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Friday, December 13

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Feature Thu Aug 21 2008

I Want to Eat Like Mike

I know a Michael Phelps fetish is sweeping the nation, but I haven't exactly caught the fever. Of course he's won more gold medals than any Olympian in history. I get it, I get it . . . but I don't get it, in my gut, if you know what I mean.

Phelps For one thing, is it just me, or have others noticed he's a heck of a lot more attractive with the bathing cap on? And that seems like a feat nearly as challenging as eight gold medals. For another, I've watched the interviews, and the guy just seems--I'm sorry, but I have to say it--like a colossal bore. A chuckle here, an overused adjective there, or his plan to buy a designer dog or Cadillac Coupe de Ville once those endorsement deals pay off. Ugh. Have we really become so information-saturated that the simple absence of meanness is enough to catapult someone to the status of a god?

When I expressed this recently to a friend, he reminded me the guy swims twelve hours a day. What, honestly, does he have to talk about? The temperature of the water? The shaving of another hundredths of a second off his best time in the butterfly? But true greatness, to me, seems the total measure of human capacity: for physical achievement, sure, but also for some level of intellectual engagement. Admit it: you'd invite him to your cocktail party . . . but would you really want him to talk to your friends?

Before you call me a heretic, there is one area where I share the world's fascination, and that's for Phelps's daily caloric intake. We've all heard the estimates: as many as twelve-thousand a day (I wrote it out rather than expressing it numerically so there was no way to mistake it for the namby-pampy twelve-hundred calorie diet that many of us, through the prudent recommendations of our doctors, aspire to). No need to indulge the particulars. Media outlets from the Today Show to the Huffington Post have already done that for us.

But it got me thinking: what must it be like to eat with such abandon? Especially in a gastronomic wonderland like Chicago. I'd argue there's no single American alive today who can truly relate to such unharnessed gluttony.

There are many, far too many, who worry where their next meal will come from. A fraction of a single meal for Phelps might be more than their family sees in a day. Excess is clearly a right of the privileged. And for those privileged, there's an ongoing fixation with portion size, bad fat, and the dreaded, truncated "carbs." We dance around these culturally imposed limitations: our temporary dalliances, our bold and occasional violations, our melancholy indulgences followed by punitive culinary asceticism (flogging in the form of a diet). A male friend claimed he couldn't relate to this at all, that he simply ate what he wanted, when he wanted, and didn't really think about it. I had to respectfully disagree.

Even if you don't think food, food thinks you. Food means in this culture, and regardless of who you are or how efficient your metabolism, there's no pure space outside of these meanings. Think about it: three meals a day is a cultural construct. Food pyramids, spice preference, and our national anxiety over waste--all of it has wormed its way into our collective unconscious, so that eating is never simply eating.

Unless you're Michael Phelps. And eating is simply fuel.

So what would it be like to eat with all cultural meanings stripped away from the food we consume? It would, in all likelihood, be pretty dull. We'd probably simply eat until we were full. Fairly small, balanced meals with all the nutrients we needed in perfect proportion. No teary-eyed break-ups over a pound cake, no sirloin rewards for a brand new job.

Phelps: the Bionic Man Still, I can't help but fantasize about a single day of eating just like Mike. Just one perfect day--which falls off the calendar with no consequences at all--in the city Saveur magazine lionized less than one year ago.

Unimpeded by economics or perception, what would such a day look like for me? I can tell you it would include a shrimp blt from the Brown Sack, a Julius Meinl macaroon, a thuringer and fries from Hot Doug's, a pint of Sibby's vanilla ice cream (ok, technically from outside Viroqua, Wisconsin, but available at specialty stores throughout Chicago), and a heap of Phoenix dim sum. A molé from Geno Bahena, rib tips from pitmaster Robert Adams, and pretty much anything from Grant Achatz. To top it all off, Northern Thai sausage from Sticky Rice and a Bonsoiree banana bread pudding. Of course I'd chuck the whole lot of it for a bottomless pot of my mother's homemade chicken fricassee.

Mastodon Burger from Kuma's Corner(You're thinking about it too now, aren't you? You can almost smell that Ann Sather cinnamon roll, almost taste the Kuma's burger).

Perhaps the greatest tribute to our new Olympic wunderkind would be 1) to help someone in need of a meal, and 2) to get past our food repressions, just for one day, and indulge.

-Christy Prahl

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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