Friday, March 23, 2007

lenten journal: enough

As I was busy at the Inn today, getting ready for the weddings this weekend (one Saturday, one Sunday), I heard a story on NPR about TGI Fridays’ new “Right Portion, Right Price” menu (four items) that are thirty percent smaller in portion size and $6.99 - $8.99 in price. The interviewer asked the CEO for Fridays why they were making such a move, to which the executive answered, “We figured people were tired of eating half of their food and then taking the rest of it home so it can sit in the refrigerator for three days and then get thrown out.” He went on to talk about wanting to do something healthier and something that gave people an option to eat less.

The line of questioning then moved to the economic feasibility of the change. Less food and lower prices mean lower sales numbers as well. Can you make money in the restaurant business by teaching people to push away from the table? Once again, lines from old comedy routines coming rushing forward from the deep recesses of my mind. I don’t remember which comedian told the first one. He talked about waiting tables in an all-you-can-eat place and going up to someone who was about to leave and saying, “Sit back down. You’re not through. The sign says “all you can eat” and I don’t think you’ve reached your limit. You’ve eaten a lot, but that’s not all you can eat.”

The second comes from Paula Poundstone, who said servers in restaurants ought to be able to cut people off the same way bartenders can tell people they’ve had enough to drink. As I sit here typing and carrying an extra forty pounds of my own, I think she may have a point. In these matters, I’m a true American: I don’t know when to say, “Enough.”

Enough: sufficient to meet a need or satisfy a desire; adequate.
Molly Ivins wrote a column years ago when Texas was trying to come up with a new slogan to put on its license plates to replace Dolph Briscoe’s classic, “Drive Friendly.” Her suggestion was, “Texas: where too much is never enough.” The Lone Star state is not so different from any other in that regard.

Between basketball games tonight I stumbled on to 20/20 where John Stossel spent a whole hour on “Enough!” (his exclamation point), looking at people who had gotten fed up with something going on around them to the point of doing something about it. He talked to a guy who started an organization that is working to make televangelists more financially accountable, a woman who is trying to get “baby mamas” and “baby daddies” get married, and a group of people who intervened at the scene of a highway accident to keep a cop from shooting an injured dog. Stossel closed the show by asking, “Have you gotten fed up with something in your life enough to take concrete action to do something about it? We want to hear your story . . .”

I started reading The Tipping Point this week, which is a book about how change happens. The author’s thesis is, as you can tell by the title, things have to reach a tipping point – that moment when the small things stack up to create what he describes as “an epidemic,” or significant change. One of the stories I’ve been following this week is the growing pressure on Robert Mugabe, the dictatorial president of Zimbabwe, to step down. He has wreaked havoc and terror on the people of his country for years and years, but things appear to be reaching a tipping point, despite his brutal tactics. Inflation is at 1700% annually (if you bought a gallon of gas today at $1.65, this time next year it would cost over $27) and people are growing tired of his senseless torture and killing of most anyone who disagrees with him. Though this situation does not appear to have reached a point of change as far as most of the world is concerned, Zimbabweans are ready to lay down their lives for change, even if no one else comes to support them. They’ve had enough.

I’m troubled that I’m paying twenty cents more for gas than I was a month ago.

One item in our produce order today was strawberries – two hundred of them. The wedding couple on Sunday wants strawberries served with each glass of champagne. (They must have seen Pretty Woman.) The berries we got came from Chile. They traveled over two continents, being sold and resold by who knows how many people, and were still cheap enough to be used as a garnish on a glass. Perhaps it would have been enough to have passed out the champagne at this March wedding, or else to have gotten married when strawberries were in season.

The rest of the menu is a Boston Bibb lettuce salad (wrapped in cucumber with grape tomatoes and carrot curls), rock shrimp with kalamata olives and tomato-basil sauce over penne, filet mignon with roasted fingerling potatoes and bundled root vegetables or statler chicken breast with herbed risotto and asparagus, and wedding cake. There are also passed hors d’oeuvres, a cheese display, and an antipasto platter.

I don’t mean to pick on the happy couple. From time to time, I’m challenged to come to terms with the fact that I work in an industry that encourages excess, at least on some levels. This is one of those times. As easy as it is for me to disparage the national chain restaurants, I have to give it to Fridays. They are taking concrete action to do something where few others have done anything at all. Sunday night, I may talk about how much excess food we are sending out, and I’ll still keep filling the plates. Maybe we won’t fill them quite so full.

Some days while I’m chopping and stirring and thinking on these things, I wonder if a restaurant can be a fair trader, environmentally conscious, economically fair to its employees, thoughtful in its portioning, clear in its identity, affordable in price, hospitable in atmosphere, and profitable. (I realize I’m not inventing the wheel here – I’m sure it’s being done somewhere and it’s just that I don’t know about it.) A place like that would be enough for me.

Enough – that might even be a good name for it.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

Brett said...

I had a crusty old seminary professor (he was Shelby Spong's brother) who told us his personal policy for weddings. He demanded that the bride and groom pay him 10% of the total wedding cost as his honorarium for performing the service. He said that this helped put things in perspective--why spend sometimes tens (hundreds?) of thousands on the cake, dress, venue, food, alcohol, etc. to then pay the pastor $150. It also helped them keep prices in check. I'm not sure if such a policy would work, but I've often wanted to ask for the same thing.

Lisa in Austin said...

Great post, Milton. On a blog I read regularly and on rare occasion write for (MotherTalkers.com) we've had an on-going conversation about food and about how to teach our kids to think globally.

A book I think you'd like to look at is Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. It's a coffee table book, with photos of families across the world sitting in their homes with all the food they consume in a week spread out on a table (or on the ground for some). There's also info about how much they spend on food each week and how they live and eat.

It's not surprising to see all the packaged foods consumed by those of us in the western world. One thing very interesting to me was the family in Mali, who were asked what is their favorite food. The answer: "the Natomo family does not think in terms of favorites." Wow. A huge reminder that I am incredibly lucky to have enough food and variety to have a favorite food.

I buy strawberries almost every week and it's only been recently I've thought much about how I get to have strawberries year-round.

Keep on reminding us to think on these things.

Anonymous said...

'More than enough' seems to permeate every aspect of our society. I'd love to see, and then eat at, a restaurant named Enough that embraces all the qualities you listed. Your next professional venture?? Redbarn