Last night we ate quiche for supper. I share this piece of information reluctantly, one might even say that I confess it. Anyone who hears about our menu will no doubt picture us dining under ferns in a place where Perrier and pretentiousness run freely.
In fact, we ate quiche in our own kitchen, produced by the youngest member of the family under assignment from her French class. Anyone who has not tried to translate the words de noix de muscade in the midst of a recipe has never lived, or at least never lived in France. But I am digressing.
The point is the quiche, the innocent wedge that less than 24 hours ago sat upon my plate. A composite of such all-American staples as bacon, eggs, cheese and cream, it came to us bearing the weight of its reputation.
What is it that real men do not eat? Ladyfingers? Spinach and mushroom salad? No, quiche.
What do they call it when an ethnic neighborhood goes through an upscale renovation? The invasion of the ficus tree owners? No, Quichefication.
What do they call the people who buy Haitian cotton sofas, expose their brick walls and name their dogs Max? Up-scale Urban Runners? No, Quiche Eaters.
Pity the poor quiche. Over the past half- decade quiche has run the entire course through which we make food chic.
I am told by a reliable ins-and-outs watcher that quiche now has been down- scaled to airplane menus, and popularized at the sort of restaurants where the menu is on a wooden plaque. The real "Quiche Eaters," he tells me, now eat sushi.
We have been through all this before. Consider the fate of the fondue, a culinary treat forever etched in the memory of those who survived its trial by fire during the 1960s. For a brief period it was impossible to be married without receiving a ring and three fondue pots. Today they are only seen at yard sales and ski resorts.
The whole notion that food can go in and out of style is bizarre enough. How, after all, did the quiche get a reputation? Where did it go wrong? Even if you are what you eat, how did we arrive at a moment or place where someone would describe himself as "a meat-and-potatoes man"?
For most of human history, and for most people in our time, the food issue has been one of sustenance, not fashion. I can only imagine what our medieval ancestors would think about magazines devoted to ranking ice cream and cheesecake.
At some point in the Western culture that waffles between snobbery and democracy, we evolved an epicurean class structure. It is not just clothing that makes the man or woman, it's food. Indeed there are people who have been written off the social register for serving onion dip or Jell-O mold.
Executives who once ate iceberg lettuce move up to arugula. People who once served spaghetti advance in the world by putting their best pasta forward. The person whose lips once locked onto a hamburger will only eat a quarter-pounder of steak tartare.
There are, literally, tastemakers, people who tell us that it is "out" to serve grapefruit sections and "in" to serve kiwi. People who know instinctively that when the first croissant hits the supermarket, it's time to move on to brioche.
"Food is the cheapest recreation of all in this country," Harvard Medical School Prof. George Blackburn told Newsweek recently in an article on dieting. It's no wonder that in such a plentiful marketplace, less is more chic, and the nouvelle cuisine allows diners to feast . . . their eyes.
(When dining at a nouvelle cuisine restaurant, visiting chef Jacques Pepin was asked by the waiter, "How did you find your meat?" He answered, "By chance . . . I moved the zucchini.")
Now I don't want to break up any social circle that runs on truffles. But I can't rest my identity on the condition of the cheese course. Quiche or no quiche, I belong to a long line of omnivores. Membership to this epicurean club depends on only one thing, strictly following the words of an ancestor who admonished: never try to eat anything that might eat you first.