15 January 2014

"Dear Food Thoughtz:" Spam Induced Nausea

Welcome to the third installment of Dear Food Thoughtz!  Today we are dealing with inadvertently ordering Spam and tips on how to overcome an eating slump.  As always, write in to food.thoughtz@gmail.com.
Dear Food Thoughtz,

Is there any acceptable use for spam, in food or otherwise?  Living in the Philippines I have had it served to me under the following names: bacon, ham, pork, sausage, and baboy.  I've never had it served to me as "spam" because I would never order it if they called it "spam," having never considered spam suitable for human consumption.  What are your thoughtz on this matter?  Do you have any idea how do I can ensure that people stop giving me spam when I order real food?

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your question; it will allow me to tackle two issues at once, both of which I consider to be very important: 1) is it ever okay to eat Spam, and 2) what do you do when you’re in a foreign land and can never be certain of what you’re ordering.

In short, the answer to the first question is no.  My wife eats Spam with frightening regularity, and it makes her sick every single time without fail.  And knowing that she is eating it also makes me sick, so it’s important to consider the feelings of others when you decide to eat something like Spam.  Your life is not your own, and your choices can negatively impact those you hold most dear.  I don’t believe that meat should ever be sealed in a tin or a can, so the Canard en Conserve is equally revolting to me, even though it’s served in a swanky French restaurant in Montreal.

I actually had no idea that Spam was a real food until fairly recently.  I assumed it was some kind of made-up food that they referenced in TV shows all the time, and as a result, some company decided to start manufacturing tins of it.  Kind of like the promotional Buzz Cola or the rip-offs of Duff beer, both from the Simpsons. 

Unfortunately there is so sure way to know what exactly you’re getting when you order a dish from a restaurant.  One time during a family trip to Spokane, probably to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, I ordered plain spaghetti in the Sheraton hotel restaurant.  I was very clear about what I wanted: absolutely plain noodles with some butter.  Would you believe me if I told you that when the dish arrived, it was covered in some kind of green, like parsley or basil or something?  Just the other day when I ordered a burger from Montana’s Cookhouse Saloon I was very explicit about not wanting any vegetables or sauces on my burger, and sure enough it arrived with lettuce, tomato, and a pickle.

My point is that while you can never be 100% certain of what you’re getting in a restaurant, there are some steps you can take to ensure that what you’re ordering is as close as possible to what you’d like to consume:

1. Trial and Error.  Although time consuming and potentially costly, sometimes the best method is to try out as many restaurants as possible.  In my case, I almost always order the same dish at every restaurant, so it’s easier for me to whittle the list down to a choice few selections where I can be confident that I know what I’m getting and that I will like it.  Presumably it would be more or less the same for someone with a more varied diet because if a restaurant can do one thing well, then it’s probably likely that they can prepare other dishes to your liking as well.

2. Be as Specific as Possible.  This doesn’t always work, but it’s probably your best bet.  My most complicated order is usually a burger, and I always try to make it very clear that I want it absolutely plain, with no vegetables and no sauce, but that I do want a slice of cheddar cheese.  And then I repeat again that all I want is the bun, the burger, and the cheese but nothing else.  This usually works for me.  

Your situation seems to be a bit different, however.  It seems as though the restaurants you have visited in the Philippines are deliberately deceiving you.  I have had similar experiences in the States because menus will often say that an order comes with cheese, but then when it arrives, it’s processed cheese.  Even if you ask the server whether or not it’s real cheese or processed cheese, they will lie to you—albeit in good faith—because they honestly believe that processed cheese is real cheese.  There is very little you can do in these situations except know thine enemy.  

I don’t know how comfortable you are with sending food back, but perhaps you could ask the server a series of questions about whether or not you’re getting a sausage or a slab of Spam, and then carefully describe what a sausage is to you and make sure that your definitions match.  Then, if the food you’re served is actually a slab of Spam and not the agreed upon definition of a sausage, you have just cause to send the food back.  Personally I would not be comfortable with this.

Another option is to just forego any menu item that could potentially be Spam.  It can be difficult because frankly, what is the point of going out for breakfast if not getting two sides of meat?  But if you’re only other option is eating Spam, it might not be a bad choice. 

3. Shame Them.  When a restaurant serves me something I don’t want to eat, I don’t send it back, I don’t force it down, and I don’t try to be discrete about my disdain.  For example, when my Montana’s burger arrived, I placed the unwanted vegetables on a napkin in the centre of the table for all servers and patrons to see.  This technique will not benefit you in any way.  You’re not going to get your meal refunded and you’ll be lucky to even get an apology.  It’s highly unlikely that anyone even cares that you did this.  Still, I always seem to get some satisfaction out of it.

4. Better Safe than Sorry.  This is my golden rule, and admittedly it's a lot easier for someone like me to follow it than someone with a more varied diet.  However, the onus is on you to figure out what the Philippines excels at across the board that you would also eat, and stick to that one thing or couple of things as closely as possible.  I really did only eat rice during the seven months I was in Central America because I knew that whether purchased at a tin shack on the street or in a mid-range restaurant, the result would always be delicious (except for the time that I was poisoned, although to be fair, that rice was also delicious).

5. McDonalds.  Just go to McDonalds.  It still counts as cultural engagement because McDonalds are different all over the world.

Dear Foodcritique Extraordinaire,

Recently I've been grappling with anxieties, fears, worries and disgust with humankind and myself. This in itself would not be a problem, however, I have also become disgusted by food, especially cooked food and vegetables. The only kind of food I feel like eating is sangria made by the Pourboy.

What should I do? What kind of diet do you suggest to a nauseated human being?

Best wishes,

Hateful Hermit

Dear Hateful Hermit,

Your question is an interesting one, and one that I myself often struggle with.  There are two routes you could take with this:

1. Move to Toronto to be closer to Pourboy.  If this option is not feasible at the moment, then:

2. Ease yourself back into a normal eating routine by preparing inoffensive dishes that you can consume without thinking about what it is you are consuming.  I would recommend either rice or oatmeal.  Although both are cooked foods, they're also essentially just a pile of mush and the experience of eating them can easily be transformed into a mundane task that you simply have to complete, and therefore shouldn't induce any sensations of nausea.  The result should be one of two things: either you get so sick of eating rice/oatmeal that you're willing to eat anything else, or getting used to eating cooked food that is so bland and inoffensive will actually help you to get over your current state of disgust and lead you back to all the normal foods you previously consumed.  A third option is to give into your nausea and subsist entirely on alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee.  Although it will inevitably wreak havoc on your body it is also the diet best paired with Weltschmerz or Sartrean nausea.

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