Just Good Food

A Bad Poet with Dreams

by John Ryan


I think the book was The Last Unicorn. Near the beginning a magician puts a curse on someone: "You will be a bad poet with dreams." I distinctly remember pausing for a moment, wondering if anything could be worse.

Anyway, the other day I was making my way through the supermarket. A woman holding a pepper was talking with a guy in a green apron. It must have been a question because the guy eventually shrugged and said: "I don't know."

At the fish counter a man pointed at a fish and asked where it came from. The woman behind the counter said "I don't know. The manager...he might know, but he's gone." A little further along a young father was trying to keep his son from grabbing and dropping bottles from the nearby steak sauce display. He lobbed his question to a guy in a white lab coat: "What would be a good cut to put on the grill this weekend?" The guy responded "I don't know." and then "I don't eat meat." As if that made not knowing all right.

Over in the supermarket's new, expanded wine department someone wanted to know the difference between sauvignon blanc and fume blanc. A friendly face behind a name tag said: "Gee, I really don't know...I just stock the shelves."

A couple days later I was looking over a menu. When the waiter asked if we had any questions, I asked what mushrooms were in the ragout of chicken and wild mushrooms. "I don't know...are you ready to order?"

This ever present I-don't—know irritates me, but my friends don't sympathize. "Relax" I'm told, "The produce guys (the waiter, the meat clerk...) can't know everything."

But wait a minute. Bookstore clerks usually know what's what with books. And CD's: in my experience, the clerks at Tower Records are up on everything from the latest gossip about opera singers to relative audio quality between recordings. And the guys in bicycle repair shops know way too much about titanium alloys and aluminum rims. So is it too much to expect waiters to know what's going on in the pots and pans?

Why have we given up on food? Why do we gladly buy it from people who don't know, who don't even eat it themselves...who don't even think they should know?

So what could be worse than being a bad poet with dreams? Standing in the midst of stunningly beautiful fruits and vegetables, wines from around the world, free range chickens, milk-fed calves, farm-raised fish...and nobody knows nothing.


John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.

Just Good Food Archive

This page created 1997. Modified August 2007.