David Bruce: Anecdotes About Food

American author and chef Anthony Bourdain is not a vegetarian, but he is against fast food, and he wants his two-and-a-half-year daughter to be against fast food. He and his wife have even carried out against Ronald McDonald campaigns of the sort that the CIA calls black propaganda. For example, one day when he and his wife knew that their daughter was lying in bed still awake, they stood outside her door and carried out a campaign. His wife said, “Sssshhhh! She can hear us.” He replied, “No, she’s asleep.” They then talked about Ronald McDonald being involved in the disappearance of a young child. His wife gasped, “Not another one!” He replied, “I’m afraid so. [The child s]tepped inside to get some fries and a Happy Meal, and hasn’t been seen since. They’re combing the woods … checked out the Hamburglar’s place — but, of course, they’re focusing on Ronald again.” And whenever Mr. Bourdain sees Ronald on TV or on a billboard, he says to his daughter, “Ronald smells bad. Kind of like … poo! I’m not saying it rubs off on you or anything — if you get too close to him — but ….” Grossed out, his daughter says, “Ewwww.”

Army food is often not thought to be very good, but just outside the Baghdad airport, the Pegasus chow hall has a very good reputation. The prime rib is perfect, and the fruit platter is beautiful. Soldiers sometimes drive from the well-protected Green Zone on a dangerous road just to eat at Pegasus. The major reason for this excellent reputation is Floyd Lee, who is in charge of the chow hall. He says, “As I see it, I am not just in charge of food service; I am in charge of morale.” That is why eating at Pegasus is such a pleasant experience. It has soft lighting, not harsh fluorescent lighting. It has green tablecloths with tassels. The white walls are covered with sports banners. Pegasus serves the same menu as other chow halls, but Mr. Lee’s emphasis on improving morale, not just feeding soldiers, makes a big difference. One soldier said, “The time you are in here, you forget you’re in Iraq.”

In one of comedian Red Skelton’s funniest routines, he demonstrated the way that different kinds of people eat doughnuts. Each time he performed the sketch, he ate nine doughnuts. In vaudeville, he did five shows a day, eating 45 doughnuts a day, which means that he ate 315 doughnuts each week! Once he gained 35 pounds doing the routine, and he was forced to stop performing it so that he could lose some weight. Mr. Skelton was a funny man, but he could get his comedy writers angry at him. When he was doing his weekly comedy TV series, a reporter asked him what was the source of inspiration for his comedy sketches. Mr. Skelton raised his eyes toward heaven and replied, “God.” His comedy writers preferred that they be given some of the credit, so they presented him with some blank pages and this note: “Please have God fill in the empty pages.”

British pop musician Billy Bragg contributed to his big break. His regular job was working at a 24-hour gas station when he heard radio deejay John Peel say on the air that he wanted a mushroom biryani so badly that he would do anything for it. Within 30 minutes Mr. Bragg appeared at the radio station with a mushroom biryani. What was the “anything” that Mr. Peel ended up doing for the mushroom biryani? He played on the air Mr. Bragg’s “The Milkman of Human Kindness.” These days, the music industry is changing because people are downloading music instead of buying CDs. Mr. Bragg is hopeful that this era of change will work out OK for the musicians. He points out, “You only need to find 5,000 people willing to pay you £10 a year to make you give up your day job.”

The father of M.E. Kerr, author of books for young adults, manufactured mayonnaise for a living until World War II started in 1939. Mayonnaise was not an essential food, so instead of making mayonnaise, he began to make dehydrated onions. Because of this, the entire town of Auburn, New York, smelled like onions. Therefore, her father placed this ad in the local newspaper, “Our onions are for field rations for our fighting men. When you smell onions, pray for peace.”

Comedian Jackie Gleason, of course, was a big eater. Early in his career, he and a friend named Tony Amico stopped at a vegetarian restaurant called the Ideal Restaurant. They weren’t vegetarians, but they decided to eat there because of this sign: “All you can eat for fifty-five cents.” Each of them ate triple servings of every vegetable in the restaurant’s menu, and when they left, the owner took down the sign that had attracted the two big eaters.

Anne Fine, author of “Alias Madame Doubtfire,” has a daughter who can quickly make up her mind. At dinner one day, the daughter frowned at something that was on her plate and asked, “What is this?” Hearing the answer, she asked, “Duck duck? You mean, like on the pond?” Ms. Fine admitted the fact, and her daughter pushed away her plate and became a vegetarian.

“Los Angeles Times” columnist Meghan Daum once knew a morbidly obese man (he died of heart disease when he was around 50 years old. He used to go into a restaurant and eat several meals (15,000 calories) and drink a diet soda (1 calorie). His saving grace was that he was a man of wit: He would sometimes tell the server, “I’ll have the left-hand side of the menu.”

When Sylvia Plath was a student in England, she did not make many female friends. One morning, she was cutting up her fried eggs, and another student asked her, “Must you cut up your eggs like that?” Ms. Plath replied, “Yes, I’m afraid I really must. What do you do with your eggs? SWALLOW THEM WHOLE?”

Famous philosopher George Santayana knew what he liked. Sometimes, he would pour wine over cake and then eat it. A friend once saw him do this. The friend was shocked, but he tried it, liked it, and continued to do it.

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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