Fast food and slow food

I just returned home from an amazing weekend getaway with my hubby. We received a gift at Christmas of a two night getaway (thank you, family – and Livingsocial) and finally arranged a time when our kids would with friends (thank you, friends). We stayed at the  Vienna Inn and Restaurant near Sturbridge, MA, felt pampered by the lovely staff, relaxed on the front porch, read good books (I’m working on Clash of Kings, the second in the George RR Martin series, and hubby finished Moonwalking with Einstein, a fascinating read on memory), enjoyed some scenic driving and overall had a wonderful time.  The best part  however, was the food.

What’s the cheapest, quickest thing to grab on the road?

For us, traveling has usually included food. Sometimes we bring snacks, but most times we stop for a meal. We have had different strategies over the year: sometimes we would plan a stop for a sit-down meal, sometimes we would look for a place with a dollar menu and give one another big high fives when the four of us could eat for under $10.  Sometimes we’d hit the drive thru, sometimes we’d stop at a rest stop and get a quick snack for the road, and sometimes we’d go to a McD’s for a quick pee break, only to find ourselves in line for an order of fries or an ice cream cone to go. Our criteria for food had was mainly financial: where could we get the most/tasty food for the cheapest amount of money?

But over the past two years I have been doing lots of reading and thinking and growing and have slowly – very slowly – shifted in how I  make decisions about food production, purchasing and consumption. It’s much easier to be critical of others’ choices, much harder to make changes in your own habits, I quickly observed. Slowly, my thought process has expanded beyond the question “What is the cheapest we can buy?” to “What is the best quality we can afford?”  This slow process has also included switching from soda to seltzer water, reducing the fast food that I eat and feed my kids, incorporating more organic food into our regular diet (milk, meat and produce especially) and joining in a discussion group called Menu for the Future.

What’s the best quality we can afford?

So, we find ourselves about to leave on a 2 hour road trip in the middle of the day and I think ahead (doesn’t always happen, trust me). I eat lunch at home, so as to avoid buying fast food on the road. About an hour in, we stop at a rest stop to use the bathroom, and decide to get a snack. I avoided the McD’s and we split a burrito (very mediocre). But when we got back in the car, it was so hot and the sign for the new Rolo McFlurry made the “dessert” look so darn appealing that we broke our resolve and got in the drive through to order one.

As we sat in the drive through, I was impatient. The line was not moving fast at all….I was hot, I wanted refreshment and the sign promised me, assured me that I deserved a break, that the “hydrogenated non-dairy snack treat” was just the thing for what ailed me. We finally ordered, and we finally paid and we finally received it.  What a disappointment. It was cold, but not much else. Not having had fast food for a while, I realized that much of its appeal was in my head. That McFlurry did not actually taste very good, it wasn’t good for me, it wasn’t good for the people who work there getting minimum wage, it wasn’t good for the environment. I did not feel good about that choice and I didn’t feel good after eating most of it.  What I realized  is that one of the more subtle and harmful things about fast food – because let’s face it, the health hazards of fast food are well documented; have you seen Supersize Me? – is that we think we have a right to it. It’s all about me: I’m hungry, I’m hot, I want it now. But fast food does not account for the true cost of the convenience factor, the environmental impact, or the social justice concerns surrounding it’s production and consumption.

I was specifically reflecting on this because the rest of the weekend centered around slow food. Once were settled into our rooms, we went downstairs and were given as part of the package a cocktail and an appetizer, which we lingered over.  Sitting on the porch, sipping our drinks, we relaxed into the evening and good conversation for over an hour.

We then moved to a comfortable private table where we were served another appetizer of lobster bisque and crab cakes which we shared and delighted over.  Salads came next as a crisp palate cleanser. Then our main dish arrived: domesticated boar shank served with spatzle and red cabbage.  This choice was not one we would normally make -we are after all creatures of habit and neither one of us has a particularly refund sense of taste, or had ever heard of spatzle. Hey, when in Rome, right? So we ordered it with a bit of trepidation, and were rewarded handsomely for our gamble. It was a giant piece of meat (boar shank which sounds so…unlike us) which was “falling off the bone tender” and served in a mushroom reduction (a fancy word for best meat sauce ever).  I cannot believe how much we enjoyed that plate. Finally a slice of cheesecake served with fresh whipped cream, raspberries, a sprig of mint and a handmade cherry preserve arrived at the table. Each bits was a mouthful of bliss.  All of the food was highest quality, hand prepared, carefully arranged, and served to us on fine china with beautiful accents (basil and mint, flowers and sprigs straight from their own garden).  Dinner took over 3 hours.  It was a stunning experience (albeit partly because we never do things like this; who can linger over dinner with two kids and cell phones these days?)

Eating a meal had never felt so…luscious. I had also never felt so…full. Not full in an I-can’t-believe-I-ate-the-whole-thing kind of way, but full in an I-think-this-might-what-it-means-to-be-human kind of way.  My mind was full: of good conversation. My heart was full: of the beauty of the food and atmosphere. My spirit was full: with gratitude for a lovely evening. The contrast between the way that I felt after the fast food treat vs. after the slow food dinner was stark. I’m hopeful that I can return to these thoughts and remember that difference as I am faced with future food choices. 

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