Why is it that every time I walk into a food court, almost always exclusively in a mall, I get this sense of dread. A dread that slowly turns to death. The death to foods, which ironically should be found in a food court, where battles are won by how tragically low we Americans have come to the state of a meal.

Now, the rest of the world is no stranger to the concept of food courts. You can find them in Asia and Europe. But there’s something amiss in the food courts that we so desperately hold on to as “food” that we miss the point of a food court. A food court should be a place where one can find good food. The first and foremost thing about the food court is, imagine that, the food! But we have perversed the notion of a food court to a cheap experience where food is not central, but by how fast and how cheap the food can be that has become the standard by which we contemplate our taste for anything resembling food.

The picture I took above is from Harrod’s Food Hall in London. Now, Harrods is the world’s biggest department store. It is both magnificent as it is intimidating. And for thousands of shoppers at any given time, you have to keep them happy, if not by the selection of your merchandise, then by keeping them in your store for as long as possible by offering them food. But this Food Hall is so very different than ours here in the States. There are different areas, one that serves seafood, one that serves grill foods, one that serves pizza, etc. You might say, “Well, that’s not that different than what we have here.” If you looked at the surface, you would be right. But sit down at the seafood counter and you are greeted by items such as crab and rock shrimp dumplings, seafood bouillabaisse, pan roasted halibut with seasonal vegetables and the like. Here in the States, you will find “Pretzel Wetzel” and “Hot Dog on a Stick”. Let’s not even start with the taste of the foods. We ordered the seafood bouillabaisse and it tasted like it came from a really good seafood restaurant with a bill to fit. Amazing bouillabaisse period, regardless of where it’s being served.

Now, to be fair to the cheap American substitutes we find here, the Harrod’s Food Hall is not cheap. But you can’t put lipstick on a pig and bring her to the prom. The bouillabaisse is damn good. Harrod’s could not stiff you with a £14 bouillabaisse if it were crap. You would cry bloody murder and let’s face it, the Food Hall would be empty. But look at the picture! It was taken at 4PM on a WEEKDAY. It is humming with people – people from all over the world. We sat next to a family from Italy. On the other side, a family from Russia.

That’s where the “let’s be fair” ends. Because we seem to love Auntie Anne’s more than bouillabaisse. We seem to love hot dogs on a stick served by teenagers with weird Halloween costume than eat crab and rock shrimp dumplings. Why? I think it’s because our values are different. Clearly different. We value fast, quick, cheap, so we can get to the other fast, cheap, bargain at the Gap. We don’t want to sit down and enjoy a meal at the mall, we want to shop dammit! And nothing will get in our way of totally destroying our credit line, not the least some good food! Just give us the crap you wouldn’t even serve your kids. We’ll eat it!

It’s sad really. I like Auntie Anne’s and I don’t even know who she is. Or if she’s even a woman in real life. But I just cannot be OK with the type of food we are setting a standard in our lives. It’s not OK to shove a sBarros thick crust pizza that’s nothing but frozen dough and crappy cheese so we can keep shopping. As guilty as the next person, I need to stop and enjoy a meal, no matter where I’m at. It doesn’t have to be bouillabaisse and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. But it needs to be good and fresh ingredients. My existence depends on it.

 

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