To Serve People? Burgers? (3)

It’s 1 AM, and we’re in the living room of the cheapest apartment at the end of the furthest TTC bus line. Ash and Cam, two first-year culinary school students, sit amongst the Thrift Town plush of their living room and decompress with a (legal) Canadian joint after work at their externship downtown. It’s time to turn on some music.

Tonight we’re listening to Parliament’s “Dr. Funkenstein (Live).”

“You know that Steven Wright joke? He goes to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time,’ and he orders, ‘French Toast during the Renaissance.’” Cam recalled.

“Yes?” said Ash.

“I’ve been thinking about how time plays a crucial element in certain foods. Eggs and bread have been around for thousands of years, but there was a time when you couldn’t make French Toast with brioche. It just didn’t exist. Even the hamburger, there’s a time when the domesticated cow was just a different kind of beast. There’s just no way a burger from 100 years ago would taste the same as a burger today.”

“You’re right. I mean, hell, think about how many years it took to arrive at Hawaiian pizza.”

“Yes — but no — you sicko. No pineapple. But pizza, tomatoes come from the New World. Italy and Greece and Turkey all had flatbreads with fruit and cheese on them for hundreds of years but pizza, like we have today, could only sort of start to exist like 500 years ago.”

“Yeah. Peppers, potatoes, tomatoes. All New World. That is a lot of stuff.”

“I know, right? Without those things, you have no Szechuan cooking, no popular Italian foods, no Irish or Belgian specialties. There hasn’t been a genuinely ‘authentic’ cultural cuisine in more than 500 years!”

“What do you mean ‘authentic?’”

“Pure. Belonging to a single culture.”

“What are you, food Hitler?”

“I’m not saying food needs to be pure! I’m just pointing out that everything we eat is made up of bits from other places. Look at ‘curry’ for goodness sakes, that’s everywhere. Can a Thai curry ever be truly ‘authentic’ if the idea originated in India?”

“But a Thai curry follows a specific tradition. You can still have an ‘authentic Thai curry.’”

“Bullshit. Thai curry? There are at least ten different ‘authentic traditions’ for Thai curries! Now imagine if a Thai cook settles down in Brampton, and as a result, incorporates more traditional Southeast Asian curry techniques into their Thai curry, does that somehow make their dish less authentic or more authentic?”

“I think if you gave it to a Thai or Southeast Asian person to eat, they would both say that it’s less authentic.”

“Authenticity lies in the stomach of the eater, huh?”

“I guess so. Yeah.”

“You know Chris and Jo who live downstairs? How many times have we gone to parties there?”

“Lots.”

“Would you agree that they’re terrible cooks?”

“The worst.”

“Yet they seem to like the food they make, no?”

“It blows my mind, but yes.”

“Would you trust their recommendations for any ‘authentic’ food?”

“That’s different.”

“Whatever, you pineapple pizza eating communist! Your whole premise is suspect.”

This is a continuing story inspired by Vik, the terrible 1986 flick “Hamburger: The Motion Picture,” and the fascinating 1990 film “Mindwalk.”


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