Friday, 8 October 2010

Free Range Radicals

 article and illustrations by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
Not so many years after Grade Eight Home Ec. class (or as I liked to call it, Skoolers, ‘Home Yech’ class) everything I learned about nutrition and a balanced diet went down the drain. Cooking was never on the front burner at my home-- that’s what drive-ins were for.  My dad schooled me in the efficacy of fast food outlets and we weren’t afraid to use them. We simply rotated the three major food groups: pizza, burgers and fried chicken-- all readily available for pick up.

I transferred these good eating habits into my very young adulthood. However, once out of the family home the frequency with which I patronized fine and fast eating establishments depended on the cash flow. The alternative to this method of sustenance was, of course, reliance on what may have been lingering in the kitchen. The nutritional and economic state of the average punk household was reflected in the contents of its fridge. Upon inspection one might find a crusty bottle of ketchup, a shriveled potato well past retirement and an ancient box of baking soda orphaned by the previous tenants.

This icebox inventory illustrates the factors that produce the punk rock pallor in all its empty nutrient splendor. As a result it was rare to see a rosy-cheeked punk and even harder to find a healthy glow. Sickly pale was the skin color du jour. We would never have darkened the doorway of a tanning salon; if we wanted more pigment in our skin, we opted for jaundice. We reflected the environment we lived in: up all night, sleep all day-- there was no sun-kissed look.

The emaciated and pasty Stiv Bators, antithesis of a Chippendale dancer, was a classic example of the punk prototype. Breakfast for Stiv consisted of a big bowl of steaming hot snarl-- most likely diet snarl. That guy was really skinny. If he were alive today he would probably market “Sonic Reducer” as a secret carb-burning supplement. I’d buy it.
Some of the classic punk rock food staples back in the day were basic items such as toast or beer or, if one was feeling rather flush, toast and beer-- good for any of the three squares. Then there is the legendary Kraft dinner. Only the imagination can limit the multitude of ways to bastardize this dish. I’m just glad tofu hadn’t been invented back then-- I would have hated for any nutritional value to have compromised my standards. Cereals were very popular in my kitchen, given the fact that I hosted breakfast for a boyfriend with the maturity level of a seven-year-old. Naturally, the cereal selections were based on sugar content and the prize inside. Words of wisdom, Skoolers: if you want to get rid of your punk rock boyfriend, stop feeding him Captain Crunch and he will go away. Guaranteed.

For me, Vancouver's legendary Railway Club served as an all-you-can-eat buffet, the bars garnish caddy being the buffet. With such delicacies as lemon and lime wedges, (no scurvy!), maraschino cherries, pearl onions and celery stalks (fruit and veg!) mealtime meant never having to settle for just a bag of chips. A lot of punks really didn’t eat much. If it was a choice between a half-sack of Extra Old Stock brew or food, then snacking on beer labels seemed to suffice. Simply tear and chew. Between the protein in the glue and the fiber content in the paper you are looking at an adequate amount of roughage with the beer rounding out the recommended daily nutrient intake, not to mention a dose of vitamin B6.

The ‘dine and dash’ was a fairly popular pastime and method of replenishment. But be sure not to overeat when undertaking this venture and go easy on the bread basket, as it can hinder the ‘dash’ part of the evening, leaving one rather vulnerable while attempting to exit. Greasy spoons were the typical eating establishments in punk culture and, in particular, Nemoto’s cafe just off Hastings Street was a breakfast favorite. My friend Sally and I would wile away the time waiting for the waiter to bring us our order by singing “You Can’t Hurry Jimmy” sung to the tune by the Supremes “You Can’t Hurry Love”. 

Another restaurant on the punk rock landscape was Mr. Mike’s. It was a low budget steak house franchise established in 1960. I was quite familiar with it, as it had been a family favorite. The only restaurant I remember patronizing as a kid where you could actually get a serrated steak knife! We went there when my parents were on their best behavior. I would amuse myself by studying that paper placemat with the fun and colorful illustrations of the various bar drinks. I learned their names, their contents and scrupulously mapped out what order I would one day try each of them...Harvey Wallbanger, Singapore Sling-- what funny names for cocktails. Come to think of it, ‘cocktail’ is a funny name for a drink. Tom Collins, Rob Roy, hmmm, it kind of makes Shirley Temple sound like a big baby’s drink. Hey, that Manhattan sounds cool... Those place mats were an invaluable education and helped me to appear quite drink savvy when I reached my teens. Never mind a diploma, I’ve got a framed comprehensive cocktail chart on parchment paper hanging in my den.
By the late 1970s, the Mr. Mike’s restaurants started to slowly disappear but there remained one on Granville Street where a large portion of punks managed to gain employment due to one hapless manager who thought putting people like Chuck Biscuits in charge of the salad bar was a good idea. A useless and long expired insider’s tip: if you must eat at that Mr. Mike’s location, stick with the baked potato with its insulated aluminum safety jacket. Unless, of course, you are craving a smorgasbord of human bodily fluids and feel the need to pay for them, then have at it.

Meanwhile, in terms of at-home gatherings, I don’t remember too many punks hosting dinner parties; most owned little more than a can opener for cooking equipment. That and a fork will get you on your way to Beefaroni bliss. Enjoyed hot or room temperature, it makes for a fine meal. Fruit and vegetables, which would have greatly aided in the appearance of health, were sorely missing from the punk diet. Did I miss the all-ages ‘Rock Against Produce’ concert? The only vegetable on that guest list was the potato. And so many punks subsisted on the spud that people starting speaking with Irish accents. 

Today it’s all about anti-oxidants and eradicating free radicals. I remember when being a free radical was hip; now they are the enemy. But really, back then we had bigger fish to fry, and when you’re young the last thing you are mulling over is if you are getting enough Omega 3-6-9. And screw protein. Muscles were for jocks. But over the years the palate matures and what was once a delectable indulgence, such as the sparkling strawberry Pop Tart, is now just a shell of its former self. That’s why I’ve switched to the irresistible raspberry flavored ones. I’ve come a long way in improving my healthy eating habits. I realize now that donuts aren’t just for breakfast anymore, pizza actually counts as not one but four food groups and chocolate milk tastes pretty good even without the vodka.


  1. Ha..!
    What a great read.
    Well done ;)

  2. So funny I remember that Nemoto's D&D era well - a great way to keep slim. ;D

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