The Wages of Food-Play
a short story
In a spasm of excess inspiration, after God made everything
else including bluebells, salamanders, vomit
and excreta, artichokes, and Eve, he carved himself a little hang-out
at a location no one has ever before revealed--a place where he could
think in fragrant gardens, with a cooling breeze and a great view. And,
from the eyrie of this green resort, he watched over all the creatures
of this world, sang to himself in his hoarse voice, had his favorite
birds play tunes with their throats and wings, and refreshed his palate
with his favorite food.
Blue-skinned with the iridescence of a hummingbird, clear-fleshed with
a brilliancy that makes a waterdrop shine dull; crunchy, tender, sweet,
tart, smooth--a perfection of complexity with an aftertaste of simple,
This fruit is the most perfect fruit that the world has ever known.
Only, the world didn't know it. Only God did, and only he partook of
It was the last fruit God made, and he planned to give it to Adam and
Eve after they passed their first test. Now, everyone knows that it
only took a few meals in the first and best restaurant, the Garden of
Eden, for the First Couple to get bounced out.
As for the Best Fruit, God decided to keep it to himself for the time
being, as he watched over the ripening of our kind of creatures. He
looked forward to the time when we would give him such delight as he
had planned; and he could, in turn, thrill in the pleasure of sharing
this marvelous gift with us by scattering its seeds to the far curves
of our world.
Recently, people have seen God's garden; only now it is
covered with forbidding snow, a place of challenge and death, something
to "conquer," not at all the place of idyll it was originally, a few
hundred years ago in fact. Today, Mt. Everest is visited by the toughest
of our kind, and only for the briefest visit can they withstand its
But such was not the case when God twiddled his toes in his hideaway's
sweet grass to the songs of his feathered minstrels, and loudly crunched
a mighty handful of his best fruit as he watched the tiny humans of
the flatter world bear their own fruits, toil, love, war and celebrate
to our wits' content.
The first time his forehead creased with a rather ominous-looking chasm
between the eyes, was in watching the pernickety Confucius. This god
amongst men left cooks trembling, at best, if he could still identify
his royal repast. "Mince it, marinate it--above all, disguise my food,"
he screeched. "And serve it with the right sauce. It must be properly
clothed. Or Else!"
"Does he think he's too good for my cooking?" God asked himself.
He uncricked his neck to bend over and look down the other side of
the mountain. The crease between his eyes relaxed, but his eyebrows
shot up over the Romans' garum, that sauce of rotted fish that became
the first essential condiment. He thought it a poor and disgusting end
to the silvery, bright-eyed creatures that he'd thrown into the waters
to splash their enrichments upon us with such abundance.
But God, despite some who have billed him otherwise, was a pretty tolerant
soul. Confucius, he made personal plans for, but otherwise decided that
the people in that area of the world were mostly acting in an appropriately
appreciative manner. As to those living in the land of garum, he observed--with
nothing more than a shudder. Watching us eat, he considered some of
the combinations surprising and somewhat stomach-turning. He gulped
at those strange marriages of honey and all the salty things.
Soon, he also boggled--at the wealthy Romans' vomiting feasts. They
were dismaying and more than a bit off-putting; but, he said to himself,
that's just the passing fad of a few oddities--or maybe growing pains?
He sucked the juices from his fruit, tasting his confidence in the soon-to-dawn
day when we, his people-creatures, would share this delight.
As the Romans progressed, the vomiting few grew to be almost little
gods themselves. He began to feel little prickles in the back of his
neck, the first manifestations of feeling disturbed. Am I being petty?
he grumbled, or should I feel properly offended by this lust for artificiality?
God's head hurt as he heard Apicius, emperor of all who aspired to the
rank of those with taste, praise--above all, things that were not what
they looked--"Anchovy without anchovy." The highest art as Apicius decreed
it, was when "at table, no one will know what he is eating."
God watched people worship the words of Apicius and try to make foods
in the image of his taste. And God developed a whopping migraine. I
made anchovies to be anchovies! Herbs to be herbs! He'd given brilliant
colors to different foods to give delight to our kind and joy to himself
at his creativity. And what do the Romans do!? Dye them. Have whole
dinners dyed the same color, whole dinners where no diner could guess
properly: Did this slither? crawl? prance? twine its tendrils? before
ending its days as a banquet trifle.
Still, God threw no lightning bolts, slayed no errant sinners. Did,
in fact, sweet nothing but rub his neck, mutter in his beard and look
on. The birds in God's garden twittered ultra-sweetly, with tiny arpeggios
God craned his neck this way and that--and with the suddenness of one
of his own plagues, he saw: everywhere that men had the luxury to lounge,
they got this urge to turn honest food into a lie--this great lust to
adulterate. He had thought it an adolescent outbreak in humankind, but
in all the places where some people could live off the many with the
biggest problem in life being the boredom of ingestion and entertainment,
he saw the same scene: those with the means, found a million ways to
abominate His kitchen creations.
Forever is nothing to God, so he bided his patient time. Fortunately,
the Romans did themselves in, and the Chinese and other empires had
their ups and downs, too. The rich corruption that eventually spread
its spores over the entire upper crust of society had the same effect
as a bad earthquake on a rich cake baking. Palaces cracked and fell,
or were eaten away by inelegant brutes with unpicky digestions, who
could still carry away the crumbs.
God appreciated the charm of barbarism, as it had the effect of making
cookery turn for the better, completely stripping the leisure that leads
to adulteration, what with the ensuing hunger and primitive living that
almost everyone subsequently experienced.
God sang happily in his terrible voice, his birds happy but trying
in vain to keep him in tune. His ballads were interrupted by great slurping
sounds as he feasted on his favorite fruit. Over all, people were now
behaving themselves ... Maybe the time would soon be at hand...
Unfortunately, this mood did not last long, as some of our kind got
on their feet again, in the only way that rich people have: by propping
greasy elbows on the backs of the many, who themselves consume the little
they can get their mouths around, with no excess energy to do anything
other than sucking a bit of sustenance out of anything that can be chewed
The few started in these various places around our crowded ball, to
bake new, more advanced civilizations; and seemingly as necessarily
as adding leaving to bread, began again to fiddle with their food.
In Europe, gross festivals became all the rage; usually in the form
of putting a thing that flew into another thing that flew into a bigger
thing that flew into a thing that walked into a bigger thing that ...
and so on. Sometimes, a knife would be put into the belly of the ultimate
Thing, and hundreds of bewildered birds flew out. These humans, he thought,
are sometimes just crazy. He made them, but did he understand them?
No more than why the sky had turned out blue.
He tolerated the Stuffed things. At least they were recognizable. The
extent of Royal Spectacle was unseemly, but then he understands spectacle.
Why else would he have invented peacocks, programmed the Antipodean
bowerbirds to collect bright-colored objects and make displays of them?
What was the purpose of zebras that, stripped of their stripes would
be condemned to the dunness of donkeys; of the jeweled-veiled dance
of the squid; the sudden furling of the lyrebird's harp-tail, than a
celebration flaunt? God recognized a bit of himself in these Royal commanders
of the Show, who also couldn't help themselves. Most of the pomp was
boring, but he forgave the spectacle of dining as he recognized the
thrill of a good display.
A fit of yawning overcame him as he peered into a hovel. Watching a
peasant eat his tiny allotment of grub wasn't comparable to the frisson
that ran over His back like a flight of mice, when an unexpected blizzard
of startled doves flew free from the stomach of a roasted ox. So he
dove his hand into his bowl for another fruit...
God never did go in for any BC or AD, and he never could
keep all those Louises straight, but I can tell you that by our 1700's,
he enjoyed the odd chuckle as Louis XV took display into the realms
of high theatre. The disappearing table and other mechanical witticisms
now spiced the Royal act of eating, and some of the tricks were damned
clever. But if one listened carefully, it would also have been possible
to hear a certain thunder--His burps of annoyance. It gave him indigestion
that gluttony and display had gone one step further--into the backwards
lands of Confucius, the Romans--the Grand Artificers.
Adulteration thrived again. Falseness was de rigueur. Pulverize!
was followed as if it were a Commandment--as if gazing upon anything
in its natural whole state were an Original Sin. With religious fervor,
food was smashed till it resembled nothing that God had ever made. Pretence
was raised to the highest of regard. And a rampancy of new epicures
infested the dining rooms wherever good food was supposed to be served.
Cuisine they called what they revered--and this cuisine repulsed him.
Why did I make lobster? Surely not to be made into an unrecognizable
paste. If I had wanted to put purées, timbales, coulis, forcemeats,
pâtés on the earth,, these creatures would have flooded
legless over the plains and flowed like vomit through the seas.
He saw that once French epicures got hold of food, they needed no teeth.
Everything was smashed to the state of baby's first solid food, pre-masticated
by its mother. Which was just as well, he noticed--as the dietary habits
of these gourmets turned a mouthful of ivory into a condemned row of
blackened rotten piers.
He fumed and watched in a trance of horror. His head pounded like a
stampede. He couldn't bear to watch, but was unable to look away. The
birds observed him ... silent.
God was, to be blunt, sick to his stomach. He decided to speak.
"Voltaire," he whispered, and at that time it was one o'clock on a
moonless morning in Paris. But since God was never good at whispering,
that suave and revered philosopher He had addressed so simply, shot
out of bed with the strength of a flea. Voltaire's sleeping cap fell
off as he bent in the shame of soaking his nightdress with fright.
"Voltaire, this is God speaking..." and suddenly this champion of reason
became a milksop of a miracle-believer.
Voltaire passed on God's message, but stopped short of saying, "God
will get you all for your evil ways," as his friends would lock him
up as a madman. Instead, he warned that unnatural food preoccupations
"would eventually numb the faculties of the mind." And in a spate of
fervor unmatched by any crutch-discarder at Lourdes, Voltaire hunted
out every last hoarded pot of his very special stock of foie gras, and
pressed them onto the first passing beggar-woman, who spent the rest
of that day spooning her first meat in years. "Tastes funny-like" she
muttered, but beggars can't be...
However, as Scottish grandmothers say, "There's na so deaf as those
who willna hear," especially when the smacking of lips drowns out sound.
God gnashed his teeth in frustration, and still did nothing. Instead,
he bent his neck the other way and peered into another Imperial Palace
where a terrifying tower, the six-foot-two Emperor Ch'ien-lung, presided
over his flock of many courses. Peacocks of unimaginable vegetable,
seafish, and crawling-creatured parentage splayed their imitation fantails:
fishes shiny with the scales of many former beasts, curled on trays
of seaweed made of no seaweed God had ever created; flowers and forests
born from nothing similar made a fantasy world on the emperor's table--all
crowded one beside another to glory to the art of the conjurer, and
eventually reside with awesome waste, in His Emperialness's stomach.
A daily parade of ever more extreme falsenesses could not quench the
easy ennui of this silk-swathed destiny-maker of starving millions.
As God watched Ch'ien-lung, he felt a sharp little pain in his chest.
This watching the powerful was becoming unhealthy...
God turned again, and looked out on the plains to the south. He saw
the little people eating dahl, pulses, grains, and vegetables almost
as he had planned. He didn't understand the spices, but he had given
them out, and so could not disapprove when their pungent odors assailed
his nostrils. In the hotter climates especially, he had not accounted
for the fact of food spoilage; so this was good, creative thinking of
these creatures, who could not live by bending a head to the sweet grass
or scooping up a fresh fish in the mouth while cruising a watery world.
God sat up straight now, the pain gone from his chest. His breathing
took on a more gently modulated timbre, but his face was somber.
He had been planning to give our kind his greatest chef's creation,
to see our joy when we experience the most wonderful fruit of all kind.
But now he knew that most probably, the poor would never eat it, and
the rich would abominate it by turning it into something that he did
not have the perverted creativity level to explore.
By now, it was just before the French revolution, during the last corruption-laden
years of Ch'ien-lung. The very air smelt artificial when he sniffed
the well-to-do. This creature's pimples had come, and should have gone
by now. People were people. And would continue to be, God saw, until
he acted more drastically. But he wasn't ready yet, for that.
He took all the birds and plants from his eyrie, and transported
them to a new home with him, not on our earth. Then he commanded wind
to blow and snow to fall upon his now-deserted garden, and flew away.
Now, only the bitterness of God's disappointment in us lives in that
highest place. Only a trickle of the brave and foolhardy visit. Never
to taste the delights of the musical garden and the most delicious fruit
ever made, but to say that they actually lived through a few-minute
visit to the most forbidding site on earth, where even the air is begrudged
And down in the concrete castles of the peopled world, how do we fare?
First, one doesn't mourn what one doesn't know is lost. Second, we have
progressed wonderfully over the centuries. Science has taken us places
that mere art never could, and all who can afford more than pulses delight
ever more in what we are now able to do to our foods.
So now you know the story, and I for one am glad that God kept His
Best Fruit for himself.
I mean, how do you think He would feel watching a consumer taste test,
given a choice of a fruit--any fruit including That Fruit; vs. a bowl
of crispy snackfood slathered with a canful of cheese-flavored spread;
or a "strawberry" thick shake; or when you bite into a choc cupcake,
that white stuff that oozes from its heart...
© Anna Tambour 2003.
This story first appeared in Quantum Muse, November 2001.
"The Wages of Food-Play" is reprinted in Anna Tambour's Monterra's
Deliciosa & Other Tales &, published in September 2003 by Prime;
Order Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & online using
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