Fake Cruise Ship Food and the High Cost of Beauty

At the risk of sounding like a mega snob, I’m going to admit it: I hate cruises. Now, I’m not talking about the luxury yachts that billionaires charter. (I’ve never been on one of those, but I hear they’re nice.)

I’m talking about the brightly colored monstrosities with rows of too-dark cabins, beds topped with towel animals, soft serve ice cream pumped out by the pound, offshore excursions including rum punch, knick-knack shopping traps, lame dance clubs, and bleary-eyed patrons staring vacantly into the distance as they pull slot machine levers.

I’ve been on four cruises in my life. The first one was on purpose. Every subsequent cruise I’ve done out of pure obligation because, for some odd reason, my family (extended family included) believes that being trapped out at sea stuck in a closet on a sleeps-four bunk bed packed in with three adult family members is the ideal vacation.

A few years ago I went on a Caribbean cruise with my dad’s side: Grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles. One night we had dinner in the dining room. Everyone dressed up and sat around this massive table as we had for several days in a row. A waiter strolled around and asked us what we wanted. I ordered from a menu that looked like it came from a Michelin Star restaurant, but — from experience — I knew that the food only “looked” that way. The taste, well… Let’s just say it’s mostly about appearance. First course, lobster bisque. Second course, field greens salad with vine ripened tomatoes (that weren’t ripe). Third course, pan fried chicken served with new potatoes and broccoli.

The first two courses were all right, but clearly lacked fresh ingredients. Is there such a thing as lobster bisque chemical flavoring? My third course came and there on my plate were four strips of chicken breaded to perfection. I lifted one to my mouth and took a bite. It was delicious — the best thing I had had so far. Then I took another bite, leaned over to my brother and said, “Hey, this chicken actually isn’t half bad.”

He took a dainty bite of his chicken. As I was about to take another bite, my brother slapped it out of my hand and said, “Don’t eat that. It’s raw!”

I looked down and sure enough the interior was that peachy color of uncooked poultry.

Somehow on that cruise both my brothers managed to lose a pound a day. And I would have followed suit if I hadn’t rushed to a good restaurant every time the ship docked. We still joke about the fiber tablets in the bathrooms of our cabins. “Anywhere that includes fiber tablets as a standard amenity, has to have major problems with its food,” my brother loves to say.

By the end of that cruise, all I wanted was an organic salad. I didn’t want anything fakely fancy and loaded with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, preservatives and food coloring. Just something simple and real. I didn’t care what it looked like.

The High Cost of Only Focusing on Appearance

Cruise ship food reminds me of our obsession with beauty. We place so much emphasis on physical appearance that we often miss out on deeper levels of value.

In December of last year I rented a place in La Jolla. While there, I met this sweet, beautiful Korean girl. She was sixteen and in the U.S. studying English for a few months. Anyway, one night we went out and got talking and she told me that she was considering having plastic surgery.

“But you don’t need plastic surgery,” I protested.

She pointed to her nose. “I want this to be bigger,” she said. “And my face is too wide. But I am scared because I have had many friends with problems. One of my friends had her nose done and she went blind. Another woman had her jaw shaved down and she died.”

I was speechless. Was she seriously considering this?

“And,” she went on, “my friend got a nose job, but she looks worse now. Her eyes are strange.” She pinched the bridge of he nose and pulled it out to show me how it had affected her friend’s face. “Some look better after. Some look worse.”

“You are beautiful.” I grabbed her hand. “Don’t do it!”

A few weeks ago there was an article in the Wall Street Journal called In South Korea, Fortune Tellers Face a New Wrinkle. The article talks about how so many people in South Korea get plastic surgery now that it is impossible to do face readings, a practice involving observing facial features to determine dominate personality traits. But the pressure in Korea is high — everyone is doing it and your beauty is attached to finding a good mate, getting a job (you have to submit a picture with your resume) and being seen as a valued person.

I get the idea of looking good. But there’s a point where so much emphasis is placed on outer appearance that inner value is lost. Like cruise ship food — where the only thing that matters is the presentation and not the ingredients — we can place far too much emphasis on eliminating wrinkles, losing love handles, plumping up lips, looking young…

But, the funny thing is that the more we focus on outer beauty, the more it evades us. Like a fine restaurant, the focus should be on quality ingredients, quality taste and then the presentation. Not the other way around.

Sure there’s that romanticized view of smooth skin, a toned amazing body, lush hair and a killer wardrobe. It will always have appeal, but there is nothing that ruins a hot man’s “beauty” more than when he opens his mouth and says something shallow and, after a few more minutes of chit-chat, you realize that his looks are all he’s got going for him. On the converse side, there is nothing that raises the stature of a person like having a playful intellectual conversation or simply by experiencing how much they love and care for others.

A beautiful soul transforms its package. (No fiber tablets needed.)

All my love,

Laura

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