I had the great pleasure this weekend of attending the Chicago wedding of Matte and Shelley Elkins. I had looked forward to seeing old college friends again. A little older, a little fatter (well, I'm fatter, anyway ... they seem to have all gotten thinner, the bastards) but still we clicked into old familiarity, picking up old inside jokes like we'd last told them yesterday. But as much as I was anticipating the reunion, it was only with slightly less fervor that I waited for the after-wedding meal.
The Elkins, God bless them, know how to eat. Too often, wedding food mistakes highfalutin words and a little presentation for flavor (in fact, you could say the same thing for most trendy restaurants in America). But the Elkins/Holmes wedding had Alabama fried chicken with batter so thick it could have been tempura, roast Iowa pork, corn bread, clouds of mashed potato, shot-sized milkshakes ... real food, the kind of meal you'd ask for as a last request. After we ate until drunk with blood sugar I snuck out back to grab a smoke, where I met up with a Cuban American from Miami named Eugene. And as we puffed, we talked about the meal, reliving it. "I'm Cuban," he said, then confessed how much he'd enjoyed the sweet and spicy pork, adding "no way I thought these people would be able to cook pork as good as we do."
Then the conversation got interesting, as Eugene explained to me how his family roasts whole pigs: they pick their own swine at the slaughterhouse, where it is shaved and gutted. Then they roast the whole beast in a Chinese Box covered in coals. The skin is coated with more oil than a teenage tan junkie, and with the same effect: "The skin gets crispy as a cracker," Eugene said. "Everybody eats it first." They eat the rest of the pig, too: Eugene and his father even crack open the skull and spread the pasty brain on crackers.
And even though my stomach pressed against the buttons of my shirt, even though I'd just eaten for hours, my mouth was watering again. It was as if I'd popped in a porno after fantastic sex.
Food and sex have been compared to each other so often it’s passed beyond cliché into truism. They are the two realms where basic existence and pleasure completely intertwine. There aren't many people obsessed with breathing, and no one's body drives them to attend ballet. But sex in America is so open and boring these days that food has surpassed it as the final sin: Paris Hilton happily films herself rutting, but not stuffing herself with chocolate. Now that AIDS cocktails are coming up, AIDS isn't quite as scary as it used to be, but lard-encrusted eight-year-olds terrify and titillate us.
But we are obese not because of the great, sinful foods that fill you with animal lust. No, America is fat because we eat like a teenage boy masturbates, compulsively and badly. The empty Doritos bags in our trash cans are the stiff sweat socks of our pathetic onanism.
But it doesn't have to be that way. In the same way that that thirteen year old will hopefully one day learn that sex is more than a tickle and a squirt, we too must remember that truly sinful food is worth the added weight, worth the extra plaque in the arteries. There are two diets that cannot be tolerated: one in which you eat whatever junk floats your way, and the other which is so strict that you would just ask for salad at the Elkins' wedding or Eugene's pig roast. One won't let you live long; the other doesn't let you live at all.
This blog is dedicated to the worthwhile sin of eating, the pleasures so fine that the risks are embraced. It will not be an every-day blog; just as the type of eating it celebrates cannot be an everyday thing. As a side note, I'll be taking potshots at the type of stupid cooking that pervades America's restaurants right now, the type referenced above that places novelty over flavor. To return, as we so often will, to the sexual metaphor: if we were all pressured to keep finding new sexual acts each time we copulated, the results would be perverse, ridiculous and unsatisfying. Just like fine dining is today. This blog is for those of us who know that no mushroom foam or cilantro granita can ever replace the old simple pleasures. This blog is for fried chicken, sushi, ice cream and rare steaks. Butter, crusty breads and sausage marinara. Chocolate, steamed shrimp and crispy duck.
Oh Christ, I'm hungry again.