A couple of weeks ago, I rang IKEA to find out whether they could replace a cupboard part. After describing the said part in minute detail, I ascertained that the store still sold it and headed off for Toulouse. Once I got there and waited for 40 minutes near a sign clearly stating that nobody should have to wait for any longer than 9 minutes, I was told that IKEA no longer sold this part and had nothing to offer in way of replacement. Needless to say, I was not best pleased… but I will keep the IKEA rant for another day.
As I stormed out of the shop, feeling hungry and the urge for the nicotine that I had been trying to give up on, I thought the wisest decision would be to find a quick bite to eat rather than a tobacconist. I subsequently walked into the nearby Leclerc shopping mall. Now, those of you who know me well will remember my hatred for these places: the lighting, the music, the endless rows of shops, the maze layout and the crowds of people that walk around them make my blood pressure soar within seconds. As I realised that this was not the place for me, I decided that I would stop in the first eatery I would find, grab something and eat it outside. A few minutes later, I came across a Subway.
I have seen the adverts on television, I have heard my nephew rave about them, I may even have walked past a couple of Subway shops but I never really felt the urge to buy food from them. Yet, on this desperate occasion, I chose to go in. The large pictures on the walls along with the very simple explanations led me to believe that the process of buying a sandwich there should be a straightforward, no frills experience; just what I was after.
The place was manned by 2 very polite young men, who seemed to be not only enjoying their job but also taking it extremely seriously. The till girl, however was losing the will to live. I asked for a ham sandwich. I was asked to choose from a range of five or six different types of breads, all looking as similarly unappetising as each other. I was starting to wonder whether this was a good idea. While the chosen soggy-looking bread was cut in the length, a few slices of processed wafer thin ham were inserted, followed by 2 triangular slices of even more processed cheese, the young man proudly announced that his colleague would now happily add as many salad ingredients as he could possibly fit into my sandwich. There was clearly a hint of excitement in his voice, probably spurred by the notion that there was some healthy element to the food I was about to buy. It was too late to walk out by then, but I wished I could… Whilst I was studying the salad bar options, the sandwich was placed into an oven for the cheese to melt at the speed of light. The oven pinged. Young man N°2, who seemed even more excited than N°1, retrieved my sandwich from the oven and placed it in front of him. He filled it with the salad items I chose, then proudly announced “I would recommend you choose the honey and mustard dressing with your sandwich”. Oh, I am sorry, I had not realised that I was about to eat gourmet food! Then, using a large knife, he squished all the ingredients into the sandwich, squished the sandwich into a paper bag and placed it to next to the till. So much respect for the food after so much effort had been put into choosing the dressing!
As I got to the till, the 2 young girls in front of me, who clearly were regular customers, added to their dressing-enhanced-soggy-processed-sandwich-made-healthy-by-lettuce-and-sweetcorn a very large “bucket” of coke and a doughnut covered with icing sugar. My mind was racing, adding the number of calories they were about to throw at themselves and wondering whether they would have any taste buds (and stomach lining) left after that much coke.
I somehow managed to find my way out of the shopping mall in record time, without getting lost. As I bit into the soggy mess I had just bought, I tried to convince myself that this was food, this is what I was after and this was better for me than smoking a cigarette. I still wasn’t convinced after I finished my sandwich though; there was nothing enjoyable about it, it had the texture of previously chewed food, it left a strange after taste in my mouth and I didn’t feel much better for eating it.
On the way home, I felt cheated, sad and angry. I am not proud of it, I have eaten fast food on many occasions in my lifetime. More often than not, late in the evening, a Big Mac would work a treat to sponge up the alcohol excess in my body or to get rid of the munchies. I have even learned (and enjoyed) the merits of the obligatory midnight Kebab! Funny how fast food always tastes better when you’re not sober! Having said that, for as long as I have lived on my own, given the choice of eating fast food or going to the supermarket to pick some ingredients and cook a tasty meal, I have always chosen the latter. It’s always worked out cheaper and far more satisfying.
I must admit, as I look back, I realise that a very large part of my adult life has been about trying new foods, discovering new tastes, finding out about what other people eat… Being married to a Chef has probably made this quest even more important, and I can understand that not everybody will feel as passionate about a taste bud explosion as I do, but I do not understand this lack of respect for food and for our bodies. Do we think we save time by getting our lunch in a fast food place? The amount of time we spend queuing for it could probably have been used at home preparing a salad, a sandwich or a selection of all the things we like. Or are we just lazy and unimaginative? Whatever the answer is, doesn’t it bother any of you to think that other fellow human beings have created this substandard food and are selling it to the rest of us, making a mint in the process?
Maybe I am getting old, or maybe this is the French woman that lives inside me talking or maybe I am a bit of a snob… What I am sure of, though, is that the next time I find myself in need for a quick food fix, I will think twice about where I am going to get it from.