Beets or Chocolate?

vintage motel

Paean to Dairy Queen

I am not a complicated person. I have spent my entire adult life missing my mom. My moral code is simple and easy to remember: Rescue cats and be kind to buspersons.

I am physically small and for that reason I avoid crowds. I gravitate toward small, tidy rooms, ideologies, and boon companions. For aesthetic and ethical reasons, I patronize small, independent establishments. When I travel, I seek out small, slightly shabby inns and retro mom-and-pop roadside motels (TV! Air Conditioning! Swimming pool!). If there’s a $5-per-night price difference between the Belle Vue Court and the Lonesome Cowpoke Motor Lodge,[1] I’ll choose whichever is closer to the Dairy Queen.

Once or twice a week, I walk four blocks to the Dairy Queen and order, if I am flush, a medium chocolate malt. What kind of philistine walks on Fourth Avenue in Tucson past the Epic Café? The kind of philistine who weeps for joy in the presence of cow’s milk combined with obscene amounts of chocolate and sugar. Can the Epic Café supply this joy for $2.45? At any price?

Will the wait staff at the Chichi Pub blink uncomplainingly when I ask for extra chocolate—enough to turn the beverage dark brown, such that it might almost be mistaken for high-test Hershey’s Syrup or discarded motor oil? Will the food preparers at Hipster Hangout comply when I describe the desired consistency of my malt, which is as follows: Liquid. I don’t want to have to use my straw as a spear.

At DQ, the personnel don’t argue, they don’t charge extra, and they don’t seek revenge by spitting into the Product. You know this is so because the personnel never leave your sight until the malt is in your hands, which is an ephemeral event, to say the least, since it’s never been verified that the malt and my hands make actual contact.

Mindful eating

In Mindfulness Training, students spend forty-five minutes contemplating, discussing, and eventually ingesting three raisins. I can be mindful about raisins, and about most of the immunity-enhancing vegetables. I’m so mindful about beets it takes at least forty-five minutes for the image of a beet to work its way through my nervous system to my mental viewing screen. It’s like watching an overloaded computer displaying graphics one pixel at a time.

However long it takes to wrap my mind around beetness, the outcome never changes: I run screaming from the room. I’m constitutionally incapable of sharing breathing space with any representative of the donkey-dung family, I don’t care if it cures cancer or if nuclear weapons bounce off its electromagnetic field, which only proves what I’ve long suspected: Even atomic particles possess good food sense. Why don’t we turn all the beets over to the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense? I, for one, would sleep easier in my bed.

With the ice-cream family it’s an entirely different story. There’s no “mind” to be “ful.” The mind has left the building. The only occupants of the planet, during a genuine ice-cream encounter, are the milk-sugar-chocolate concoction and my digestive tract, which, in some kind of quantum arrangement, instantaneously unite without moving through time or space. It does no good for my mind to warn, once again, of the pain and suffering to come. My mind is seven blocks away, wandering among the Hohokam Irrigation System exhibits in the Arizona Historical Society Museum and counting the minutes until full consciousness might be safely attempted.

And DQ isn’t even ice cream. It’s semifrozen cow-stomach lining whipped into submission and rewarded with sugar for its compliance. The Artificial Flavors are derived from cave detritus and scavenged from packrat middens. DQ’s unique flavor secret is an additive scraped off of the petrified excrement of prehistoric bats.

According to the booklet DQ Nutrition Facts, however, Dairy Queen “soft serve” is “a delicious reduced fat ice cream” containing “Milkfat and Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Whey, Mono and Diglycerides, Artificial Flavor, Guar Gum, Polysorbate 80, Carrageenan and Vitamin A Palmitate.”

(“Polysorbate 80” is artificial-food-product–speak for “the stuff that rattlesnakes use to paralyze their prey.”)

In my book, Dairy Queen has earned a lifetime exemption from reproach for all but the most heinous practices. After my lifetime, I don’t care what they do. Currently, if DQ discriminates in hiring practices or does business with child-labor-exploiting, toxic-waste-spewing, malaria-proliferating third-world factories built entirely from carcinogenic materials—if these factories specify on purchase orders, “All substances used in the construction, maintenance, repair, and operation of this factory must ooze brain-eating mucus”—I would probably have to limit my DQ outings to two a month, so just don’t tell me.

No, all right, criminy already. I’d put DQ on my “do not ever go there” list, but I wouldn’t be very happy about it and I’d want to know if there was Communist involvement. See? This is why I prefer all things small and tidy. At the mom-and-pop diner, recipes and employment practices aren’t protected like nuclear secrets. You don’t have to be an investigative journalist or CIA operative or John Grisham to get the inside story of what’s really behind the unlikely success of Linda’s Lavender Emporium & Massage. You just ask Linda. You say, “Yo, Linda, what’s in this tea?” and if she says, “Peppermint, filtered water, and methamphetamine,” you can be sure all the ingredients are locally sourced and inspected hourly by Linda herself. If there are rodents on Linda’s premises, they’re bilingual local rodents who probably know where you live.

Linda, oddly enough, takes most of her meals at Dairy Queen. Is there a better recommendation than that?


[1]      The word motel appeared in 1925. Related terms are motor inn, motor court, motor lodge, tourist lodge, cottage court, auto camp, tourist home, tourist cabins, auto cabins, cabin camp, cabin court, and auto court. –Wikipedia, “Motel”

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