I recently moved back to New York City, and as I was walking around waiting to meet some friends I came across Rice to Riches, where I’d been once a while back and remembered liking. The place is like an ice cream parlor for rice pudding: Rum raisin, cheesecake, butter pecan, pumpkin — a couple dozen flavors of rice pudding, but that’s all it sells. And what somehow escaped my attention last time was that the places is covered in signs about how fattening rice pudding is.
It’s kind of the weirdest thing. You can’t help but notices because the signs are everywhere; it’s like at Jimmy John’s or Friday’s but instead of saying things like ‘hippies please use the back door’ they say things like “no skinny bitches.”
This is a familiar thing, this defiantly gluttonous attitude – the Heart Attack Grill, those special burgers from places like Hardees, doughnut grilled cheeses. Americans love to revel in our weaker points. But the thing about literally plastering your walls with slogans about how your food is totally fattening and unhealthy is that it’s bound to backfire not infrequently, no?
I’m not and wasn’t under any delusions that rice pudding is a health food or something. But I can’t be the only one who went in not really thinking of rice pudding as being something terrible for you. I wasn’t “indulging” or whatever people say; I didn’t go in feeling guilty about eating this rice pudding or reconciling it in my head. I just wanted some rice pudding.
After ordering a small plain rice pudding, I stood at one of the bars nears the front to eat it, look at my phone and kill time until I could go meet my friends. But you can only check Instagram and Twitter on your phone so many times, and my eyes kept wandering to all the signs on the Rice to Riches walls that were reminding me that this was a terrible, terrible food product. A few:
I ate a little bit but not much, because I was quickly uncomfortable eating in that environment, as weird as that may sound, and because the rice pudding had no taste. It had tasted like something, something good, when I’d first gotten it. But now I felt as if I couldn’t taste anything at all. I asked for a to-go lid — maybe my friends would want it — and started walking.
After a few minutes, though, I realized I was still kind of hungry. I gave the rice pudding another try, and it was again quite delicious. I ate the rest of it.
I realize the takeaway from all of this could just be that I’m a bit neurotic (which, sure), but there’s something kind of interesting about the varying reactions to ‘bad’ food. Tell people they shouldn’t be eating that or that this is really bad for you seems to provoke lust in some people, like they want it more or think it tastes better knowing it’s unhealthy. Other people have this attitude like it makes them a rebel, like there’s some PC food cabal they’re sticking it to (I would not normally use the term “PC,” but they would use PC). Or like it makes them macho, because they slayed that double baconator exterminator with french fried mushrooms. Some people feel guilty and it manifests defensive, like ‘I deserve this, because …’. And some people feel guilty and lose all taste for whatever it is, can’t take any pleasure in eating it. .
I am apparently one of the latter, those that get temporary anhedonia when bombarded with signs about how gross what they’re eating is. I realize the Rice to Riches signs are not meant to be taken totally seriously, but there’s an semi-conscious ick factor there I can’t get around, I guess. On a more conscious level, this tendency to frame food this way bugs me immensely. Making eating all about indulging versus refraining, gluttony versus restriction, being bad or good just gives people messed up ideas about eating and kind of exemplifies what’s wrong with the American attitudes toward food. We should see our diets more holistically rather than attaching individual value judgments to foods.
Top photo: Sending-riches.com