Dispatch: United S. of A. Week 4
Bags are packed, tickets in hand, goodbyes said, hoping for no more flight cancellations: so far I am four for four in that department; I have yet to take a domestic flight that managed to get me where I wanted to go on time or, in one case, to get me where I wanted to go at all. “Hey, sorry, bad weather, your destination is only 200 miles away, here is a $10 coupon for airport food.”
In the meantime I’ve been doing a lot of eating, reading and thinking. This morning during breakfast, for example, I looked at today’s lunch menu for the Hillsborough County Public Schools (Tampa, Fl.) elementary program, which featured sweet and sour chicken with veggie fried rice, garden Cobb salad, steamed broccoli, pineapple tidbits, and baby carrots with veggie dip. Which got me to thinking, “good for them,” as well as, “good luck with that”: my eight-year-old would sooner clean her room, do her homework, be nice to her sister, and take a month’s worth of baths than eat baby carrots with veggie dip.
Still, the school district is making an effort, and even if the kids go on a hunger strike, it is preferable to the fast food made available to high school and college students in so many schools, including in Egypt. It’s encouraging that restaurants such as Saladero and Good Cals are opening to counter the fast food trend. One still needs to be careful, of course—putting fried chicken bits and honey mustard dressing on your salad defeats the purpose—but like I said, we seem to be moving in the right direction, and not just in the schools.
I have a feeling more and more nutritionally-correct restaurants will be opening in Cairo in the years to come. There are probably already many that I do not yet know about. (If you do, by all means, please let me know, and I’ll check them out.)
In the US even McDonald’s is catching on to this, reducing calories and sodium, even adding a side of fruit to their Happy Meals. For God’s sake don’t tell my daughter that though: to her this would be the end of all things good and decent in the world.
When did all this happen? When I was in college, our idea of nutrition was to make sure we consumed a balanced diet daily, something from each of the four major food groups: caffeine, tobacco, pizza and beer. Had I had the choice, as students do today, between a six-course tasting meal (1000 calories) at Rouge Tomate (NYC), and the quadruple bypass burger (8000 calories) at the Heart Attack Grill (Las Vegas), well, I would have sooner cleaned my room, done my homework, been nice to my roommates, and not taken a bath for a month than eat the healthy option.
So the change came during my lifetime. Which is why Dick Cheney looked the way he did and Paul Ryan looks the way he does, and why I am constantly torn between the Chilean sea bass and the chili cheese fries. Somewhere along the line, in terms of food culture, the United S. of A. went from Chef Boyardee and macaroni and cheese to celebrity chefs and microgreens.
I missed it. I was in Cairo. I missed the American food revolution completely. So coming back it’s a whole new world. David Kamp, editor and writer for Vanity Fair and GQ, chronicles this change in a book he calls The United States of Arugula (2006). Well put. It seems we are getting somewhere, even if, as Kamp points out, Taco Bell still has the audacity to base an advertising campaign on the catchphrase “I’m full!”.
Are we headed in the same direction in the Middle East? I sense we are. After all, fresh and healthy is being talked about, there is a new generation of coffee drinkers that prefers the real thing over Nescafe, salads are in fashion, foodists have taken to social media where there is a lively ongoing discussion, and new and interesting restaurants are opening up more quickly than at any other time in history. Yes; we are headed in the right direction—and in the not-too-distant future someone is going to publish The Aromatic Republic of Egypt.