Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Baja Anti-Rice Front

Karma is on a new crusade. You aren't surprised are you? I've named it for her. I hope she doesn't mind. Naturally, she'll head up B.A.R.F. What is the goal? Apparently, to prevent "yet another chicken-rice-vegetable" restaurant from springing up in the San Diego area. Sounds like a worthwhile thing to be worried about, eh? I think the most amazing part of the story is that it only cost me half-an-hour...

You are no doubt wondering where this even came from and how I got sucked into it. I wondered that myself for the first third or so of the conversation. I went over to get her to send me a script so I could do some work. She was attempting to convince one of the IT guys of something. He was unconvinced. As I arrived, she sought to enlist me to her cause. "Would you want to eat rice every day?"


"Would YOU want to eat rice EVERY day?"

Well, THAT cleared it up for me. I could have asked for clarification or context, but what would be the point? A zombie could have figured out which way I was supposed to answer. And so, naturally, I replied, "Yes."

That answer wasn't entirely born of a desire to annoy. Of the starchy side dishes, rice is the one I'd eat most often if I could. The effect was as I had desired. I made points with the IT guy, who is Asian, lost points with Karma, and probably endeared myself to the other Asians that sit around her.

Still she pressed on. "But wouldn't you get tired of it if every restaurant you went to was the same thing? Chicken. Rice. Vegetables."

I tried to puzzle out where this place was. All I could think of was that we were talking about an Asian country that she didn't enjoy traveling in due to a lack of food variety. And I still wasn't getting her point. "What? You mean all prepared exactly the same way? Same seasonings and everything?"

"No. Just chicken, rice, and vegetables."

"But there are dozens of dishes that you can make with different vegetable combinations, different seasonings, and even kinds of rice," I said

"But it's still the same thing!"

I was lost and it wasn't getting better. I decided a different tack was needed. "What are we talking about?" I boldly ventured.

"A new restaurant that is opening up."


"I am trying to save San Diego from yet ANOTHER restaurant that serves chicken, rice, and vegetables. Every restaurant you go into, it's the same thing."

"Don't you have the option to get something other than rice?"

"Chili's for example. You can get rice, fries, noodles, potatoes..."

"Asian restaurants."

"And where is this restaurant?"

"I don't know."

Mm-hmm. "And what's it called?"

"I don't know."

How deep does the rabbit hole go? "What kind of restaurant is it?"

Wait for it.

"I don't know. It's an Asian restaurant of some sort."

"Well, Asian restaurants are different. Chinese, Japanese, and Thai foods all taste very different. And you could get noodles there, too."

"But rice is the staple."

"There's jasmine rice, white rice, brown rice, basmati rice, long grain..."

"But it's all still rice. Everywhere you look. It's rice...taco...rice...taco...rice...taco..."

"So, you're actual complaint is that there are too many Asian and Mexican restaurants in an area with large Asian and Mexican populations?"

"Are there really that many Asians here? San Francisco, sure. But San Diego?" This statement is particularly bad when you consider that she said it to someone who is Cambodian and within earshot of a Vietnamese woman, and two other engineers from China.

"Well, if you go to the good quality specimens of these establishments, you find a good portion of Asians dining there. So, clearly there is demand."

"No you don't. Asians don't dine out. They like to save money. They're 'frugal'. Look around you. All the Asians in this department eat together. And what do they eat? Rice. Rice that they cooked for dinner the night before. The average people who dine out are white middle-class folks."

Now, before you get any ideas about her. I should remind you that Karma is NOT a racist. We covered that pretty thoroughly back in the linked tale from April.

IT-guy pointed out that he eats out pretty much every day. I told him he couldn't be Asian then. If the union found out, they would kick him out.

Karma was not amused. "How many Asian restaurants is too many? 2000? 10000? Why can't we have something different?"

ITGuy shot back "You mean like burger and bun?"


"You know. McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, etc."

He had a point. They were at least as abundant as Asian and Mexican and she wasn't complaining about those.

"Oh, don't you know anything?" she condescended, "McDonald's didn't become successful because of their hamburgers."

This was news to me. "They didn't?" I said, somewhat surprised.

"No. McDonald's was all about marketing. They had all these cartoon characters like Ronald McDonald, the purple guy, and the cookie monster. That's what made them a hit. That and the playgrounds. They marketed to kids."

While it was true that the arches had, since the mid 60s, targeted kids with their marketing, Ronald was not around until the franchise had been around almost 10 years. And they were expanding pretty successfully without it. But that was beside the point. The point was that there are plenty of burger and bun places in the area and she wasn't complaining about them.

I tried to switch back on track, insomuch as this conversation had a track. I suggested that the restaurants in the area were a result of meeting demand. If people didn't want them, they'd go out of business.

"But shouldn't they try something different so that they stand out from the other places to eat?"

"I imagine that if they were smart, they did market research to make sure there was demand."

"Not necessarily. You'd be surprised."

I was still missing something. There is some Asian restaurant somewhere that is opening up sometime. We don't have any specifics. But we are upset over it. Why? So, I asked the IT guy if he knew someone who was opening a place.

"My sister."

Oh-ho! So, IT-guy comes to Karma to tell her abut his sister's new venture. Bear in mind, IT-guy frequently brings Karma treats and is very nice to her. If someone like that came to you, your first natural reaction would be to berate them, wouldn't it? So, Karma has established that IT's sister didn't do her homework and is opening a superfluous restaurant. What a good friend.

So, I decided to find out a bit more about the restaurant. Surely if his sister had planned to open a restaurant, she had some details. "So," I asked, "what kind of food is it?"

"Thai barbeque."

My taste buds perked up. So did my ears. "Sounds tasty."

"Oh, who ever heard of Thai barbeque?" Karma snapped, acting hastily to quell the flow of positive energy. "Nobody is going to want to go there. When families are in the car trying to decide where to eat, they think Italian, Mexican, American, Chinese. Nobody ever says 'Thai Barbeque'." Her reversal of position was so smooth, you'd think it was her position all along. Now she was arguing against something different. Something that stands out from the other places to eat. Still thinking me an ally, she turned and asked, "Have you ever heard of Thai Barbeque."

"Yes," I lied. I had heard of Mongolian Barbeque and Thai food in general. So, I could certainly conceive of Thai BBQ. And I certainly wasn't going to give her any ammunition.

"Well, *I* haven't heard of it, so it can't be very common." This is her litmus test for many things. There isn't racism in the South because she's never encountered it. Most people haven't heard of Thai BBQ, because she hasn't. Asians don't eat out, because five of the six she works with don't eat out. You get the idea.

I pressed on in support of ITGuy. "It sounds really good. I'd definitely eat there. What's she going to call it?"

IT guy has a bit of an accent, so Karma mistook the name. It's up to you whether or not she did it intentionally. "Lemon GLASS Barbeque? GLASS? G-L-A-S-S?" she asked in an exaggerated way as though it was the dumbest thing she had ever heard.

It's actually Lemon GRASS BBQ. You know, the whole overdone Asian L/R bit? Karma claims to have never heard of Lemon grass. I told her that lemon grass chicken was one of my favorite Thai dishes.

"Well, I've never heard of it." she groused. "It's not a very good name. Nobody is going to know what they serve there. No one will come."

"Well, nobody would know what a lot of restaurants have to offer when they open. That's why they do a marketing blitz when they first open. It lets people know what they have and gives enticements to come in. Discount coupons. You know, stuff like that." I felt like I was talking to an idiot child.

"Well, that's my point." she said, as though she had been arguing this all along. "There is going to be a phase of educating the public. And that is costly. They'd be better off if people knew what to expect there. That way they could go when they were in the mood for that type of food."

So, to sum up to where we are now. These are B.A.R.F.'s demands:
* No more Asian or Mexican restaurants. We have enough.
* New eateries MUST offer something different.
* These different things must be the same as things already around that Karma likes, such as Italian, Soup and Salad, or Indian. (Yes. I know India is in Asia. Don't go there.)
* The name must clearly indicate the type of food. So "Passage to India" had better serve Indian Food and "Joe's American Bar and Grill" is good ole USofA. "Tony's Place" is right out.

"I think some people will be interested. Lemon grass is a common Thai ingredient. People who like Thai food will want to go there. You just need a memorable name. There was a great Thai place back where I used to live called 'Lemon Tree'. They did great business. But the name doesn't tell you anything."

To this, she had no answer. For this, I was grateful. I decided to find out more about LG BBQ. "I think I'd like to go there when it opens. Where is this going to be?" I asked ITG.

"The food court of UCSD." ITG told me.

"Darn," I said. "I don't really get down there ever." As I said that, another though hit me. "So, we are arguing over a restaurant that is nowhere near us and that we are unlikely to patronize?!?"

"Well. I didn't know it wasn't near me. That's a relief." Karma said.

"I'm still a bit confused. Why are we railing against rice so much? I find rice more interesting that mashed potatoes or french fries, the other big starch staples. Those would get pretty boring on a regular basis, too."

"Rice is bad for you." she explained.

Here we go again. Last time she crusaded against a food it was the bagel. ITGuy waved goodbye and made his exit. I should have done the same. I shouldn't have taken the bait, but I did. "Why is rice bad for you?"

"It raises insulin levels. It causes diabetes."

"Wouldn't mashed potatoes and french fries do that, too?"

"Yes, but they aren't as prevalent as those rice places." she reminded me.

"Rice is not necessarily bad for you." I pointed out, "Asian cultures eat rice as a staple and don't have America's obesity problem."

"It is bad. My diabetes doctor told me."

"There are multiple varieties of rice. Minute rice is definitely bad for you. But there are other types of rice. There's long grain, jasmine, basmati, brown rice..."

"Those are all white. Except for the brown rice. And white rice is bad."

"Well sure, if you eat a big bowl of it. But it's bad as much for the calories as it is for its refined nature. If you eat a meal with a side of rice, some vegetables, and a protein, you're essentially eating a complex meal and it will be broken down by your body accordingly."

"My dad has diabetes. The bad kind. He takes shots and everything. He can't have rice. My diabetes doctor told me not to either."

She doesn't have diabetes as far as I know. She eats chocolate and other sweets regularly. These, apparently, are not bad for her. Certainly not as bad as *shudder* RICE.

"My dad has diabetes, too." I countered. "He takes insulin shots and he still enjoys an occasional bowl of rice with his meal."

"My diabetes doctor said..."

I debated internally whether or not to introduce her to the word 'endocrinologist'. Common sense won out. There was a long pause as she waited to see what facts she'd have to refute next. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and said "do you have the script for generating the diagnostics?"

She looked disappointed, but agreed to e-mail it to me. I made a hasty retreat and began writing furiously...