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Cafeteria Classics 101

A lost Socratic dialogue on gastronomicus economicus—er, how to eat on the cheap

by B.A. Nilsson on September 7, 2012

Welcome back to class. As you know, the two volumes of Alcibiades ascribed to Plato are assumed to be spurious, and we’re not about to fight that opinion here except to note that the even lesser-known third volume makes the first two look like works of genius. Authentic or not, the following excerpt compellingly examines a problem faced by all back-to-college students, unless you’re sitting in a cave somewhere staring at firelit shadows.

 

The third Alcibiades, probably written by Some Manner of PR Flack to Plato

Translated by John Burnet (although some terms obviously resisted translation)

Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates, Alcibiades and the Delivery Guy

 

Socrates: Now that you are newly returned to Academe, Alcibiades, will you offer a prayer to Zeus?

Alcibiades: I shall pray to Zeus to grant me something other than the tiresome sameness of what must be reckoned as drab cafeteria food, no matter that it be dressed with fancier monikers and sluiced with snappier sauces than was characteristic of my high-school grub.

Socrates: Ah, poor soul! To lack satisfactory corporeal nourishment is to starve the mind as well. You do speak as if your brain cries out for a pork chop or something.

Alcibiades: Why, friend Socrates, I have achieved my majority, reached man’s estate, and I may state with confidence that I find myself at what surely must be the peak of my aesthetic sensibilities. Yet I am wearied by the prospect of another nine months of munching this shit.

Socrates: Despair not, my long-suffering friend! We stand at the edge of a frontier of culinary adventure. Have you not tasted the compote of chopped fowl flavored with onion and tomato and the powder of ground comino seed, wrapped in a wheat-flour sheath and a-drip with melted cheese?

Alcibiades: I have consumed more βουρδών than I care to recall, as well as its ungainly cousin that stains one’s tunic as its filling falls from the stiff cornmeal shell.

Socrates: Attacco, I believe it’s termed, for the rapidity with which it attacks the unwary alimentary passages. But have you not sampled the toothsome architecture of ground bovine muscle, char-grilled and presented within a small, airy bread-loaf, often slathered with piquant tomato κέτσαπ?

Alcibiades: Socrates, Socrates, I am weary of it all. Spare me the potato slices tortured in boiling oil, the wing-tips of the hen-fowl coated with the juice of a murderous pepper, the tubular mystery meat striped in putrescent yellow mustard and laid to rest in a coffin of pillowy bread.

Socrates: Why Alcibiades—

Alcibiades: Furthermore, my good philosopher, I have consumed a sufficiency of meat sliced thin or meat chopped into mayo-dressed chunks or garden veggies or whatever the house of Hades it may be sandwiched into an endless procession of bread, bread, bread, be it nut-studded loaf or slimy green wrap or a slice of air-pocketed nothingness—

Socrates: Nothingness! Why, you cunningly anticipate a dour Gaul—

Alcibiades: —and I have staggered up too many mountains of boiled macaroni in whatever shape and size, topped with fire-toned sauces and snowcapped with cheese; I no longer wish to torment my jawbone with anything “pulled,” “smoked” or otherwise styled so as to rudely increase its price. I have chopped my way through too many salads, burned my tongue on too many fried mozzarella sticks, and if I see one more fucking packet that purports to be microwave-ready, I promise to tar its maker with the hot, noxious effluvium that issues therefrom.

Socrates: May I ask why you are so angry?

Alcibiades: I’m hungry!

Socrates: And the solution to your dilemma?

Alcibiades: A food-portion both delicious and exciting!

Socrates: Ah, my unhappy starveling. You have come, as it’s said, to the right place. Verily, I asked you here to share a wonderful gustatory invention that comes to us from Campania, and which well may return a restorative luster to your cheek even as it threatens to drip cheese on your thigh.

(Enter a well-oiled Delivery Guy bearing a large flat box sporting the legend You’ve Tried the Rest Now Try the Best.)

Delivery Guy: You Socrates?

Socrates: I am, sir.

Delivery Guy: Twelve drachma.

Socrates: Here you are. Keep the change.

Delivery Guy: Aren’t you the big spender! (Exits.)

Alcibiades: The aroma from this confection has engorged my senses!

Socrates: Sure it was just the aroma? Seriously, though, this is such a pie as would make Phthonus envy us, not that that’s hard to do. See how the hot topping of rich tomato bubbles through its own topping of lusty cheese?

Alcibiades: I see halfmoons of onion, the green grin of pepper slices—but what are those variegated discs of greasy goodness?

Socrates: A new creation from chef Pepperonius, and soon to be named in his honor.

Alcibiades (tasting a slice): Why, this is creative, delicious, convenient and, let’s face it, fairly economical. Would I be amiss in describing it as ideal, as a rare example of perfection?

Socrates: Not at all. It came from just down the street, a place called “Plato’s Oven.” And, let’s face it, he should know.