by Allan Shewchuk

May/June 2018

City Palate, guide to the good life in Calgary Back Burner 2018 11 12 Allen Shewchuk Profile image

Social media is now officially creepy. Recently, my daughter moved out on her own and needed to stock her new apartment. She is a modern shopper and made all of her purchases online, including a neat rolling kitchen island from Canadian Tire. After she pushed the “Buy” button, she proudly showed me the photo of her new acquisition and I gushed about what a score it was. As she shut her laptop, I opened my Macbook to check out what my friends had posted on Facebook overnight. I logged in and was completely jolted to find, in the middle of my Facebook feed, an ad from Canadian Tire for the very same rolling kitchen island which only seconds before was on my daughter’s screen. I muttered “Wow! Whatever super-algorithms Mark Zuckerberg has developed know everything I am doing! No wonder Russia hacked the American election!” It crossed my mind to escape Big Brother and delete my Facebook account right there and then. But I couldn’t.

By deleting Facebook, I realized I would lose an easy way to keep up with things like new babies and updates from real friends. But I have to admit that the guilty FB pleasures that I couldn’t bear to part with are those rare video clips of people dancing and then wiping out, or drunkards lurching around, which make me laugh so hard that I snort cappuccino out my nose in the morning. I saw a brilliant one the other day: a toddler in a high chair is being fed and is offered a piece of pizza. When the kid opens wide for the treat, sneaky Dad shoves a spoon of mushy carrots in her mouth, after which the look of betrayal on the baby’s face is positively Shakespearian. A tantrum follows with full back-arching and blue-faced anger. It was wonderful theatre, but it did have one down side. That video of the poor, tricked infant transported me back to all of the times I was force-fed stuff that I couldn’t stand. There may be no worse feeling in the world than involuntary ingestion of unwanted food.

I have had many brushes with force-feeding disasters. In Ethiopia, for example, there is an age-old tradition of “gursha,” which means that any guest around a table, as a sign of generosity, gets to take food from their plate and shove it into another guest’s mouth unannounced. I adore Ethiopian food, but I once got an involuntary mouthful of gumfoo, which is a kind of cream of wheat dipped in stale, spicy goat butter. I couldn’t bring myself to swallow for nearly a half an hour after getting gursha-ed. It was the quietest I have ever been at a dinner party.

Another gursha-like disaster happened when a dear friend of mine emerged from his kitchen with a spoon in hand and shovelled its contents into my mouth without warning, so I could have a taste of his creation. It turned out it contained shrimp, to which I am deathly allergic. For about an hour, my heart raced like a rabbit as I waited for an allergic reaction. Luckily, it appears that the Chardonnay I guzzled for the rest of the night to rinse out the shellfish saved my life. I now rely on Chardonnay as a failsafe cure and have tossed my Epi-pen.

The insult of imposed food was just recently reaffirmed for me when a winemaker friend recounted a dinner, featuring his vintages, put on by a Michelin-starred chef. A series of dishes was presented, but due to the size of the chef’s ego, there was no menu, nor description of what was being offered. Early on an amuse bouche arrived that appeared to be a perfect croissant. No one knew what the course actually was, but it looked stunning and smelled delicious. Guests dug into their first bites and froze – it turned out that, indeed, the croissant was perfect, but it was stuffed with fried calf brains. Upon discovering that the filling was bovine gray matter, one female guest fainted face-first into her brains. Not her own brains, but you get the picture.

The moral is that inflicting unwanted food is always scary, except in hilarious Facebook videos, which I will continue to watch. The fact that Facebook is harvesting my personal data while I am doing that and is sending me advertisements is also scary. But what may be scariest is that Russia may not be colluding with Trump, but with Canadian Tire. Enjoy your rolling kitchen islands, comrades!

Allan Shewchuk is a lawyer, food writer and sought-after Italian food and wine guru. He currently has kitchens in both Calgary and Florence, Italy, but will drink wine pretty much anywhere.