Monday, February 20, 2012

From Left to Write: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Last Thursday I went to an AYCE Indian buffet. They had some of my favorites, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala (yes, I know this is not really an Indian dish), peas pulao and vegetable curry. Oh, and a tangy yogurt sauce that was good enough to drink by itself! After I ate so much that my stomach hurt, I could barely move the rest of the afternoon. I found myself thinking, only in America can you eat so much for so little. After I regained my sight (I ate so much I couldn't even open my eyes), we went to the mall to buy Stewart some last minute supplies before his business trip to Korea. I noticed the sizes of people walking past me. It made me think, if everyone had to grow their own food or barter for it locally like Barbara Kingsolver and her family in this month's From Left to Write book club selection Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, there mostly likely wouldn't be an obesity problem in the U.S.

That night coincidentally, I watched on Nightline a segment on the Heart Attack Grill. The menus consists of four burger varieties based on the number of half-pound patties: the "Single Bypass Burger," the "Double Bypass Burger," the "Triple Bypass Burger," and the "Quadruple Bypass Burger." Each of the burgers can be augmented with "unadulterated" (not drained of the grease from cooking fat) bacon slices in quantities of five slices per patty, or 5 slices of bacon on the Single Bypass, ten slices on the Double Bypass, 15 slices on the Triple Bypass, and 20 slices of bacon on the Quadruple Bypass Burger. Does this sound gross yet? But wait, that's not all, the only available side item is "Flatliner Fries," fresh French-cut potatoes deep fried in pure lard. Heart Attack Grill also offers "Butter-fat Shakes," so named because it is made from butter fat cream. Various packaged candies are also available as dessert items, most notably the controversial candy cigarette. They actually showed the owner on Nightline offering the cigarettes to little kids. If you weigh over 350 pounds you eat there for free. Their last spokesperson died from pneumonia (which a non-obese person would have survived) and the current spokesperson is someone who had been their previous spokesperson previously but had to take a break because he had heart surgery.

Does this sound disturbing? Yet, the reason why the restaurant was featured on Nightline at all was because a customer in his 40s suffered a heart attack while eating a "triple bypass burger" at the grill on February 11, 2012. Which brings me back to the point of my opening paragraph. If you had to raise the cows and grow the potatoes yourself to get the meat and butter that goes into a Bypass Burger, fries and shake, would you really do it? What if you had to kill the cow yourself and butcher the carcass to get the meat for the hamburger? Would anyone really eat a quadruple patty burger? We have so little appreciation of the work that goes into the food that we eat--we take it for granted that we can eat as much as we want without thinking of the origins of the food.

We have such a first world problem, this issue of obesity and too much readily abundant food. Some would argue that processed packages full of high fructose corn syrup are not food, but even a person eating only that "food" at least will not die of hunger. At any rate, people who are "going hungry" in America are living luxuriously by true hunger standards in the rest of the world. Someone in the U.S. might go hungry by not getting three meals a day; maybe they will get as little as one meal a day from a soup kitchen or similar organization. In the Congo, going hungry means days of not eating anything and on the day you might get to eat, what you get is a small bowl of gruel. In some cases, children and parents take turns eating every third day. I don't think any of us really truly understands what it means to go hungry.

I think I'm probably more conscious of not wasting food than the average American, having lived a pretty strict childhood due to our tight immigrant budget. I remember how pained my mother was when the pediatrician told her that he suspected that I was suffering from malnutrition. I was old enough that I internalized that and have had food issues ever since. Yet, even so, I throw away food every week because it goes bad (usually vegetables that I alone can't eat fast enough because no one else in our family will eat them!) or nobody wants to eat leftovers. I can't help but feel that if I had grown or bartered for all the food, I wouldn't be committing such acts of sacrilege that make the rest of the world hate Americans. At the very least, I would be canning the food like my friend Paige over at Canning with Kids. So what are the next steps? Well, for one, I will buy more local food (thank God I live in California). The boys and I have a date with the Farmer's Market next weekend. Second, I will control myself and not eat to excess. I can't promise I won't go to an AYCE buffet again, but at least I'll be able to walk out with my eyes open. Lastly, I will try harder to make the boys understand how lucky they are to have enough to eat every day. I've already stopped H from saying, "I'm starving." I pray that my children will never ever have to say that for real. I pray also that you and yours will never have occasion to say it, and that, somehow, sometime soon, this world that does produce enough food to feed everyone living in it will get that food to those who need it.
Could you live an entire year eating locally or the food from your garden? Barbara Kingsolver transplanted her family from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of Virginia for their endeavor. Join From Left to Write on February 21 as we discuss Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. Photo of the Quadruple Bypass Burger courtesy of All opinions are my own. 


Janin said...

It's taken me almost 12 years to convert my husband to the idea of left-overs and reusing previous meals to make entirely different ones. Now, I have a freezer shelf dedicated to made at home dinners and a family who'll eat them. It's a small step, but I think it's an important one (:

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

OMG, that places sounds horrible! It makes me think of those places where your meal is free if you can eat a buttload of steak in an hour.

Lisa Hanneman said...

I heard about that place and was just as horrified. I often have the same reaction when I'm watching tv and a commercial for a fast food place comes on for a triple quarter pounder (or whatever it might be). I can't believe get excited about it. They must feel terrible after putting that garbage in their bodies.