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The Observer, July 22


Having lunch last weekend at a cafe in Conway, The Observer was witness to the first get-together of the Culinary Historians of Conway. So far, there are only two of them; they seem to be struggling with an inefficient advertising department. Their inaugural meeting was to start at 2:30, but by a quarter till 3, when the society was as yet a duo, the show was forced to go on.

A young woman wearing a T-shirt that declared "Philosophers do it Ponderously" took charge. Introducing herself to her audience of one, she expressed her dismay at the small attendance but said she planned to hold a meeting at least once a month. The next date was tentatively scheduled for Aug. 14. Though only one person (and this reporter) was there to hear about Conway's foodways, she spoke as if there was a crowd. That is, a little more loudly than was necessary for the two of us and the others in the cafe, the usual weekend patrons, one reading a book, another on a laptop, a couple in the corner, another sipping coffee and keeping to herself.

First topic of the day: food politics, a favorite of twenty-something ideologues. "The way we look at food depends on our social class," the Historian announced. "Everyone has access to good food, and they should use it." On she went to say something about farmer's markets and to make a general criticism of McDonald's and factory farming.

We have a few Michael Pollan books on our shelf, and we're always game for a discussion of how people eat, but the Historian made us wince. It's nice to see people get riled up about practical things, but her passionate appeal to everyone in earshot was a bit much. It wasn't just the substance of the shaky claims ("Consolidation of schools is a terrorist attack on farmers") but the volume in which they were delivered.

It was tremendously awkward, and customers were gradually leaving. Sensing the room would soon be empty we quickly finished our meal and got up to pay.

As we were leaving, a waiter came by to deliver the Historians their food. Hamburgers, crimped fries. All it takes to patch a bleeding heart, apparently.

From The Observer's mailbag:

"Reading the usually fine Observer (July 8, 2010), I was struck by a couple of things. First, The Observer referred to several diners at a 'nice steakhouse off the Financial Center Parkway' as being in their 60s. As someone who just turned 63, I wondered what those folks looked like through the eyes of The Observer — Aunt Bea types or Jane Fonda look-alikes? But, when The Observer went on to exclaim the disgust of having to look at one of the '60s' person's 12EEEE feet (not so cool!), I was reminded of a recent dinner with friends where I had to sit across the table from someone eating rare, practically raw prime rib. Now, THAT is disgusting!

"Further down The Observer wrote about a vampire kit with a wooden 'steak.' Is that perhaps what The Observer felt like he/she was eating after seeing those disgusting feet?" (No, but The Observer is beginning to feel like a heel.)

The Observer also got advice from a reader. "Seek out the ugly, lumpy ones. If you spot any dark purple or blackish really horrid-looking ones, buy all you can afford." Our reader wasn't referring to discalced seniors at a restaurant, but tomatoes, in response to last week's diatribe in this column. "I don't know all the names, but these are sometimes called Cherokee Purple, and are delicious, like the taste you remember from childhood."

To show that The Observer is not all gripe, we will say that this summer's corn has been excellent.

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