Soon after reaching Berkeley I was in the Pasta Shop. It was Black History Month, and my eyes teared up as I canvassed the deli case, filled with southern delectations like jalapeno cornbread, banana pudding and (there they were!) – black-eyed peas.
It made me feel at home to gaze over this familiar foodscape. And so it was that I took particular umbrage when a Young Sophisticate stood at the case beside me, visibly crestfallen. She looked up at the expectant server and said, with approbation masquerading as sheepish self-disclosure, “You see, I’m really trying to eat only ‘gentle foods’ these days, and when I look at all this food here, I’m really not seeing any ‘gentle foods’ at all.”
Silence hung in the air. What could anyone say? Me, the Urban Sophisticate, the Pasta Shop server. What could anyone do? The young woman looked down again into the glass as if inviting us to share and confirm her disappointment. But then she brightened unexpectedly and blurted out, “Ooo! That “Fried Catfish With Tartar Sauce” looks good.”
It was all I could do not to tell her about how, with the purchase of a $25.00 Fry Baby, or, for more power, the Fry Daddy, she could make all the “gentle foods” she wanted.
It’s true that she could go to the Alameda Fair once a year, and find fried artichoke hearts and funnel cake. But maybe someday she would visit the Texas State Fair in Dallas, where they take her notion of “Gentle Foods” foods to an obsessively bizarre level: fried pickles, fried twinkies, fried cookie dough and even fried butter. Up the highway is a (I kid you not) Home of the Deep Fried Hamburger.
But that’s not why the fried catfish appealed. Somewhere there is an American Brillat-Savarin who could tell us why fried foods feel so homey to so many. But eating something dead that’s been cooked in a vat of oil heated to nearly 400 degrees Farenheit is not “gentle.”
And, for the record, much of the churchy, holier-than-thou Berkeley foodhist ideology is not very gentle either. Give me a great barbecue joint with feedlot beef shipped from the Arctic over some of that pious bunk. But Urbane Sophisticate, she just wanted to feel like somebody loved her.
I want to find her and take her to a place where she will not have to navigate these treacherous waters between what is “gentle” and what is comfort food: the Spiral Diner perhaps, a vegan café in Fort Worth, Texas (“Down home vegan cookin” and “Cowtown’s Only Vegan Restaurant!”) where the sign says, “Welcome! We Love You!” Nary a fry-baby or holier-than-thou foodhist in sight. And all the gentle foods anyone could ever hope to eat.
Kelly Cash, who, as you might have guessed was born in Texas, now lives in Berkeley. She a writer who prepares ethically harvested foods for her companion animals, including husband and children, while working to save open spaces, one million acres at a time. This is the fifth in her occasional series of “Lone Star” columns.
Kelly collects “Berkeley Moments”, so if you have one, send it to email@example.com
Read Kelly’s previous Lone Star columns.