trying not to write too much about buffets and not succeeding

Today: a Sunday. Bad day. Sundays are never great, but today was worse. I don't generally write about my day - who wants to know what I've done with my average afternoon? - but I'm getting all revved up for NaBloPoMo, and besides, the only way to see clear of the pain, to walk through its dense thorny thickets, is to hack through it with the old blog machete and end up on the other side. Where the Highway of Achievement feeds into the Quiet Suburb of Thank-god-that's- done-with.

Today was not bad because I took my wife out to breakfast with my ex-fiancée, although that sort of thing is dicey at the best of times. It's not bad because I woke up to snow, or because a cold had floated in on the usual viral vectors and inhabited my sinuses. It was bad because I didn't pay attention to the furious restaurant snob that lives inside me and rages at brunch buffets.

Fucking brunch buffets. Ever-congealing, colours converging, a thousand choices knit together by one flavour. If a buffet were a person, it would be the kind of person I would kill and gladly go to jail for. The courts might convict me but I would be a folk hero. Thomas Pynchon would show up at my cell and shake my hand. He would reveal his face to me, and lo, it would be myself, a time traveller returned to the twentieth century to write really bulky, obscene, boring novels - okay, this fantasy is not only too complicated, it's not even making sense.

Some people point out that buffets at really fancy restaurants carry a better class of food than, say, a Best Western breakfast smorg. It doesn't matter, people: any buffet, no matter how glorious, no matter how many fine fruits from overseas or how many fresh ahi tunas decorate the tables, perverts the ethos of restaurant going.

A restaurant is there to gratify your senses. It is designed to reverse the ancient order of food procurement, in which you woke up miserably hungry and went out hunting/foraging/ farming to ward off cruel starvation. Neolithic hunter-gatherers did not dress up in their finest hides to go eat a sabretooth steak at their local Stonehenge. Man, I bet I could get a movie made with a pitch like that.

When you go to a restaurant and sit down and tell other people to bring you food of your choice, in exchange for nothing more than money, you are telling the entirety of human history to go piss up a rope. Are you implicitly calling in a favour from the military-industrial complex of the western world when you order a slice of pie made with apples from New Zealand or peaches from California? Oh, undoubtedly. You are born into this privilege, and you may spend your life attempting to repair its routine violations of nature and human dignity, but the ease of restaurant-going remains one of the signal pleasures of progress. The buffet, with its agribiz-subsidized mountains of cheap wheat-and-beef and its wrongheaded system of making you get up and go to the food, combines all the worst aspects of modern consumer life, in which you are paying to serve yourself what is usually the cheapest of crap.

Although the buffet has a history going back to eighteenth century France, the meal in its modern form is owed to Las Vegas, where the "all you can eat" version was introduced in 1946. Casino buffets are traditionally cheap (although not as cheap as they used to be) because they pull in the crowds of cornfed tourists who, having been blessed with a minor excess of disposable income and a tremendous excess of appetite, will shove food in their mouths and coins in the slots until they end up, in another reversal of historical conditions, fat and broke at the same time.

The all-you-can-eat buffet system makes less sense when you remove it from a subsidized setting and isolate it in its own restaurant. When that happens, the buffet can no longer be a loss leader. The restaurant need to ensure the buffet's profitability, either by cutting every conceivable expense (eg. food quality, staff wages, faith in humanity) or by having a buffet only for Sundays of for 'special occasions,' when people decide to go out with their families and spend their hard-earned money on bulk-cooked cheap food sitting its own grease - which they need to go up and serve themselves. How have we been convinced that slopping food onto our plates is a privilege?

I shouldn't ask questions when I already know the answer. People like buffets because they can see the food. Because they can heap up five different desserts on a plate, eat a bite of each, and haul their butts back over for a few leaves of lettuce in a quart of oil. Because a buffet carries the promise of abundance, of limitless choice and affordable entitlement for people who quietly believe that the material privilege granted to them is not enough, that the house and car and pool table in the basement comprise only a portion of their birthright, that a restaurant which hands them a printed card and awaits their decision is only holding back what is rightfully theirs, which is everything. Chicken wings, roast beef, eggs benedict, black forest cake, cinnamon buns, perogies in butter, ribbons of bacon and pale shiny sausages, a giant loaf of eggs, potatoes sliced and hashed, cubes of cheddar and mozzarella in radial attitude with salami rounds, and all it of renewable, endlessly refreshed, from ten am to two. And then they're closing, so pay at the front and get out.

And if you go the place where I went today with my wife and my ex-fiancée, go with the eggs benedict but avoid the turkey. You seriously couldn't tell the difference between stuffing and bird.