No, it's not the trend of serving clam chowder on Friday at nearly every sit-down restaurant in America. That's been around for a while.
I suspect the clam community celebrates Saturdays as their high holy day each week, thankful to have made it through another blitz of bad soups.
The new trend involves salt and pepper.
Like most annoying eating innovations, this one began in high-end eateries. Just as you were getting ready to dig into the three ounces of unrecognizable beef and two carrot sticks you had waited 90 minutes to receive, the waiter shows up with what appears to be a shoulder-fired wooden bazooka.
"Would you like some pepper?" the server would query.
"Yes, please," you would answer, not because you had any hope that pepper was going to help improve this microscopic little $75 meal, but because you were afraid the waiter would club you over the head with the bazooka if you said no.
Since I've never been rich, I always thought this was the height of luxury; to have so much money that you could pay someone to shake pepper on your food for you.
A few years back, I noticed that this freshly ground pepper gimmick had trickled down to more traditional tables at family restaurants, where every form of seasoning is a blessing aimed at helping you cover the tin can taste that seems to permeate anything that once resided in a garden.
On those tables would be a small, plastic version of the pepper grinder.
I'm not a pepper user; I'm a salt man, so I didn't care about the new fangled gadget.
But now, the problem has reached the epicurean equivalent of the Niemoller quote about "when they came for the communists, I remained silent; I wasn't a communist..."
"They" have finally found a way to mess with my mealtime.
I visited a Red Crustacean restaurant with my family recently, a place that (as the name implies) features seafood. My wife, daughter, and mother were there for the annual "Eat Shrimp Until You Swim Backwards In Your Own Garlic Sauce" promotion.
Since it was a seafood restaurant, naturally I had the steak and baked potato.
Everything was going along swimmingly (sorry about the pun; it's like standing on the bank with a harpoon in your hand and Moby Dick happens to swim by) until I asked someone to pass the salt.
The first sign of trouble was the label: Sea Salt.
I'm not a big fan of sea salt. As the name implies, it comes from the sea. I know what fish, crustaceans, seagulls, and cruise ships do in the water. I don't want any of their excretions on my food.
Sea salt also fell out of favor with me when Wendy's made it the star of one of their commercials while rolling out their "new" french fries. Anyone who has visited a Wendy's in the last year knows just how badly they've botched what were once the best fries in the fast food industry. I still harbor some resentment against sea salt for that debacle.
Call me a purist, but I don't like anyone messing with my salt - not Wendy's, not Red Crustacean, not even the salt police (namely my physician, who began trying to arrest my salt intake about 50 systolic points ago).
I'm not sure where traditional salt comes from, because I can't find a state or nation named Iodizistan on any map. But I do believe that the Morton Salt girl could whip Wendy's red-pigtailed behind in a fair fight, with or without the umbrella.
At the seafood restaurant, I tried shaking some of the sea salt onto my baked potato. Nothing came out. Figuring the top had become clogged with damp salt (a frequent problem when I lived in Florida, before discovering the benefit of putting a few grains of rice in the salt shaker), I tried to twist off the lid. I twisted, twisted, twisted, quietly recited the "righty tighty, lefty loosey" mantra between clenched teeth, and twisted some more. It wouldn't come off.
Then I figured it out.
I had to turn the plastic bottle upside down and twist the top so it would grind the nuggets of sea salt inside and dribble the rock-quarrying results on my meal. So I twisted, twisted, twisted, not-so-quietly recited a few mantras that embarrassed my mother, and twisted some more. I began to feel like a seasoning-deprived psychopath wringing a stubborn chicken's neck. After what seemed like 30 or 40 minutes, I think I counted three white granules on my spud.
Unfortunately, the steak needed a little bit of pepper, too. As you may have guessed, the pepper dispenser was another of those grinding devices.
By the time I got around to actually eating any of the (now cold) food on my plate, I needed a nap and a Power Bar.
I'm not sure whose dumb idea it was to introduce aerobic workouts to the mealtime experience, but if I had to name a suspect, my physician would be at the top of the list. I believe he is involved in a food conspiracy, because the Red Crustacean was able to accomplish something in one hour that my doctor hasn't been able to do in 10 years; namely, to cut down on my salt intake, to exercise more, and to elevate my heart rate.