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By Ron Scopelliti
The more you put things together…
Burritos. I get edgy if there aren’t at least two Tina’s frozen burritos in my freezer. For a single guy with a chaotic lifestyle, there’s a particular sense of comfort in knowing that when I have to eat in a hurry, there’s a no-leftovers meal in the freezer that I can cook in one minute and 27 seconds. Sometimes, when I’m in less of a hurry, I’ll even let the microwave run for a full minute-and-a-half.
I mention it because I was looking up recipes for real homemade burritos, and I stumbled onto a bunch of recipes for “deconstructed burritos.” Apparently there’s a whole “deconstructed food” movement, where traditional dishes are served in sort of unstructured formats. Deconstructed lasagna, for instance, seems to be just pasta with cheese, sauce, and meat dumped on top of it.
This “deconstructed food” business annoys me for several reasons, not the least of which is my impression that this is just a pathetic effort by pretentious foodies to pass off laziness as a culinary trend. If you don’t want to take the time to make a real lasagna, you should just own up to it, the way I do every time I pop a Stouffers or a Lean Cuisine in the microwave.
But my main annoyance is that these dishes aren’t really deconstructed, because they were never constructed in the first place. I think if you’re going to label a dish as deconstructed, you should actually make it as it was intended to be, then take it apart. Or better yet, you serve it to the diners whole, but give them instructions on how to deconstruct it themselves before they eat it.
The second option makes sense to me, because there’s a certain sick satisfaction in taking something apart. How many of us got in trouble as kids for taking apart some household item that we couldn’t possibly hope to put back together? And, despite whatever punishment we encountered, how many of us couldn’t resist doing it again?
I think the joy of deconstruction is also a factor in the popularity of “unboxing videos” on the Internet. For those of you who have better things to do than watch YouTube, a typical unboxing video involves somebody opening up their new iPhone or tablet, and giving you a play-by-play commentary of each phase of the operation, offering deep insights like: “Oh look – these are the wireless ear buds! They’re shinier than I expected them to be!”
Though the primary focus of the videos is the subject’s reaction to seeing what’s inside the box, there seems to be a subtext of satisfaction in deconstructing the packaging – undoing the system that required so much effort to create: cutting the tape; unfolding the flaps; removing the tie-wraps. Returning all that order to a state of disorder – a random act of entropy.
The concept of entropy, the tendency of an ordered system to fall into disorder, is something that rebels against our need to put things together. Humans are control freaks. We want to plan and organize and create. We want to be in command of our lives and our environments. So, when we acknowledge that everything we put together is destined to fall apart, we want to exercise some control over the way things fall apart. We want to be agents of entropy. Don’t we all marvel every time we see a team of demolitions expert take town a stadium or skyscraper with a controlled implosion? I know I do.
Even before my deconstructed food discovery, deconstruction was at the front of my mind because of the DOT plan to demolish the Crook Point drawbridge before it falls into the Seekonk River, rather than maintaining it in its permanently-up position. Maybe if it is torn down, we can save the pieces and start a museum of deconstructed bridges. Or we could start a chain restaurant that serves only deconstructed food, and displays the bridge pieces the way Applebee’s displays old string-less guitars and warped, de-laminating tennis rackets.
As we deal more and more with our crumbling infrastructure, maybe I should take a more active role in the whole deconstruction movement. The perfect place to start would be to indulge in my own celebration of entropy on YouTube, and shoot an unboxing video of me tearing open a carton of Tina’s Burritos and deconstructing them in my preferred manner – one bite at a time.