Kale? Not for This Male

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By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, August 28, 2005

The other day a colleague took me to lunch at a place that serves girlfood. I began panting and twitching like a cornered ferret.

Girlfood always comes on a delicate glass plate, with sprigs of eccentric greenery, decorative squirts of fat-free raspberry puree, some anorexic carrots, a radish sculpted to resemble a tulip, and, finally, anchoring the ensemble, a half-dollar-size medallion of boneless, skinless, meatless chicken. You wash it down with some spritzy stuff from a crystal flute so fragile it will shatter if you gaze at it too intently. The only thing missing from this dainty meal is what men would call food.

Some female readers might be preparing at this very moment to mount my severed head on a spike, an action that, I should note, wouldn't be ladylike. Let me stipulate that many women don't actually eat girlfood. But there are some women, and even some men, who eat girlfood compulsively because they have the urge to dine without eating. They know that food can kill you, and worse, make you fat.

By contrast, if you aren't ready to die, you've got no business eating manfood. When you sit down in front of a huge platter of manfood, everything dripping in fat, smothered in sauce, with a "loaf" of onion rings on the side, you have to be committed to the cause. No slipping away on a life raft: You're going down with the ship.

The foundation of the manfood pyramid is, needless to say, meat. A typical manfood meal has a meat course followed by another meat course. The "mixed grill" is a shining example of manfood. And there's no reason, unless you're some kind of crazed, pine-cone-eating vegan, that dessert can't be a bratwurst.

Certain kinds of seafood, such as lobster, clams and crabs, are honorary forms of meat, but a small filet of a low-fat white fish should be viewed as essentially a vegetable. Raw oysters are manfood, as is any fish served with the head on and the mouth gaping in horror.

Just above meat on the food pyramid are the beans. A man views beans not only as a type of food but as an event. Beans produce those dramatic, concussive aftershocks. The mighty winds. Manly stuff!

Above the bean layer on the pyramid is the chip layer. A man needs six to eight servings of chips a day, but, as a concession to a varied diet, makes sure to eat different kinds. If you have Fritos for breakfast, lunch and midday snack, you switch at dinnertime to Ruffles. Needless to say, there's always a place in the manfood diet for bean dip.

Next up: the cheese layer. "Yes" is the invariant answer to the question of whether you want cheese on that. (Nachos drenched in cheese is a kind of transitional layer between the chip and cheese layers of the manfood pyramid -- or is that getting too technical?)

At the peak of the manfood pyramid, to be consumed only in small portions, are fresh fruits and vegetables. It is crucial that men not talk about the types of lettuce. If you start talking about "kale" and "endive" and "arugula," the next thing you know you'll be saying things like, "I think Jenny is mad at Nina."

Selecting the right beverage to go with manfood is the easiest part of the process, since the right beverage is always beer. If you're a guy and you botch the meal, say, by getting too involved in a ballgame on TV and leaving the pork ribs on the grill so long they turn into blackened fritters, you can always fall back on cold beer, known to male chefs everywhere as the Great Redeemer. What a lovely floral centerpiece is to girlfood, the 100-quart Igloo cooler full of ice-cold beer is to manfood.

Recently, my brother discovered the joys of the beer-butt chicken. It was one of those Road to Damascus life-changing events. The beer-butt chicken is exactly what it sounds like: You put a half-empty can of beer inside the chicken and prop it up on the grill. The beer evaporates as the chicken cooks, moistening the meat. It is possible that what my brother likes most about the recipe is the strong implication that the chef must first drink half the beer. Which means you might as well have a case on ice.

I know some readers might think I am promoting gluttony, and that if I eat this way I am going to turn into a repulsive, jiggling, corpulent repository of chicken fat, utterly poisoned by toxins, my body shot through with all the filth of the slaughterhouse. I'd like to argue that point, but I'm afraid I'm too full to talk any more and must go lie down.

Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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