The Key Ingredient This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The door feels like it is a hundred miles away, and we are trolling through the arctic breaking through blocks and blocks of ice. Using an ice pick as we go, we are starved and could eat an eighty-pound penguin. All we have left are the sandals on our feet and dreams of good food. Our source of water has been depleted. We are dying from thirst and hunger leaving us only one option for survival. Eat the penguin. A thousand plates of Pad Thai are what we truly desire. The door is like a barrier between growling stomachs and joyous taste buds. The door opens and closes with a “jingle,” suddenly we are part of the lunchtime rush. I enter with Tiah and Becca after an afternoon of shopping on Newbury Street. We smell the sweet aroma of their specialty: Pad Thai, but not just any Pad Thai, Thai Basil Pad Thai. This four inch pile of noodles, veggies, chicken, and peanuts is what keeps us coming back. Buying Rainbow sandals and a new pair of shorts from Lucky Brand is like my birthday, but the meal, well, that is like a medication that we must take once a month. We are addicted to their Pad Thai and by now they must know us. We recognize the waiters, but fail to see the cooks. It seems rather peculiar because they are the ones preparing the desirable seven dollar recipe that allows me to connect with the Pad Thai. The cooks are unknown and kept invisible, however they are what make the restaurant thrive. The waiters are like the noodles, something that is in front of you and visible in plain sight. But the cooks are like the spices for they are unknown ingredients that make the dish unique.

We sit there in our world of only three and slowly our cheeks redden as our mouth goes from a line to a half circle showing pearly whites. As she brings over the food, we are in a conversation about the latest gossip and fail to think about much else. “OMG I can’t believe she would say that,” I said. Tiah comments with, “I know, it came out of nowhere.” The plates are set down one by one. The steam rises and hits Tiah’s face. It’s hot and fresh off the stove. I say thank you as the waitress begins to walk away. I stab a piece of chicken and swirl a few noodles. As I begin to eat, I do not think about the cook or where the ingredients came from. I just continue chewing and between mouthfuls, I talk to my friends. Stepping out of my self-absorbed world, I realize I should think more about acknowledging the work of cooks, however, that thought never used to cross my mind. That’s the problem with invisible workers. They are humans too but are somehow left out of day to day interaction. We fail to see the workers that are left out of plain sight and sometimes even forget to say hello to those in front of our face. We will forget about the easy expression of kindness in words like “please” or “thank you” and a simple “good morning”. Instead, we will demand a coffee or maybe even one of those six dollar Chai Tea Lattes. We are too caught up in our own lives. Whether it’s finding the latest app, scrolling the web, or sending a text, we are always busy. It seems to be our loss because the cook and the waitress are most likely nice, interesting people but we will never know. Have we forgotten the importance of simple human interaction? What if we did reach out and enter the kitchen? Just saying to the cook, “my meal was very good” would make the cook feel his job had value to others.

Think about how many times we walk past an unglamourous job that someone has to do. We drive to work or school and pass road construction. Instead of understanding that these people are just doing their job, we are annoyed by the traffic. We are annoyed because we are inconvenienced, but we don’t have compassion for the laborer, who wakes up before dawn to do his or her job. We pass a garbage truck and think, “yuck, that smells.” However, driving that truck and collecting trash is someone’s job and livelihood. We can switch lanes and go on with our clean, cozy lives but the workers go on doing dirty work that benefits others, everyday. At the fast food restaurant, we quickly eat our food and fail to say thank you to the person wiping our table. The man standing by the dishwasher takes the plate while we are busy in a conversation or looking at a new text. Next time you are driving and pass construction workers, smell sewage, or eat a meal, think about what those people go through. Think about how without them, none of the dirty jobs would be done. These people may be invisible but they are vital to the world.

As I sit at the table in a stupor, my mind begins to wonder. Suddenly, I begin to think about where my meal came from. Did the fresh vegetables come from Thailand or America? Is the cook cooking my food foreign to the United States? The food comes from restaurant supply stores, but where do they get the food? Becca says, “Jo did you hear that? Jo?” No response. I am lost in my own thoughts and thinking about how there is more to this meal than meets the mouth. The plate in front of me has provided jobs, incomes, and possibly hardship or exploitation. The tears and joy behind this meal are kept a secret because many are too shallow to understand. I want to know more about the meal and I encourage others to be interested as well. Answers are not always right there in front of us and sometimes need to be found. The answer to how each ingredient came to Thai Basil is left unknown and how could it be known if we didn’t even know the cook? If we saw the cook, then we could say hello and maybe even ask, “how are you?” If we did this, maybe we could start a conversation and track down the source of our meal. Instead, we stay inside our fake shell where almost everything is simple. We do not reach out unless it is in our best interest and will never really know who is in the kitchen cooking our favorite dishes.





Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

Scoots said...
Jun. 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm
Nicely written article...makes me feel like I'm there....can't wait to go!
 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback