I had a discussion with a coworker about food. I probably should have known better before getting into a debate with him about anything, since this is the guy who says things like, “I thought we already killed Osama bin Laden?” “Wait, you can’t get Splenda in Baghdad?” “Kyrgyzstan…that’s like Kiev, right?”
I bring my lunch to the office everyday. I have no choice, since I refuse to shell out $10 for a mediocre cafeteria lunch and there are no places to eat within walking distance. Yesterday, I didn’t bring enough so I made the regrettable decision to make myself some hot chocolate from the office’s instant coffee machine. If you’ve worked in an office, you probably know what kind I’m talking about. Packets of coffee, hot chocolate, or some electric green abomination referred to as “tea” are slipped into a receiving slot and transformed into a mysterious liquid-like substance.
This was my first time experiencing the hot chocolate and unfortunately, in my ravenous state, I drank most of it. The last half-inch was a bit too gritty, so I left it to sit in my cup.
Later, when I developed a searing headache (surprise!), I grabbed my mug to clean it out and get some water. I peered into its murky depths to see that the hot chocolate remains had solidified into a nauseating sludge. It wasn’t just thicker than its previous state, but it had formed a crust on top that buckled and wrinkled as I sloshed it around.
I showed it to my coworker and said I’d never make the mistake of drinking from that machine again and I came back to the room with a clear glass of water… goop free.
[note: anything in “quotes” represents words that actually fell out of coworker’s mouth]
“Ha! It’s not like water is any better for you.”
What? Are you serious? It’s water. There’s nothing in it (filtered even!). It doesn’t come in a packet to be re-hydrated. It’s just liquid nothing.
“Let’s face it, anything you consume in this office will have something in it that’s bad for you, unless you cook it at home and bring it in yourself [note: I do!]. Even your little french press stuff.” (with a disgusted wave of his hand, gesturing at my symbol of stuffiness)
I admit, I have a french press to avoid the coffee machine. Other coworkers who turn similarly up their nose at the coffee machine have their own coffee makers in their offices but 1) I don’t have a car to transport a whole coffee maker into work, 2) I don’t drink enough coffee to justify buying myself a coffee maker for the office, and 3) I’m not sticking around long enough it either.
The french press is practical for my needs and yes, dear coworker, I would argue that it is better than the sludge machine. My french press uses water (fact: good for you) and ground coffee that I can see, smell, examine, and know that there are no mysterious chemicals and preservatives in there.
Coworker then launches into a diatribe that vaguely sticks to the theme of ‘disliking people who show concern for chemicals in their food because I don’t think it matters.’ He starts with a comparison of organic, grass-fed beef and slaughterhouse beef.
“The organic meat is like, brown… and small. But then the… like, you know, slaughterhouse beef. It’s red! And… it just looks and tastes more delicious!”
(Keep in mind, he’s doing this comparison with no context, as if I can visualize whatever point he’s trying to make. But I can’t. Is this raw beef we’re talking about? Are we comparing two packages at a supermarket? What if I had a bigger quantity of organic beef, would it still be “small” in relation to the non-organic meat? Did someone leave the organic beef out on the counter?)
This is where I could have backed out. I could have simply nodded my head, muttered something like “totally, man,” swiveled my chair around and gone on with my day. But I couldn’t.
Coworker, do you know what those companies put in beef? Ammonia-treated frozen meat chips. A majority of the U.S.’s antibiotics. Hormones. Chemicals. And corn. Freaking corn, dude. Don’t get me started on corn. If cows didn’t eat corn, there would be less E coli in the world. E coli kills babies, causes paralysis, kidney failure, and all around suckiness.
So the conversation shifts to corn. Before I start on a spree of fact-spewing on Monsanto, Con Agra, agricultural lobbyists, and how corn is chemically altered and added to practically everything you can think of, I ask if he’s seen “Food, Inc.” I figure, it’s a relatively popular movie and savvy people seem to at least know the basics of it. He likes to act savvy, so I assume we might be able to have a rational conversation.
“I won’t see it on principle. It’s one of those movies that people see and they’re like ‘Oh! I just saw Food Inc. and it changed my life and now I’m gonna eat organic beef! Corn is evil!'”
(It was probably around this point that he lumped me into that group, though I would like to defend myself and say that my research and knowledge about this stuff spreads beyond just seeing Food, Inc.)
(And not seeing it on principle? That’s like when 13-year-old Kirstin refused to read Harry Potter ‘on the principle’ that it was popular and I wanted to be different from the crowd for the sake of being different. It’s not a principle, it just alienates you from people.)
There was a blurb from him about the futility of changing your eating habits for the sake of things that are on a molecular level, and then he told me about the time he talked a dietary expert (which meant he had a conversation once, a while ago, with some girl who was studying nutrition).
“Well, she told me that if our bodies are able to…um, metabolize the food we’re eating and like…digest it. Then it means it’s okay to eat. And corn syrup is a sugar, you know.”
Next, a history lesson on corn for me. “I can’t just pigeon-hole an entire vegetable as ‘evil’. Corn helped out the early settlers in America.”
Entire civilizations have been built on farming corn, I get it, I’ve read about this stuff too. When did I say corn was evil? I just said it sucks when Monsanto modifies corn seeds for profit-making purposes, like rendering it useless without Monsanto fertilizer and pesticide, and putting farmers out of business when it cross-pollinates with their seeds.
“I personally don’t mind genetically modified food. I’d eat corn with scorpion DNA in it, if that’s what will make the corn better. Because, you know? People eat scorpion in some parts of the world.”
(As I tried to move the conversation along, he kept coming back to this point, interchanging “scorpion DNA” for dolphin and dog DNA as well. I still don’t understand what point he was trying to make.)
And with a heavy sigh, I’ll attempt to wrap this up. If you don’t quite understand what the conversation was about, thought the transitions between topics didn’t make sense, then I’ve succeeded in describing it accurately. If you feel embarrassed and confused, you’re not alone.
It was a long and pointless conversation. Eventually I think he hit on the most cohesive point he was trying to share with me: people who show too much concern for how the food in front of them was grown or raised, and concern for the organisms and chemicals mixed in them, are, to use his words, “pretentious douche bags.” He stuttered a bit when he got that phrase out and mumbled “…present company excluded.”
Nope. If that’s his stance, then I guess I am a pretentious d-bag to him.
I’m not too worried about it though; in the end, coworker is a blathering idiot. The conversation ended like this:
(imagine with a really emphatic tone of voice, like the hero at the end of a really moving film who just learned an important life lesson)
“I don’t know what you thought of McDonalds when you were growing up, but the rumor around my town was that McNuggets were actually made of buffalo testicles. And you know what? I thought it was true, and I loved them. So every time I go to McDonalds to get McNuggets, I think to myself ‘I love buffalo testicles.’ And if you were to feed me dog and you didn’t tell me it was dog, I would probably like that too. Because, you know? People eat dog.”
I went home that night and made an awesome home-cooked meal for myself and Farrell. It was just an after-thought that I didn’t use a bunch of processed, corn-based products. It’s just how we roll, and that doesn’t make us pretentious.