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Peter Mehlman entreats baby boomers to quit their food obsession

Young waitress shows the menu to mature couple at restaurant.
Young waitress shows the menu to mature couple at restaurant.

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Two couples sat in a restaurant/celebrity petting zoo in Brentwood. All four were pushing 65-- or maybe pulling 60. One couple must have traveled to Vietnam because the other couple asked, "So, how was Vietnam?"

Almost in unison, they said, "THE FOOD was incredible."

Then, for the next 15 minutes, they described THE FOOD. Not the sociology, not the culture, not the Vietnamese attitude toward visitors whose country decimated their land not so long ago -- JUST THE FOOD.

The question is: Exactly when did Baby Boomers reduce all of life down to killing time between meals? It's as if this wonderfully insane generation discovered caramelized onions and just chucked it all. Tune in, turn on, chow down.

Suddenly, we get more joy from shiitake mushrooms than we did from magic mushrooms. When we discuss what we'd do tomorrow if the end of the world was scheduled for the day after tomorrow, sex doesn't even come up. It's all what we'd eat and at which restaurant... as if waitresses would show up for work the night before the apocalypse.

Somehow, we've shifted our focus from the War on Poverty to the national disgrace of upper middle class hunger. When we're not eating food, we're talking food. When we're not at restaurants, we're talking restaurants. When we're not talking restaurants, we're reading about restaurants. Jumpin' Jack Flash, I have gas, gas, gas.

Speaking of gas … does the Museum of Tolerance have an exhibit devoted to Lactose?

For a generation that grew up on Updike and Roth, it's odd that a menu qualifies as reading. And boy, do we read them! We actually care when a menu specifies Lake Superior White fish. They're all great lakes but if the poor thing was in Lake Huron when it was dragged into a boat by the roof of its mouth… we're not ordering it. If the word cucumber is not preceded by the word organic, uh-uh - it must be made of plastocene. If the truffle oil is sprinkled rather than drizzled.

You know what? Truffle oil is disgusting. It smells rancid. It metastasizes something so perfect as a French fry. Besides, we shouldn't even know what truffle oil is. We should stop subscribing to magazines that have a Food Issue every four months and a Best Restaurants issue every three. We should v-chip the Food Channel and ban the term celebrity chef.

Speaking of which, at a recent party catered by a famous chef no one but the host had ever heard of, the heads of the shrimp were still attached. It's not enough to eat shrimp, now we have to autopsy them.

Look, I'm just saying, let's ease back on this food obsession. Eating is nice. I do it. But imagine if our 19 year-old selves could see how we've turned into free-range gluttons. They'd be very disappointed. But, there's still time to shift our focus to worthwhile pursuits and be properly nourished. I swear.

Come on: Salvation a la mode with a cup of tea, people.


Peter Mehlman is a former Seinfeld writer, and card-carrying baby boomer.