"The problem is that vegetables have no advertising," a woman in the crowd at the Central Library last Thursday evening complained. A diverse group, ranging from a mother with her sleepy kids draped over her lap to a college student chomping on a Carl's Jr. burger, converged to talk about fast food and the billions of issues served. All gathered during an evening of moderated debate called Chatterbox that was put together by the Multnomah County Library and Willamette Week (watch this paper for our next mouth-watering event).

Yes, the newspaper that supplies Miss Dish's milk money has been deep-frying the topic of fast food for the past few weeks. There was the cover story two weeks back that bit into the local protests against McDonald's, including the current fight by some members of the Eliot neighborhood to curb current plans for the Golden Arches to come their way. Then, that nasal nabob The Nose came out as a fast-food hound in the spot normally reserved for panning politicos. Now, Chatterbox. What gives?

Well, it's hard to resist. Fast food hits all the pressure points: money, health, beauty and class. Maybe even sex. Miss Dish helped assemble a panel for the library to explore the topic further. Ed Paladino, co-owner of E&R Wine Shop, talked up the Portland Slow Food Movement chapter he's active in; Sarah Cloud, chairwoman of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, discussed her concerns about the possibility of a McDonald's around the corner; Michael Swartz, president of Macheezmo Mouse, unveiled his plans for making fast food even more healthy; and Myra Donnelly, a local theater producer, discussed her fond memories of working for and eating at McDonald's. Miss Dish begged, pleaded and cajoled the local McDonald's camp to come aboard, but they were skittish about joining a public forum. Most disturbing is that the Oregon Restaurant Association, that ultra-influential lobbying group, refused to come and speak on behalf of the many constituents who pay ORA hard-earned dollars in dues to represent them.

Still, even though both sides were not evenly represented on the panel, the audience saw to it that this chat was more a tug of war than a circle jerk. Here's some random quips from the confab:

Man #1: "Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country."

Woman #1: "People have to die of something."

Man #2: "The reliance on fast food has to do with a spiritual breakdown in our culture."

Man #3: "How dare you question my relationship with God based on whether I eat a hamburger or not."

Woman #2: "If they want to put another McDonald's in Portland so badly, why don't they put it on 82nd Avenue instead of MLK?"

Woman #3 (OK, this was actually Miss Dish): "Why is it OK to put McDonald's on 82nd Avenue instead of in your neighborhood?"

According to the library, all 87 copies of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation are checked out and have been for some time. Should you want to read Ray Kroc's biography Grinding it Out, there are five copies available. In addition, the folks at the library have come up with a webliography to help you do some additional reading if you're so inclined. You can find it at www.multnomah.