I went to Marie Callender's tonight. It wasn't my fault.
I knew I was stepping into enemy territory but I did it anyway.
I had a meeting there and it involved dinner and though I tried to order as little as possible and to make it the safest-sounding thing on the menu, it was still a crushing disappointment.
I got an apple, blue cheese, pecan and cranberry salad, which can be a lovely thing if handled correctly.
But this salad was made of that slightly decomposed lettuce - the kind that you sniff in your fridge and think "Should I take a chance on that?" and apples that looked like they had been chopped by a not-particularly coordinated 8-year-old and had blue cheese in either huge chunks or tiny specks and nothing in between.
Bad food doesn't just disappoint me. It fills me with fury. It makes me want to drive my car through the front windows or set the roof on fire.
Because to me, food is life, food is love, and to put out a shitty plate of food - especially to paying customers - is to say "You don't matter to me. Supporting your life isn't worth my time. Piss off. Die."
So this salad wasn't just a bad salad. It was a life-denying symbol of Everything That is Wrong With America and Our Food - it was thickly coated in fatty, too-sweet dressing, so that eating it didn't satisfy the senses, but merely gave a feeling of dull satiety.
It wasn't just me. CC felt the same way - she pointed at the soup the guy next to her was eating and said "Look at the soup next to me. Awful."
It was the kind of soup Laura would have called "Cream of Cornstarch." Some thick weirdly yellow glop with chunks in it. Probably about 1200 calories a bowl and flavorless as library paste except for being so salty it would make your ears ring.
Contrast that with my favorite restaurant on earth, Cuernavaca. Cuernavaca is a humble taqueria, with only about 10 tables. You can get lunch for well under $8.
But Cuernavaca is spotlessly clean and the food is made with a kind of pride and love that just shines through every bite. The flavors are all at once rich and bright and balanced. The salsa is fresh and complex and has layers of tastes that add perfect notes of chile and herbs to complement everything else.
When I get a plate of food at Cuernavaca, it says to me "You're alive. You're human. We're glad you're here to share that experience with us." I mean, who knew a plate of tacos could be so mystical?
I had that experience often in Mexico, though.
People would make these humble offerings of food from the simplest ingredients, but that love and pride was apparent. I drank cactus punch from a plastic bucket in a churchyard in Zaachila that was made by these little 4'6" ladies in aprons. It was 35 cents a cup and tasted like the angels had reached down to ladle it themselves.
I sat there on this rough stone wall with my plastic cup and drank that taste of heaven and I knew I was Alive with a capital A.
I wish those cooks or busboys or whoever made that crap salad at Marie Callender's could go to Zaachila for one cup of Agua de Tuna (cactus fruits are called "Tuna") and maybe they would understand what you offer someone when you offer them food. It isn't just getting the orders out. It's more than just giving them enough fat and salt and sugar to satisfy their dulled palates.
I got home and fed Goldie and realized: I make my dog's food with far, far more care than those people made my dinner. THAT's why I want to set the roof on fire. Doesn't that make sense?