If 2020 Were a Meal

by J. Michael Beza

Boy, what a year. It’s definitely going to go down in history with the 2011s, 1776s, and 1492s of the World and with any luck, we’ll be able to make it through these last couple of weeks without another disastrous event befalling mankind, which should be cause for celebration! What better way to commemorate the passing of an all-time shitty year than by approximating it with an all-time shitty meal? After all, this is my blog/coping mechanism about food, so I can do with it whatever I please.

The parameters for this exercise are simple: think up the most horrendous food that I can while providing an accurate representation of the events of this year, month by month. I can’t promise I’ll do justice to every lowlight of 2020, since this list will likely devolve into something completely America-centric mirroring my own experiences, but I can darn well try to send us out with a collective gag-inducing bang.

1st Course: January – Mamba Satay

Let’s kick this meal off with a bang, shall we? I couldn’t think of a better way to set the tone for a year of misery and despair than with the untimely death of a beloved sports icon, his young daughter, and seven other unfortunate souls. This one hit us out of nowhere, and certainly caused me a great deal of grief as I introspected about my own unaccomplished existence compared to a man who lived a life worth ten people.

Kobe Bryant was more than just my favorite basketball player of all time; he was everything a man should aspire to be. He was a relentless worker, a bit of an asshole, a devoted family man, a provider, an intellectual, and an artist all rolled into one. He was 41 years old and had half of his life yet to live. I think the most tragic thing about loss is the thought about what could have been. For all those people, and especially those young girls who died tragically in that helicopter accident, we’ll never get to see the trails they’d forge.

So, for your starter tonight, we have skewered black mamba meat smoked and seasoned with the tears of countless basketball fans. The saltiness is almost overbearing, but it’s cut nicely by a splash of zesty vinaigrette, to give you hope of something good that might come next (spoiler alert: nothing good is coming next).

2nd Course: February – Pandemic Soup

By this point, the news about an emerging new virus in China was already giving the world a case of déjà vu. Most people assumed we were in for another case of “SARS WARS 2: THE WETMARKETS STRIKE BACK,” but oh to be young and naïve. Just as the spat between the Chinese Government and Houston Rocket’s General Manager Daryl Morey turned Hong Kong Twitter-messiah was starting to come to a head, videos started surfacing of people being dragged out of their homes and off the streets in acts of forced quarantine. Seriously, those videos can get disturbing so watch at your own risk.

Thus, the World Health Organization (or WHO), gave this new viral superstar a name: COVID-19. This next course, naturally, has to be something equally unforgettable—something they’ll be talking about 500 years from now. So, in honor of the wonderful memes of the time, we’ve created a soup of not just bat meat, but of pangolin, chimpanzee, and mosquito, too, to pay homage to other Earth-shaking pandemics that have ravaged our species over the centuries.

3rd Course: March – Mediterranean Medley

It’s crazy how quickly a virus can spread these days! Some country with an alarming new viral mutation that is running through their population like DiCaprio through a Victoria’s Secret fashion show pops onto the world stage, and nobody in their government thinks it prudent to shut down travel? Well, I guess that would be admitting accountability, something China is historically really, really, really bad at. Sprinkle in the proclivity for human beings to gather in communal experiences like soccer games, concerts, and wait for it…funerals, and you’ve got a recipe for unmitigated disaster.

Sadly, Spain and Italy were two countries in the West hit the hardest at the start of it all. Scores of people got infected, nobody knew what to do, and as a result, the hospitals were pushed well past capacity and the bodies started piling up. In honor of that macabre spectacle, the next course is a medley of Spanish and Italian inspired tapas served ice cold and paired with leftover wine from abandoned abbeys where the virus caused so much death.

4th Course: April – Uncertainty Puree

Also known as the month where everyone lost their jobs, April proved to be a big cornerstone in the whole poo-palooza. Governments started figuring out that maybe putting into place standard practices to slow down the spread of the virus might be a good idea, but also figured out (at least in America’s case) that this would be a fantastic opportunity to ramp up some divisive political discourse. Suddenly, asking people to wear a face mask became as taboo as suggesting stricter gun control, and Mr. Orange was ensuring us all that this would be over by Easter.

Meanwhile, companies were already slipping down the unstoppable slope to bankruptcy, and the entire service industry was forever changed. Millions went on unemployment, people didn’t want to leave their homes, and those in charge weren’t doing much to make us feel any better about the situation. To properly sum up the general anxiety of the time, the chef has prepared three unlabeled cups of mystery puree. One is sweet, one is savory, and one contains roadkill scraped up from the alley behind the restaurant. You can only choose one. Good luck!

5th Course: May – Asphyxiating Palate Cleanser

April crept into May and things were becoming busines as usual. There was optimism in the air as companies and organizations talked about gradually opening back up again with revamped safety measures. Hell, even I was given a chance to go back to work in the restaurant. But all that feel-good energy was quickly deflated when one unfathomable monster and three other scumbags saw to it that another black man be publicly lynched. Nothing really gets a dwindling brushfire quite to the level of roaring inferno quite like driving a tankard of gasoline straight into the heart of it.

We’d seen it before, and we’ll see it again, and the thought of that is enough to wither your heart. George Floyd’s murder gave the world the worst possible distraction from the rest of the horrors of the year and rallied people behind causes both righteous and wicked. It reminded us that society has a long way to go, and that frankly police are wildly flawed and in need of reform. It solidified the fact that President Smallhands was as spineless, indifferent, and effete as we suspected him to be, because even in the face of an overwhelming injustice, he couldn’t help but portray protesters as thugs.

To encapsulate such a disparaging time, we’re ripping a page out of the Alinea playbook for this one and offering you a complete sensory experience. This palate cleanser of ghost pepper-wasabi sorbet bathed in low doses of tear gas was concocted to have you feeling complete respiratory agony for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Afterwards, though, your palate should be thoroughly refreshed to fully appreciate the taste of subsequent courses, or you’ll be dead, who knows.

6th Course: June – Riotous Ribs

Depending on which team you play for, the civil activism that defined the month of June could have had you feeling a few types of ways. Most rational individuals saw them as a sensible reaction to the rotting core of race/class relations between blacks and whites. Some people saw it as an Antifa-driven coup d’état against democracy itself. Others, unfortunately, saw it as another great opportunity to riot and loot, giving conservatives more reason to convince themselves that all colored people are evil.

A lot of folks fell so deep down the sinkhole of sadness that they thought this might be the final straw on the proverbial camel’s back that would finally allow the powers-that-be to break through the strictures of our constitution and usher in a new age of modern fascism. To be fair to them, it had been a wildly terrible year up to that point, so hope and optimism weren’t exactly in the air. Thankfully, the worst that came out of everything was that people got more divided, the virus spread itself through all the juicy new hosts protesting in the streets, and the world was generally still in a horrible state.

So, for your sixth course, we’ll be offering you the ribs of a cute, young lamb which will be slaughtered tableside for your entertainment. The ribs will be grilled to an uncomfortable char and basted with a sauce reduction made with the broth of the Pandemic Soup. Afterwards, a chef will take the leftover bones and beat a cut of meat to be eaten in a later course into submiss…I mean tenderization.

7th Course: July – Fish and Chips at the Beach

Ah, summer. When the beaches are callin’, pandemics be damned. Humanity really proved its capacity for blatantly ignoring common sense for the sake of that annual sunburn—bliss indeed. Nowhere in particular is more guilty than other places for these trespasses of social safety, and that’s the incredible thing. Everywhere in the USA, if there was white sand and no government entity to stop you, people flocked to escape the dour confines of quarantine.

On some level, one can’t help but empathize with people, because for all of us who are still living through some degree of quarantine, it really is tough. Not everyone can plant themselves in front of a computer and be content to click buttons or troll people anonymously. But lest we forget, these were not normal circumstances, and the masses failing to comply with health and safety guidelines was just another low point in an incredibly low year. This next course of fish and chips brings that essence of the sea you crave so much, but the fish is served raw with a bag of Lays. How’s that for not following the rules?

8th Course: August – Kyle Ritten-Porterhouse Steak

Unfortunately, I had to evoke the kid’s name to make the pun work for the dish, so that will be the last time that’s happening, because fuck that dude, everyone who defended him, and everything he represents. There’s really not much else to say. If you know about the story, then you know. If not, maybe have an old pillow next to you so you can punch it out of frustration when you read about it.

Speaking of punching, remember those rib bones the kitchen staff were going to tune up some meat with? This is the course. This steak is coming to you absolutely maimed and shredded. Out of courtesy to you, we will cook it properly and make it edible, but it will be an amorphous pile of sinew. Honestly, if you have pets, take it home and feed it to them, instead.

9th Course: September – California Tinder Box

There have been some iconic duos in American history: Simon & Garfunkel, Han and Chewy, Shaq and Kobe (crying emoji), California and being on fire. In 2020, wildfires actually managed to burn a record amount of land across the state. It got so bad up north that San Francisco’s sky was as orange as the president for a good day or two. And who could forget about that couple and their baby gender reveal party gone full Murphy’s Law? Yup…2020. You can’t make this stuff up.

The theme of this next course was actually inspired by that hapless married couple and was designed with more diner interaction in mind. The food: perfectly grilled fois gras served with fresh arugala and lobster. The catch: two aggressively burning sparklers, one colored pink and the other blue, will burn down and ignite the bed of dehydrated grass below the food unless you and the other guests are able to blow them out in time. Good luck.

10th Course: October – Nothing is good, and everything sucks.

At this point, it’s been a pretty exhausting meal, we know. You braved the unknown purees, a live slaughter, and a near death choking experience. You’ve probably ordered quite a few cocktails to deal with all of this and now you really need to go to the bathroom. Maybe you’re reevaluating all the decisions you made that led you to this moment and you’re desperate for something positive. Anything positive.

We understand how you feel. Twelve courses are a lot, especially when each one compounds exponentially in suckitude. You deserve a break. Have a house made fortune cookie. **Takes the warm, glistening cookie from its silver tray. Breaks it open to reveal a white strip of paper tucked within. Turns the paper over to discover its secret message. It reads “Make America Great Again.” Sadly eats the cookie.**

11th Course: November – Election Plate

Wow, how about that US presidential race, huh? You know, the one where a turd ran against a dinosaur-sized pile of shit? I’ll never forget that feeling the morning of election day. In one corner, you had a bunch of juiced up rednecks packing enough heat to mow down an entire neighborhood of minorities (probably) and in another corner you had a bunch of opportunistic looters (remember them?) waiting for chaos to ensue. I’ll also never forget how for the entire rest of the month, the President of the United States failed to acknowledge publicly or privately that he lost the election. In fact, he insisted so hard that it was rigged against him that his entire fanbase drank the Kool-Aid and held out hope for weeks for some masterfully orchestrated voter fraud scandal to be revealed. Stunning stuff.

Much like an incredible meal that you just don’t want to accept is coming to an end, we offer a course that has never been attempted before in the history of dining. We give you a democratic choice, and not just any choice. You and your fellow diners get to vote between two of the previous ten courses to be eaten again. How do we determine which two get picked? We draw from a hat! Not happy with the options? Neither is anybody else! Bon appétit.

12th Course: December – A Morsel of Hope

It’s almost Christmas 2020, and I have no plans to visit my family. I haven’t seen my grandmother in almost a year because it’s too dangerous to do so, and we’re in the middle of another cataclysmic spike in COVID-19 cases because people couldn’t keep it in their pants this fall. Friends, coworkers, and acquaintances testing positive is become increasingly commonplace, and the government has still done almost nil to mitigate the financial hardships affecting so many.

And while the central theme of this exercise has been to vent frustration over some of the horrible events from 2020, it still deserves to be mined for some silver linings. Vaccines are being rolled out, Donald Dingus will no longer be president, and the stage looks like it’s finally being set for a gradual return to normalcy. Sure, lots of places are tucking into the dead of winter, Australia is primed to burn more than California did, and the economy is being held together by Elmer’s glue, but despite all of that, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel; it’s as distant as the nearest star to Earth, but God damnit we can see it with the naked eye. Hang in there everybody, we’ve made it this far.

For the final course of this meal, the chef has prepared a beautiful 12-layer trifle. We can’t tell you what’s in it, or what constitutes the different layers, because life is unpredictable, and even when you think nothing can go wrong, it very well might. This meal was surely tough to swallow at times, and your last course will prove to be the same, but this time, we placed something special inside. Somewhere between the disparate chaos, is a delightful layer of strawberry Crème Anglaise made from organic eggs, Madagascar vanilla pods and freshly picked strawberries. We won’t promise that it pairs well with the rest of the dish, but we can promise that it’s at least in there waiting for you—the long-awaited silver lining to it all. Cheers to you and yours, and to a less abysmal New Year.

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