Chicken-fried Steak: There is Comfort.

| November 7, 2008 | 9 Comments
  • 9 Comments

Chicken-fried SteakWell, now I’ve seen everything. As it was pointed out to me recently, voting Californians care more for the rights of chickens than they do for those of gay men and women. In my bio-degradable peanut-wrapped little world of well-educated, thoughtful, and admittedly left-leaning friends and co-workers, I had previously thought this was all but impossible.

I believed I didn’t know a single person– especially anyone close to me– who would, by touching a button or drawing a little black line to connect an arrow in a voting booth, actively raise a finger to institutionalize discrimination against me, or my sister, or my brother who, in a very real sense, died from internalizing all the hate and ignorance, both spoken and unspoken, that surrounds gay men and women and tells us we are not as deserving of happiness as everyone else. The electorate has demanded that a chicken be allowed the freedom to fully spread its wings and, in the same breath, has seen to it that I am not allowed to fully stretch mine.

It’s nothing personal against chickens. Honest.

I have been chafing at the logic that homosexuals should somehow be satisfied with domestic partnerships and not get hung up on the word “marriage.” And my blood is boiling over the 1,400,000 million-vote difference between those who voted for Barak Obama and those who voted No on Proposition 8. The stench of this hypocritical difference has settled in my nostrils and killed my appetite for the past couple of days. And that’s saying something.

Does anyone remember a quaint little Supreme Court decision handed down in 1896? No? Well, I’ve got three words for you. Since those words are unprintable, I shall give you another three:

Plessy versus Ferguson.

Oh, and here are three more words that came out of that historically painful and embarrassing decision:

Separate but equal.

Drinking Fountain
Image courtesy of Jay Floyd

Yes we can? Not in California, we didn’t. Not so much.

Well, I’m getting hungry again. And I need a little bit of comforting. It does help that all my straight friends have been actively giving their support, but I need a little more. I need to fill my belly with something other than burning bile. I will resist the urge to drink the blood of all the innocent children I had planned to corrupt by getting married and go for something a little more low key to satisfy my hunger. Something fried. Something bad for my arteries, but tonic for my soul.

I want Chicken-fried steak.

It strikes me as odd that I should crave something that is the unofficial dish of Texas. Or that, given the chicken’s newly-found superior status over me, that I would crave something so transparently pro-poultry-life. It’s not as though I’d ever encountered it in my childhood. Of course, that may very well be what makes it such a comfort. It is a dish I discovered in college– a time when I was busy forging my own identity as an adult.

I first encountered Chicken-fried steak at (foodies, look away) Denny’s. A photograph of the dish caught my attention, popping off the image-bloated and ketchup-sticky pages of the menu more dramatically than the competing Moons over My Hammy. It was too late to be up, I’d most likely been out either drinking or dancing or depressed over my not-quite-out-of-the-closet status or some combination of all three, and my body called out for something fried to soak up both my sorrow and my alcohol intake.

I sat there, staring at the menu, trying to make sense of the dish. Chicken-fried Steak. On the one hand, I immediately got it– pounded beef, served up as one would serve fried chicken. Basically, it’s a more aged version of Wienerschnitzel, but served up with biscuits and anemic-looking gravy. On the other, I was caught up in the phrasing. Chicken-fried. The immediate mental image was that of a cartoonish hen, complete with pearls and frilly apron, frying up a piece of beaten-to-death cow. The evil, self-satisfied smile on her face convinced me that this dish was somehow subversive– that there was some clever, morbid joke behind the creation of this dish. So I ordered it, naturally.

And, oddly, I felt much better for it. And it continues to have this mystifying effect on me. It may be its ability to fill my stomach, thereby draining as much blood as possible from my over-worked brain to aid digestion. It could be the fat and cholesterol that coats and calms me into some false sense of protection. I really don’t know. All I know is that, for whatever reason, it works for me and I refuse to give into too much analysis. That would ruin everything.

Chicken-fried steak has lifted me up in some of my lowest of moments. It has comforted me on my journeys home from bank-breaking college trips to Las Vegas when the only money I had left in the world was spent on gas and this menu item. It has been consumed through endless, supportive conversations with friends in times of disease and unavoidable death, and recently it has been there to help salve a mopey, broken heart.

And now, I am calling on it to fortify me through this mess.

I never intend to make it myself. I don’t even want to know exactly how it is made, so I will not give a recipe, let alone look at one. It is a dish best served to me, rather than by me. Preferably by a waitress whose shoulders have been slightly hunched by the weight of trouble and too many years of taking the brutal insensitivity and orders of strangers. I need this not to feel superior to someone else in my moment of gloom. I need it because I want to look her straight in the eye as if to say, “Girl, I know exactly how you feel.” But I won’t say it. She may not want that kind of empathy. Or me calling her “Girl”. So instead, I’ll just give her everything I have in my wallet and go home, bloated and tired, but somehow fortified enough to carry on.

Until the next time.

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Category: politics, activism, food safety

About the Author ()

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows. You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster
  • http://www.spicedish.typepad.com EB

    Amen Michael.

  • Halimat

    Thank you for helping me through my own Prop 8 sorrow with some fabulous writing. I think I shall go find some chicken fried steak, followed by some cheesecake and treadmill action!

  • http://michaelprocopio.wordpress.com/ Michael Procopio

    Thank you, EB. I’m glad someone read it.

  • http://michaelprocopio.wordpress.com/ Michael Procopio

    And Halimat, too. I was posting my reply as yours came through. Glad I could help!

  • Scooby

    Last week was weird feeling such mixed emotions. What a treat to stumble on this fantastic piece to make it a little better somehow. Thanks! And where’s that very CFS from the picture… I want it now!!

  • http://michaelprocopio.wordpress.com/ Michael Procopio

    Scooby,

    Thanks very much! The illustrated CFS is from Serpentine over in Dogpatch. Check it out. A most excellent dish.

  • http://BayAreBites Teddiered

    Good Article but………. I live in texas and I was hoping for the recipe for your CFS because it does look to die for in the picture.

  • http://michaelprocopio.wordpress.com/ Michael Procopio

    Teddiered,

    You’ll just have to visit Serpentine in SF to get a bit. It was, in fact, to die for.

  • uptown jimmy

    I stumbled upon this by accident, and it made me cry. My so-very-straight heart is always in strict solidarity with my gay brothers and sisters. We’re all in the closet, really, every last one of us hiding who we are from the rest of the world.

    But that’s okay. We’ll always have chicken-fried steak.

    Pay no attention to that wicked chicken in the kitchen frying up sides of cow, malicious grin in place.