December 1998
s m u g
by Todd Levin


To the Lite-House

In America everyone eats extremely well around the holidays. Even the homeless eat well. One of the most revered holiday traditions in our country, in fact, is the annual human interest story aired by local news affiliates, which shows bountiful meals being passed out to the nation's localized homeless population.

non food item

Fantastic meals of processed turkey slices, instant gravy, powdered pies, robot-synthesized flavored bouillon, cherry cola, Pop'n'Fresh* crescent rolls, and assorted other dishes from our rich history of cuisine are handed out to charming little tramps and hobos by well-meaning men and women with Christian smiles and American-made glasses frames and ski jackets -- and this is all televised to help other Americans enjoy their own meals without digestive difficulties often brought on by a guilty conscience.

This news tradition is so important, in fact, that it has become part of a federal mandate. Even cities which do not boast a significant homeless faction - cities like Elmira, NY, and Rhode Island (please don't try to convince me that a land mass as small as Rhode Island, with only 2 lousy electoral votes to its name, can actually be legitimately heaped in with the 49 glorious United States of America) - must often resort to temporarily evicting good families from their homes one week prior to Thanksgiving and then supporting them through locally broadcast acts of charity through the beginning of the new year. (At which time the family may safely and legally return to their homes. It is a lottery system, and a truly egalitarian process - that's our government at work!) And each year between Thanksgiving and the New Year we all get to go to bed feeling a little more wasteful and a little more smug about our wastefulness, knowing that we have witnessed photographic proof that every homeless person in America enjoyed a square holiday meal. Yes, everyone eats extremely well around the holidays.

Everyone except me.

That's right. In fact, on major holidays I eat approximately 1/3, or 33%, less than the average American. That's because I eat my holiday meals at my parents' house, and they have pledged their allegiance and their pantry to the Nation of Lite Dining.

Every possible packaged perishable in their home -- even the ones that you would never expect to raise red-flags for fat content -- has received the Lite stamp of approval, promising "1/3 Less Fat than Ordinary Chardonnay!!" or "As Always, 33% Less Fat than Most Brands of Unbleached Millet!!!!" The product of a complex psycho-social compound of diet fanaticism, relatively sedentary lifestyles despite said diet fanaticism, and a sincere, non-ironic belief in all advertising messages, my parents have decided that stocking up on Lite foods is their only means for survival as they grow older.

I believe my parents were particularly susceptible to the lite movement because of their long history of attaching absolutely no pleasure to the act of preparing or ingesting food. This is how we all grew up in my parents' house. At home, we ate on the fundamentally simple principle that food was intended only to stave off hunger and, hopefully, untimely death.

My parent's spice rack is a shrine to Bland, and looking at it once might conjure up a 1960s science fiction film in which all the zesty spices were killed off in a terrible and unexplained apocalypse, leaving only paprika, nutmeg, and minced onion -- The Omega Spices -- to add special 'tang' the world's meals.

As a kid, the running (unintentional) joke in my house was "what's for dinner?" If my father (who did all the cooking, because my mother was preoccupied with the important task of smothering us to the point of rendering us sexually dysfunctional for all future relationships) answered, "chicken" it would never mean "Soy-Ginger Chicken" or "Spicy Jerk Chicken". It would mean this: my father would place several chicken thighs (freshly removed from their Styrofoam housing supplied by the local supermarket) on a Pyrex dish, sprinkle them liberally with paprika, and let the oven do its wonderful magic.

Simple rules applied; chicken was chicken; meat loaf was a loaf of meat. And we ate the loaf -- usually supplemented by a delightful iceberg lettuce-dominated salad (which would often make encore appearances the following two nights and look a bit exhausted and haggard by night Three) and some unfrozen corn wading in its own urine at the bottom of a microwave-safe dish -- and didn't die. Food was recognized solely by shape and (less often than I would like to admit) color. Taste was not a question; it was understood that it just never factored in.

Please forgive the following segue, which just dripped off my brain:

BONUS!! Cooking With Dad - A Lifetime of Below-Average Meals in Memoir Format

Contains memorable classics from the Levin dining room table such as:
"If you aren't going to eat your pancakes, you'll have to go to bed without dinner tonight"
"Fish Sticks again!"
"Was that 2 cups or 3 cups of Paprika?"
"The truth about meatballs"

And many, many more…all together for the first time ever!

Recently, the nutritional tides have turned on my parents. Not young kids anymore , they can no longer afford the nightly feasts of complex carbohydrates, nutrient-weakened canned produce, and fatty instant desserts they had once eaten with such grand indifference.

Fortunately for them, however, advertisers were good enough to save America's aging population from their own rushed deaths by giving them "lite" menus. Everyone is in on the game by now, and my parents have an acute ability to single out even the most obscure lite items at their local supermarkets. Their house is a rapidly expanding infomercial for Nutrasweet, skim milk cultures, and whatever the latest lab rat killer is being injected into chocolate chip cookies to keep them "slim-licious". (oddly, though, my mom will not touch anything remotely associated with Olestra because her loyalty to advertising is second only to her media-engineered paranoia, and she has made certain to warn all of her children about the stool-straining dangers of Olestra products. This coming from a woman who found and purchased the only bag of lite marshmallows in the free market)

My parents are convinced these items - down to their soft drinks, cereals, coffee, and toothpaste -- will keep them immortal. And I am pretty convinced they will at best keep their corpses incredibly well preserved.

Until then, whenever I am over at their home for a holiday meal I disguise a grimace as a smile and disguise nausea as a grimace while I handle what is cheese-shaped but is most definitely not cheese. Lite cheese, like all foods in the Lite food group, is perfectly capable of sustaining a shape resembling its non-lite food counterpart, but somehow its taste and texture warn the tastebuds that someone neglected to remove the packaging from this item before serving it.

And as I try desperately to spread it on a lite Saltine (New! Cracker-Shaped!!!) that despite my most Herculean efforts, refuses to crumble or even chip away the way a "normal" cracker might, I can't help but feel tears welling up in my eyes as I wonder what the homeless are eating tonight.

And if, perhaps, there will be leftovers for me.



back to the junk drawer

and such
and such

non food item, smaller

·feature· ·net worth· ·ac/dc· ·smoking jacket· ·ear candy· ·feed hollywood· ·target audience· ·three dollar bill· ·compulsion· ·posedown· ·the biswick files· ·mystery date· ·and such and such· ·blab· ·kissing booth·

·contents· ·freakshow· ·fan club· ·junk drawer·

copyright © 1996, 1997 fearless media