fast food and without much fondness for sweets (and connie used to go through liters and liters of coke a week). i'm sure it has everything to do with my parents' (and particularly my mother's) attitudes toward what they ate and their discernment for quality and taste and the fact that home cooked meals were the norm and not the exception or the rarity. i can't fundamentally grasp what it would be like to grow up without knowing flavors other than those peddled by madison avenue in commercials between cartoons (or music videos or whatever). it's horrifying enough that people reach adulthood with habits and learned behavior that are ultimately harmful to their health and well-being, but it frightens and saddens me to think that there's the possible existence of a window for learning tastes -- indeed, learning how to taste. what if all of a person's taste capacity neural wiring, as it were, happens by the end of adolescence? what happens to such a person who has never savored the bitter tang of mustard greens, never experienced that perfect conflation of sweetness and acidity of the archetypal peach at the height of summer? can such a person truly comprehend what good food is? (leaving aside the whole subjectivity argument, of course.) is this the kind of person that can only judge how excellent his meal is by how many stars the restaurant has and how hot the chef is right now? (ah yes, that's three-quarters of new york, isn't it?) and yes, i am so, so fortunate to be able to make the right food choices, to have the privileges and opportunities afforded me, and to live now in a country where people walk home for lunch AND dinner from school or work and cook their meals and eat them together with their families, where people have time to shop for food daily and from reasonably-priced, well kept markets, where quality of life does not translate to "career, family, cooking dinner, pick one". i am baffled and frustrated and so saddened by the state of food and eating and attitudes towards both in my own country. and while i'm mulling over what it takes to change the way americans eat: perhaps i'm just spoiled by my trip. after a long absence from internet connection, i'm little inclined to dive back in, so i'm not even going to begin to recount the whole trip or give a travelogue. long story short: paris - loughborough - gloucester - london - lecce - naples - palermo - erice - agrigento - piazza armerina - ragusa - siracusa - palermo - naples - bari - rome. (yes, i'm now recovering from my vacation.) modes of transportation: train (local, international, chunnel), metro, bus, airplane, car, ferry, and armchair. yes, on the naples - palermo sea voyage, we somehow got demoted from 1st class private cabin (with beds and shower) to poltrone, literally "armchair". and that's exactly what they were. 200 of them, all in one freezing room. and about 150 italians walking in and out from/to the deck, leaving the door open in 3°C weather, their cellphones ringing every 5 minutes, talking as loudly as possible on said cellphones all through the long (cold) night. all 12 hours of it. worst mode of transportation: armchair. best post-armchair voyage experience: waiting at the ferry company's office at 8am after sleepless night in armchair, along with 20-odd cranky, cranky italians (all who, like us, had not slept, their hair sticking up crazily in all directions, their undereye bags sagging down their faces) for reimbursements for the ticketing change. and as usual, unable to form proper queues. italians getting increasingly worked up and shouting at intervals at the ferry company employees, shaking fists, pounding glass and calling for the guarda di finanza (tax police) and polizia. police officers arriving and getting their asses kissed by all involved and providing some form of "justice" accordingly and superciliously. receiving a laughable €20/person reimbursement after an hour of this (and let's not even mention the 12 hours before that). best meals: paris - everywhere, ragusa - il duomo and gelateria diVino. best markets: paris, naples, palermo, siracusa. i was fairly disappointed by borough market in london. favorite sicilian locales: erice and siracusa. sicily has lots and lots of: oranges sicilian radio has lots and lots of: michael jackson (circa "thriller") and shitty shitty euro pop. and they're really into "the O.C." theme song right now. driving is the best way to get around in sicily, and the landscape there is heartbreakingly beautiful. sicilians are the friendliest and most generous people i've met in italy, while the barese may perhaps be their polar opposite. bari is not a good place to spend new year's eve. there are lots and lots of french people in southern italy. the majority of them do not know how to eat well down there. naples is fucking crazy. anyone who drives in naples is fucking crazy. or fucking talented.

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