By Kat Kiefer-Newman
Recently, I was at a fellow adjunct’s house relaxing, enjoying a glass of something sweet, and talking about dining with several other colleagues. Without any warning one of my nasty little secrets came out: I am a vegetable snob. I tried to keep the truth from leaking out, but after more than an hour, I just couldn’t seem to help myself.
My friend was commenting that she loves the marinara sauce at a suburban chain restaurant. You know the type of place. They pop up in strip mall parking lots, have flashy exterior decorations and landscaping, and the menu is always the same whichever one you go to. I don’t need to say the name, you know the place, you’ve likely eaten there. This restaurant runs commercials that feature laughing, clinking and drinking 20-somethings, young families, all neatly dressed, and everyone is happy in the extreme. The food comes out, and those 20-somethings look like they’ve won the lottery. The shots of the food are like pornography, with the slow pan around heaps of pasta, dripping sauces, ooey-gooey cheese, and meat that glistens in the close-ups.
In this conversation, my friends oohed and ahhed about the food at this restaurant, with others commenting that this or that “signature” dish was the best, the next best, etc. I sat back in my chair and kept my own counsel.
At least at first.
My students wouldn’t have recognized me as the provocateur and devil’s advocate that I play in the classroom week-after-week, but a Southern mother whose own mother put great store by manners had raised me to behave properly in social situations. Normally, in social situations, I make both matriarchs proud. Normally. In the classroom, well, that’s a different situation. My job is to rouse critical thinking and deeper responses, versus taking life’s challenges at face-value. Whether it’s my classes on death, my writing classes, or my myth classes, I need to push my students out of their comfort zone to better examine the ideas they’ve likely taken for granted (and absorbed without awareness from their immediate community).
Back to the party: When one friend said: “All the food is great, but the tomato sauce, that’s the best I’ve ever tasted,” I couldn’t contain myself. I admit it, (since there’s no point in denying it now that it’s out, anyway), that I am a vegetable snob. Worse, I’m a vegetable elitist.
Tomatoes these days are bred mostly for color consistency and a blandness that appeals to a broad cross-section of consumers.That sauce about which my colleague was speaking so reverentially, is packed with salt, corn syrup, chemicals to enhance color and texture, and fat — all designed to trick the palate into sending a message to the brain that the sauces they taste better than they really do.
Before I knew it, these words had slipped past my noncommittally smiling lips.
I’d committed a social gaffe. My Southern Grandmother (Miss Manners has nothing on this Grande Dame) rolled in her grave (but with decorum, as it should be).
It’s no excuse that I have an organic veggie garden, and am working on a greenhouse for future growings. It’s also no excuse that I’ve watched Food, Inc., and I know growing my own food is more than just about wonderful (flavorful) tomatoes. I misbehaved by showing my friends and co-workers that I am a backyard vegetable garden elitist. (Of course, I’m not alone in my zealotry, check out Plane Jane’s blog.)
Want a great garden-fresh marinara recipe far superior to the chain restaurant kind? Try this one. Uh, try not to brag to your friends how good it is, though. You can also get involved with a local community garden, here’s a helpful link.
Back at the party, I tried to smooth over my gaffe by inviting everyone over for dinner sometime, but the non-committal murmurs told the entire tale: I was now social pariah.
Really, maybe I don’t mind the rejection. That just means there will be more heirloom tomatoes for me.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)