I don’t want to eat protein

I suppose it was inevitable. People have been watching their ‘carbs’ for years, or ‘carbo loading’ before running a race. When I was a kid, only chemists knew what a carbohydrate was; now, everybody does.

But we have yet to see Italian restaurants boast of Seven Blends of Complex Carbohydrates in Vodka Sauce on their menus. They still—so far—proudly speak of ‘pasta.’

Still, specialized food lingo is part of popular culture. We have TV chefs running around chattering about ‘molecular gastronomy’ (which mostly consists of freezing things with liquid nitrogen) and ‘balancing proteins.’

This is natural enough. Every profession develops an argot to separate the hip from the outsiders. But since our culture is driven by the terminally hip, foodies from all over the place have rush to adopt the buzz word ‘protein.’

By ‘protein’, of course, they mean meat. Good, old fashioned meat—flesh cut or biological matter produced from some form of scaled, or feathered, or hair-covered beastie.

I don’t want to sit down to a sizzling plate of fried protein. I want a steak. The idea of a lightly battered piece of protein does nothing for me. I want to eat fish. And who wants to wake up to a fluffy pile of scrambled protein when they can have eggs?

This protein trend would have been harmless enough had it stayed in the kitchen or on the pages of the New York Times. But it has seeped out into the streets and is now among us.

I have here an ad for a Walnut Creek, California restaurant called The Counter (free parking in their own garage). What kind of meal can we expect from this fine establishment? “10 Cheeses. 28 Toppings. 18 Sauces. 03 Buns.” And—you already expected this—“04 Proteins.”

Not “4 Proteins”—Walnut Creek is an amalgam of Napa and Silicon Valleys—but “04 Proteins.” Whoever wrote that ad must have been a computer programmer-foodie who anticipated that more proteins might be added to the database in the future.

Near as I can figure, The Counter is a hamburger joint. The protein in the picture resembles a patty: it’s slipped between an arugula-like substance, what could be a tomato, and topped by a white, crispy substance which I cannot identify. (I don’t yet have my scanner with me, or I’d post a picture.)

I suppose it will be amino acids next (they’re already well known to the fitness nuts).


  1. DAV

    Hmmm… 4 proteins but 10 cheeses and 3 (sorry, 03) buns? I wonder how they counted the protein in the cheeses and buns. Presumably the buns are of the bread variety vs. animal afts.

  2. Speed

    “When I was a kid, only chemists knew what a carbohydrate was; now, everybody does.”

    “Everybody” knows only that carbohydrate is a word that must be preceded by “low in” or “zero.”

  3. 49erDweet

    You are definitely eating your 06 daily proteins in the wrong place. You need clueing in to a CA secret. Go to 1648 N Main St in the city you mentioned and ask for a double double animal style. You might try their fries, too. Most love ’em, but some don’t. Its a choice. When your food arrives sit back and enjoy the freshest and most delicious “protein” you’ll find for less than $5 anywhere. And then remember the name of the place when you travel, ’cause there are lots of ’em scattered around the state. Gotta take you newbies by the hand………

  4. Just N of the UCB campus there used to be (might still be) a small restaurant called “Giant Burger”. They served huge griddle-fried patties of indeterminant protein, with fried onions on fried buns.

    Oh but oh my, they were great. Never stopped my heart, even though my blood ran sluggish with grease after dining there.

    After eating rat parts etc in Taiwan, you should be fearless. Go try an authentic Giant Burger.

  5. dearieme

    “what could be a tomato”: when I first visited the USA I was struck by food that could have been tomato, but didn’t taste of tomato; and correspondingly for apple, strawberry, potato… and, come to that, coffee. But, mysteriously, grapes tasted of grape, OJ of orange, burger of meat and hot dog of mustard. No doubt it’s different now.

  6. JH

    An authentic Giant Burger on fried buns! It sounds really good.

    Nothing compares to fresh seafood though. I grew up in a town near an ocean; I remember that an ojisan would always come around on his bicycle cart selling fresh- caught fish every morning. I miss my mom’s simple pan-fried fish with julienned ginger and a touch of soy sauce and sugar.

    A study has shown that cardiovascular fitness is positively correlated with overall intelligence. So perhaps I should work on making myself smarter instead of worrying about what I eat. 🙂

  7. SteveBrooklineMA

    I have been at restaurants where the waiter/waitress has asked “what would like for your starch.” I don’t want startch tonight (Niagara spray? Argo?). I would like a nice baked potato though, thanks.

  8. Doug M

    My current favorite word from the foodies is “Macronutrients.” Mmmm macronutrients.

  9. john

    Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but my guess is they didn’t have 4 different kinds of ground beef to choose from. Off hand I feel pretty safe in assuming they had a boca and either a black bean or vegetable patty option… hence ‘protein’ rather than 4 meat options.

    There is an enchilada place near me which had 6 protein options, listed that way on the menu.
    choose 1 type of tortilla, 1 style of veggies, 1 type of sauce and 1 type of protein; ground beef, steak, pork roast, chicken, tofu or garbanzo beans.

    It would be pretty stupid of them to claim the mighty chickpea is meat.

  10. JJD

    This is a tiny bit off topic, but since the discussion is about food terminology perhaps you will enjoy it. It is a Russian joke.

    Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedyev go to a fancy Moscow restaurant for lunch. The waiter comes over to take their order. After a moment’s consideration of the menu, Putin says “I’ll have the steak.”

    The waiter asks “And the vegetable?”

    “The vegetable will also have the steak.”

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