What America Tastes Like

Survival of the Tastiest

In the shifting economic and cultural environments of America, certain mutated organisms found a niche and flourished. Just as the butterflies we see today are ornate and beautiful for a reason, Moody’s Diner out in the boonies of Maine is beautiful too.

In 1927, a pioneering family in Waldeboro heard that US Route 1 was going to bring sleepy human beings and their wallet-resources to the area. They adapted by building cabins. In a symbiotic relationship with these American consumer-organisms, the Moody family gathered resources for their own food and shelter.

It turned out that human beings on their way to the coast got hungry, too. Moody’s survived and became fit. Like an extra leg or opposable thumb, a diner sprouted forth alongside the cabins. The Moody-clan thrives today based on these Whoopie Pies and greasy-spoon adaptations, 90 years later.

Today they have evolved into a charming diner serving food that meets the high-end of your expectations after reading their sign: “When I get hungry I get Moody!”

Bizarrely, I had the best fried scallops I’ve ever eaten here. That’s strange for two reasons:

1) scallops aren’t local

2) you shouldn’t fry scallops. I wouldn’t even have thought it was possible to fry scallops without ruining them. Somehow, these were flawlessly – absolutely perfectly tender, yet had a crisp breading.

Maine clams are “sweet,” and lacking the mineral depth of other clams. Lots of them fit in your tummy. You will find many of them piled on your plate.

The haddock is meaty as opposed to being flaky, and complemented a diner-y seafood trifecta by adding this variety in texture. This is, of course, the kind of seafood that pairs not with white wine but instead tartar sauce.

Congruence adds a lot to an eating experience. Moody’s neon sign, friendly booths, homey yet brisk service, and abundant well-prepared food made with zero pretense all sing together in harmony. It’s the song you want to hear when you’re on a road-trip to the Maine coast.

1885 Atlantic Hwy
Waldoboro, Maine

“What America Tastes Like” is an exploration of sub-cultures in the US by way of food. Eating is something all people do, and it also happens to be one of the few expressions of “difference and diversity” in culture that just about all people are ready to celebrate. Regardless of our politics and religion and ontologies, we all like to eat food with our mouths.

Food makes family happen.


What America Tastes Like

Hunting Chili Fries

If there was a bounty placed on the head of “The Perfect Chili Cheese Fries,” my leather vest and black sunglasses would let you know I was serious in my pursuit of them.

I have stalked my prey across the country, tracking their every move state-to-state. Rolling along, ghosting them and keeping a lookout, my eyes narrowed at the too-perfect sheen of plasticky cheese. “Texturized soy protein” in the chili made even my imaginary tattoos angry. A few times these perfect chili fries almost slipped the hook, but finally I zoned them in an artsy neighborhood of New Orleans.

Burnt Ends Chili Cheese Fries – are face-stompingly good with steaky bits smoked right back there, complementing a rich satisfying cheese goo and crisp fries. These have DEPTH. I wrestled them into the back of my stomach-van and made my acquisition. They’re the best.

Coming here on a Sunday when they roasted a whole pig was super cool, too.

They have really good house-made barbecue sauce.

Did I mention that along with the pig roast, you get to choose your own serving size of Pimento Cheese Mac and Cheese?!?!

Guess what I chose.

1510 S Carrollton Ave
New Orleans, Louisiana

“What America Tastes Like” is an exploration of sub-cultures in the US by way of food. Eating is something all people do, and it also happens to be one of the few expressions of “difference and diversity” in culture that just about all people are ready to celebrate. Regardless of our politics and religion and ontologies, we all like to eat food with our mouths.

Food makes family happen.


What America Tastes Like

Donuts of Good and Evil

Something about a “Holy Donut” in Portland, Maine had me intrigued. All the way up here in the corner of the country is a Holy Donut sitting on America’s right shoulder. All the way across the country there’s a Voodoo Donut sitting on America’s left shoulder.

Left and right. Portland Oregon and Portland Maine, like the little Devil and Angel whispering into the ear of a cartoon pig making a decision.

The Voodoo Donut is all bright-colored flash, artificial neon color and novelty flavors showcased by shockingly immoral sizzle – “Good things come in pink boxes!”

The Holy Donut is a simple thing and wholesome.

The raspberry Holy Donut tastes like the last thing you expect in a donut – actual berries. Somebody smushed up raspberries and ran them through a sieve. Lemon tastes not like Lemonhead candies… but like lemons.

The “potato donut” is a rare beast outside these parts. I must say I gained quite an appreciation for them. They don’t stay fresh as long as “normal” doughnuts. These will be bricks before you finish a re-watch of “The Dark Knight Rises” – but when straight outta the shop they are a highly unque and satisfying donut experience. Incredibly dense yet with a moist, saturated simple delicousness that no other donut achieves.

There is a goodness of real ingredients to these that bathes the heart in purity and virtue without diminishing the joy of eating fried dough.

“What America Tastes Like” is an exploration of sub-cultures in the US by way of food. Eating is something all people do, and it also happens to be one of the few expressions of “difference and diversity” in culture that just about all people are ready to celebrate. Regardless of our politics and religion and ontologies, we all like to eat food with our mouths.

Food makes family happen.


What America Tastes Like

No Selling Cat in New Orleans

Elizabeth’s sits on a corner by the Mississippi river. It is a damn charming piece of New Orleans bywater culture.

Is it the little painted tiles in the bathroom with art on them? One of the little tile-vignettes is a sign that says: “No selling cat.” That’s a sign you’ll see all over the city (along with “Be nice or leave.”)

Despite being born in Indianapolis, I’m not usually an ignorant hick. Since just about every house in the bywater had a cat slinking around the front door I saw these “No selling cat” signs and thought:

“Huh, what do you know? People enjoy pets so much here that sidewalk cat-peddling has become a common nuisance for business owners.”

Okay, that was naive. In this case, yes, I was Woody Harrelson on Cheers. It turns out that the “No selling cat” means “Do not prostitute here.”

But it ain’t the tiles in the bathroom that make this place charming.

It is the food.

Look around in the morning and every single plate coming out of the kitchen is some sort of piled-high masterpiece of pastry and whipped cream or local delight. The effect of “Oh, I want THAT” coming from all directions at once is dizzying.

We felt like we found one of the gems of the city, here.

Perhaps adding to the overall experience was an unexpected loss. Our first time here, I got one of the best po boys I had in the city.

It had a hot and sweet house-made BBQ sauce that conjured magic from those fried shrimp. It was never to be seen again. After that bright shining day, the po boy never returned to the menu. Possibly making this the only “po boy-free” menu for miles around.

But everything we tried was either very good or great. House-made sauces, desserts, everything.

Grit Fries – an awesome invention. Perfect little crispy creamy geometric forms. You want to make a grit-fort but you eat each one you pick up to stack.

Biscuits and Gravy – are great compared to other areas of the country, with fluffy biscuits and real-cream tasting gravy. But you get the sense the pancakes and waffles are their breakfast wheelhouse.

Fried Chicken – ask for the house chicken-finger dipping sauce alongside this, because it doesn’t come with the sauce unless you ask. I tried this just after my “Willie Mae’s Scotch House” experience. I was still reeling from that, but this stuff is better than any fried chicken you’ll get outside the South.

Praline Bacon – yes, it is praline bacon. Although not crunchy, it is ambrosial, increasingly so with each candied strip. Try sharing a plate with someone and find out just how strong that relationship really is.

601 Gallier St
New Orleans, Louisiana

“What America Tastes Like” is an exploration of sub-cultures in the US by way of food. Eating is something all people do, and it also happens to be one of the few expressions of “difference and diversity” in culture that just about all people are ready to celebrate. Regardless of our politics and religion and ontologies, we all like to eat food with our mouths.

Food makes family happen.


Compassionate Theory of Everything

Every Soul Thirsts for Relationship

“The word ‘soul’ refers to the central order, to the inner core of a being whose outer manifestations may be highly diverse and pass our understanding.” – Werner Heisenberg

Everyone has a soul, a core pattern that exists below or beyond our ability to comprehend it, whether our minds allow us to be consciously aware of its presence or not.

This inner core we can call ‘soul’ relates with the totality of existence we can call ‘reality’ or ‘God.’

The mind, which gets stuck in the middle, seeks an understanding of this relationship. For this reason, we need a spiritual practice like we need water.

We see an incredible variety of ways for people’s minds to commune with their souls and get the interaction they need to thrive, just as there are so many ways people get the water their bodies need to survive.

Some are direct and overt, because people have become consciously aware of their needs. They buy square bottles from exotic springs. “My water is the purest.” Some folks believe they’ve found the one true belief.

Others claim: “I never drink water,” and don’t notice they get it while seeking out the sweetness of soda pop. Many sit in megachurches that smell like the perfume counter at the mall. Some of these people experience a relationship between their inner core and the furthest reaches of existence.

Ideas about a relationship between soul and universe, are not the same thing as an experience of this relationship.

Every soul thirsts for this water and so every mind reaches for a cup. We often grasp the cup offered by the nearest culture. There are a few thousand religions offering ideas about relationship, including an atheistic one believing in a higher power of randomness.

We search to fill our cup with meaning in an endless variety of ways, but all of us thirst for the same relationship with reality.

Compassionate Theory of Everything

Compassionate Theory – Spirituality

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

“Spirituality” as a term has a broad spectrum of applications. It can be applied either for the purpose of rejecting rational inquiry or broadening and deepening it.

Its lexicon can be associated with woo-woo platitudes, or processes that help the conscious mind “step out of the way” and open us up to larger experiences of being alive.

The terms we use to describe “spirituality” are necessarily amorphous, because we’re discussing phenomena that might be seen as non-physical, or as electrochemical interactions in the dark space between our ears. But either way, nobody has seen an “ego.” We just have a sense of what it is.

How, specifically, can spirituality widen our circles of compassion?

The “ego” or conscious mind sets boundaries on a sense of self based in our ideas of identity and our beliefs about what is “good” within us.

In moments of meditation or presence – these boundaries are transcended.

“We,” the parts of ourself that our “ego” perceives as “self,” are found to be a somewhat arbitrary boundary. We experience more than this.

The “ego” may then expand.

Through this process, over time, the “ego” eventually learns to find a self-ness within a larger boundary. While the “ego” and the inherent limitations of conscious awareness persist, they are no longer as tightly bound by the older, smaller set of conceptualizations.

We gain the experience of a “self” that exists beyond our conceptualizations. The experience cannot be denied, and returns during moments of “presence” or various practices of meditation.

When the conscious mind remembers these experiences that do not “fit” its conceptualizations, this allows the “ego” to become more flexible – and perhaps learn not to take itself so seriously.

Our ideas about the universe are no longer mistaken for the universe. We’ve experienced our conceptualizations, however grand, to be inadequate. They cannot even contain the whole “self,” let alone the totality of what truly exists.

So the ideas held by our “ego” about what is self-like are expanded, because we have experienced self beyond ideas. While these ideas continue to show up again and again, they are recognized for the arbitrary boundary they were to begin with.

More varied forms of self-ness can then be recognized in other people. The circle widens. It can be expanded to include all humanity. Or all living beings. Or grown further to include all things.

We continue to ask these questions:

“What is best for my loved ones?” Whatever belief system the experiences of our life happen to support will continue to show up in our minds. We may eventually learn to consider these beliefs “one illusion” or even playfully nickname their occurrence “the game of being me.” We no longer confuse the mind’s conscious activity for “The One and Only True Reality.”

“Who are my loved ones?” This becomes a larger and more flexible conception of “self.” It is clear that “we” extend beyond the reach of our fingertips, and beyond the reach of our ideas. Our “loved ones” are expanded beyond the “ego” and those related by blood or belief.

Our loved ones can be expanded to include the whole of nature in its beauty.

Compassionate Theory of Everything

Compassionate Theory – For “Sapiens” Fans

“The truly unique trait of ‘Sapiens’ is our ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. We use our communication system to create new realities.” – Yuval Noah Harari

If you look at a NASA photograph of the earth taken from space, you’ll notice it doesn’t have a bunch of rectangles and lines all over it.

We, as human beings, draw the boundaries of our nations using our minds.

Nations are not something that “exists” in the physical world. Yet at the same time, when enough people get together and say that a nation exists, those people will help each other grow food and trade resources together. A “fiction” such as a “nation” existing in enough imaginations is a great thing that helps us survive.

Unfortunately, people who imagine this fiction together – may also work together to kill anyone on the other side of the imaginary line.

In the same way and with the same wonderful and terrible consequences, all sorts of things that people imagine become real.

Pick an “ism” and somebody out there believes it is the one and only thing that exists – or should exist. Capital-ism, Scientific material-ism, national-ism, and even the zeroes and ones in a computer we call “money” all “exist” in the human-created environment of belief systems. Get an earthful of people together who imagine “money” exists and you get worldwide commercial-ism.

All of these “isms” bring gifts and disadvantages when people apply their principles. Capitalism probably brings overall growth (Yay!) but only helps a tiny sliver of people (Boo!) In a reality outside the human imagination, an “ism” cannot be “good” or “bad” but only produce a complex set of results. It’s up to human beings to determine which tradeoffs we’d prefer.

Yuval Noah Harari suggests that our capacity to create “fictions” is the reason we find ourselves at the top of the food chain. We’re a co-operative species like no other. Wolf packs grow up to a few dozen wolves, mostly bonded by blood ties. Humans grow packs in the millions because we can copy and paste ideas of “capitalism” or “nationalism” into our brains and bond through ideology.

Let’s say we run with his ideas as to the nature and origin of homo sapiens cultures and civilization.

If we then consider that:

1) Human beings are born with the capacity to see people as part of an “in-group” or “out-group.”

2) Empathy and compassion occur naturally for those we PERCEIVE as part of our in-group. And…

3) The in-group is formed through a perception of “who is similar to us,” and who we conceptualize as having physical or mental traits in common (including our fictions, ideologies and -isms)

It follows that all human subcultures can also feel empathy and compassion for one another by discovering similarities in our abilities.

Perhaps all we need to see is that we all have a CAPACITY in common. When we make other people wrong and stupid because of what they believe, we are forgetting that those beliefs are created by the same process we used to create our own. But other people have had other experiences by which they confirmed their “fictions.”

Everyone forms their own “Theory of Everything.” Every brain makes a belief system inside a truth inside a model of reality.

When we recognize that all of us are questioning “Who are my loved ones?” and coming up with answers that include “people who believe in my favorite -ism,” and all of us are questioning “What is best for my loved ones” and applying one fiction or another – we see that beneath all the contradictions of cultures – everyone wants the best for the people we care about.

This is a beautiful thing for all humanity to have in common.