“You won’t have the votes.”
Alex shakes her head in disbelief. “But…We can’t just…”
Brianna smiles sadly and grasps the younger woman’s shoulder. “I get it, this is your first time sitting at the table. You want to make your mark. But believe me when I tell you that this isn’t a fight you can win. Further, if you take a stand and lose… well, North America has always been a force in this body. Will you throw that away for …for what?”
Alex clenches her jaw. “People are counting on us. I made promises. I swore to defend breakfast.”.
Brianna sighs, “Times change my friend and we have to change with them. Your constituents will understand.”
“This isn’t about change. Its about mockery, about-”
“Look. We both know what has to happen here this morning. You want to help – to save breakfast? Play the game and stick around until you get your chance. You want to make the evening news and flame out? Well, you’ll do it alone.”
Brianna pivots and strolls to her seat. Alex takes a few deep breaths, her teeth grinding furiously.
A man in a blue suit with a tan pocket square president bangs a gavel and the representatives milling about find their seats.
“Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. The seven hundred twenty-first session of the gastronomic congress is now in session. Please stand for the rolls.”
As one, the few hundred representatives stand. A line of men in tuxedos enter from the rear, spacing themselves evenly between the rows. They each carry a silver platter with one white gloved hand. Once they are all in position they lift the cloche off their platters and present a steaming roll to each member of the council. Despite herself, Alex tears up a little. Years of work. Years of sacrifice. And here she is, about to eat the most famous dinner roll in the world. Fashioned by chef Augustus Crumb in his three-star restaurant down the street, the rolls are beyond famous. They are the envy of the dining world.
They taste like pillows of happiness, crunchy-gooey-sweet-salty-bliss. Alex sighs and sinks into her chair. She forgets politics and motions and enjoys her prize, her moment.
The president bangs the gavel again and Alex sits up straighter, looking around at her colleagues. Next to her is the Colombian representative, an older man in a blue suit and bow tie. He winks at her in a grandfatherly way. On her other side is a woman in a yellow pantsuit and short hair. She’s the rep from… Iceland was it?
“Chair recognizes the representative from Switzerland, Mr. Taravind.” The president says.
Lars Tavarind is a tall man with slicked-back hair. His designer suit swishes hypnotically as he glides to the lectern. He catches Alex’s eye and winks. Alex looks away.
“Thank you Mr. President. Colleagues.” He pauses.
“I have been honored to serve as the representative for Switzerland for fifteen years. I have learned a lot along the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but this body has never shied away from hard choices. That is what I love about you, my friends and colleagues. Sometimes we disagree, but we disagree well. We provide not just regulations and guidelines for the classification and appreciation of food, but we also serve as a model of what people can accomplish when they work together, with civility and grace.”
He takes a deep breath and continues. “It is with humility and introspection that I submit Motion 161428. You all have the document, but in summary and for the record: Wherein it is both delicious and nutritious, Orzo shall be promoted to the list of items officially recognized as breakfast foods. Be it further mandated upon breakfast menus of restaurants grade B and higher, and further to be included on secondary menus including but not limited to Brunch, All Day breakfast, and Office Catering rotations, pursuant to the special menu exemptions created by the Tomlinson act of 2003. I would speak on my motion if there is a second.”
Spatters of conversation break out. The president calls over it, “Is there a second?”
Brianna calls out from her chair a few rows up, “Seconded.”
“Mr. Tavarind, you may continue.” The president gestures.
“Thank you Mr. President. The Amsterdam accords of 1973 created the two pillars of breakfast: Sweet Breads and Eggs. This motion is not in defiance of these pillars, but rather it contains their fulfillment. It can be sweet or savory, can be eaten with a fork or spoon, can be accompanied with sauce or eaten plain. We are all worried about the propagation of grains, especially when sweetened.”
A few buzzing conversations break out at this. The president silences them with a gavel.
“…But let us not conflate the two issues. We can impose restrictions upon the adoption of grains in general irregardless of the inclusion of grains into distinct mealtimes.
“This motion is a win for low income families who lack fiber and low sugar options. It is a win for busy parents who cannot be short order chefs every morning. It is a win for the restaurant industry searching for another dimension to add to the fastest growing meal of the day. I humbly ask my colleagues to vote in the affirmative and establish a future wherein orzo plays a central role in our morning routines.”
Lars steps back and retakes his seat. There is a few moments of silence before a dark skinned woman stands from the other side of the room and approaches the podium.
“Chair recognizes representative from Ghana, Mrs. Ezra, you have the floor.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. While Orzo is not a part of my cultures history, I have grown to appreciate its tender deliciousness. Ghana will be voting yes on the motion.”
She sits down and woman the from behind Alex stands and is recognized.
“Orzo is not only easy to prepare, it is high in fiber and low in fat. It will make an admirable addition to my own restaurant. China will be voting yes on the motion.”
Alex shakes her head. Brianna turns and catches her eye. Alex looks away.
The man next to Alex stands and is recognized.
“I have an amendment to the motion, Mr President.” That is a bit of a surprise. Alex perks up.
“Very well, proceed.”
“I move that the motion be amended to include the following paragraph:
Wherein Brunch has long been practiced by many major restaurants, Brunch is hereby promoted to full membership in the circle of mealtimes, with all of the rights and privileges entitled thereto.”
The room explodes in a collective groan. Alex scowls. What does brunch have to do with this?
The president bangs his gavel. “Order please.” Then louder, “Order!” The room quiets though a few people in the back are still laughing. The president sighs, “Is there a second?”
“Mr. President. I have a point of order.” A woman says into the microphone.
“Go ahead, Mrs Darvish.”
“We are here to talk about Orzo, not brunch. My colleague from Germany has tried on multiple occasion to pass similar legislation and it has always failed. Brunch is, simply put, stupid, and we all agree on that. Let us not waste time debating what we have debated ad nauseum in the past. I call for the amendment to be rejected as a violation of rule 131b.”
The president leans over and discusses the matter with the parliamentarian and turns back to the microphone a moment later.
“The amendment is so struck. Thank you both.” He says. “Do any others wish to speak on to the motion under consideration?”
Alex’s neighbor turns in a huff and takes his seat, grumbling to himself.
The room is suddenly quiet. Brianna turns back and Alex meets her eye before looking away. Now is her chance. But what can she say? It is clear that the room has decided. The room was decided long before any of them arrived this morning. Deals like this get done over coffee and crumpets weeks in advance. She is too late.
The president surveys the body and nods. “Hearing none, I would call the quest-”
“Wait!” Alex bellows. She stands and everyone in the room looks at her. Alex hears someone mutter, “Who’s she?” before being hushed by their neighbor.
The president clears his throat and nods, “Miss Donager, you wish to speak to the motion?” The president looks almost threatening.
Alex nods, her eyes widening. What is she doing? Briana is shaking her head but Alex refuses to notice her.
“Very well, chair recognizes the representative from Canada, Miss Donager.”
Alex scurries to the microphone. She stands there, her mind suddenly blank. Someone coughs. Say something, you fool! They are counting on you!
“Orzo is not breakfast.” She blurts out, too close to the microphone and it gives a whiny feedback hum.
She steps further away before continuing. “We all know that. Thit is preposterous. What are we doing here? I’m new, I get that. But its like its this big game that we all play while none of us admit to each other that we know it’s a game too? We hide behind parliamentary rules established to prevent exactly this kind of bullshi-”
The president bangs his gavel, “Miss Donager, you will refrain from profanity when addressing this body.”
Alex reddens and nods, “Of course, Mr President, I apologize. It’s just that I don’t understand. If Orzo is breakfast, why do we even exist? Why bother debating food groups and flavor profiles and acceptable sauces for pizza if we are going to turn around and say Orzo is breakfast? We all know the reason. Of course we do. The pasta lobby has been trying for years to work their way into breakfast and it seems my colleague from Switzerland-”
The president bangs the gavel again to silence the angry protests starting to break out. “Miss Donager, you are dangerously close to being out of order. I won’t warn you again.”
Alex swallows and nods, “We have to do what is right. That is, we have to have lines. Where does it stop? If we make Orzo a breakfast food, what’s next? Mashed Potatoes? Broccoli? If we start down this path, what we are really saying is everything is everything, and so, nothing is anything.”
Alex looks around at the confused faces.
“No, really, think about it! If Orzo is breakfast and lunch and dinner, then what does a meal mean? What is the point of defining breakfast separately. Breakfast is the only bastion of pasta-free meal time left. We have to protect breakfast. We cannot give in to the forces that would steal the soul of our meals. Please, my friends and colleagues, Please remember why you first ran for this office. Remember how you used to sit down at a restaurant and smile at the different assortments of omelets to order. What kind of future will our children have if they see god-damn orzo next to that? Who can honestly say that they want to live in that world?”
Murmurs had started again and by the end there were outright shouts trying to quiet her. The president banged again on his gavel and Alex stopped talking. She saw Brianna looking at her with a grim expression. Brianna looked away. Alex has no friends here. She has lost. The world has lost.
Before the president can tell her to sit down, she hurriedly adds. “Canada will be voting no on the motion.”
Once the chamber is quiet again, the president shakes his head in frustration “If there are no further statements, chair will call the question. Balif, a roll call vote please.”
A woman with long black hair leans into a microphone, “Afghanistan.”
The Andorran rep is a short, balding man. He hesitates and Alex looks over, her heart skipping a beat.
“Andorra votes no. Long live breakfast!” He cackles and a few people break out in applause. The president whitens noticeably but gestures for the vote to continue.
Alex sits up straighter as the votes pour in. At first the nos are sporadic, but they start to come more frequently. When it is her turn she proudly says no and a few applaud her.
The vote draws closer and closer. It is nearly tied when Brianna is called to vote for the United States.
Alex’s mentor takes a deep breath. “No”. She says and Alex’s breath catches in her throat.
More nos. It’s going to fail! It’s going to fail! The motion is defeated!
Alex’s head is swimming, her eyes are misting over. The room is arguing, insults lobbed across the floor. People are standing and walking out. The president is leaning back in his chair and scowling at his microphone.
At length, he leans forward and says, “The motion is defeated. Congress is in recess until 9 AM tomorrow.”
The room breaks out in applause, though only half participate. The other half are typing furiously into their cell phones or whispering to each other. Alex catches Brianna’s eye and nods. Brianna rolls her eyes and smiles back.
A man steps into Alex’s vision.
“You made some enemies today, I’d wager.” He says. It is the representative from Norway. Mr… Tremi? “But you also made yourself a name. I think you’ll do some things, before it’s all done. Perhaps you’d join me for a light appetizer tomorrow?” He slides his card across the table. Alex gulps and nods. As Mr. Tremi walks away another rep slides in and makes a similar offer. Alex nods and smiles at them all, completely overwhelmed under all the attention.
Her phone is buzzing with interview requests, with angry text messages, with promotional offers.
The waiters serve the mid morning snack. Alex smiles as the oranges are peeled and sectioned and distributed. She eats her orange slice, savoring the sweet-tartness of it, of life itself. The session resumes but Alex barely notices the debates and motions and minor business. None of it really matters. The day’s work is done.
“You won today.” Brianna says, bowing slightly as they exit the chamber around dinner time. “But don’t praise yourself too much. You can just as easily lose tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but I won today.” Alex grins.
“You did, You did,” Brianna puts her arm around her friend. “Lets eat, what sounds good?”
“I think it would only be fitting…”
“Italian?” Brianna laughs.
“Alex laughs back. Italian.”
Photo Credit: Flickr / Theo Crazzolara
© 2020 – 2021, Aaron Zimmerman. All rights reserved.