As I sit here eating a quinoa and butternut squash bowl (referring to it as a “bowl” makes the dish seem more adventurous, as though it could have ingredients other than plain quinoa and butternut squash, but it doesn’t), my mind wanders to an Overheard LA post: a young woman asks if she can have the avocado toast without avocado, to which a confused waiter asks, “So you just want toast?”
I sent this post to a high school friend who once sat in horror as I ordered a dish with “nothing gross,” which had the intended meaning of no sauce. In my mindset at that time “nothing gross” felt articulate and right. I was earnest in my convictions. My aim was not to be disagreeable or prove anything to anyone about what I believed was appropriate regarding food, I was just an under-socialized youth who only wanted to eat specific things in her dishes.
Still, to a large extent, I’m appalled if anyone even thinks about putting sugar in my smoothie, and don’t you dare come near me with spirulina, either. It is a distinctly obnoxious notion, but one I can’t shake after growing up in LA inundated with the fear that all that’s bad for you. It makes sense in our LA food culture; there’s a large subset of people who have fierce opinions and a strong sense of entitlement surrounding their restaurant orders.
Now, sometimes you just want what you want or you just don’t have an intrepid palate. Or perhaps you have a medical dietary restriction, which I have no qualm about. (I’m a mess if I ingest dairy, so when I vehemently state no cheese, I’m not being an unpleasant vegan, I would simply prefer not to fall ill.) So that’s my disclaimer. I get it if you’re just a little picky here and there or have a legitimate medical issue.
There are Yelp searches and listicles about the best restaurants in LA for picky eaters or those with specific medical reasons and requests. However, most people who order with an inventory of the ingredients they don’t want aren’t necessarily sticking to this idea of going somewhere where such nonsensical ordering is more acceptable. People hold their heads high and demand the wildest of orders in places with already well-curated menus or chefs who have their own opinions about what should go with what.
In Los Angeles, that sense of entitlement runs rampant. Whether it’s an obscure diet or an odd preference, people see no problem in rearranging ingredients listed within various dishes in order to build their own, or have such a laundry list of things they absolutely will not eat that they wind up with a dish equivalent to an avocado toast sans avocado.
Whether it’s a desire for fitness prowess, where in order to remain in their shape (whichever it may be), they need to eat only certain things, or for some health craze that has yet to be proven safe (hello, Banana Island Diet), or just for plain self-righteousness about what they’re requesting being better for the integrity of their perception of the dish, how Angelenos order is often downright ridiculous.
These holier-than-thou attitudes come to head if ever a waiter were to say no, quaking their outlook of self-superiority. In a realm full of self-obsessed individuals feeling their own twisted pressures to get ahead, it makes sense that we’d have people who become parodies of themselves when it comes to how they order at a restaurant.
Soon enough, Maria Bamford’s joke about how people in LA demand orders (“I’d like a turkey burger cut into 14 quadrants… I know that’s impossible, but 14 quadrants… Dropped from an altitude of 25 feet with an attitude of regret”) will come true.
We’ll begin eating dirt, because it’s more organic. (Oh, wait, that’s already a thing: clay… But, wait, are you eating the “French Green” clay?) We’ll cease to eat beef unless the cow was first read a bedtime story before its untimely death, and every restaurant will be a “build your own” menu, as chefs will have given up entirely and retreated away from Los Angeles bitterly and en mass.
All of this until some annoying jerk who goes by the name Beowulf stumbles into a used bookstore, finds a copy of Monet’s cookbook, rediscovers mayonnaise, and is declared a culinary genius. He’ll open a restaurant, and people will trust him enough to eat what he has prepared for a menu. Then there’ll be ranch dressing, and we’re off to the races again.