Having worked as a Cold Stone ice cream specialist for two summers, I have served a lot of samples. In fact, I’ve had customers get full off ice cream tasting. Imagine my surprise, then, that when I visited San Francisco’s Smitten Ice Cream for the first time a few weeks ago, I was refused the right to sample.
“Could I possibly try the salted caramel?”
“No.” Cold as ice. “We make our ice cream made-to-order.” Why is she annoyed? I should be annoyed. Resisting the urge to turn and leave, I took a deep breath.
“Okay, I’ll have a small salted caramel then. The smallest.”
“Do you want chocolate on that?”
“Um, obviously I’ve never tasted it, so, what do you suggest?”
“Oh, I definitely recommend the chocolate. It helps cut the taste of the ice cream a bit.” Cut the taste? CUT THE TASTE? You cut the taste of a vodka shot or cough syrup. What is this ice cream?
“Okay, a small salted caramel with chocolate I guess.”
“That’ll be $5.25.” Over five-dollars? For ice cream? That I can’t even sample beforehand?
Overcome with the illusion of powerlessness, I handed the server my credit card then sat down at a bench to wait. Moments later, I heard my name being called and went up to the counter to be handed a bowl of fresh, locally sourced, organic, high-quality, no-additive ice cream literally made just for me. I walked to an adjacent park to enjoy several “tastes” of salty, caramely, chocolatey ice cream. I was torn between unfoundedly hating it and fairly assessing the ice cream whose tastes could cut. It was a little too sweet for my liking, but I still ate every last bite. On principle.
Just hours before, I witnessed a friend attempting to substitute ingredients in her sandwich at Giordano. “We really don’t encourage people to make changes. I’ll do it, but I won’t be happy about it,” her sandwich artist responded as if he would be eating the sandwich. He, like my ice cream server, perfected that guilt-inducing tone that leaves you inexplicably submissive.
The next day, my friend and I stopped in at Jane, a Pacific Heights coffee shop that wishes it was a cookie shop.
“Do you have nonfat milk?” I know, I know. Asks the girl who went on an ice cream date with herself less than twelve hours prior.
“Okay. Well I guess I’ll just have a whole milk latte if I don’t have a choice.”
“Yeah, you don’t.” To compensate for the less-than-ideal latte I would now “need” to consume, I added a cookie to my order.
“That’ll be $6.25,” the barista said as he handed me my cookie. I took a chewy chocolatey bite while waiting for my latte. It was foam-artified and my name was called. I admired the art, threw a lid on it, and took a sip as my friend and I waltzed out the door.
While I typically cook for myself during the week, I explore San Francisco’s expansive coffee and food scene over the weekend. On this particular weekend, however, I was completely stripped of my gustatory freedom.
I was victim to San Francisco’s foodocracy. The one in which what you like or don’t like and what you consume or don’t consume is decided by some other entity. The one in which a word like “organic” trumps your preferences, dietary restrictions, or semblance of control.
A week later, I arrived at a bus stop to see a young couple enjoying a to-go-box meal while huddled over a trash can. They hadn’t been guilt-tripped into purchasing their meal. They weren’t susceptible to the foodocratic policies. No, they were empowered to choose from a plethora of options. Options castaway by ungrateful foodocrats. Options that resided in a city trash can.
Observing them from afar, I was struck by a not-so-tasty reality, one that I was forced to ingest whether I liked it or not: Some could only dream to experience a problem so first-worldly as the San Francisco Foodocracy. To spend over five dollars to taste too-sweet ice cream. To devour a sandwich whose combination of ingredients has been carefully chosen and perfected for decades. Oh! To be a foodocrat!
This evening, as I bake a pie to be enjoyed under a roof with loved ones tomorrow, I wear my food-beliefs humbly on my chest. I am privileged to be a foodocrat. I am thankful to be so well-fed.