Monday, October 25, 2010

Diasporic Dining XIX: Bulimia for Idiots

The IHOP in Englewood Cliffs, NJ—the pancake special offering unlimited stacks for $4.99, assorted syrups including but not limited to maple, the rack of Smucker’s jellies, thick New England Clam chowder, the club sandwich sitting on a mountain of soggy fries—is a recipe for vomiting, a paradise for bulimics who don’t even have to bother putting their fingers down their throats. Add to this a discussion of Chuck Palahniuk’s "Guts," a gastrointestinal story if there ever was one, and you have the perfect setting for literary deconstruction, or, in medical terms, triage. In the intimacy occasioned by the overcrowded seating area, the text becomes the menu, in which the very ingredients that create our sense of good and bad, right and wrong, sacred and profane, Levi-Strauss’s “raw and cooked,” come into question. Fast food restaurant chains like IHOP, Denny’s, and naturally Burger King, Wendy’s and McDonald’s are much maligned because of the poisonous nature of the food. But few realize the value they serve as metaphoric Petrie dishes for the process of ingestion and regurgitation. The presuppositions of culture coalesce in a windswept parking lot, with the harsh but inviting white light and the cheerily uniformed servers with their mechanized first-person-plural responses. Here, like in the Large Hadron Collider, the initial conditions of longing for what anxious Americans call comfort food are recreated, one day at a time.

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