Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Swap Meat

     It’s my mom’s fault, really.  She started my intense love of cooking by telling me everything she knew about food, by giving me a step stool to be at her elbow, but mostly by plunking me down next to her in front of Saturday cooking shows.  I was enthralled by the miracles I saw on screen.  Egg whites became a fluffy meringue in a fascinating, blinding white sheen.  Raw, milky chicken became a spicy cacciatore.  It was magical for me. 

      In keeping with that tradition, I spent a few hours last Saturday watching cooking shows.  The old magic still captivated me and I was proud to share the tradition with Buttercup.  As I made a snack, a show came on promise to help me enjoy my favorite foods without the hours of requisite guilt. 


      I may experience a myriad of emotions when I eat, but I can safely say “guilt” is not one of them.  Except for the time I took the “not ugly” pancake for myself, I have never experienced any flavor of guilt or buyer’s remorse when it comes to food.  I don’t understand it, to be honest.  I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, choose a wide variety of colors, flavors, textures, and tastes, and move around as much as I can in between.  Despite my lack of empathy for the guilt-laden eater, I decided to watch anyway. 

      This hyper, chipper woman, who really needs to consider decaf, bounced onto the screen, 2-pound weights in hand.  As she pumped her weights up and down, she shrieked her plans for the show’s menu.  First she intended to create a “mouth-watering plate of crispy nuggets!!”  Second, she planned a “stir fry so amazing you’ll never eat out again!!!!!!”  Last (thank goodness) came a “picnic-worthy tray of deviled eggs.”  The preview shots of the food were only minimally nauseating thanks to the genius of a food stylist, who could probably turn a sow’s ear into a literal silk purse.  As I snarfed down a basin of cheese popcorn, I pointed an orange finger at the screen and chuckled at the theme song, pitifully rivaling my snack for cheesiness. 

      Madame Spazz-Attack, now devoid of workout equipment, took her position in front of the camera and explained her food philosophy: most foods are terrible for your health but we can take bits of other substances (plants, beans, yard work) and create alternatives that are marginally healthier when eaten in tightly controlled, mimsy portions.  It basically boils down to what you swap or “exchange”, as she put it.  I was intrigued and a bit curious topped with a garnish of lightly sarcastic incredulity.

      As Miss Energy Bar did a bouncy jig at the thoughts of crispy nuggets, she nearly wept for the joy of replacing horrible old chicken for (pause for dramatic emphasis ...) firm tofu!  Couldn’t you just die for a plate of firm tofu rolled in plastic egg substitute, coated in whole grain cereal crumbs, and baked to perfection?!  A light dip of the corner in a 1/16 teaspoon serving of mustard may require an extra set of sit-ups, but oh isn’t it worth it?  I licked my orange fingers and laughed as the “stir fry so amazing you’ll never eat out again” turned out to be little more than pre-packaged frozen stir fry mix tossed with a drop of sodium-free soy sauce and served over some mushy, unpronounceable ancient grain.  As I scrubbed my face, trying to rid myself of orange staining, I was rendered motionless as Senorita Caffeine threw out perfectly good egg yolks and replaced them with (again, pause for dramatic emphasis ...) silken tofu!  She shrieked at the sheer wonder of a miracle product capable of producing non-lethal deviled eggs worthy of any gathering. 

      The smell of cheese popcorn lingered in the air as I pondered what I had just witnessed.  How is it that “exchanging” real food for what amounts to solidified air with an odd aftertaste is somehow supposed to free me from feelings of guilt?  I don’t eat tofu on moral grounds.  I mean, come on — what did those poor helpless soybeans do to you?  All they ever wanted was air, light, water, and a foundation named in their honor, ready and willing to take our money at the behest of a celebrity spokesman.  It’s cruel, really.  So utterly unfair that it brings tears.  How can we look ourselves in the mirror knowing we have forced a poor dead soybean to masquerade as a crispy nugget in its final moments on earth? 

      I extend my orange fingers to answer the ringing phone.  It is my mom and she sounds appalled.  “Are you watching this?”  “Watching what?” I ask.  “That actress from the 70’s!” she gasps.  “She thinks some peroxide and concealer is going to make people think she's a blonde bombshell!” 

      I brush the last orange remnants from my T-shirt and laugh softly to myself.  “Yeah, something like that.”

© Bertha Grizzly 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

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