Looking back, I’ve been blessed more than most men. But, there is a yawning chasm of personal achievement in my life that haunts me.
I’ve never had a food taster.
Being a dad, I’ve had food stealers (daughter; Signal Editorial Staff, 1964-2023; SClarita Councilbabe Marsha McLean). But, I’ve never employed a full-time food taster. You know. Someone who delicately tests your eggs (or, “aaaaigs” as they call them in Canyon Country) for poison?
I could be a target. I’ve achieved some small-town notoriety. There are non-fan club readers who’d giggle like Dracula’s madcap assistant, Renfield (D), at the chance of dipping my morning Quarter Pounder With Cheese in arsenic. And I’m no fan of decades of chintsy number-crunchers in Signal Accounting who have not blessed my expense account for trying to claim, “$700. Food Taster.”
Right there? I just caught myself thinking like a peasant. We truly rich and powerful require more than one (1) food taster. First, the poor things have to sleep. Second, what if one of my staff actually ingests a couple of pounds of ammonia nitrate in my pasta, turns red, coughs, sprouts wings and floats heavenward? Who’s going to sample the next bite?
Yes. It’s my curse. I’m an optimist.
Food tasting has been around for millennia. Back in Rome’s early days, long before Human Services, they even had a name for the position: “Praegustator.” I know. Sounds like a thoroughbred horse, doesn’t it? In the year 54 A.D., Emperor Claudius had one. Just guessing, but I wouldn’t rehire Claudi’s poison chewer because Claudius died of food poisoning. His taster’s name was Halotus. Sixth grade must have seemed endless for poor Halotus because all the other slave kid tasters probably teased him about his name being dangerously close to “Halitosis.”
You know. Bad breath? That which haunts the four sniveling Hart district trustees who voted to murder the Hart High Indian mascot a while back?
Actually, you’d think that Halotus never worked in his profession again after his boss, Claudius, coughed up blood from his favorite dish — mushrooms. Halotus was suspected of poisoning the emperor. But, he somehow ended out his days, dying years later of natural causes and after becoming a wealthy man. The person behind Claudius’ demise was, of course, his young and hubba-hubba wife, Locusta. Who, the holy heck besides the Italians, names their daughter after an insect pest?
Mark Antony and Cleopatra were famous for their passionate love affair more than 2,000 years ago. But Antony never trusted the Egyptian queen and feared she’d poison him some day. Antony used food tasters like they were paper napkins in a Thai restaurant. Crazy thing? It was Cleopatra who would later die by poison, albeit delivered by an asp to her boobie and not Drano-In-The-Royal-Egyptian-Brownies.
Speaking of unpleasant people, take Adolf Hitler. Der Fuhrer employed many food tasters but his most famous was Margot Wolk. Every morning, promptly at 8 a.m., Ms. Wolk would take a few nibbles of the socialist leader’s Teddy bear-shaped pancakes with thin licorice moustaches (making it up, but still hope that Wikipedia copies this tidbit verbatim). If Margaret didn’t croak, Adolf enjoyed his scrambled Nazi eggs with Nazi sausage breakfast. Vladimir Putin? The Russian strongman employs several tasters on his staff. Speaking of picky-eating socialists, so did Barack Obama.
The 2008 Olympic Games were held in Beijing and the Olympic Committee hired hundreds of Chinese food tasters for staff and athletes. Heavens. Forget arsenic. Just stepping outside in the Chinese capital and breathing the air would kill you.
Every year, 48 million Americans get some version of food poisoning. I will take the high road and note that not all involve a certain national fast food chicken outlet with an elderly Confederate white-haired gentleman as mascot. Another 128,000 are hospitalized. Another 3,000 kick the past-the-pull-date gas station sushi bucket.
I suppose if I were employed as a food taster, I’d be the discerning kind. Like, I’d never work for a vegan. That stuff will kill you. No sipping oat milk lattes at Starbucks for my boss, either. I’d be sending mixed messages because I’d be spraying chai tea all over the inside of my employer’s Rolls Royce.
As a food taster, I’d probably be a problem employee. I’d certainly insist on indulging in the old health habit of chewing each bite 27 times before swallowing and certainly I’d use a small part of my salary to employ an Assistant Food Taster/Illegal Alien/Intern to taste brie before it touched my lips.
“Here. This smells funny,” I’d say, handing my loyal apprentice a green and slimy taco. “You eat it.”
Darn thing with applying inappropriate herbs and spices to some rich person’s waffles is that most poisons have no odor. Cyanide has the subtlest bitter, almond odor. It works almost instantly. Arsenic, atropine and strychnine have virtually no smell to them but take a little longer to do their dirty work.
If I were a professional food taster, I think I’d only work for prominent and annoying Democrats. A Los Angeles district attorney here. A Biden/Clinton/Obama family member there.
Oh, the list is so long.
I’d pretend to take a bite of brunch. I’d offer a pretend and impassioned moan over the yummy taste, then wave.
“WAIT!” I’d yell. “Don’t touch that! It needs salt!!”
I liberally sprinkle their morsel before smiling and singing: “Open wide for Mr. Choo Choo egg roll!!”
There’s always the rare danger that a California DA might actually prosecute a homicide, deserving as it may be. As I’m in the witness box, the prosecution might hold up a Baggie housing a bottle of “Lawry’s Seasoned Salt — Now With Strychnine!” and littered with my fingerprints.
What can I say.
Strychnine. Strych-ten. Whatever it takes …
Except for visiting a couple of questionable SCV fried chicken outlets and Highway 126 food carts when it’s 142 out, John Boston has not been poisoned. Much. Today. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com while there’s still time …