The year before I was born (1966, if you haven’t been keeping up) McDonald’s started using frozen french fries. The first credit card in Great Britain, the Barclaycard, was also introduced that year. Mississippi repealed Prohibition – its last holdout, Simon and Garfunkel released ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme;’ the first law requiring ingredients listings on packaged food is passed, and Quaker instant oatmeal is introduced that year. In 1967, Wisconsin legalizes yellow margarine, the Wholesome Meat Act is passed, and ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ (staring Sidney Poitier) premieres.
Dominos, Hardee’s, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Blimpie, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Long John Silver’s, and Wendy’s all open in the 1960s. And, well, Happiness is a place called Shakey’s! Shakey’s, probably one of my favorite childhood restaurants—I loved watching the cooks throwing around pizza dough and slinging scoops of sauce over the pies – and the balloon chef? anyone remember those? Incidentally, the Andy Warhol directed film, ‘The Nude Restaurant,’ was also released in 1967. I hope no one remembers that!
The trend is self-evident—fast, cheap food, with little variety. All-American meant beef patties, hotdogs, and pizza. And fast food drew the family out making it that much easier to dismiss the communal meal each evening at home. The first part (introducing cheap, preservative-laden, toxic food) signed the death warrant for the people of the superpower. The second fueled a symptom of the illusion that hasn’t really existed in this country—not in the sense politicians often portray this ideal—save (possibly) a couple of decades mid-20th century. But that’s for another blog.
Despite a recent scuffle over the reluctance to receive the displaced, the principle on which our constitution rests is that of welcome. The statue of liberty – a gift in support of abolition and freedom, and a beacon for the dispossessed – invites all peoples to augment, enhance the community. The best evidence for this is the types and range of food available to dwellers in this fair land. Now I can order salmon with citrus salsa verde and jicama cilantro slaw; or, mojo chicken, tomatillo & avocado salsa with pickled red onion tacos! And if you must get a burger, make it one with pineapple, Benton’s bacon, lettuce, cilantro and Sriracha; or with granny smith apple, muenster and chipotle aioli!
My sons are benefiting from this flavor fusion, too. At Howie’s instigation, the three of them are learning to cook meals that use a variety of ingredients and cooking techniques. The new combinations and compositions work so well that one night they fought over the remaining brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts! Holidays’ growing up my mother was always inviting people to join us for the big meal. It was usually a family whose relatives lived in another state, or was from a different country, or not comfortable in their own home. They always introduced new traditions or foods, some of which I still use.
We need food to survive. Our bodies require the nutrients. Our souls require the ritual, the pleasure of fragrance and flavor igniting the senses, the motivation to gather and linger together. Our culture thrives on the practice of amalgamating herb and spice, oil and game, potions passed down through generations. How much we learn of our heritage through a simple meal. I’ve dined in Hong Kong and London, Turkey and Ireland, Indonesia and Oklahoma, and enjoyed Korean food in Seoul, and Singapore, and Palatine, IL. But the most amazing food I think I’ve had is where they experiment with ingredients and techniques from different cultures.
The gift acquired by inviting a visitor is invaluable. Not only do I see the face of God in a new light, I might learn the means to make Brussels sprouts even enjoyable! It is also a good opportunity for mindfulness practice: allow the flavor to linger in the mouth and discern distinct flavors, provoke old memories, make new memories. And, I just might find I’m entertaining angels.