Fuel or fun? Which is it? In my Overeaters Anonymous support group, one of the members, Charlie (not his real name), said, “I am. Therefore, I eat.” You all know the tune. ‘As we age, our metabolism slows down, and unless we change our lifestyle, we gain weight.’ Knowing that and listening to it are two different things. Of all the people I’ve ever known, precisely one of them listened to this life’s jewel. He also exercises and only drinks in moderation. I think this makes him mean to his pets.
For the rest of you, here are my thoughts on food.
Growing it. I think growing food is a modern-day miracle. Traversing the lower forty-eight states my whole life, I saw very few farms devoted to the growing of food. What you see as you drive along Interstate anything is feed corn, soybeans, and the occasional sorghum. In the Southeastern US, you’ll find rice, cotton, and maybe some indigo. As you drive by the fields, you witness a mechanized marvel; GPS-driven combines slow your drive. Signposts dot the landscape with the latest bioengineered seeds or fertilizer. But in California and around where Lillian and I live in Ventura County, they grow real food. If you drive out the back way from our all-white gated community, you’ll see food. No, not in Safeway or Kroger. You drive past a field of cauliflower. Just ten weeks earlier, the field was artichokes. As you reach the highway, you’ll see a field covered in plastic and the beginnings of strawberries. If you continue taking backroads, you’ll zoom by orange and lemon groves.
Sure, you’ll see the occasional tractor and combine, but for every tractor, you’ll see thousands of workers. Being an older white ugly American, I’m not sure what or whom I’m looking at. The dozens of workers bent over tending our food are covered head to toe, shielding themselves from the blistering California sun. Their wide-brimmed hats are often all you can see as you speed past in your air-conditioned Tesla. I love the colors. Everyone has a different colored shirt or hat. In a field of green and mud. I love the pinks, blues, browns, and yellows. When on a break, you see them lined up to use the aqua blue port-a-johns.
So, who are these people to whom I owe my food? I’m smart enough not to call them Mexicans. Not all of them are from Mexico. Are they Hispanic? Latino? I’m also smart enough to know not one of them is white. Are these folks who do the back-breaking work to provide me with a strawberry pie have healthcare? Do they live in their own gated community? We haven’t lived in Southern California long, but I promise you I will find out. I like food, and the folks who make it for me work harder than anything I’ve ever done.
The grocery store. Shop the periphery of the store, never the aisles. Go for name brands, never the store brand. Lillian’s mom, Branka, passed away at the age of ninety-six. For the last twenty years of her life, she was blind. Macular degeneration, which is hereditary. Branka knew every inch of her local Ralphs. Taking Branka to Ralphs was a lesson in shopping for food. That’s too much for chicken breasts. How much is the hamburger? Look, the pork chops are on sale; get those. Lillian is a power shopper when it comes to groceries. A meal plan, a list, get in, get out. If it’s not on the list, it’s not in the basket. I have no list. I have no plan.
Milk and eggs. 1%, 2%, skim, whole, half-and-half, heavy cream. Oh, if only it was that simple. Soy, almond, coconut, lactose-free, and a dozen other exotic blends. Some people have allergies, I get it, but come on, folks. The milk aisle is ridiculous. And while we’re at it, what about the eggs? Large, jumbo, quail. Quail eggs—really? Cage-free, free-range, organic, brown, white.
“Honey, go get a dozen eggs.”
“Sorry, I can’t. Too much pressure.”
I try and help when we go to the grocery store. But I’m not built for all the decisions.
Can we talk about water? At the grocery store, there is an entire aisle devoted to water. You know, the stuff that comes out of your tap for practically free. Spring, distilled, electrolyte-infused. Power water, PH neutral, bird poop added for taste. Once again, too many choices. Lillian likes bottled water. She likes the stuff from a small South Pacific Island. Polynesian women squeeze it through palm fronds. You know the kind—the six-pack that costs more than those pork chops. Lillian’s carbon footprint is through the roof. She’s going to global warming hell. I’m trying to save her. When she goes to bed, I refill the bottles with tap water. She never notices. I couldn’t afford the pork chops. I’m saving the planet. I like seltzer, plain seltzer. Not club soda or tonic water, but regular, plain seltzer. Not club soda flavored with strawberries, lemons, pineapple, cranberries, or battery acid. I like plain, zero-calorie seltzer. I like the tingly sensation and that it has absolutely no taste. Every grocery store is always sold out. A hundred choices of water, the water aisle is useless.
Cheese. I actually like the variety of cheeses. Cheese is almost as expensive as meat, so pick your poison carefully. Having a finely aged cheese to offer that snooty couple your wife invited for dinner is a must. The age and sharpness of the cheese need to be finely paired to the degree of pretentiousness. Cows, goats, sheep, and even buffalo can be a source of cheese. There are over a thousand varieties of cheese. I have no idea what cheeses I like or what to buy. Long ago, at our yearly Superbowl parties, we’d serve a delightful chili-cheese dip. Not your 2023, low-calorie snack. This was a harden-your-arteries Velveeta and Hormel chili concoction. Did you know Velveeta cheese is grey before they add yellow food coloring? What end of the cow did that come from? I like cheese. If you invite me to dinner, impress me.
Cooking. Lillian likes to cook. I like to eat out. Lillian likes leftovers. I like tuna fish. Lillian can whip up a seventeen-course meal in under thirty minutes. It always tastes delicious; as I said, she likes to cook. She hates electric stoves. As a present, I bought her a fancy gas stove. Running the gas line, rerouting the electrical outlet, and delivery and installation cost me only $27,000. The delicious meals she prepares taste exactly the same. But she’s happy. When Lillian broke her foot, I had to do the cooking. For eight weeks of my life, Lillian watched in agony as I laser-aligned the knife to slice a tomato or onion. I reread menus twelve times and still missed important ingredients. The vegetables would get cold and grow mold before the meat was done. When I mastered a chicken dish she actually liked, she praised me as if I was the Second Coming of the Lord. Those eight weeks were the longest period of my life. I call it the Gary 2.0 period. Luckily for me, the upgrade didn’t last.
Dieting. Lillian and I’ve tried various diets over the years. When you get our Christmas card, you’ll know how well they work. Currently, she’s on keto. No carbs or sugar. All the bacon you want. This is not the diet recommended by Julia Child. I’m on a modified keto diet. We once visited Miami’s South Beach. I wanted to research the diet. Sitting on the veranda of a wonderful hotel, I looked out over the sand. But the young barely-clad cherubs distracted me. Over the years, we’ve tried a bunch of different diets. At this stage of our lives, we consume calories directly from the air. Life is stacked against us.
Eating. I don’t like most all vegetables. I prefer them processed through a cow first. Broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower aren’t bad. I believe I ate a carrot once. Raw, not cooked! Not bad. Next year I might have another. It’s not that I dislike orange food; it’s that orange food dislikes me. Sweet potatoes and yams make me physically ill. Lillian loves them. I never allowed them in the house. If I was traveling for work, Lillian would load up. You think you know someone, and then they go and eat a yam behind your back. On the rare occasion we have steak on the grill, I like mine medium-rare minus. A little on the rare side. Every extra second left on the grill destroys the texture and taste. Lillian likes her steaks well done. If I cook Lillian a steak, I put it on the grill the day before.
There you have it. My take on food.
“Hello, my name is Gary.”
“I like to eat. ”