Way, way before the food world jumped onto the kids&obesity bandwagon, I was bitching that advertisers were routinely using chubbies&huskies to subliminally send the message that it’s normal and acceptable to eat and eat and eat some more. Apparently a certain ice cream chain has not gotten the message that thin is in again. An ad in my favorite part of the Sunday papers — the coupons — promotes sundaes made with Girl Scout cookies by showing a young’un and the doctor she’s grown up to be, each holding a honking huge cone. All you need to know is that it hid more in the first photo. The After had me looking for the insulin.
And no wonder the antithesis of the Lump in the Bed has set off a shitstorm by suggesting Americans could maybe eat a little better and move a little more. On each leg of our JetBlue trip, my consort and I sat in an exit row penned in by a guy who probably weighed as much as the two of us put together. (The second offender, interestingly enough, was reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”) Wherever we went in between I had to pull my jaw closed at the sights — a mother so huge she had to ride a cart at Target, a young couple so gigantic their super-sized frozen custards at Kone King disappeared in their ham hands, a slightly older couple in shorts at Wegmans who could have commanded admission in a freak show only 50 years ago. (Judging by the astonishing avoirdupois on display, the chain’s slogan should be: “Where giant people push huge carts.”)
Our last meal was typically Buffalo-excessive, with three ginormous softshell crabs in a super-rich sauce, and my in-law equivalent said the problem was portion sizes. But I had to note that very few of the morbidly obese we had gawked at looked able to afford $27.95 entrées. They gorge on the 99-cent crap with Big Gulps. The saddest sight was of the “little” boy wearing only basketball shorts going in for a fix for his mom at a gas station — he had a gut worthy of a case-of-Bud-a-day drinker and looked to be about 8 but walked like a 70-year-old, his feet and joints strained trying to support his bulk. I was marveling that “that kid is doomed — no way can he ever get that weight off once he grows up” when Big Mama Overfeeder backed her honking-huge truck straight at us. She must have heard me.
I got myself insulted on Twitter for saying lumpen women make terrible waitrons because they plod (or maybe being called a twit there is considered a compliment). But I don’t care if it makes me weightist. We had to sit through the worst service in a swamped restaurant with two lumbering ones on duty (not helped by a hostess who, when we snared her to say one order of iced tea had not arrived and the other tasted like coffee, just informed us she’d tell our server!) Visual insult to injury, I was seated with the unavoidable view of the pregnant narcissist in the crop top (beer belly or baby bulge: it ain’t attractive). I once had to haul myself around on crutches for months and know too well that bulk slows you down. Some jobs are simply better suited to the fleet. You don’t, after all, see plus-size jockeys at the Derby.
Can’t wait to see how all the fat-rights activists respond to the Brits’ report finding that the obese are more likely to die from swine flu. “Porked out” is an apt epitaph.
One of Buffalo’s many strengths saving it from a fate worse than Detroit, though, is its plethora of one-of-a-kind, locally owned restaurants, so my only excuse for succumbing to Panera for our first meal was that it would be quick when we had cake to pick up and Wegman’s to navigate. And it was worth the journey to marvel at how accepting patrons were of sharing the pagers handed out to alert them when their orders were ready. Even crappy supermarkets have antibacterial wipes for grocery carts these days, and here people were happily handling potential noro virus carriers just before tucking into hand-to-mouth food.
A rather large percentage of diners there could probably afford to spend a week or two off their feed, however. The same was true at a quite good New Orleans-esque restaurant that night, where three of us kept sliding off the benches in our booth trying to connect with our plates. Only at the end, after a trip to the head when I noticed how immense some other diners were, did I realize what the problem was. To accommodate them, you’d need a space between table and chair roughly the width of the Erie Canal. It’s a good thing New York Cityans are migrating to Buffalo rather than the other way around; otherwise no restaurant designer who had worked there would ever get hired here, where the goal is apparently to cram an A train’s worth of seats into a Smart Car’s square inchage.
Among the uncountable pleasures of being able to walk for blocks again is coming across street-level creativity in a city increasingly clogged with above-ground Subways. The other day I passed a Jamaican cart with different sizes of styrofoam trays attached alongside the takeout window, including “Charming, polite, little girl” and “Strong, healthy man.” Guess which one was bigger and more expensive? Clearly, the vendor was a woman who knows from dainty eaters — or at least from scarf-and-barfers.
Had a drink the other afternoon with a lovely friend in from Italy for a couple of months and, as always, he was full of sharp observations. He wanted prosecco but the bar had only cava and when I repeated, “Spanish prosecco,” his head almost swiveled off in a big no. “I tried that here once,” he said (I’m paraphrasing). But mostly he was astonished at how America eats; it’s killing him. If he chowed down like one of us, he said, “I would be big and soft.” Wait. Everyone knows pasta makes you fat. You mean it’s really crap consumed on an irregular schedule that does it?
A disgusting little story about a guy who managed to ingest an entire 15-pound (or was it 20?) burger seemed to run everywhere. I’m as bad as everyone else in talking about behavior that abhorrent during a world food crisis. (Seen any news out of Haiti lately? They’re eating dirt.) But I bring it up only to say it made me think of a bizarre if hilarious piece of writing I turned up thanks to Popurls, by a guy who ingested way too much macaroni and cheese or something at an all-you-can-eat place and wound up having the most graphically described intestinal distress maybe in history. Suffice it to say it is beyond detailed and involves the manager of the restaurant hosing down him and the bathroom while his wife is off buying him new pants, underwear and shoes. If we’re going to celebrate gluttony in an age of understocked food pantries, there should be equal time for the crappy consequences. I will never look at a fat guy on a buffet line the same way. . . .
When it comes to language, the fish truly does rot from the head down. Start out turning “torture” into “enhanced interrogation techniques” and before you know it “fancy” has lost its meaning. The idea of an “Un-Fancy Food” event to counter the original is totally down the rabbit hole. My friend Rolando, who actually opened a restaurant at one point to avoid the shit show that is the Javits Center in summer, has it right when he says it is all about making America fat, not about any “high-flown” or “expensive” products. For every artisanal cheese, there are 32 aisles of white chocolate-raspberry-bacon dips and crappy candies and tortured meats and seasoned-to-saccharine olives. Suffice it to say that a surprising number of attendees are in wheelchairs, and not because they are wraiths — they are too large to even waddle. The real “fancy” food had to have been down at the alt-event.
I know people from America are very different from us, here at the center of the universe, but really, what would possess a grown man to travel to New York and parade around in a T-shirt reading: “Instant idiot — just add beer”? And how did I know he was not from around here? The shirt was size XXXL and still too small.