To say I crave Taco Bell is a grave understatement.
There are days where it’s all I think about. A Nachos Supreme: the heat of liquid cheese poured over zesty taco meat, extra-smooth refried beans and ever-so-crunchy tortilla chips then topped with sour cream and tomatoes. Add on a side of rice and a side beans with extra cheese that I would mix together with my spork and eat slowly, savoring each bite. Throughout high school and undergrad, I would eat these delectable, cheap items daily, if not more often.
But I haven’t eaten Taco Bell since August 11, 2007 when my sister-in-law, husband, and I split a Beef Mexi-Melt for a late night snack before going on a 6 am fishing charter. All three of us, who usually have sea legs, spend more time feeding the fish than hooking them. I’m pretty positive we grossed out everyone on the boat at some point, even the captain who’s seen everything.
And since that fateful day Taco Bell and I are ex’s--with a lot of baggage.
Around the same time I started reading food writing, and one of the most popular non-fiction books on the best-seller’s list was Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. After learning about the mistreatment of animals and workers, the industrialization of food, and the growing health epidemics connected with fast food, I gave up not only Taco Bell but also all fast food. (I must admit I do eat delivery pizza but it needs to come from a local business. Also, I’m a fan of Chipotle, who does more than attempts to respect animals, workers, and the environment. But these aren’t fast food places, right? There’s no drive-thru…)
When I began my fast food fast, I noticed I felt a lot less sluggish and I lost a lot of unnecessary weight. I cared where my food came from and about the people who were making it. And most of all I started cooking, which gave me the power to make my own fast food. I had the control to invent a healthy, local foods version of a Big Mac or develop recipes I knew I could start and eat within 20 minutes.
While I’m proud to say that I haven’t had Taco Bell in almost four years and that I can grill Quarter-Pounders that would turn a McDonald’s junkie straight-edge, I miss fast food. I know if I ever ate a Nachos Supreme, instantly, I would feel the guilt and dirty-ness of someone who had sex with an ex. But I know, also, that first bite would feel so familiar, so comforting.
It’s these conflicting feelings that led me to this issue of From Plate to Palate and the issue of fast food in our culture. How do some of us negotiate the nostalgia of Mickey D’s chicken nuggets with our beliefs that good food is slow food? What causes our distaste of fast food? What fosters our love of it?
Arielle Greenberg launches the issue with a thought-provoking reflection on the political, ethical, and health implications of fast food. Through a series of vignettes, Anna Kauffman beautifully layers humor with emotional sincerity in her piece, which details her 20-year love affair with fast food and the last day of their acquaintance. A contributor I’m extremely excited to welcome aboard Connotation Press is Lin-z Tello, a former student of mine who wrote awesome essays in our food-themed composition class. In her piece, Lin-z transforms the high sodium Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich into a homemade treat. And rounding out the issue, Arlan Hess redefines fast food and her love of it in “Behold, The Microwave.” It’s with great respect for these food writers and their exceptional contributions that I welcome you to From Plate to Palate’s drive thru window. What would you like fries with that?
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.
No Go: A Reflection on Fast Food by Arielle Greenberg
My family simply does not eat at standard fast food joints. Ever.
It’s not really a hardship for us. For one thing, I grew up in a household that kept kosher, so most fast food was off-limits to me anyway and I never really got a taste for it, or got accustomed to it. My husband did eat fast food growing up, but seems not to miss it particularly. My kids, ages 5 and 1, don’t even know what it is. Seriously: they do not know what McDonald’s is. (They are also both vegetarians by choice—neither has ever deigned to eat meat of any kind.) My older child used to think the Golden Arches Ms she saw around town stood for Mama.
When Amanda asked me to write about why I don’t eat fast food for this column, my response was simple: why would I eat fast food? I know this reveals me to live in a bubble made of organic granola, but at this point in my life, it literally does not even occur to me to eat fast food. It’s just not an option I consider.
Maybe it’s because I know too much: I am someone who chooses, for reasons having to do with health and the environment and ethics and politics, not to eat food that is highly processed, who won’t eat fake cheese, who refuses anything that contains artificial sweeteners or chemical preservatives, who avoids trans fats like the plague. (The thought of trans fats clogging up my arteries makes me feel nauseous, which comes in handy when I am tempted with the Dunkin’ Donuts all my colleagues at school bring in at the end of each semester. I find myself reaching for a chocolate glazed, and then it hits me: trans fats! Run away! I actually think I can feel the texture of trans fats in food, now that I typically don’t ingest them anymore.) In general, I buy and bake with only whole wheat flour, not white. I buy organic and local whenever possible. I try really hard not to eat meat unless I know the source, and it’s close by and small and the animals have had a good life. This stuff is important to me.
So, given these constraints, it pretty much rules out fast food restaurants. And because I know what’s in that food, how it’s made, where the crops and meat come from and how they are treated and what widespread damage their production causes, it’s not hard to resist eating it. It’s actually super easy.
Truth be told, my family makes the effort to avoid a lot of American culture that fill the lives of our fellow citizens. We almost never TV or listen to commercial radio. Forget Burger King: my children don’t know what Disney is, either. We hardly ever shop at malls or big box stores or regular grocery stores. We rarely use Western medicine. Some of this mainstream stuff is easier to avoid than others, but I have to say, the fast food thing is on the easy end of the spectrum. I don’t even see the outlets for it anymore: if someone asked me where the closest Wendy’s was, I would have no idea, though I’m sure there’s one somewhere nearby.
Of course, this does not mean we do not eat junk. We really like yummy food, and we are no ascetics. We recently spent a vacation weekend away, and I swear I bought six different flavors of scones for my family to consume over the course of three days. We have a lot of cold breakfast cereal made by natural brands (which is still junk) on our cupboard shelves. (I’d like to wean us off of it.) And our older child goes trick-or-treating on Halloween, and we let her eat most of her take (though only one a night, and we throw out the clearly stale candy and the much-too-chewy items). My husband loves M&Ms, and gets them whenever we go out to see a movie. I love plain pasta with butter and salt. I am known to indulge in the occasional iced chai latte (though I try not to get it from Starbucks, which seems more or less like a fast-food place nowadays). None of this stuff is nutritious. But it’s not quite a Dairy Queen Flurry, either.
If we are starving and on the road and the only option for food is a truck stop, we will buy a bag of peanuts, or a Cliff bar, and we will buy a plastic bottle of water, and even those are politically hard for me to purchase. I swore off colas years ago, though my husband occasionally has a microbrewed natural root beer, or, when desperate, a Coke out at a restaurant. In general, we try to pack more than enough food for ourselves wherever we go on trips, as if we may at any time be caught in a storm and stuck without provisions for days on end, totally without access to real food. Because this is how we think of much of the food that’s commercially available in America: not actually real, not actually food.
I mean, if you are someone who cares about food—really cares about it, and wants it to be high-quality and delicious and well-made—why would you eat that shit? Quarter-pounders with cheese, all those hormones and animal cruelty and artificial colors packed into every bite, not to mention the fossil fuels spent to haul it from wherever to wherever, and the small farms devastated in the wake of the agro-business needed to support all that factory-produced red meat?
Not for me. I’ll keep munching out of my little reusable tin box filled with organic granola, thank you very much.
Anna Daly Kauffman
is a Copy Writer and freelance rabbit enthusiast. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Bowling Green State University and currently lives and works in Bowling Green with her husband and two pet rabbits.
A Drive Thru By Anna Daly Kauffman
I don’t eat fast food anymore, but it’s not because of any noble intellectual or ethical reason. I haven’t seen Food, Inc. or Supersize Me or any of those life-altering, movement-creating films. I intentionally avoided them because I loved fast food and didn’t want to be swayed or shamed into quitting. I only stopped hitting up the drive-thru on my lunch break about a year ago because it was making me fat, tired, and sick. But before my metabolism came to a sudden halt and my digestive system went on strike, fast food and I had some wonderful times.
The McChicken vs. Border Patrol
My first love was the McChicken sandwich. It was a simple sandwich of a breaded chicken patty, iceberg lettuce, mayo, and a bun. My family would swing by the drive-thru for dinner a few times a week and I’d get a McChicken and a Coke. Life was good.
Tragically, the McChicken was discontinued. I switched to the Burger King Original Chicken Sandwich reluctantly at first, but soon found it to be a superior fast food cuisine. With a patty almost twice the size of the McChicken and a generous hoagie bun, I felt I had grown into a new level of fast food consciousness. My love of the BK Original Chicken was such that for my 11th birthday, when I had my choice of celebratory meal, I chose to eat BK chicken sandwiches. My mom ordered 40 of them. I ate at least two.
I became reacquainted with the long lost McChicken the summer after my freshman year in high school. I was on a youth group trip in Toronto and we stopped at a McDonald’s just before crossing back into the States. I looked at the menu and saw, in all its Canadian glory, the McChicken.
“They have the McChicken!” I exclaimed to my friends.
“Yeah?” they responded, clearly failing to grasp the enormity of the situation.
“They don’t sell these in the U.S. anymore.”
My way forward was clear. I would spend the remainder of my Canadian currency on McChicken sandwiches then smuggle them back to the States to eat at my convenience. When Border Patrol asked if I had anything to declare, I’d slide the contraband McChickens under my seat and pray they didn’t search the vehicle.
I pulled out my wallet and had five Canadian dollars. “I’ll take five!”
Those McChicken sandwiches didn’t make it back to America, however – not in sandwich form, anyway. I wolfed down every last one of them in the back of the church van. Looking back, I’m confused by my lack of shame about this incident. I was a 15-year-old. I should’ve been concerned with what my friends might think of me. I wasn’t. And my future husband was on that trip. Any man that could witness me scarfing down five McChicken sandwiches in record time and still find me attractive was certainly a keeper.
Soon after we returned to the States, the McChicken was once again on the Dollar Menu.
Your Casserole Fails to Comfort Me
My brother had leukemia when we were kids and spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital and traveling for treatments. This was a difficult couple of years for my family and my parents often lacked the time to cook meals for my other brother and me. To help out, well-meaning families from the church we attended would regularly bring meals by the house for us. A wonderful gesture, they brought all sorts of nutritious dinners that would reheat well and would last us for at least a few days. Most of these dinners were in the casserole category.
I hated casseroles and I felt my lot was miserable. Not only did they bring me one of my least favorite things to eat, but they brought enough of it to last for days. And the casseroles kept coming in what felt like rapid fire succession. I was 11 and my brother had leukemia. Didn’t these people know that I wasn’t interested in eating a damn casserole?
Occasionally, someone would pop up on the meals rotation that didn’t have the time to put together a casserole. Instead, they’d drop off a party pack of tacos from Taco Bell, apologizing profusely for failing to prepare something healthy. I loved these folks. They spoke my language.
$2.37. That was the price of three soft tacos at Taco Bell when I was high school. I remember that price because a drive-thru attendant reminded of it multiple times a day. While many 17-year-olds would rifle through the couch cushions for spare change to buy gas, I’d count all my pennies, nickels, and dimes in search of the magic number $2.37 so I could drive down the road and nosh on some grade F beef. Delicious.
But even then I knew that I had a problem with Taco Bell. For health reasons, I was placed on a yeast-free diet my senior year of high school. It was essentially the Atkins Diet on crack. I ate steaks and vegetables full time and was miserable. One night, I couldn’t take any more of the diet so I scraped together $2.37 and drove to Taco Bell. I followed it up by eating a container of Swiss Cake Rolls and washing them down with Mountain Dew. Screw you, yeast diet.
Rock Bottom: The Conclusion
Fast food and I have a long history. We met when I was young and impressionable and courted for two decades. We went to great lengths to be together. Not even Border Patrol at the U.S./Canada line could stop our love. As the years passed, however, our relationship grew increasingly destructive. This became clear to me about a year ago.
It started when I missed breakfast. I’m a hungry girl and failing to pack a snack to get me through the first four hours of the work day is a crisis. I called my husband and he graciously stopped by my office on his way to work with two breakfast sandwiches from McDonalds. Sausage, egg, and cheese: my favorite. I walked to the parking lot to meet him and quickly hopped in the passenger seat.
“What are you doing?” he asked, thinking he’d just drop off the goods and be on his merry way.
“I can’t let anyone see me eating these,” I replied.
Mere weeks prior to this incident, I won $475 in a 12-week company weight loss competition. For 12 weeks, I was the picture of health and after I won the contest, I felt as though I had an office full of eyes on me waiting for me to slip up and regain the weight. I couldn’t bear the shame of my coworkers seeing me fall off the wagon. No longer a freshman on a youth group trip wolfing down five McChickens in the church van, I was an adult professional hiding in the parking lot, secretly eating breakfast sandwiches. That’s not the kind of life I wanted to live.
To make it worse, I went home sick that day. My body had turned on fast food just as my conscience had. And with that, I was out of the game.
I am thankful though for fast food. I’m thankful that we shared so many hilarious memories. I’m thankful for the comfort fast food gave me when my brother was sick. I’m thankful for the independence I gained by driving to Taco Bell late at night and forking over my $2.37. But I’m not thankful for the stomach aches. And I’m not thankful for the shame. Still, while I don’t see fast food at any point in my future, I don’t have the kind of righteous indignation with it that many do. I look back in laughter, not anger.
Lin-z Tello is a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, majoring in Environmental Science. This is her first published food article.
Chick-Fil-A Chicken in Your Kitchen! By Lin-z Tello
Chick-Fil-A should hire me to be their spokeswoman, I love Chick-Fil-A chicken so much it is borderline pathetic. I’m certain that I could easily convince anyone to buy a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich, since it is one of the tastiest foods I have ever come across from a Fast Food joint, and yet so simple! Just put some juicy, golden-brown, mouth-watering chicken coupled with a few tart pickle slices on a bun and BAM! You have a sandwich straight from heaven.
Heaven is not so easy for me to attain, however. The only Chick-Fil-A in my area is located inside a mall, which is about 45 minutes away from where I currently live. I have been known to drive that long distance to get my paws on a chicken sandwich when the cravings tear me apart. However, I recently decided that enough is enough! If I can not break myself from this addiction, I have to make the chicken come to me… or I have to make the chicken myself! And since option #1 looks like a no-go, it appears that I will be spending some time in the kitchen.
Since I will be cooking up my own version of the Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich it seems logical to try and tweak the recipe a bit in order to make this sandwich a healthier version of the delectable original. According to the article “Calories in Chick-fil-A - Chicken Sandwich” from About.com, my beloved chicken Sandwich has earned a D+ due to its high amount of sodium – it has 54% of the suggested sodium you should consume in one day based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and it has over 400 calories (Calories). I sleuthed around the internet to find the recipe for Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches, and I found a few contenders. I ultimately sided with the following recipe (with a few changes) from ArticlesBase.com, submitted by Brian Burhoe.
3 cups peanut oil
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
2 1/2 Tb. powdered sugar
1/2 ts. pepper
2 teas. salt
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved
4 plain hamburger buns
2 Tb. melted butter
8 dill pickle slices
7. While the chicken is cooking, spread a coating of melted butter on the face of each bun.
8. When the chicken is done, remove it from the oil and drain or blot on paper towels. Place two pickles on each bottom bun; add a chicken breast, then the top bun. To make a deluxe chicken sandwich, simply add two tomato slices and a leaf of lettuce. Mayonnaise or mustard also goes well on this sandwich.
I made a few changes to this recipe when making my chicken sandwiches. First, I did not use a pressure cooker. I did not have a thermometer that went above 200 degrees that I could use to heat the oil in the pressure cooker, so I decided to cook my chicken in a deep fryer. Now, I understand that deep-frying chicken isn’t a healthy thing to do, so in the future I plan on cooking the chicken in a skillet with much less oil. I heated the oil up to 375 degrees (which was the maximum temperature for our deep fryer) and cooked two pieces of chicken at a time for 4 minutes. If allergies are a concern, I would suggest using vegetable oil or some other alternative to peanut oil. I also didn’t butter my sandwich buns because my arteries might have killed me, what with the fried chicken and all. To top off my sandwich, being the pickle lover that I am, I bought pickle halves and sliced them into fourths, which gave the sandwiches a nice crunch. These sandwiches earn an A+ in my book!
Burhoe, Brian A. "HOME COOKING: Chick-fil-A's Best Recipes You Can Do
Home." ArticlesBase.com. 30 June 2009. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
"Calories in Chick-fil-A - Chicken Sandwich." Calorie Counter Database - Free
Online Diet Program. About.com. Web. 7 Jan. 2011.
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.