There are three points of view regarding food. I have a couple of friends who consider food a critical lifestyle, consistent with what kind of house to live in or what car to drive or where to ski. Many of my friends take great joy in fine dining at restaurants and at home. In some respects, it appears like they live, in part, to eat.
My wife, on the other hand, has been accused of having a Paleolithic philosophy that food is a nuisance to be endured in order to, well, endure. That might not be fair, but, she does appear to eat only to live. I've pondered if she could live till the end of time, she'd subsist on nothing more than peanut butter and bananas or cheese on pita or just oatmeal with a few raisins.
In between these poles are folks like me, for whom the proverbial see-food diet was described, as in "I see food and I eat it." I truly do appreciate fine cooking, but I am perfectly happy to eat at a roadside diner with lots of semi-tractor trailer rigs parked outside. Thinking back many decades to Army mess halls, I can't recall ever being disappointed.
Way before then, when I was in grade school, my father was both a veteran and a long-haul trucker who took me on the road during school summer vacations. The popular truck stop cuisine du jour was meatloaf and mashed potatoes in brown gravy, RC Cola to wash it down, followed by coconut custard pie. High calories, salt, sugar and fat were the way of the open road.
Back home in Brooklyn, N.Y., I grew up as a second-generation American. My grandparents were naturalized American citizens from former middle European countries that were merged through a series of, shall we say, hostile takeovers. Every holiday season, my grandmother would make great-tasting, lavish dinners with the nutritional equivalent of those truck stops. We had chicken soup and matzo balls cooked with duck fat. We had rendered chicken fat and browned onions instead of butter to spread on potatoes and bread in observance of kosher traditions. We had heavy dinners of braised beef. For Rosh Hashanah, we ate tzimmes, a baked concoction of sweet potatoes, carrots, prunes, stew beef, pineapple juice and sugar.
Jewish comedian Buddy Hackett was a contemporary of Don Rickles and would be well known today if he hadn't died in 2003. Like Rickels, Hackett was a regular on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, where he liked to tell a favorite food story of going on sick call when he was in Army basic training.
"I think I am dying," he recalled telling the doctor.
"Why do you feel that?" the doctor asked.
"I can't feel my heart. It's like the fire has gone out within my chest," Hackett responded.
After an exam, the doctor would conclude, "You're not sick. It's just that you are now eating Army food instead of Jewish food and you no longer have heartburn."
That story doesn't only apply to Jewish cooking, but to most of us. A majority of folks were raised on the kind of foods that have made heartburn and acid reflux two of the more common ailments affecting close to 60 million people in the U.S.
Like many of you, I continue to suffer a love/hate relationship with food that's not always good for me. So much so that I have come to empathize with alcoholics, drug addicts and a particular friend of mine who hated the opioids that he was prescribed after surgery, because then had to combat bouts of nausea to ween himself off of those prescription painkillers to get back to ordinary life.
Many of my friends are in the travel-the-world-for-dining-experiences phase of life. "We ate at this wonderful café in Lisbon"; "What a surprise to find four-star dining in London ... London!"; "The local offerings in Nairobi were life changing," etc.
This gluttonous gloating about the joys of recent dinner samplings from around the world by my returning traveler friends appears to have replaced what travelers used to subject everyone to when they came home from overseas: Hours-long slide shows of museums and overexposed shots of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. Those were dinner parties to be fearful of. For me, I prefer to dine locally. Traveling the world, just to brag that I was fed ethnic foods I can find right here in our extensive Salt Lake City melting pot—well, it doesn't make me feel good.
I resist travel magazines, Anthony Bourdain-style TV, social-media sites and friends who champion such travel, all with the caveat to bring larger pants for the trip home. Not for me. Besides, I don't want to risk losing a couple of teeth, being dragged, kicking and screaming, from my United Airlines seat, which many of my friends believe is exactly what would have happened if I had been the one asked to vacate that double-booked seat, instead of Dr. David Dao. Just saying.
In SLC, I am provided all the indulging opportunities I need. These days, my wife and I have come to a sustainable compromise regarding glutton-style entertainment. We now comb through ads in this weekly to find wonderful places to try that would appeal to our more sophisticated friends. We have learned to embrace and enjoy many happy nights of eating and drinking with them and, yes, it really has become a lot of fun, without getting on a plane. Joyfully, we have moved on from oatmeal, peanut butter and coconut custard pie.
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