Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Cafeteria of Love

It's Tuesday.
One in the afternoon.
Your stomach rumbles ominously. This can only mean one thing.

It's time for a trip to the cafeteria.

As you enter the cafeteria, a blast of warm air strikes your face. You inhale deeply. Is that CHEESE you smell? Warm cheese? Maybe... maybe it's PIZZA! Oh, the glorious decadence of your favorite food... the food you've waited for for so very long... the amazing warm stickiness of that baked, saucy food of dreams! You eagerly rush to the end of the long, long, line, chattering with your friends about how very hungry you are. Your stomach twists painfully as you see other people eating... happy, content, full people... while you are so very empty inside, so pained and growling. You imagine pizza at the end of your wait, golden and crusty and topped with mushrooms or sausage or just cheese. Savory, warm, the only food in the world that could truly satisfy your hunger.

Interminable time passes as the line creeps forward. The wait is made bearable only by the support of your equally hungry friends and the hope of the meal ahead. You inch forward with the rest of the antsy masses, trying to ignore the painful emptiness of your middle. At last- AT LAST- you reach the front of the line! The end is in sight! Full of rejoicing, you look down to see-

Broccoli casserole.

Now. Broccoli is not a bad food. It is green and squooshy and nutritious. It's pretty good. And cheese- you LOVE cheese. But this bright orange nacho sauce.... these grayish, sad lumps... these are not what you wanted. This particular combination of perfectly fine elements is somehow unbearably off-putting to you and in a way you can't explain rationally, you feel let down, almost repulsed. Despite the growling of your hunger, you step aside and let the next person in line be served up a heaping spoonful of casserole. Somehow, in some mysterious, illogical way, you'd rather continue to starve than eat that mess. Miserable, you trudge, empty handed, to a table. Puzzled, your friends remind you of how hungry you are. They question why you aren't eating. "What's wrong with casserole???" they ask, confused and frustrated. "How can you complain of being hungry, yet turn down food?"

They don't understand. Perhaps broccoli casserole is what they wanted all along, or perhaps they are easily content like you thought you were, but now- ohhhh, now- you truly recognize your own impossibility. Despite the dark hunger that rages in your emptiness, despite the pain, you cannot eat casserole. Your mind and stomach cry out for something savory and rich, something spicy and bready, the only thing that could truly fill you up. Not just any old dish will do- no. You wanted PIZZA, and pizza you will wait for. Foolish? Possibly. Naive? Probably. Pointless? Perhaps. But unavoidable, the conclusion that the broccoli casserole would only leave you hungrier in the end.

There may be another option. Daring. Risky. Potentially disastrous. There's a chance that you might be able to sneak back into the kitchen, find the sauce and the frozen pizza crusts, and hijack some casserole. You might be able to combine both the ingredients you long for and the ingredients available, exposing an otherwise repulsive dish to the things you find attractive. Perhaps the broccoli never had the CHANCE to be pizza. Perhaps, given the opportunity, the broccoli could see the errors of its ways and BECOME pizza. It's possible, even, that the broccoli will never be happy until it knows it could be pizza. And at the end of your efforts you emerge victorious, covered in flour and sauce, with a shining, golden, crispy broccoli pizza.

Or maybe the broccoli rejects all things pizza-like and becomes even more firmly a casserole. In this case, you walk away from the cafeteria and never look back, guiltless, knowing you did the best you could, knowing you made no rash judgements, knowing you made no mistakes.


  1. Hmmm, I wonder if this entry is entirely about food?