by Elaine Viets
Food porn is nakedly unhealthy. It’s so larded with fat, sugar, and artery-popping cholesterol, it stirs lust and disgust.I’m fascinated with food porn. Never mind that if I actually ate the stuff I’d feel like I swallowed a fried bowling ball. My gut craves deep-fried grease. I put that craving in my St. Louis novels.
Harry the Horrible, head of the St. Louis office of Suttin Services, is the food porn addict in my Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries. The mythical Carnival Diner is his source for these death-defying dishes.
Josie Marcus mystery-shops for Suttin Services. When she calls her boss about an assignment, he is usually eating something outrageous. Harry describes it in intimate detail. Worse, he takes pleasure in sending Josie to virtuous meals with vegetables. She believes vegetables grow in the dirt, and should stay there.
In “An Uplifting Murder,” Josie mystery-shops a lingerie store. A former high school mean girl, Frankie Angela Martin, winds up dead. Josie must find her killer to save a friend.
Harry knows this, but he isn’t worried about Josie’s battered nerves. He gives her yet another awful assignment. Josie has to mystery-shop broccoli.
If that isn’t bad enough, Josie is subjected to the disgusting sounds of Harry indulging in food porn. Here’s one encounter from “An Uplifting Murder”:
“The Veggie Madness salad bar chain says they must serve the freshest food,” Harry said. “Your mission is to check for freshness.”
“How would I know what a fresh vegetable tastes like?” Josie said.
“By the sound, I guess,” Harry said. “Don’t they go snap, crackle and pop?”
“That’s Kellogg’s Rice Krispies,” Josie said. “When’s the last time you even ate a vegetable?”
“I’m eating a cherry tomato right now.” Harry’s voice was larded with righteousness.
Josie heard a small popping sound, like a grape being run over. “Don’t tell me you’re having a salad for lunch.”
“No, I’m having a hot beef sundae,” Harry said.
“Roast beef and ice cream? That’s disgusting.”
“There’s no ice cream. The hot beef sundae is today’s special at the Carnival Diner. A hot beef sundae is a soup bowl of creamy mashed potatoes covered in chocolate sauce, which is really beef gravy. The mashed potatoes and gravy are piled with tender roast beef chunks and cheese ‘sprinkles.’ A cherry tomato tops off the hot beef sundae.”
Josie’s mouth watered at the thought of roast beef and gravy, though she’d probably skip the cherry tomato.
“Why can’t I mystery-shop the Carnival Diner?” she asked. She’d stooped to whining.
“Because there’s only one,” Harry said. “The chef used to work at the state fair and he cooks fairground favorites. You should try his funnel cakes.
“But I’m not calling you to discuss my lunch. Here’s what Veggie Madness wants you to eat to at their restaurant: the Bonkers for Broccoli salad, the Zucchini Zippity-Doo-Dah.”
“What’s that?” Josie asked.
“A cheesy medley of zucchini, onions and roasted red peppers,” Harry recited.
“Cheesy is right,” Josie said.
“Hey, you might like their Obsessive-Compulsive Onion Soup. You have to eat that, too. The desserts are supposed to be fantastic and you can have any one you want.”
“Nothing will take away the taste of broccoli,” Josie said.
After Josie endures the broccoli, the sensitive Harry gives her more work, extra lashings of food porn and a dash of philosophy. I suspect most serious food pornographers use these rationalizations from “An Uplifting Murder”:
Josie heard a tremendous crunch, like a kid landing in a pile of fall leaves. “What are you eating, Harry?”
“A hamdog,” he said. “It’s today’s special at the Carnival Diner. Delicious.”
“It’s made out of ham?” Josie asked.
“Hamburger,” Harry said. “A hamdog is a hot dog wrapped in a hamburger patty. Then the chef deep fries the hamdog, pours on chili, adds grilled onions and tops it with a fried egg. This one has all that, plus extra-crispy bacon.”
“I could hear it,” Josie said. “Aren’t you worried about cholesterol?”
“As my granny used to say, nobody gets outta here alive. She fried everything but her beer and lived to be ninety-six.”
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