Anyone still baffled by how we wound up with that buffoon jackassing across Africa has only to consider the coverage of the largest meat recall in American history. The message most clearly disseminated to a “Top Chef”-stupefied audience is that it’s all about animal abuse, that the bleeding hearts won. The reality that waterboarding was needed to force seriously sick cattle onto their feet to pass “inspection” is consistently glossed over, especially with the reassuring line in every story that “no illnesses have been reported” by consumers. As if mad cow disease sets in as fast as the salmonella squitters. But rest easy: Most of the beef has already been eaten. I have to laugh every time I hear a story on the Olympics boasting that we’re going to keep our prize athletes healthy — we’re going to ship American food to China. Yeah, right. I don’t know about the USDA, but the FDA’s budget for a full year is less than we squander in Iraq in one week. Good thing we got the government off the industry’s back. . . .
Archive for February, 2008
Some read a new memoir and were moved to cook. I read the first few chapters and smelled Seabiscuit excreta. Even having swallowed “Running With Scissors,” I have a hard time believing anyone, even the most obsessive keeper of journals, can reconstruct a life in such microscopic detail, down to the most idle conversation. Then again, maybe I just didn’t read far enough to learn the author had friends in FISA places. It worked in “Lives of Others.”
I see those fine reporting skills Panchito honed as he was being charmed by the good ol’ dry drunk have not gone dull while he’s been chewing and typing. In babbling out a thumb sucker he missed the elephant on Central Park West. Even my regard for the Big Homme has risen sharply since realizing why he opened where he opened: There’s an infestation of gazillionaires just minutes away now. Paul Goldberger wrote a gripping piece about it in the New Yorker, rather breathlessly answering “What does 20 million buy you these days?” But why let a huge development, on a lot that had been empty as long as we’ve lived in New York, with apartments snatched up with fortunes more solid than hedge funds, stand in the way of an easy joke about the Upper West Side?
I wasn’t going to point out that this was not the optimum year for food editors to be reaching for the Hoary file and digging out that beyond-hardy perennial, the Oscar story with dishes pegged to nominees for best picture. Most reflexive examples I came across were merely predictably cringe-inducing, but the home of the Human Scratch N Match deserves a statuette of its own. A sample caption: “Nothing says bloodstain like a puree of beets.” And that’s for the movie just begging for a milkshake. “Silver dollar blinis” in honor of Javier Bardem’s penchant for forcing victims to play heads-you-die was equally tone-deaf idiotic, although even it was not as bad as deviled quail eggs for “Juno.” (That’s all the anti-choice crazies need, moviegoers craving ova.) Oh, and that “bread pudding” the wealthy British family in “Atonement” would have been familiar with? They forgot the bread. Are we really only weeks away from Erin-Go-Stupid on corned beef and cabbage?
I’m so old I remember when a certain mini-chain was one Tex-Mex joint downtown, and one that was best known for always making the Health Department shit list back in the days when ratings were actually reported in the papers. (The first casualty of corruption is transparency.) When a branch came to upper Broadway, I figured it had to be cleaner and went once when it opened and once in a moment of indefensible weakness. The latter encounter was memorable because the one waiter at lunch had a rather grimy bandage on his business hand and I didn’t instantly flee when I saw it. It seemed rude to run, so I ate whatever I ate and went home. And next day I was sick as a perra. The only worse experience was eons ago in Florence, when our waiter at lunch kept wiping his pimply nose — that had to be what did me in and not the horse salad my consort insisted on ordering and sharing. But all funky places come to an end, especially in New York, and so this one is no longer around to tempt the unwitting and undiscriminating. Now it’s like all the other storefronts I passed on the way home the other night, sitting empty with a huge “for rent” sign in the window (or, in the case of Aix, with the new definition of loser out front: a guy who didn’t realize the place had closed and had actually arranged to meet a date there). I just hope all the greedy landlords routing longtime tenants know we’re a long way from that elephant on CPW. Walk down Columbus with all the “apartments for rent” signs and it’s obvious what’s going up closer to home: Mastodons.
A guy whose unread books pile up in my office like sins to be confessed placed a lively op-ed in the NYTimes proposing a clever way to wipe out the invasive species endangering American waterways: Eat ’em. That’s easy for him to say. He obviously thinks about carp in the abstract. When I was growing up, my dad would catch those nasty things along with catfish and bluegill and crappies, but even he never forced us to eat the four-letter fish. Instead he would always put them out them for our herd of cats. As poorly fed as they were in a house with not enough food for the humans, they would leave those grotesqueries to rot to high heaven. Since reading an insanely good story in Harper’s on how entrepreneurs are trying to get rich on human shit, I’ve decided a better solution to carp overpopulation would be to eliminate the middleman. Just turn the fish into fertilizer with no human consumption.
Consider this the latest Exhibit A in the case for universal health care. First a produce worker at a Wegman’s upstate came down with hepatitis, leading 1,000 people to get protective shots. Then, far more devastating, a bartender at some hip club in Manhattan was diagnosed with the liver disease and who knows how many patrons were infected. Given that even a velvet rope could not contain the damage, I’m sure the easy answer is rescinding the law requiring doctors to report any cases of hepatitis A to the health authorities. Certainly that sounds simpler than businesses making sure their bathrooms are stocked with soap and their employees use it. The awful truth about people too strapped to pay for health care is that they will work whether they are sick or not, no matter what the MTA advises on those ridiculous posters, or how immune the boldfacers feel as they are isolated from commoners. It’s one thing to blank out how disgusting folding money has to be (from that shit-reeking bum on the A train to your wallet). Ever notice how filthy the glasses in rented limousines are, how crusty the seats? We can resist socialism, but germs will always be shared.
As for the golden shower, my first reaction was that joke we heard long ago in Trinidad (anyone calls you an asshole, just respond: “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Toilet Paper”). But there could be worse unpleasantness — I could have gotten a Food Network gig. And I think second prize is two gigs.
Now that orange Tic Tacs have turned up in not one but two movies about literally fucked-up situations you would almost suspect the silly things are aphrodisiacs. Maybe whoever is product-placing them should be appointed brand ambassador for what’s left of America when the Chimp finally knuckles back to his preserve in Texas. We’re going to need someone who can make shit as seductive as Shinola.
My consort and I watched the extraordinary “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days” from the very first row of the theater thanks to Bob Time, but it was still impossible to miss how powerfully food was woven through the story. The nature mort of fish over the hotel bed was a rich touch, as was the dog’s dinner of wedding leftovers. Plus how naive to socially inept would two girls have to be to bring cakes to offer an abortionist? Mostly there was the long scene at the table at a birthday party, which was excruciating but sounded oddly familiar. Then I placed it: A bunch of New Yorkers sitting around nattering about chicken liver. Oy. As they say.
It says everything about this election season that Hillary has become a nutcracker and Obama a cheese. I have not tried the former, but “Barick” was on offer at Zabar’s, and for about $30 a pound, no less. It’s from the apparently well-regarded Lazy Lady Farm in Vermont and actually pretty good, although it didn’t change my world. And it has to be better than anything modeled on McCain. Thousand-year-old eggs would be one concept, but I kinda like the idea of something that would fit into the Clinton pincers.
What’s with this ridiculous outburst of “when crazy met narcissism”? People want to spill their twisted guts for publication to the point that the next story will probably be about what foods give them gas and which go totally escolar on them. Sometimes what happens in your kitchen should stay in your kitchen. Otherwise, to swipe from a couple of verbally agile political bloggers, it’s either a trend casserole (Tbogg) or a schadenfreude sundae (Trex). Neither goes down well.
For reasons I don’t want to get into (except to say I missed Tamarack Hollow on Union Square on a rainy day), I had to patronize Holy Foods on deadline and noticed something interesting. Michael Pollan’s great advice about shopping the perimeter is not so valid in this supermarket-as-healthy-theme-park. Sure, the produce section is outlying, but much of what otherwise lines the walls leans toward the industrial. Half the meat and fish cases are tricked up, the dairy aisle is loaded with ready-to-eat stuff, another wall is all frozen meats with hefty ingredient lists on nearly every package. I guess it’s not so surprising given how health food stores long ago gave up the bulk notion in favor of organic Stouffer’s and whole-grain Cheetos. Who would ever have suspected the revolution would be processed?
I’m far from the sentimental type, but I have to say the threatened closing of Florent does seem like yet another cobblestone gouged out of the Manhattan foundation. I first went to the meat district when it was really the meat district — the butchering instructor at restaurant school in 1983, Jack Ubaldi, took a bunch of us on an early-morning tour of four or five distributors, and I still have the white paper cap I got at a pork place plus the pungent memories of carcasses swinging in the cold and blood and guts reeking in the streets. (Yeah, there were hookers, not always what they seemed, but it was more about the meat and a corner of the city that still did a gritty business.) Florent was never great, just quirky, but at least it was a real part of a real place. Maybe the greedy landlord can get a Duane Reade or a WaMu in there. As for the other closing reported all over cyber-foodland, the only question about Aix is: What took so long? Overpriced, pretentious, haughty, sloppy — it was an East Side restaurant on the wrong side of the park. And it says it all that it’s apparently bailing just as the new restaurants all around it are overrun with the undead who should have been its faithful eaters. The barbecue place that preceded it was no great shakes, but at least it fit the neighborhood. Now the bar is set so low a Duane Reade would be too good.
As the oceans die and fish prices go up, I’m noticing a fascinating phenomenon in environmental reporting on the food supply. Call it “look down in comfort.” The NYT story on how Jamaicans are poisoning their main river to catch shrimp and fish faster was certainly disturbing, but it had that ignoble-savages tone to it, that “see, they’re so shortsighted they don’t even understand the evil they do and it certainly doesn’t affect us.” Meanwhile, who knows how many millions of gallons of antibacterial crap are flushed into the water supply in this country every day. Somehow I don’t think a little Airborne is going to save us, either. Especially when you hear that Topps, the beef producer shut down after lethal shit was found in the meat, is now selling off the contents of its many freezers for pennies a pound. Somewhere a Bubba is going to ingest a burger and the feces it rode in on and never know what greed hit him. All while the high-minded journalists are worrying about what’s rotten in the third world. . . .