Would you, Could you?
12 December 2010
Still in California.
Tonight I “dined” at a cheesy (not the kind we usually discuss here) little kitsch spot that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. I say innocent because no one could ever possibly, in all earnest, display the item I am about to describe to you, without having only recently emerged from a cultureless exile, like a cliché town where Kraft Singles microwaved on top of freezer-section pie is considered normal.
Processed. Cheese. Food. That is actually what is printed on the Kraft Singles label. They let you know that it is, indeed, food. I wouldn’t have known otherwise, so I don’t think this is bad. But what people will accept as food is what alarms the hell out of me. The food system in this country has been an interest of mine, but in an “unable to resist gawking at the scene of an accident” sort of way. I thought I was privy to nearly every cheese food (both orange and white,) butter bud, hungry-man, hot pocket, manwich, nugget, and tot. Until tonight at the diner.
Sometimes a club sandwich is medicine for the soul, particularly when you don’t even have to notice the paint in your hair before sinking into a cozy booth. And this place had the random gift shop too. Mad Libs. Leg warmers. Animal fans. A whole winter wonderland section. And Cold-Packed Cheese Food. That’s really what they called it. And there it was, fluorescent orange packed into a translucent tub like day-glo play-doh. On ice. Next to a sample cart, where there were only two little paper cups, schmeared with the stuff, with seven-inch sticks pointing up from them. Two.
When my friend asked if I’d like a sample, I somehow channeled Dr. Suess. “I could never eat this, not here nor there. Not high, not low. Not near, not far. I would not, could not.” Sharp Cheddar Cold-Packed Cheese Food. Are those not words begging to be played with tonight? At a diner along the freeway, in the gift shop, between the cloisonne pin case and the dreidel Christmas tree ornaments (I kid you not) ?
I could not, would not bring myself to sample the mystery cheese food, nor did I pick up a tub to read the label. I didn’t want to know, and I certainly didn’t want to taste all those -oids and -ates. I just wanted to have fun, for there was no way (or need, really) to be serious. There would be nothing for me to say about it in this post tonight, because I don’t want to write about things I don’t like. And I wouldn’t have liked it, biased by concept. And when I see the two remaining tastes beside a basket of naturally-occurring croutons on a sample cart, I can only think of next month’s sampling, and farm visits, olive oil fresh from the press, and cheeses from ancient caves.