Eating food is something that, if we’re lucky, most of us do every day. In fact, our bodies are built for it and need to do it to survive. Take our layout: We have hands to hold food with, a mouth to put food into, and a butt to poop it all out. And yet, we’ve turned something natural into a clusterfuck. How?
Trends. It’s as simple as that. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Hulu’s Difficult People, you get it. As a species, humans are like dogs chasing laser pointers. If we treated breathing with as much trend-focused madness as we do eating, we’d all have drilled holes directly through our chests. The trend would be called “Fresh Air!” and it would be gross. Very gross.
But somehow many chefs and virtually the entire C-suite of every Big Food company never got that memo. And so they do dishonorable things to food, turning meals into a hobby only the wealthy and the extremely bored can partake in, or else treating the body like a mattress to stuff full of carbs and farts and then jump on.
One cannot lay complete blame on the half-croissant/half-donut invented by a French pastry chef in 2013. That was delicious. But even if some culinary “mules” take, that does not mean others will (or even that you should try). Let horses be horses, and donkeys be donkeys.
Soon everything was screwing. Foodporn has become some hardcore interspecies fetish shit. Menus are like the new subreddits, the more bizarre the better. We live in a world where tacos are hard-briefcased in neon orange chips and shards of mac-and-cheese are dipped in that same orange dust and make millions of dollars. Now burgers exist where the buns are made of ramen noodles, chicken sandwiches where the bun is made of chicken, and pizzas come delivered in pizza boxes made of pizza. It is time to live by that ancient junior-high adage, avuncularly given, spectacularly ignored: Just because you can put one thing inside another, doesn’t mean you should.
As restaurants get hoitier and toitier, menus get more and more sullen. What’s this tasting menu business? For $165 per person ($200 for wine pairings), they’re saving on ink or something? Today, when you sit down for dinner on a stool whose wood has been reclaimed from a gutted barn in upstate New York, a menu will be delivered to you (if you’re lucky) whose terse lack of descriptors is rivaled only by the aloofness of your server. “Hake. Juniper. Lettuces,” it says. Our fine-dining menus have become sullen teenagers. How was your day? Good. What did you do? Nothing. Wanna watch Game of Thrones? Leave me alone!
As you know from Difficult People, scratch any waiter and an actor appears. But a meal is not the best time to deliver a soliloquy. It’s not like you’ll get a SAG card for your performance, let alone a good tip. And yet, waiters seem unable to stem the flow of words from their mouths. This isn’t just any lettuce. This lettuce was foraged in the backyard of the sister of the set designer of Hamilton, who lives in a 19th-century bungalow in Oneida, New York. The house itself has two bedrooms — the second serves as a nursery — and has great light, but recent fracking has really caused property values to plummet. It is all served alongside a black daikon puree, which the chef found in a radish patch at a shopping center in Abington, Pennsylvania. Enjoy.
And sometimes, at demi-peak annoyance, this sermon is accompanied by a first-person essay. “What I like to do is sop up the meat juice with this spelt-free loaf.” Then, coming in at peak annoyance, is the first-person-plural interrogation. “Have we decided what we’re going to do tonight? Might we be having the hand-harvested donuts topped with the feral blueberry concasse?” Will we? I dunno. We could go halfsies, I guess.
Woe unto that person who gently mentions that, despite our mania for local ingredients, maybe having a forager drive some CO2-spewing beater 150 miles each way to pick local grasses is maybe not the most ecologically wise choice. He’s immediately branded the puppet of Big Food. As if it weren’t obvious that we live in a city, and if we were honest about foraging there would be a lot more scrawny mice, dirty-ass pigeons, and dead grass on the menu. A good rule of thumb: If you live near a major subway, foraging is a sham.
And then the lettuce comes. Or does it? It’s too small to tell. Most of whatever costs $18 seems to be invisible. The vast, galactic negative space of a plate appears before you interrupted only by a few disembodied specks of some goo or another. Just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean I’ll eat it.
For whatever reason, paltry servings have become markers of luxury. Skinny is the new indulgent. And so the hand-caught hake and finger-massaged lettuce occupy a tiny piece of real estate on an otherwise empty plate, as if all of society’s economic inequality has been distilled, dehydrated, foamed, squirted, squeezed, and siphoned into a tidy $28 metaphor.
But again, all these edible conundra can easily be avoided by staying at home. No one fux with plating when it comes with delivery. Just shelter in place as you eat your taco bowl. Throw on an episode of Hulu’s Difficult People while you’re at it, and watch Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as they rip their least-favorite trends — and everything else on the planet — to shreds. They’re curmudgeons after your cold, dark, trend-hating heart.
Jonathan Daniel Stern is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Van Winkle’s and other places.
Illustrations by Jake Inferrera.