Howard Nemerov and the Rainforest Cafe

26 11 2007

The following is a minor rewrite of an email message I sent to a friend a few years ago. Since then, several friends to whom I’ve forwarded it have urged me to start a blog. What better for a first post?


I went to the Rainforest Cafe the other night. I never would have, had I not received a gift certificate for a free dinner from a relative. I won’t be going back, and I’m scheming how to get even.

It should have been a tip-off that the gift certificate described it as a “Landry Restaurants, Inc. owned concept” [my emphasis]. The same company owns Joe’s Crabshack, which is almost as obnoxious. The Rainforest Cafe is covered in faux flora and fauna, in more ways than one. When was the last time you saw lions and giraffes in a rain forest? Anyway, a lot of this cheap, plastic crap was animatronic Disneyland shit, and accompanied by loud, high-school-play-quality sound effects, thunder and lightning and stampeding cud-chewers of some sort. There were some live animals, but they were all coral reef sea creatures. I don’t know what they have to do with the rain forest, either. What a fun atmosphere!

What really got me, though, was when our “safari guide” informed us that today’s “special” was a steak. That’s right, a fucking steak special at the Rainforest Cafe. When I asked our server/crocodile hunter if he saw any irony in that, he replied “Oh, I know. All of the food we serve here isn’t even from the rain forest. It’s all American.” A little while later, he added “Most of these animals we have here aren’t from the rain forest, either.” I’m not sure that whoever named the entrees is aware of even that much, given such titles as “Canopy Chicken Salad”, “Tree Top Filet”, “Sudan Shrimp Salad” and “Rumble in the Jungle Turkey Wrap”. Whoever wrote the “educational” part of the menu must have been aware, at least long enough to copy it down, that “20 years ago, rain forests covered 14% of the earth’s land. Today they cover less than 6%”, and that “at the current rate of destruction, rain forests could be wiped out in 40 years”. Whether or not the Rainforest Cafe is contributing to that destruction to make more room to raise cattle for their “Rainforest Burgers”, the menu didn’t say.

The whole experience reminded me of this poem:

Grace to Be Said at the Supermarket

This God of ours, the Great Geometer,
Does something for us here, where He hath put
(if you want to put it that way) things in shape,
Compressing the little lambs into orderly cubes,
Making the roast a decent cylinder,
Fairing the tin ellipsoid of a ham,
Getting the luncheon meat anonymous
In squares and oblongs with all the edges bevelled
Or rounded (streamlined, maybe, for greater speed).

Praise Him, He hath conferred aesthetic distance
Upon our appetites, and on the bloody
Mess of our birthright, our unseemly need,
Imposed significant form. Through Him the brutes
Enter the pure Euclidean kingdom of number,
Free of their bulging and blood-swollen lives
They come to us holy, in cellophane
Transparencies, in the mystical body,
That we may look unflinchingly on death
As the greatest good, like a philosopher should.

— Howard Nemerov