Friday, January 04, 2008

Nominalist Eating in Florida

This is a response of sorts to a post of Dr. J's blog.

First of all, let me say that any day that includes both eating burgers at a gourmet restaurant and a surprise wedding (as long as it's not of the shotgun variety) sounds pretty awesome.

However, Leigh's theory that this particular steakhouse "use[s] Burger Friday as a way to get rid of their leftover meat before their weekend rush" needs further elaboration.

Now, central to my non-vegetarianism is an utter denial about where meat comes from, so it seems very odd to me that steak can magically be transformed into hamburger (Mormons don't believe in transubstantiation --- see Hendrik "Hertzburger Friday" Hertzberg's otherwise good but offensive even to a no longer practicing or believing Mormon comment in the most recent New Yorker --- so I'm not being inconsistent here). So my question to Leigh (as part of her Ask Me? series --- assuming that's what it's called, I'm too lazy to go and look it up) is "how does serving hamburgers help this restaurant get rid of steaks?"

There's a little more background here, which needs to be explained. When Ms. Ideas Woman, Esq. was pregnant with Ideas Girl we visited her sister in Florida (Despite what my grammar implies, I mean Ideas Woman's sister and not Ideas Girl's sister, which would refer to a --- hopefully always --- empty set). Erica was in Florida as part of Disneyworld's Slavelabor for College Credit Program. (I think the credits she got were in business but they really should have been in Applied Marxist Theory or perhaps Sociology --- "Theories of Racial, Ethnic and Sexual Stereotyping in Job-Assignment at Amusement Parks." But I digress.

Now, as near as I can tell, Orlando has the worst food in America, if not the world. My dissertation advisor, who fancies himself a gourmet assures me that I am wrong and that there are in fact fine restaurants in Central Florida but we were unable to find them (We did find one excellent Northern Italian restaurant at Coco Beach, which was otherwise the nastiest beach town I've ever been to). We did find lots of Denim World's, Houses of Denim and other Denim-related outlets. And we found lots of chains serving greasy food.

Now, I am not one of those foodies who is above fast food. Just as when one rates wine, one ought to pay attention to the extent to which it fulfills it's varietal characteristics, I find nothing odd about holding certain fast food meals in high regard as exemplary of what fast food's potentials are. There was a great NYT article on this subject by one of their food writers who toured the country on a fast-food road trip, but it was a while ago and I am too lazy to look up the link to it. So, for example, I am generally fodnd of Quizno's. For this reason, we went to Quizno's a couple of times down in Florida. Like everything we ate there except for Krispy Kreme donuts (which exhibit the "characteristics" of "donut" admirably., Heather developed a food aversion to Quizno's that lasted the rest of her preganancy. I find it odd that with this current pregnancy all of her food aversions returned. So, for example, even though we've been to Quizno's a few times in the the three years between pregnancies she is now nauseous at the very idea, even though we haven't gone to Quizno's post-pregnancy.

One place that we went to down there was called "Steak - N - Shake" which I take it is some manner of Southern Fast-Food chain. If it had in fact been categorized under the variety "fast food" I think that the hamburgers there would have been fine. Quite greasy (I could feel my face returning to adolescent levels of acne whilst eating) but edible and flavorful enough. The problem was that they had pretentions of falling under the category of "greasy spoon" or "diner" or somesuch slightly more elevated category. And in this regard they failed woefully.

Why do I bring up this long and, let's be honest, rather boring story?

Well, on the back of their menus, they had the following blurb. "Why do we call our hamburgers Steakburgers? [this is in fact what they were listed on as the menus] Because we can."

Such a bald assertion of branding should have warmed my nominalist heart. But it left me irritated. If they were going to call it a "Steakburger" (registered trademark) than it ought to be made with a higher grade meat than, for example, Wendy's uses. I was similarly irritated when I ate at the Cafeteria of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and bought a "multi-grain bagel with crisp Romaine, lox and capers" and got a white-bread bagel with iceberg, some orange cream cheese and onions. If the HM wants to spend its limited resources on something more important than a quality cafeteria, more power to them. But don't advertise your food as something it isn't. Whenever I tell this story to people they imply that I am being petty or that it is inappropriate to criticize any aspect of the Holocaust Museum. I simply insist that one can seperate the cafeteria from the rest of the museum conceptually, and hope my detractors can do likewise.

All of this leads back to Leigh's post. Presumably there is something more than simply branding which makes the steakhouse's burgers both good and appropriate for a steakhouse to serve. What, pray tell, is it?


bernadette said...

I am concerned about your "empty set" reference since Ideas Woman, Esq. is clearly pregnant so at some point "Idea's Girl's sister" may very well not be an empty set unless of course you know you are having a boy and this is the very last child you want to have.

Doctor J said...

Your answer is up on my blog.

Doctor J said...

Also, ditto what bernadette said. Whassup with that?

Heather A said...

It IS a boy, but I agree that Ammon is just tempting fate...

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I had no idea I'd generate such a controversy.

Perhaps "hopefully always" was a bit strong and I should have instead said that "I anticipate always:" since there are, as I see it 4 (or 5) possibilities in which the set would not be empty.

To whit:

1) Modern science proves inaccurate and the Ideas Child in utero is in fact another Ideas Girl.

2) The child who will soon be Ideas Boy decides at some point in the future that he is Ideas Girl the Second.

3) Due to either a) a failure of modern science or b) insanity on our part there is a third Ideas Child.

4) A foundling appears on our doorstep one day.

Incidentally, Ideas Girl seems to agree that she either ought to or already does have a sister. But based on the comments she makes, I'm pretty sure she wants an older sister.

And I guess there is one other possibility:

5: President Huckabee manages to make all birth control illegal and Vice President Tancredo has sealed the U.S.'s borders, making escape impossible.

But such a world would be so horrifying that I can't imagine every being in the mood.

Doctor J said...

Well, congratulations on the boy... should it be so.

I also meant to add that I don't think Steak-n-Shake counts as a "Southern Fast-Food Restaurant." First, because it's not (only) Southern as far as I know. But, second, because as I remember it- and I've only been there once that I can remember- it's a "theme" restaurant, isn;t it? My memory is that the waiters/waitresses dressed up in this quasi-50's diner garb, and the whole place is laid out like a 50's diner. That's why it's called Steak-n-SHAKE, because they have a very lame reproduction of a soda-fountain counter, where you can get "real" milkshakes.

That's not to say that the food isn't of the general quality of a fast food joint... I'm only saying that's not what they're *trying*to be, as far as I can tell.

And there's not even a drive-thru, is there?

Doctor J said...

Drive-thru's are de riguer for fast food joints, in my estimation.

Doctor J said...

necessary, though not sufficient, I should say. (About drive-thru's)

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

2 Things

1) I agree with you about it not fitting into the fast-food category. I think it would be ok if it were a fast-food joint, but since it tries to be something more it fails. The southern was probably just an incorrect geographic description as to where the chain was located. I didn't mean that it served "Southern" food per se.

2) Any doubt as to the sex of the baby has been dispelled by today's ultrasound.

Chet said...

what u got again' women, yo!??!

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

um, yo, I don't think I "got" anything "again'" women. (I really think it should be written "agin"). On the whole, I think I'm fer' them. See the previous exchange on this blog (and the tremendous difficulty Ideas Woman has had at the end of both pregnancies) for a historical account and contextualization of the "sister" comment.

Chet said...

yo, u want fight yo?!!? think u can correct me grammar yo?

Joe said...

Good lord--what did you do to get 12 comments? I stay away from the blog for a while, and other people read it? That hardly seems fair....

A few items:

1) Steak n' Shake is not a southern chain. It was founded (as stated on their website), in Normal, Illinois, which is more or less smack in the middle of IL. It then expanded to other midwestern cities (like my home town, St. Louis), and apparently to Florida. We do not have them down here in N.O., nor do I think they occur with much frequency in the deep south.

2) It is also not really a theme restaurant. It is much like, in style, a kind of restaurant that is no longer prevalent, and tends to be associated with the 1950s and thereabouts. But SnS does not, in my experience (I have been there many times, but not in the past several years), actively embrace some kind of retro stance. Its main conceit is that it is fast, but has elements of better restaurants (more made to order food, table service, and most prominently in their adds, real ice cream in their shakes...)

3) is it not perhaps the case that, rather than referring to an empty set, "Ideas Girl's sister" refers to a set composed of something that exists in a possible world that you hope to be/assume to be relatively far from the actual world? (although not super far, I guess--though an older sister would have to be much farther than a younger sister...)

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...


i m lover not fighter.


I stand thoroughly chastened on the "southern reference." Your account of what it is also justifies its burgers somewhat. The point I was trying to make was that they would have been fine burgers for "fast food" burgers, but I thought that they wanted to be something more.

And yes, I think your account of the "sister" empty set is correct. Certainly the term is meaningful. Since we only plan on having two and number two seems to be a boy I assume "Ideas Girl's sister" will always only refer to a possible object.

Doctor J said...

Yo, Ideas Man. When you gonna post something "original", and stop stealin' offa me?

I just day that 'cause I want to hear your thought, bro.

You can't leave it to the "girls" (no matter how un-"girly" they may be) to do all the work here...

Doctor J said...

and Joe, why don't I ever see you on MY blog? why you hatin'?