Friday, December 18, 2009

Eating Like an American

...or Dude! What is going on here?!?

It's a rhetorical question, yah, got it.

Here's what got me going: a $50 gift certificate to any of the Darden SV Inc. restaurants nationwide. Which, really, is a damn generous company holiday gift. It really is. And I know why they did it too- there aren't that many things that you can give the same thing to 300-some-odd people and have it be even vaguely appropriate. So, restaurant gift cards= free food an booze= cool.

Ok, so what restaurants are those? In Portland, those would be Red Lobster, and Olive Garden. Neither of which actually have locations in Portland. Well, I lie, there's an Olive Garden in Mall 205. And from where I live, it's just as far to Vancouver to get to Red Lobster, but probably more of a pain in the neck.

But that's totally irrellevant! In the process of locating a venue for spending my lucre, of course I looked at the menus on the websites, and of course I opened the link to the...dun-dun...nutrition facts.

They still use 2000 calories per day as a benchmark for calculating a person's nutritional
needs. I probably do all right on about that, maybe less, say about 1800 on a slothful Saturday. I'm 35, I'm female and not built on heroic lines. I don't work out, but on the other hand, I spend a lot of time riding Shank's Mare. Super fit I am not. Where am I going with this...

Oh, the Nutrition Facts! Yay for hyperlinks. How often do people eat at restaurants? Hopefully, not often. When I was 22, I could eat an entree of chicken alfredo without batting an eye. Or maybe some Calamari?
How many grams of saturated fat are you supposed to stay under in a day? We haven't even got to the desserts yet, I think that would just get depressing. I love dessert, it's supposed to be chock full of saturated fats.

So why does the menu at Olive garden bug me? Well, for one thing, all the portions are in these feasting-for-a-special-occasion sizes, and for another, because everything on it looks the same. It's all the same cream sauce, all the same noodles, all the same piece of chicken meat, all the same piece of cow parts. Don't even get me started on the fact that vegetables are only mentioned in a roundabout way. Red Lobster too. You can have broccoli or asparagus. Asparagus only sometimes, and broccoli you have to ask for especially. I like my broccoli, but that it? Mountains of food, all the same. You could close your eyes and point 3 or 4 different times and get exactly the same meal, but with some rather irrational price differences. They have taken the natural human joy of feasting and turned it into a process for maximizing calories per dollar. All the things that make food more than just consumption have been jettisoned, and the only index of value is how much stuff you get. Evidently, lots of people agree with them. You don't get chain restaurants by having complex criteria for what you want to serve. You get hot cart pods.

So, am I gonna use my gift certificate? Yeah, sure.There was a short period a few years back when I ate at restaurants regularly. I gained weight, duh. But the thing that in retrospect seems particularly sad to me is how boring it was. I could have spent less time, eaten better, and enjoyed myself more if I had been cooking. It would have cost less too, by a long shot. But there was the convenience of a predictable restaurant. Sometimes it is nice just to have someone else clear up the stupid dishes. Sometimes I do want a cocktail, and not being the kind of gal who keeps a full bar (or even an empty one) at home, a drink at a restaurant is always kinda nice. It's the middle of the winter, and going somewhere warm, that is not my house, where I can have my peck and booze and neither I nor my friends have to clear away the debris after dinner, is pleasant. The food will not be special, but since my employer has already paid for it, it would be silly not to use the certificate.

Here's the thing though: eating at a restaurant should be a treat. It should be indulgent, and you should be able to get things you don't get at home, and they should be tasty and interesting, and sometimes even remarkable, to eat. And dangit, there should be dessert. And on special occasions, sure, maybe that dessert could have enough calories in it to last you a whole day. But the quantity, and the calories, and the fat or sodium or whatever should be secondary. Eat things than make you go 'Hm. I'll be darned.' Eat things that make you feel giddy with excitement. Eat things made by people you love, eat in the company of people who care about you. Feed your friends things they won't cook for themselves, things that are crunchy, or spicy, or bitter, or fishy, or just anything interesting. It's December, the weather is crap, and if ever there is a time of year when we need food to be more than just calories, this is it.

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