The Nation's Pulse

My Day in Food Court

Our man in San Francisco offers a taste of the near future.

By 8.19.11

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I've always considered myself a law-abiding citizen who plays by the rules, so imagine my shock when I was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury for various culinary crimes. The full transcript appears below:

District Attorney: Mr. Nachman, you may wonder why we've called you here today…

GN: I had no idea there was such a thing as a federal food crime.

DA: Let me remind you that ignorance of foodie law is no excuse.

GN: I know, but… well, what have I done that warrants being hauled in here?

DA: We've been made aware of several transgressions -- not just minor misdemeanors and infractions but serious culinary crimes, and we'd like you to explain them if you can.

GN: I'm happy to cooperate. What would you like to know?

DA: Well, let's begin with some major offenses and work our way down. On the night of March 26th, 2009, at Charley's Diner, you ordered a roast chicken with penne that was not a registered cage-free organically fed fowl. Are you aware of that?

GN: No, I'm not.

DA: Did you bother to ask your waiter how, when and where said chicken was raised?

GN: It never occurred to me.

DA: Oh, so it never occurred to you! And why didn't it? Did you not read the menu at Charley's and notice that it fails to state that all their ingredients are sustainable?

GN: I regret to say I probably did not.

DA: I see. And it did it not even occur to you to ask to see the chicken's birth certificate and to inquire into its early background -- to learn on what ranch it was born and raised, its heritage, the name of the bird's parents, what it was fed and how it met its end?

GN: I'm afraid I did not. All I know is it was a delicious roast chicken with penne.

DA: Yes, I'm sure it was, but that's not the point, is it? Clearly this chicken did not have a happy home life. It died without being able to roam about the barnyard freely and to enjoy the simple pleasures of a liberated chicken before it was slaughtered.

GN: What a dismal past. What can I say? I feel terrible.

DA: I would hope so. OK, let's move along. On the night of October 12, 2009, we understand that at the Yankee Seafarer you ordered and consumed a piece of grilled salmon that had been farmed and not wild caught, as stipulated on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list. Can you explain your actions?

GN: I'm afraid not. Again, it never occurred to me to…

DA: Maybe it will after the grand jury finds you guilty of eating a salmon that -- like the aforementioned chicken -- was not permitted to experience a full and meaningful life.

GN: I didn't realize I bore any responsibility for these edible creatures' lifestyles.

DA: I would call that negligence. And it also never even occurred to you to ask the waiter to produce the résumé of the chicken or salmon in question?

GN: I fear I did not.

DA: So be it. Now then, on the night of July 17th, 2008, at Manny's Steakhouse, you ate a filet mignon from a cow that was corn fed, not grass fed. Were you aware of this?

GN: I swear I was not.

DA: It appears, sir, that you eat pretty much anything that's set down before you, irrespective of its lineage.

GN: I guess I do, but it didn't seem necessary to inquire into the origins of each meal.

DA: It appears that when you dine out you haven't done even the minimum due diligence…. We have many more culinary offenses to cover today. On April 17th, 2010, you bought four bananas at Tony's Produce that were not fair-traded, and on at least six occasions you drank lattes whose beans were grown on un-shaded Colombia coffee plantations. But perhaps most incriminating of all, you have never shopped at the worker-owned Rainbow Grocery. How do you plead to these charges?

GN: Guilty, I guess, but how was I to know…?

DA: On lesser matters, Mr. Nachman, I see here that at Safeway you purchased ordinary olive oil -- not extra-virgin or even plain virginal, and, further, that you regularly buy loaves of non-artisan bread, drink mineral water from plastic bottles, and, on more than one occasion, bought produce from farms beyond a 100-mile radius of your home.

GN: I don't keep records of everything I buy.

DA: Maybe you will after a few months in the foodie clink. We keep records on your buying and eating habits, and our intelligence agents are rarely wrong. Now then, our files show that on November 3, 2007, you wolfed down a snack food containing 23% trans fats.

GN: If you say so.

DA: And that you were spotted drinking coffee from Starbucks even though Peet's was only a block away.

GN: What can I tell you? What is the penalty for all of these dining crimes?

DA: That's for a food court jury of your peers to decide -- you could face prison time, a stiff fine or be sentenced to community service, such as serving on the prep line of an approved PC restaurant. My job today is just to inform you of the culinary laws you've broken in the past, to give you a chance to prepare a defense. Your case will be tried January 18th, 2012. I strongly urge you to find a tough criminal food attorney to refute some of these heinous charges.

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About the Author

Gerald Nachman is the author of Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Raised on Radio and Right Here On Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America. He is currently working on a book about the great Broadway musical show-stoppers.