Das Essen lässt sich nicht

In Deutschstunde (The German Lesson), one of my all-time favorite novels, the protagonist’s father, a policeman, is taken away at the end of the war and put into an American internment camp for a time. When he is let out, he goes his old rounds, and at every stop he tells how it was, at every stop in the exact same words which include a laconic “Das Essen lässt sich nicht,” which means as much as “the food is not worth (mentioning).”

Internment camp food, jail food, trucker food; you eat it because you’re hungry. People who know me, who know that I appreciate the finer sorts of cuisine, have asked me how I stand it.

I ate breakfast at a truck stop the other day. A Flying J, they of the fragrant shower soap. The breakfast was both over-priced and dreadful. Seven bucks for two eggs, watery tomatoes, a few bits of something calling itself smoked sausage, and chunks of red potatoes, all scrambled in an excessive quantity of hair oil. Possibly it was cottonseed oil. Or linseed. Whichever, it was quite vile. McDonald’s does a better job, and I am no fan of McDonald’s although I have eaten there: more frequently in the past six months than in the past twenty years.

You can’t eat fast food (let alone truck stop food) every day however without becoming a blimp. And so I, like many truckers, have been living out of WalMarts. They are ubiquitous and, usually, easy of access. You can almost always find a way to park your rig at a WalMart, even at those that claim to prohibit truck parking. Here’s what I buy:

  • lettuce
  • carrots
  • red or black grapes
  • bananas
  • sliced turkey
  • low-fat string cheese
  • low-sodium saltines
  • oatmeal
  • fig bars
  • peanut butter

Food choice is limited without a refrigerator (which I’m certainly glad now that I’ve put off buying), and by my refusal to eat what is known in this here country as ‘snack food.’ I have tried on occasion to add some variety to the above list but generally end up with the same ten items. Boring, yes, but relatively healthy. Protein is the big problem. Even in cold weather, the turkey has to be eaten pretty quickly. The cheese is sealed in one-ounce packets, and remains edible longer. The oatmeal gets dressed up with some of my own home-made jam (currently strawberry/rhubarb – yum!), one of my few little luxuries.

Like Jens Ole Jepsen, the policeman in Deutschstunde, I will be very happy to get back home where I can eat some real food again. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if I never ate another fig bar in my life.

Look at me! Did you notice? Almost talking about literature again!

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