The Ironic Demise Of The Fortune Cookie

It seems to me that starting this discussion by establishing my credentials is important.

I eat a lot of Chinese food. I eat less of it than I would if I worked in a Chinese restaurant, but probably eat more of it than you  do. I consume enough of it that I consider Chinese food part of my personal food pyramid and have declared myself my parents’ only Asian son. Once, a friend and I were discussing where to go for lunch. I suggested Chinese. The response was “nah, I had some the other day”. “The other day?”, I responded, “if you were Chinese you’d eat it every day”. That person is no longer in my life. I don’t need that kind of negativity.

And as a fan of what passes for Chinese food here in the US, it pains me to inform you that the fortune cookie is done. It has jumped the shark.

Perfection. Yeah.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to my fortune cookie after my sweet and sour pork. I’d crack it open to learn a little of what was to come for me. And the cookie would clue me in. It was never very specific, but reading something vaguely positive like “your hard work is paying off” gave me a little extra hope that my fortune and future were looking good.

It doesn’t seem likely. (image by the author)

Two years ago, my fortune read “You shall soon achieve perfection”. And after two years, I can assure you that fortune cookies do not have a grasp on what “soon” means. I thought that perfection was a little ambitious, but it was still one cookie’s vision of my future. That cookie was still in the business of dealing with my fortunes.

But it seems that recently, fortune cookies are not about proclaiming my future. I now tend to get “fortunes” that are more like discussions of the sort of person that I am.

Changing Fortunes

Crispy, that’s me (image by the author)

About a year ago, I opened a cookie and read “You are the crispy noodle in the vegetarian salad of life”. I’m smart enough to not read that literally. I am not a noodle. The cookie is establishing, through metaphor, that I am different from those around me. That’s kind of accurate. I’m sure my friends would attest to that. I’m not offended by being called a metaphoric crispy noodle. But that’s not a fortune, it is a discussion of who I am.

A few days ago, after my kung pao chicken, I cracked open my cookie and read “you are not illiterate”.

This is true. It is also something I knew (image by the author)

This is true. It is also something I knew (image by the author)

I paused. You can tell I paused, because I started a new paragraph there. I paused to consider “you are not illiterate”. And I reached some conclusions.

The cookie is correct. Correct, just as it would be if it said “you are a mammal”. I am certainly a mammal. But is that a fortune? It isn’t even a metaphoric discussion of the sort of person I am in the way the crispy noodle fortune was.

What that cookie gave me was neither fortune, nor positive metaphor. Yes, I am literate and thus can read that I’m not illiterate. I get it, but it is neither funny nor a fortune. It is irony. Though irony can be funny, it wasn’t in this case.

The Ironic End Of The Talking Cookie

I suppose a fortune could be ironic. It would be ironic if my fortune cookie said I would become an algebra teacher…I’m terrible at math. Again, ironic, but not funny. Irony has its place. That place is not inside a cookie. I can confidently say that no one has ever looked forward to an ironic dessert.

Fellow fans of American-Chinese food, we are at a crossroads.  It is a crossroads in the history of how we enjoy this cuisine…a cuisine that is simultaneously like and very unlike that which is served in China. Our fortune cookies have been part of the experience for as long as any of us can recall. Unfortunately, the cookies are no longer reliable sources of faux information about our fate. They don’t offer humorous, yet vague, insight into where our fortunes lie. And if those messages concealed within the cookie don’t deliver insight, is the cookie important at all?

Wouldn’t it be ironic if fortune cookies – the only cookies with a message – went out of existence because we realized that they’d run out of things to say? Because, let’s face it – no one eats them for the taste.


11 Comments on “The Ironic Demise Of The Fortune Cookie”

  1. Last night my fortune cookie had NO fortune contained therein. I save them all, taped around the frame of my laptop screen. My favorite is “You have a flair for adding a fanciful dimension to any story.” Last night’s was empty. I think that means I’m going to die soon.

  2. LRose says:

    I know where they make their messages. I’ve ordered from them before. We could Occupy Fortune Cookie bakery!

  3. April says:

    My husband works in a Chinese restaurant–we used to have Chinese night every Friday, the first four years he worked there. It’s not so regularly anymore, but still a great backup plan for dinner.

    Anyway, your post made me realize how seldom we get fortune cookies…they pack them in a little bag with the forks and napkins, which he never brings home because we’re not savages and have our own.

  4. List of X says:

    What else can I say but to quote a fortune cookie note I got a couple of years ago: “Sometimes fortune cookie contains no fortune”.

  5. Blogdramedy says:

    It’s obvious from reading your blog that you have developed a very close relationship with Chinese food over the years. Now that you’re retired, you must be looking for things to do between naps and programming your GPS to avoid pumpkin patches. Maybe try something a little different from Chinese. Like Mexican fortune cookies. You could become the Tao of Tacos.

    Imagine THAT on a tee shirt. *nods head*

  6. knace says:

    I was inspired to eat Chinese tonight because of this post. =) We’ve had two Chinese buffet places in town close in the last month, but, whew, there are still three to choose from- but it’s a worrying trend!
    There is a documentary on Netflix you might enjoy if you haven’t already done so called The Search for General Tso. It was very informative. I recommend it!

  7. theresa says:

    The “you are not illiterate” fortune cookie message doesn’t even improve when you add “in bed.” Disappointing!


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