Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gimme Some Cheese, Baby!

There's a legitimate tale from Buyanja, the Ugandan sub-county where my father was born, about an irritable old man who never ate pork. Then, one day, his sons pulled a prank that may have turned him on forever. Unbeknownst to him, they prepared a meal laced with slices of pork, a delicacy that left him asking for more. His boys had done the unthinkable, but soon he would discover the thinkable: pork tastes real good, even if you hate the animal.

That's where my beef comes in. For the record, I don't do a lot of dairy products. That means that i hate cheese. But this is cheese country, and America will be my home for at least five months. Mike Fannin, Kansas City Star editor, was taking me out for lunch the other day when he asked what my favorites were. With no quick answer in mind, i offered: "All i know is that i don't do cheese."

Fannin smiled a bit. But i had told a lie.

While i have always told waiters to decheese my food, it's not true that i have not ingested a significant amount of cheese in the four weeks i've been in America. In Columbia, the college town that i dearly miss, my favorite eatery was Chipotle, where it was easy to spot the sliced cheese and rule it out of the equation. Almost always -- and i found this interesting -- the person behind the counter nodded in approval.

But it was not always easy for me to do cheese control at other restaurants.

When, at a recent dinner for Center for Practical Bioethics, i was given a cheese cake while everyone else on my table got a chocolate cake, the irony was wicked. But it was obviously funny when Coleman Hutchins, seated next to me, complained that he handn't gotten a cheese cake. I wanted to give him mine, but it was already too late; someone else had grabbed it.

Like pork, cheese won't kill a man. In a country where most meals are incomplete without cheese and where most waiters take it for granted that the average customer doesn't mind a cheesy topping, it is a stupid man who says no to cheese. Since I am no idiot, at least according to my mother, i am asking my friends to show me the cheese.

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