Yesterday I made pasta. I had forgotten where the pots were, but eventually I found them, covered in dust, and I went to work. The result was bland and uninspiring. My cat watched me cook, shocked by all this extra movement on my part. He’s used to food coming in paper and plastic containers.
Having been raised by people who grow vegetables, consuming fast food fills me with pleasure and then extreme guilt. I’m sure this isn’t an uncommon feeling, but I understand that children of hippies often experience extreme food rebellion/regression. Denied as a child, I still hunger for Lunchables and Gushers.
I’m also a straight girl who lives in LA, so I know about calories. Sometimes picking a cheeseburger over a salad can feel like the difference between dying alone and walking the red carpet with Joseph Gordon Levitt. Of course I was also raised by a feminist, so the idea of watching my weight for men feels wrong. I ignore the fact that I might be watching it for myself and wade deep into the waters of fast food. I avoid most of the big chains. The elitist in me dislikes their popularity. Below is my neurotic’s guide to Pandora’s box.
Of all the fast foods I consume, I’m most ashamed of Panda. It’s so impersonal. The food is already right there (it could belong to anyone), and they scoop the noodles up and toss them into those Styrofoam containers, marking them with cryptic letters. For me, it’s always chow mein, orange chicken and broccoli and beef. This one order roughly equals my recommended daily caloric intake. I eat half and keep the rest for the next day. I feel bloated and depressed, but sitting down to that plate of grease always feels like a forbidden treat. I prefer to take my grease home. Eating there gets really depressing.
The one time I ate inside The Panda, I overheard a man telling the new friends he’d met at the table next to him that the food was good here. He was Asian and he was talking to a Latino family that didn’t have much English, so he was shouting. “Drinking soda is BAD,” he shouted, but the “FOOD HERE IS GOOD.” I wanted to tell him that he might have to put soda and Panda in the same category, but who was I to talk, I was eating it too.
All those sandwich toppings you have to pick and then communicate to the person behind the glass. It feels like you’re trying to talk to someone who’s in jail, and in a way they are. Sometimes I point at the toppings, but I get in trouble for pointing over the top of the glass. This happens to me at Chipotle too. Apparently, it’s unhygienic to gesture at food unless there’s a barrier between you and the food. I try to make the process easier by saying, “I want everything but onions and bell peppers,” but my message never gets across, and I feel patronizing and like a white girl when I have to say “No, no onions!” But you get the Footlong, eat half for lunch and half for dinner and you’re good to go. Also there’s not much guilt involved with Subway. Therefore it’s not something I crave. I always take it to go. The one time I ate at the store, I was the only customer until an oily man in a sweater vest arrived and asked me if I happened to have a coat hanger. I didn’t.
The lime flavored chips give me a hard time. I order the burrito bowl and then scoop everything up with the chips, so I might as well have just gotten a burrito. Chipotle does an amazing job of hiding that it’s fast food, so I feel comfortable eating there. It must be the brushed steel decorations and the witty remarks on the bags and cups. Although when you start to pay attention to what they say, you question whether a 30% recycled paper bag is something to get that excited about. Also, why am I eating here instead of at Taco Zone or a trillion other authentic Mexican restaurants for a fraction of the price? I must like the safety of its systematic food delivery system. There is something incredibly comforting about every restaurant being the same. You know what you’re getting. I have experienced pleasant communal eating here. Chipotle people tend to be my people. Someone at corporate probably just got a raise because I think that.
I would marry In-N-Out if I could. Since I can’t, I will consider following it on twitter. I already have their app. It’s right next to my Ok Cupid app and calorie counter app. Apps say a lot about a person.
Everything about In-N-Out gives me joy. The secret menu makes me feel superior to those poor rubes who order “grilled onions” instead of saying “Animal Style.” I once tried to explain the secret menu to a German family in front of me in line. I think they thought I was making lewd remarks. They did not order “Animal Style.” Later, when they wanted mayonnaise, I showed them the wonders of “Spread.” Who thought of just calling it “Spread.” That is so perfect.
The people who work at In-N-Out are happy and young, and they have those old-fashioned-ish uniforms that are also gender specific. This is probably because the company’s run by Mormons, or so I’ve heard. I’m OK with this because it means they answer to a higher authority. They aren’t going to mess up the food too much because God’s watching.
Everyone loves In-N-Out. Every segment of society goes to In-N-Out. In my weekly religious pilgrimage (yes, weekly), I’ve seen a man covered in tattoos, even his face was a giant tattoo, eating a Double Double. There’s always tourists and hipsters. I’ve seen a bus of the mentally challenged crowd around the ketchup stand.
I love the dance of preparing to eat In-N-Out. First you get your soda and then you fight for a table. I’ve seen physical fights over tables. They never make the restaurants big enough. My own even-tempered father once fought an old man for a seat at a counter. Maybe the very American In-N-Out experience encourages territorialism.
After you get your table, and you mark it as yours, you go get ketchup. Then you sit, nervously watching your number on your receipt. When the food comes, the anticipation is unbearable, and it’s always gone before you know it, but you can have the exact same experience next week.