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The other side of Kentucky

I recently waxed rhapsodic about Kentucky, and to be sure there are many recommendable things about the state. I had previously mentioned visiting the bourbon distilleries out in Bluegrass country, many of which are charming beyond belief. That entire region is quite beautiful in general.

I said that Kentucky is a diamond in the rough, and the metaphor is apt. Places like Glendale, Doe Run Inn and the knobs are typically surrounded by areas of considerably less charm, like diamonds nestled in lumps of coal. I treasure these gems when I experience them, but have to turn off my inner snob the rest of the time.

Case in point: Highway 31W, which connects Bowling Green to Louisville by way of Fort Knox. In the stretch we take from the Gene Snyder Parkway to the road that connects to the community where DPaul’s parents live, you pass three strip clubs called Thorobred Lounge. Equating women and horses. Nice. Not sure how many there are in the greater Louisville area, but you pass numbers 3, 4 and 6 in that relatively short stretch of road. They are of course near to Fort Knox, as well as a concrete plant and, in the case of #6, an elementary school. Asided from Thorobreds, there’s a jumble of adult book stores, fast food joints, what have you. Urban planning is yet to be discovered or at least enforced in this part of the world.

On the interstate down to Kentucky you pass an adult "superstore" — and a billboard opposite the freeway that shouts in huge letters, HELL IS REAL. All this amidst what would otherwise be lovely, idyllic rolling hills.

Fast food. Oy. It’s nearly unavoidable. By the time you reach
Elizabethtown, 31W becomes thick with the places. Every outlet is
represented. We try our hardest to avoid them, but inevitably end up at
at least one during each trip. This time it was Chick-fil-A.
I got the char-grilled chicken sandwich, which sounded pretty
innocuous. I admit I’m mildly fascinated with fast food, though I don’t
like to eat it. From the first bite, I began to analyze the sandwich.
Though my chicken patty looked for all the world to be a normal,
irregularly-shaped piece of white meat, you just know that it is
identical in shape, size and texture to every other piece of chicken
"meat" that comes off the line. The texture was firm and spongy, with a
slight resistance when you first bite in, but then gives with an
evenness that is disconcertingly unreal. How do they achieve this?
Looking at the nutritional information
on the site, the first ingredient is "100% natural whole breast meat
filet", followed by water, a double-dose of "seasoning" (of various
ingredients), butter-flavored vegetable oil (yum?), rice starch and
potassium phosphate. So I guess the breasts are heavily brined to create that texture (and that would be supported by the extreme saltiness of the meat), and perhaps injected with the oil, starch and potassium phosphate. I’ll have to try that at home!

I said to DPaul on one trip that people in the area don’t know what good food is, because they’ve never had it. In many places, any and all indigenous food has been utterly obliterated, crushed under the wheels of progress of fast food.

The amount of salt and fat and mystery chemicals that are casually and
mindlessly consumed is alarming. But this is not exclusive to or even
unusually prevalent in Kentucky. This is how America eats. While
individuals in the food blogosphere strive to find fresh produce and
ingredients derived from within a 100-mile radius,
hundreds of millions of Americans consume processed foods, the
components of which are of utterly unknown provenance, having undergone
sometimes unspeakable transformations along the way, and finally fried,
salted and smothered in sauce.

It makes me glad to be here, in the Bay Area, where good, fresh produce is plentiful year-round; where you can get really know the source of meats and seafood you buy; where people think about what they eat. Think I’ll get me some salad now.

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