Today I went to the mall for the second time in about six months, with the other time in preparation for flying abroad. I suppose I should note that after visiting the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, going to the mall is neither impressive nor oppressive, and the salesfolk were respectful if not timid by comparison, but the mall still made me feel dirty.

Growing up the nearest actual mall was forty minutes away. Going there or to any mall was a trip, usually borne of some necessity. Due to the distance the mall was not a usual hangout, although going to Burlington for me tended to be synonymous with going to the mall. As it stands now with my two-legged means of transportation and the mall sitting literally on the opposite side of town, the distance is nearly as great as it was growing up. I have lived in Columbia now for a year and a half and I have been inside the mall twice, which is coincidentally two ties too many in my current mindset.

Malls are simply depressing. Wrapped into one sprawling bundle is American culture. Crappy fast food set next to shops that tempt us to buy things we don’t actually need, and an air of sterility and plasticity. Yes, the best word I have been able to come up with that describes urban American culture as I currently see it is pasteurized. Basically when I was in Turkey (and various other places with markets) there is a sense that the place and practice is organic, while in the American (and, I might add, litigious) mindset, everything ought to come wrapped in plastic, gussied up with flashy signs that are as fake as the product.

The same goes for the food. I eat exceptionally quickly, which has been remarked upon on multiple occasions, however I also like good food. I do have weaknesses for Taco Bell and for fried cheese, but on the balance I will go out of my way to find good food, with good ingredients and, if possible, a good atmosphere where there is respect given for the food in the kitchen. Part of this is presentation. One complaint I have with some people in quick service restaurants is that they have no care for how they make or present the food, which, while sometimes encouraged by the customer, then creates a certain expectation for the customer. I firmly believe that the problems between society and food service are reciprocal and that one of the big issues is respect for food. I expect the food I eat and the food I serve to have a certain aesthetic appeal. Sure, a sandwich is never going to look the same as, say, a steak at a five star restaurant, but it ought to meet a certain minimum level.

Respect. People ought to respect their food, their taste buds and their bodies (again to some level, i.e. is that 44 oz soda really necessary?). One of my favorite spots in Columbia is the Uprise Bakery. I have heard a number of perfectly legitimate complaints about the shop, but they make their own breads and pastries and tend to use good ingredients. There is an earthiness to it that, at least to my mind, comes partly from organic approach to food (and I am not talking about whether or not they use organic ingredients).

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