Forcing down the facts about motorway meals
One of my favourite anecdotes concerns Mark Twain, who wrote the timeless tales of the adventures of a boy called Tom Sawyer.
While working as a cub reporter, Twain's editor lectured him on only calling something a fact if he was absolutely sure of it. Twain took this advice to heart on his next assignment, which was covering a gala tea party, when he referred to the "alleged ladies".
Little has changed - for fact and fiction are still sometimes interchangeable. So feel free to insert inverted commas around words such as 'food' and 'restaurant' in this piece about a dining experience I had en route to this country town.
I was getting petrol at one of those super-sized garages located along motorways that seem to be multiplying in number by the day.
It's been ages since I've ventured inside one to the food hall, but I was hungry - so I decided for old time's sake to order a meal. The first thing that struck me was the expense. But worse was to come, when this vegetarian lifted the Styrofoam lid and found a rasher sticking out of the bun.
I had barely started explaining the error to the manager, before he tossed the burger in the bin. Since the fries would be cold by the time the correct order arrived, he chucked them too.
The amended meal, when it arrived, was far removed from what I usually put on my plate. Though of course, there was no plate. Or cutlery. All of which made me wonder how I could ever have thought this sort of quick cuisine was cool. Especially as plastic waste is one of the reasons why this planet is in such a state. Not to mention the impact of these eateries on our physical and psychological health.
There is no time or encouragement for the conveyor belt employees to talk with each other, let alone the customers. Some of whom were growing irate because they had to wait entire minutes for their meals.
Reminding me that the truly appetising options are those country town cafes and restaurants - which these motorway chains are killing off - that are desperate for us to detour to for our meals when on the move. They don't have headquarters in different timezones and are not dictated to by shareholders. And it's hard to imagine them dumping an entire dinner without a thought.
The irony is that these motorway international food chains now lumber along like dinosaurs (or diningsaurs?), and if we're not careful, they will drag us down with them.
No wonder my motorway meal left a bad taste in my mouth. And a fervent wish that it had been mere fantasy instead of fact.