Monday, September 8, 2008

Meet Chow

Let’s face it: Bon Appetit magazine is never going to devote an issue to the food found at swim meets. But that doesn’t stop anyone from eating at swim meets, least of all me. However I have noticed that the further down the totem pole you go in meet size, the better the food gets. It’s almost like an incentive to never get a legal breaststroke.

Your national and international-level meets are probably the worst when it comes to what’s available at the concession stands. You’ve got your bloated, boiled hot dogs, your overly salty nacho chips with melted processed cheese food products, and maybe some bland, palm-sized, microwaved pizza. Big whoops. The coaches on the deck getting Dixie cups filled with fruit, veggies and ranch dip are doing way better than the folks up in the stands. And there’s only so many stale bagels that a person can eat in one weekend.

Of course, there were the Australian Olympic Swim Trials when we were living Down Under in 2004. On the walkway overlooking the competition pool in Sydney, a lineup of tents had been erected and two of them were serving beer and wine.

Beer and wine at a swim meet. You could stop right there and declare the Aussies the winners in the Meet Refreshments competition, but you’d still have to factor in their hot dogs.

I will probably understate this, but the Aussies’ hot dogs were the saddest, most indigestible excuse for food that I have ever tried to consume in my life. I’m not even sure there were any meat products in there, and if there were, I don’t want to know what part of what animal they were. No, the Aussie hot dogs completely negated any good will achieved by the chardonnay and Victoria Bitter. Not that I didn’t give the chardonnay a fighting chance, but all the vineyards and breweries in Australia put together couldn’t erase the sense memory of those corpulent tubes of tastebud death.

But there is one place where the swim meet food is going to be good, sometimes even inspired. And that’s on a July weeknight at a dual meet in a 25-yard pool where at least half the 8 & Under age group is going to be disqualified for inventing a new stroke. And the reason you will find the best food in the swim world at these meets can be summed up in one word: crockpots.

Whether it’s Pete O’Halloran’s Pulled Pork, Lori Hepplewhite’s Tostados or Jenn Zuweski’s grandmother’s Baked Beans, when you’ve got crockpots bubbling away at a swim meet, life is worth living. It doesn’t matter if little Hortense finished the butterfly with her face and now needs extensive amounts of reconstructive orthodontia. Or if Elgar invented a new stroke – the flutterfly – which got the relay disqualified and lost the meet for the team. Chow down on a couple of Marcy Schittzlebaum’s Sloppy Joes and all is right with the world.

Unless of course you have a fascistic local-government regime – like the one in our hometown – where the health department has banned home-cooked food at events on city-owned property because they claim the risk of "food-borne illness" is too great.

To which I say: "Dear Food Police, No self-respecting home cook is ever going to serve up a crockpot full of E. coli at a summer-league swim meet, because if they did, it doesn’t matter how fast their kid swims, they would have to move to another state, change their names and enroll their kid in ballroom dancing, that’s how humiliated they would be. So, nope, not gonna happen. Give us back our crockpots. Sincerely, Mrs. Coach"

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