Thursday, August 25, 2016

Eat This (Sort of) Taco Salad in Remembrance of Me

By Ami, and brought to you by our generous Patreon donors. You rock!

In her early writings, Ellen White describes a glorious vision of heaven: the gleaming city, its streets paved in gold, and the saints gathered in harmony and communion around a golden fellowship hall table: “And the food they ate was like a taco salad, but it was not a taco salad, for the ingredients were served in separate dishes, so all the gathered saints could construct their own salad according to their own preferences and God’s plan.”

In Acts of the Head Deaconess, Jesus said, “When ten or fifteen are gathered together in my name and need an inexpensive meal that doesn’t take long to prepare, I’ll bring the sour cream.”

Of course both these quotes that I just made up refer to haystacks, the first thing most Seventh-Day Adventists will think of if you ask them to name a sacred food, even before communion wafers, Welch’s grape juice, and manna from heaven. Even more than Kellogg’s, Morningstar Farms, and Little Debbie, haystacks are the food of our people.

To the uninitiated, a haystack looks rather like a taco salad, deconstructed. They’re usually served on a long table with all the ingredients in separate containers--a pot of chili beans, a basket of corn chips, a big bowl of chopped lettuce, and smaller dishes of onions, tomatoes, peppers, black olives, cheese, and sour cream. Everyone grabs a plate and builds their haystack the way they like it. If you put everything together beforehand, it’s not a haystack, and also the lettuce gets all slimy.

There’s a lot of variation in haystack construction. For instance, tradition dictates a bottom layer of crushed Frito’s (yes, the style and brand of corn chip matters), but I eat mine on the side. The placement of the cheese is a point of some contention. Does it go on top of the lettuce, as on a Taco Bell tostada (another Adventist favorite), or does it go under the lettuce on top of the beans, so the warm beans melt the cheese a little? I’ve seen people apply the same passion to haystack cheese placement arguments as to “proper” toilet paper hanging arguments. If anyone’s asking, I’m in favor of underhand toilet paper orientation and cheese on top of beans, but I usually try to avoid passionate doctrinal disputes.

These days I can’t imagine eating a haystack without salsa, but salsa wasn’t a common haystack ingredient in my childhood. Salsa hadn’t yet reached its heyday as America’s #1 condiment. Besides, anything so flavorful was probably a little sinful, or at least full of vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Although they’re a part of our regular family supper rotation, haystacks are most commonly eaten at large gatherings because they’re easy and relatively inexpensive to make for a big group, especially if you assign various people to bring various ingredients. This is one reason that haystacks are an Adventist staple we’ve carried with us into ex-Adventist life. We have fairly frequent haystack parties with our friends, which have led to scandalous haystack innovations like haystacks with chorizo, haystacks with pickles, haystacks with Doritos and generous sloshes of Tabasco. These heathen additions might appall haystack purists and pious Adventists, but to me, they taste like one of the few things I miss from my church-going days: they taste like fellowship.