I don’t like airport food. It’s terrible. It’s all chain restaurants. Everything is overpriced. It’s like finding yourself on some tiny island run by a dictator who can set whatever prices he wants. It’s tyranny. The service is bad, too. Most of the people there seem to be unhappy, probably because they are working in the airport, which seems to me like it’d be a crappy job, and that makes me unhappy. Especially since I have the privilege of making decent money waiting tables and am still unhappy about it, even though I could do something else if I really wanted to, I just don’t want to, there are people way worse off than me, and I don’t really have the right to be unhappy. And really, who am I to even think working in an airport restaurant kiosk thingy is that crappy of a job anyway? Isn’t that just another aspect of my privilege? But isn’t working in an airport restaurant an objectively crappy job? It gets really involved. The whole thing bums me out.
One time I got hungry and went to Chipotle–I figured it would be the least processed food there, what’s the worst you could do to rice and beans?–and the girl who was rolling it totally broke my burrito. Nobody told her about striation. It was a lost cause. She just lumped all the ingredients in the middle and tried to fold it up like she was taking out a bag of trash or something. I don’t think she’d been trained. I wanted to do something–call out and stop her, maybe, show her how to be gentle with the tortilla, to tuck it in like a baby–but she was behind the sneeze guard, there was a long line, and besides, it would have been rude. So they slapped a double wrap on it and passed it on down the line. It tasted like corporation. It was the saddest burrito I ever ate.
The thing is, I grew up in place where a significant portion of my activities between 14 and 18 consisted of smoking pot out of devices made primarily from plastic bottles and hot glue, playing video games, and going to the Wendy’s drive in. We would also walk around the woods behind the highway, start little fires on dirt roads, and throw things at cars. I worked at a plant nursery. It was okay. For lunch, I would get a can of mountain dew and three of those little one-dollar chicken sandwichy things from KFC when they were still running that promo. They had a crispy chicken sandwich, one that was honey barbecue. I’d mix it up.
It’s no wonder then, years later, that I get a little funny when I see pieces of fruit with the branches and leaves still attached, that I become a little transfixed. It’s like, oh yeah, I forgot. This is a natural product. This came out of the ground. These days, I have shifted my shopping to the farmer’s market. I am disoriented by the grocery store. How do they make those carrots so orange? Why do all the zuchinni look the same? Where’s the real squash? Those bananas–how did they get here all the way from Ecuador? Did they take a boat? Did they arrive by plane?
When I eat something, I am in complicit agreement with everything that went into it’s process of production. I do not want to be a broken burrito. I do not want to be the complex syndrome of middle class guilt. I want to be self-expression. I want to be love. I want to be the potato skin on my fries. I want to be the little Birdie that Peter dresses up like it was his own child he’s sending off to school–with presentation, with purpose, with a noble job to do. I want to be a Whiskey Sour at Welcome that I modify the hell out of–light sugar, heavy lemon; stirred; served up–that we call the “Jake’s an Asshole” because everyone knows I’m being an asshole, especially since it’s on happy hour and I’m only paying $4, but I tip really well, and I made the joke in the first place.
Food is necessary. We need to do it. We have to stay alive. Culture is how we inflect our survival, how we take the basic materials of life and give them a style, a meaning, an identity or purpose. Food culture is how we show each other where we come from, who we are, how we are what we eat. And when there is so much coldness in the world–all the namelessness, all the facelessness, opacity and machines–it means a lot to me that there’s a place that will make me a drink the way I like it and call me an asshole while they do it. That while the food industry is lying to me, there’s a place that tells the truth. That’s what Welcome means to me.