Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

20 Jul 2004, 17:34 p.m.

Fast Food Alien Nation

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2004 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

My parents lived in India for decades before emigrating to the US. We ate dinner at home (where I never ate enough for my mother's liking) almost every night, and the only friends who had us over for dinner were also Indian. As my sister and I grew older and ate outside the house more often, we realized that my parents ate almost nothing but Indian food. My sister, while at UC San Diego, took us out to a lovely Thai restaurant and expressed her frustration that my mother wouldn't try anything new, even though the Thai dishes we ordered really resembled Indian food.

When we visited our parents, we ate Indian food alongside them. When they visited us, my mother brought a supply of her own food, and cooked, and we went to Indian restaurants. Once, when my sister worked in development for the YMCA, she invited them to a fundraising dinner. Most vegetarians would have the pasta dish, but my mother couldn't eat that, so my sister arranged for a special dish of plain grilled vegetables. But someone else took it, and my mother went hungry.

They couldn't stand American food, and wouldn't try it. Except for franchise food. Even with their bad teeth and cautious palates, I guess they could stand the consistent softness of bland McDonald's hotcakes and Taco Bell bean-and-cheese burritos and vegetarian Subway sandwiches. And they are comforting and seductive in their own way.

When we lived in Stockton, we lived near a strip mall with a laundromat. Before we got a washer and dryer, we used to go there to wash the clothes every three weeks or so, and my mom would give my sister and me money to get Taco Bell dinners a few storefronts away. Oh, the freedom of walking to the Fancy Restaurant and ordering my food myself with money in my own hand!

The other strip mall near our house had a Subway we used, and a Carl's Jr where I had secret meetings with my first real boyfriend.

Then I realized what I'd been putting into my body - sodium, fat, and junk calories practically devoid of taste and nutrition - and stopped. I have these tender memories of fast-food franchises, which I could bloom like yeast in water by going into any one of thousands across the land, but now that I know how awful they are I can't ever go there again.

Last week, before the show, I sent a volunteer to get me takeout from the yummy but expensive Cortez downstairs. The volunteer learned that they won't do takeout (er, we're renting a room from the hotel, so it's basically room service, which you DO, argh). She left and returned with a toasted Quizno's sub of mushrooms and tomatoes and such a yummy tasty crust. So tasty! I ate it disgracefully. I'll have to find a locally owned independent deli that replicates that sandwich. It was chain food, but at least I was eating. That should please my mom.