By Elizabeth Miller
In my family, we often play a rather morbid game called Last Meal. If the title of the game does not make it exceedingly obvious, the point of the game is to name what your last meal would be if you knew that your remaining days left on this earth were slowly ticking to a close. Some players of the game go all out, deciding upon elaborate meals of bone marrow, duck terrine, and braised short ribs (because if you’re facing only a couple more days of life, why not aim to shorten those days with a swollen spread of food that would make a butcher flush with pride?). My father, defying everyone’s expectations, once abruptly shut the game down with his breathtakingly perfect submission of a simple slice of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, chased down with a tall glass of ice-cold milk.
It is always my intention to play this game as honestly and simply as possible. Inevitably, however, when called upon to recite my own final meal choices, I get overwhelmed. There are so many things to consider, so many elements of flavors and textures and memories brought on by certain foods eaten at certain times, that it’s never as easy as I’d like to choose just a handful of things that would satisfy all my desires of a final meal. As time has gone on and I have gotten older, I have also started injecting a dull sense of responsibility into the game, even though I am my family’s inventor of the game, and should therefore know better than to sully its good name with regards to prudence and circumspection. It appears as though I am not only overthinking the game, but I am now poised to ruin it.
It was with this troublesome development in mind that I finally came to the conclusion that I was only burdening myself, and my potential last meal, by not allowing myself to simply blurt out what always pops into my head when I think of the one food I always want to eat, all the time, and would therefore always welcome as a last meal. It’s french fries. Thin cut, steaming hot, intensely crisp on the outside—yet soft and pillowy on the inside—french fries. When you bite into each french fry, your tongue should feel a bit of sizzle from the still-hot grease coating the outside of the fry (which brings up another issue: the french fries can never, ever be allowed to cool off, since, as everyone knows, french fries are only truly noteworthy when they are straddling the temperature line between burning your mouth and having just enough heat to still be uniformly crisp when bitten into). The french fries have to be salted, but there is to be no ketchup, no sauce, and no malt vinegar coating the fries.
Perhaps I have never admitted out loud that I would desire french fries as my penultimate meal because I have never actually eaten french fries that were good enough to declare the best I’ve ever eaten. I have an idea in my head of what the perfect french fry would be and, though I have eaten french fries that possessed several of the required attributes, I have yet to meet the french fries that tick off every item on the list. As if by some unforeseen miracle, I actually ate french fries twice last weekend—constituting roughly 30% of my average yearly french fry intake—and, in both instances, the french fries came dangerously close to satisfying my every french fry desire. Aside from the fact that both batches of french fries became far too cold and mealy far too quickly (a problem that, owing to factors of air temperature and the troublesome reality that fat congeals when it cools off, I do not see being abated any time soon), they performed admirably in every other aspect.
Food desire revealed, however, I am now faced with the reality that I am no longer 20 years-old and able to shovel down french fries with no ill effects. Sadly, for every french fry I eat, I am now saddled with an equal number of minutes spent rubbing my belly and grousing about my discomfort. It is after show realities like this that make me reconsider my allegiance to the french fry. That is, until my husband so wisely points out to me that, hey, a last meal is a last meal. If you won’t be around to suffer the aftermath, there should be nothing keeping you from busting out the fries. That is how the game works. And he’s right. So I take back everything else I have ever submitted as a possible contender for my last meal. It would be french fries. Hot, crisp, salty french fries. No ketchup, and no regrets.