The Joy of American Cooking


[this post is reprinted from my Journal Hyperion vs. the Universe]








I was IMing my sister when the food tray arrived, and space requirements necessitated putting the computer aside for a time, so that I might tuck in to the culinary wonders brought to me.

Breakfast's usual disappointing suspects (flubbery gristle trying out for a part as a sausage patty) and a waffle (somehow both burnt and under-cooked soggy simultaneously) were long forgotten. For did I not spy with my little eye a chicken-fried steak patty? (A troubling omission was the non-appearance of sawmill gravy, or gravy of any kind, but I rationalized this as explainable because I'm sure gravy is verboten in a place like this.) The chicken-fried steak guess was later down-graded to a fried pork chop, which was not as exciting, but this was semantics, as all that really changed was my perspective, not the fact that there was every chance that I had meat before me, and breaded and fried at that.

And if that wasn't enough, no amount of squinting in the world could make the other item not be a baked potato. Yeah! Impossible to screw that up, right? Again, the warning omens: besides a nondescript tub of sour cream that I handed back wordlessly there was no cheese or bacon or any toppings. I comforted myself with the thought that I could use the small dab of spread that clung to its plastic and paper-lidded aperture on top of the individually wrapped white bread slice - and while that may not have been slathering my potato in butter, beggars can't be choosers, and it was still a potentially rare treat.

AND THERE WAS PIE!

I told my sister I would IM her after I ate to tell her about the meal. Having finished my description, I discovered it was considerably longer than an IM-message length restriction, although I couldn't understand why, as it was only a few sentences. Nonetheless, I decided to reprint it here, on the off-chance you might get a kick out of it too. I present: Lunch.






The fried porkchop was so overcooked that I LITERALLY broke my fork trying to cut it. The baked potato was so dry I was tempted to hook it up an I.V. The less said about the vegetable mush the better. The fruit punch was (I suspect) concocted with water, massive amounts of red food coloring, and one fruit-punch Lifesaver per gallon of water. I'm guessing whoever made it had half a pack of Lifesavers stuck in his pocket and just threw it in, in order to take home the giant fruit-punch flavor crystal packet he was supposed to use. (Perhaps it's his turn to bring snacks tonight to his twin 8-year olds' basketball game. Score for him!)
Even the pie, while inoffensively sugary, was a no-effort-whatsoever amalgam of bone-dry crust, whipped "cream" that made utterly no pretense to attempt the least evocation of dairy or frothed air, and industrial-grade pudding-pie filling that (and this is just a guess) was supposed to replicate (in some universe) the flavor of coconut (I make this guess only because the filling was vaguely brown-yellowish, and could not possibly have been trying to imitate banana or vanilla or lemon, three pie flavors I'm sure they could easily equally screw up but are so simple to fake the smallest approximation that it boggles the mind they wouldn't have done that), and also because there were these light brown smudges on top of the cream that were intended to be (snickering) toasted coconut. They looked more like the vestiges of that cookie decoration kit you got six years ago that came with "candy" sprinkles but you never ended up using them because the decorations were so tasteless and now the kit sits half-opened in your spice cupboard, stuck up back behind the three-year old bouillon cube jar (which you never use because stock on a box is so much simpler) and the potpourri cooking herbs that came with that one gift basket from your aunt that you never knew how to use in cooking, and also that one packet of something that you're not even sure what it is because there is no label on it, and God only knows why you didn't just throw the kit away but in the back of your mind you had this idea that you might one day be pulled into emergency cupcake duty for a band of rowdy kids, so the sprinkles and the licorice dots and the factory-toasted coconut all sit up there in their boxes and it is this last item that looks like it was shaken over the pie pieces, right before they were all individually smushed with plastic wrap, waiting to be hazily gummed and sucked in toothless ennui by some poor guy running out the clock on a ventilator who won't remember ten minutes from now that he even had "pie," (and I finger quote), let alone what "flavor it was and...where was I going with all this? 
Oh yeah: lunch sucked. I'm not complaining mind you, just describing. In fact, I took a certain pleasure in discovering just how gaw-dawful it was, and at the end of the day, if our food can distract us, even for a few minutes, from the other other unspeakable realities, it may not be sustenance or nutrient infusion the dietitians envisioned when they sat down 18 months ago to craft the strategy for today's well-balanced monstrosity, but at least it's something. 






Note: The pie at the top is just some random piece I found on Google. I didn't think to take a picture of it. It didn't actually look bad at all. As for the tray, that's the actual scene of the crime, so to speak. All I have is my laptop webcam, so the picture quality is pedestrian, and it seems almost innocent just sitting there, no different from any of ten thousand done meals across the land. True enough: it's very hard to convey it in pictures. But at least take a second look at that fork!






For my rambling journal-esque pieces see Hyperion vs. the Universe, or scroll to the top for other, better categories of fine literary fun.


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