Sunday Apr 14

Hess Arlan Hess is a Lecturer at Washington & Jefferson College where she teaches Literature and Creative Writing. She received her MFA from Vermont College and has completed research at the University College of Wales-Aberystwyth and University of Padua. In 2004, she founded Paper Street, an on-line journal of poetry and flash fiction.

Behold, the Microwave by Arlan Hess
I love fast food. I hate fast food. I love fast food. I hate fast food.
Until fall 2005, I was a regular visitor at Wendy’s. My usual order: a single with cheese, fries, and a Coke. When my local window operator knew my face so well that she once said to me, “See you tomorrow,” I knew I was in serious nutritional trouble. Within weeks, I saw Morgan Spurlock’s visionary experiment Supersize Me and have avoided fast food, and meat, ever since. I hate fast food.
However, that didn’t keep me away from the drive-thru. Several years earlier, Bruegger’s Bagels had moved into our abandoned Arthur Treacher’s restaurant filling orders through the fast food window as well as at the counter. If I didn’t have time to pack my lunch, I stopped on my way to work so I could have an Herby Turkey for lunch. When I became a vegetarian, I discovered the glories of the Leonardo da Veggie: “light herb garlic cream cheese, roasted red peppers, muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato & red onion.” A combination of flavors so yummy, I can taste them even now. I love fast food.
Sometimes when I passed at dinner time, even though I had the time to go inside, I drove through, pulled over into the parking lot, and ate in the car. (My love of eating in my car is a complicated story.) Recently, after being diagnosed with Celiac disease, I had to redefine fast food. By necessity, the meaning of “fast food” has become more than just a meal that is prepared for me on order and delivered by the time I idle slowly around the corner. Fast food must be somewhat nutritious, prepared in a hurry, and easily transported to work or another location. It must survive for several hours without refrigeration, taste good, and be filling.
As I reread the last paragraph, I, too, laugh out loud. If only all food preparation could be so easy. Although I can find all of those things at Wendy’s in a salad and baked potato, if someone is handing them to me through a window, I still feel like I am not eating well. Lately, my go-to place for a quick salad is Panera. There, I can get a Caesar salad without croutons, an apple, and bottle of water. I can eat in, or I can take out. But, because I’m already out of my car, I always eat in. In my weak mind, that equals higher nutritional value. And yet, I find myself asking, “Is Panera considered fast food?” I have never seen a Panera drive-thru, but neither have I seen one with table cloths. Do table cloths differentiate fast food from slow food restaurants? It is a debate I’ve had with friends; I still don’t know the answer. What a conundrum.  I hate fast food.
Leftovers, usually, fit my tough criteria for fast food. Even if they have to be refrigerated overnight, they can often withstand two or three hours in my office before I break for lunch. After work, after walking my dogs for ninety minutes, I can reheat in a hurry and still be ready for NCIS reruns by six o’clock. On Sundays, I cook for the week, storing individual servings in reusable plastic containers. They fit easily into my book bag, I can balance food groups, I can my lunch hot or cold, and, since I made them myself, I know they taste good. My refrigerator is well stocked with blue-lidded boxes ready to serve, day or night. I make a gluten-free, vegetarian lasagna about every other month which, when frozen, can last sixty days. A vegetable stir fry, with or without rice, can last two or three days. But, my particular favorite and the most versatile fast food item, by far, is the potato.
Gone are the days when it took an hour to bake a potato. I can microwave one, medium-sized potato in about six minutes. Just enough time to multi-task a change of clothes and open the day’s mail. I eat it with butter and cheese, along with a small salad. Maybe some broccoli, if I steamed or roasted it on Sunday. Dinner, done. If I ever-so-slightly under-microwave the potato, I can chop it into small chunks and make a light potato salad with leftover onion or chopped hard-boiled (on Sunday) egg. Add an apple and I have a grab-and-go lunch. I can even microwave a potato, then mash it. It’s not as if I live an especially hectic life, but, I don’t like to be chained to the kitchen unless I am making an event of it. Thanks to the microwave, I have redefined “fast food” to fit my health and lifestyle needs. I love fast food.

Arielle Greenberg is the co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, 2011), and author of My Kafka Century, Given and the chapbooks Shake Her and Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials. She is co-editor of three anthologies: with Rachel Zucker, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections; and with Lara Glenum, Gurlesque. Twice featured in Best American Poetry and the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, she is the founder-moderator of the poet-moms listserv and is an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago. She has been trying to follow Mark Bittman's Food Matters eating plan (vegan and macrobiotic until 6 PM!) for the last year or so.