An Experiment In Good Taste

Whenever I'm working solo at the bakery counter, there's one small but very popular feature of the department that requires my ongoing supervision. I perform this task using a blend of economic and scientific methodology. Call me Professor of The Sampling Bowl.

It's actually a shallow dish about twelve inches in diameter fitted with a clear plastic cover. Small tongs are attached with a flexible cord, and the assembled structure fits neatly into a metal display stand. To me it resembles a tiny domed city, and my job is to make sure the enclosure is abundantly stocked at all times with morsels of freshly baked bread.

How do I choose which loaf will provide the appropriate residents for my mini-metropolis? Occasionally market forces determine the answer. If a particular variety is on sale, the bowl becomes an effective promotional venue. At other times I rely on my knowledge of human psychology and personal intuition about what type of texture and flavor will generate maximum sampling satisfaction. Whatever I decide will have ripple effects throughout the day on the overall mood of our visitors. It's a powerful responsibility.

Misuse of such power is brilliantly explored in a classic science fiction story entitled 'Microcosmic God' by Theodore Sturgeon. I'm reminded of it every time I fill the bowl. The story is about a scientist named James Kidder who builds a sealed chamber in his laboratory and, through various chemical and biological manipulations, creates a new life form called Neoterics.

Like me, Kidder has total control over what happens within the enclosed community. He speeds up evolution so the little creatures become tremendously intelligent and are able to build all sorts of incredible and potentially destructive inventions. He also devises a system of ruthless domination to keep them terrified and totally subservient, so they will never even think about using their technological skills to challenge his authority.

The story has an ominous conclusion that leaves the reader wondering what will happen when the scientist eventually passes away, and the Neoterics are free to break loose and invade the outside world.

My tiny test subjects pose no such danger. For one thing, they never get to spend much time together. It's very it difficult to form any sort of grain-based civilization when the inhabitants are constantly being plucked from their domicile and quickly devoured by bread-loving shoppers. In truth, my biggest fear involves samplers who fail to control their consumption impulses.

I heard some choking sounds recently and looked over to see a young boy standing by the bowl. His cheeks were puffed out, not unlike the jowls of a busy chipmunk collecting nuts for the winter. Luckily he was able to swallow successfully and catch his breath, so I didn't have to hurry over and perform the Heimlich maneuver. And, to his credit, the boy was conscientiously obeying the little sign on the display rack that says "Please Use The Tongs."

If, through some mysterious quirk of nature, the occupants of the sampling bowl did become sentient and dynamic, I truly believe whatever type of lifestyle they achieved would be friendly and outgoing. The 7-grain organisms might pursue jogging, hiking, and other physical activities. French baguette life forms would organize jazz concerts and independent film festivals. Every one of our artisan varieties would develop unique societal characteristics, and as they progressed all of them would definitely acquire a deep and lasting affinity for cheese, wine and caprese salad.

Until such a fantastic evolutionary burst happens, I remain in full command and my top priority is to ensure smooth interaction between the populations on the inside and outside of the bowl. It's my version of a controlled experiment with predictable results that are always positive, satisfying, and definitely in good taste. Sometimes it even feels a little bit cosmic.