May 15, 2013

Bowen Craig: That’s a wrap?

By Bowen Craig

— You know you’ve made it in America when you get your own food wrap.

With each new wave of immigration in America comes a new grouping of rancid meats and freeze-dried vegetables: the burrito, moo-shoo pork or chicken, the calzone, the falafel sandwich. Latinos, Asians, Italians and Middle Easterners have now made it, and here’s the tightly-packed tasty proof with its own zesty dipping sauce. The Irish wrap food was pre-wrapped, funny, bizarrely-shaped and grows best away from the light of the sun, much like the Irish themselves.  

Vegetarians are on the cusp, but they’re the next group, the huddled masses waiting for their shot. They’ve only recently escaped the harsh religious persecution of the ruling class in Vegetaria. They braved the ocean waves and the bored customs agents at Ellis Island. They searched out a land in which they can practice their eerie, strange, pagan rituals, free from judgment, or at least free from the random beatings of the desperado police force and their giant carrot batons of Vegetaria. They made it ... and they brought lettuce.

I ate a lettuce wrap the other day. It was basically lettuce wrapped around other lettuce and it just lacked something that the other wraps have, something that I call “taste,” or to more accurately translate it from the guttural mutterings of Vegetese, “flavor.” It was truly one of the worst foods ever divined by man, other than haggis (the Scottish wrap) and corn dogs (the diseased carnie wrap).

Breaking it down further, this almost-food was lettuce wrapped around lettuce, wrapped around more lettuce, wrapped around tiny tomato and cucumber cubes. And, to prove that the vegetarians are about to hit it big, it came with its own dipping sauces. It was a meal without the meal, a belly full without the full, a tossed salad without the toss, and a meal which is only nutritionally viable if you’ve been constipated for 10 or more days.

But, give it time. Sociologists, ethnologists and other people whose only employment possibilities are college professor and cable news upper right talking box torso have thoroughly studied immigration patterns for years. They all basically say (if they’re college professors) or shout (if they inhabit Marsha Brady’s top right corner box on Fox News) about generations. The patterns become obvious once you’ve studied them for decades or talked to anyone sitting outside of a gas station.

First generation immigrants are always hard-working, law-abiding, keep-their-heads-down, send-their-money-back-home, 10-people-to-a-house-the-size-of-a-Volvo, industrious folk. If they stay here, their kids assimilate, which is a fancy college word for “gain 10 pounds and learn to pronounce the word ‘weekend,’” but they can also run for president and use their parents’ arduous sacrifice as an integral part of their stump speech. And their kids are completely useless. That’s why it constantly amazes me that so many people are against immigration. Somebody’s got to do the actual work. I ain’t picking avocados.

Since we’re the fattest country in the history of the world and the only one yet to add high-fructose corn syrup to crackers (for real), it naturally follows that we’d measure ourselves and our collective progress via food. We’re so fat that we’ve invented new meals. We teach kids about snack time in kindergarten. Taco Bell, sensing that 72 percent of its business comes from stoned teenagers at 1:30 a.m., had a brilliant and more than slightly evil marketing campaign a few years ago called “Fourth Meal.” They sold us on the idea that three meals a day plus snacks is just not enough food. I think they cross-marketed with the stomach stapling people and mall tested it in Mississippi, the state where they recently reworked the state flag to add a diagram of an obese teenage mother of two getting a triple-bypass. It’s a disturbing flag, but it still doesn’t make the top 100 disturbing things about Mississippi.

We love food. We center our holidays around it. We associate certain foods with specific holidays. We include it in our celebrations of birth and death, marriage and divorce, house warming and filing for Chapter 13 (historically a Taco Bell Meximelt, a food yet to be discovered in Mexico but as popular in Mississippi as cow tipping, is the proper culinary companion for bankruptcy filing).

It used to be that only rich people who didn’t have to toil in the fields could even conceive of getting fat, much less do it. Now that we’ve turned the natural order on its head and made it break dance, it’s the exact opposite. Can you picture a soot-covered, scrawny Oliver Twist singing “Food, glorious food” while studying the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s. It lacks a certain tragedy, doesn’t it?

I know that we have many more precise scientific measures for “making it” in America, but for the layman, food’s as good a measuring stick as anything else, other than an actual measuring stick, which we can use to measure the ever-increasing size of our ethnically-diverse flour napkin-wrapped foods.

They’re getting bigger every day, except for the lettuce wraps.

Those are just gross.

Bowen Craig is a former Dalton resident now residing in Athens. He wonders what became of the fiestado, that school lunchroom stop sign-shaped slightly Mexican, and a little bit Italian, delicacy.