Posted by jdg | Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We have a couple artist friends staying at our house on their way from Brooklyn to California. They are taking back roads the whole way, driving a butter-colored 1982 Mercedes 300D turbo diesel sedan that runs on used vegetable oil. They have become intimately familiar with the deep fryers and back alleys behind kitchens all across the Keystone State and Ohio, having stopped numerous times to beg wary Chinese chefs for their used eggroll-frying oil, and asking waitresses at the end of diner breakfasts whether the kitchen saves its waste grease. When they arrived they asked us if there was a tortilla-chip factory in Detroit and when I said there was they high-fived. Apparently tortilla-chip factories are the grease-car equivalent of Jed Clampett's backyard.

I also showed them to a restaurant supply store where they bought several "greasebuckets." Now I didn't know "greasebucket" was a technical term---I thought that was just what my dad called the kids he didn't want me hanging out with in high school. But with several actual greasebuckets in tow, yesterday I followed these intrepid travelers around southeast Detroit scavenging for grease. Several ethnic restaurants and luncheonettes were a bust: "We just pour our grease in the dumpster," they all shrugged.

Our friends described how to tell by the color of the oil the last time it was changed; some restaurants almost never change their oil, they insisted. "They just let it go solid overnight, then reheat it the next day," they said. French fries have never seemed so unappetizing.

I waited for what seemed like forever outside our local Chinese takeaway, sure that they'd emerge with a few gallons of vintage-Mercedes-propelling fuel. Wood orders food from this place every couple of weeks or so (she is a big fan of the deep-fried General Tso's chicken, especially now that she is pregnant). They emerged shaking their heads in dismay. "Lard!" they said. "That's all they use. Not a drop of vegetable oil in the house. You can't eat there anymore!"

This is all wrong, I think. We order food from restaurants so we don't have to think about what goes into it. It just tastes better that way. Now I'll never be able to enjoy that Chinese food again, knowing that's cooked in giant vats of putrid month-old pig back fat. Now I'm going to spend half the time I look at any menu wondering what kind of oil is in the restaurant's deep fryers. This must be kind of what it's like to learn that all those plastic licensed-character toys you bought at Wal-Mart were made in shoddy Chinese sweatshops and filled with enough lead to regularly send your kids into a hyperirritable lead-induced stupor, or worse.

Man, I hate it when the hippies are right.