The supreme masters/mistresses of snark directed me to what they aptly described as epic fail: a saccharine site’s attempt to knock off South Beach/Aspen. Admittedly, the BBQpalooza here did not appear to have gone off without a hitch, either, but judging by the comments, when pastrami met brisket all hell broke loose. Of course, when your definition of serious eating appears to be ingesting at Mr. Creosote level (a quart of frozen yogurt, yay!), you probably should not be surprised when the trough gets overrun. Maybe it’s some kind of badge that this makes KFC promos look well-run. Ads may even ensue.
Archive for June, 2009
One reason print will never die: Obscure comics with good lines will always need promo material so that audience members who want to credit them can whip out a card and type that name later. The guy at the post-”Tear Down This Myth” “Laughing Liberally” in the Theater District the other night should have invested because I have to quote him anonymously: He compared health insurance companies to restaurants that refuse to serve anyone who’s hungry — they will only take you on if you don’t need to eat.
I see Forelock is running a challenge designed to make Big Food consumers everywhere feel very smug — they may be eating hog shit off the backs of exploited immigrants, but at least they’re not whacked elitists. I mean, curing your own bacon for a BLT is ridiculous enough. But to promote the notion and dis industrial food alongside the Kraft ad I caught is almost poetic. I just don’t know why he doesn’t expect people to grow their own wheat to make the bread. Maybe mine their own salt, too.
I also see the inevitable backlash against the rather awesome “Food, Inc.” has begun. Never underestimate the power of a few monolithic food companies with so much to lose if Americans start to understand exactly what they are selling. So expect more defense of farmers, only not the Joel Salatin kind, just the ones who have to worry about the “death tax.” Expect more attacks on the messenger, as if the filmmakers and reviewers were the ones forcing poor, overworked moms to resort to dollar meals in the drive-through. And definitely expect the class war to heat up, with cretins everywhere thinking eating well is only about money. I grew up so poor I was toilet-trained in an outhouse, but my mom did an amazing job feeding a family of nine because she learned some basic nutrition in public school in New York City: beans and cornbread make a complete protein. Today an immigrant like her, brought over from Belfast as a baby, would never get any food learning in school, just junk from machines. And while I’m waxing sappy, my dad always said the difference between “poor” and “white trash” is soap and education. Now kids have to get the latter at the movies. But if it liberates them from any notion that they have to butcher their own hog for a sandwich, we all win.
“The Daily Show” take on the NYT was gut-busting if cringe-inducing, and it only reinforced my sense that the staff no longer has any serious idea what goes on in the real world. How else to explain the photo that ran with the no-shit story on chickens as the leading cause of food poisoning? Those of us fresh from the theater are still trying to forget the sight of filthy birds, bones and guts too weak to support their hormonally inflated bulk, lying in their own manure in dark, disgusting sheds. And here we have three perky, healthy specimens free-ranging about to illustrate the dire findings. Of course, backyard chickens are trendy. Even Ruth Madoff is raising them. On thousand-dollar sheets. With round sunglasses.
One brilliant element among many in “Food, Inc.” was the segment of Eric Schlosser biting into a burger with fries. That kind of too-up-close-and-personal scene usually makes me gag (I’d almost rather watch food come out the other end), but it sent a message for the rest of the 90-some minutes: No one is saying you have to give up the freedom food. You just have to give a damn where it comes from. Which I hope finally ends the argument I have had with friends who think I’m ridiculous for resisting whole roast chicken for $10 in a restaurant when I pay more than that for a raw one for my consort and cat. If you calculate 30 percent food costs, you’re talking feet up, feathers in manure.
My second favorite scene was the one of Joel Salatin interviewed as his pigs porked out. After all that had come before, it slowly sinks in that he is lounging next to pigs, and no one is wearing a mask or gagging for air. Raised right, even the filthiest animals are bearable. Which of course got me thinking about a long-ago trip to Paris, one of my consort’s unlamented corporate boondoggles, when the boss’s wife commented on the second or third day: “It smells different in the bathroom here.” No shit. Garbage in, garbage out. I’m not going to romanticize the French, but a country with street markets and seasons and small farms is on the right track. With luck, even its growing love affair with le fast food will not end tragically. The villains can still reform.
Not to belabor the movie, but it does show how fast food has mutated the whole supply system, with consistency etc. dictated by the biggest buyers. So the WSJ story on chains moving their wares into supermarkets now that even dollar meals are looking unaffordable was rather unsettling. Processed crap is bad enough. Now we get California Pizza Kitchen processed crap? Worse, the Dunkin’ Donuts crap coffee is priced at about what my consort and I pay for world-class Illy. And don’t get me started on Taco Bell refries in a can. I will never forget the morning I was killing time in an airport early in the morning, wandering a food court, and saw how they make them: They open up a plastic bag of dried substance and add water. Even Taco Bell doesn’t use canned beans. What’s funniest is imagining the poor fools who buy this stuff. When I was a kid, we used to play “going to California” in the driveway, three or four of us in the car pretending to escape on a road trip. I can just envision a broke BK aficionado sitting in the SUV on blocks, fantasizing about going through the drive-through.
Cretins and keyboards are a dangerous combination. I try to stay out of comment swamps, but I had to peek in on lard before an interview that I was warned would include a question on reaction. “Ghee is butter without all the junk?” WTF? At least I could frame an answer: Some people refuse to believe in evolution, too.
Over lunch with a friend the other day I got to natter at length on my theory that one reason so-called real media missed the run-up to the meltdown and continues to publish dispatches from an alternate universe is that so many journalists are paid so much more than much of America. And damned if that wasn’t borne out by the story of an editor claiming to be priced out of the farmers’ market. He’s gotta be making over a hundred grand even with a pay cut (and if he isn’t, he’s not much of a negotiator), and he can’t afford local milk? Which costs the same in my market as the industrial organic if you return the bottles? That would be ridiculous enough in the week when “Food, Inc.” made it graphically clear what you actually get with cheap chicken. But then he had to turn around and blog-flog $10 strawberries from that very evil Greenmarket — $10 for half a fucking pint. Get your story straight, please. Shouldn’t readers be told to get themselves to the nearest fruit cart? No wonder the cheapest rosé ranked was $14. That’s just Two-Buck Chuck to the Taj dwellers.
I understand there was some discussion elsewhere about how expense accounts have also skewed food coverage at a certain outlet since the heyday of the most legendary manly women’s editor. And I was half-sorry to have missed that forum, to the point that I was tempted by a followup a couple of nights later. Which I was very glad to have missed when this report was filed in my email: One panelist “delivered hagiographic memories,” another “slightly less saccharine memories.” But “That asshole David Kamp came absolutely primed with chipper observations about how Claiborne helped prepare a land of oafs to become a nation of people discerning enough to . . . well, to sit at the feet of the David Kamps.” And people call me bitchy? I would have redacted the offending name to forestall a repeat of an unpleasantness my poor consort had to witness, but unfortunately the brand matters. Somewhere John and Karen Hess are chortling. . . .
Gotta admire the hometown paper’s news judgment. Well over a hundred noisily protest the Chimp in Toronto and it prints not a peep. Twelve show up at Nobu crying over tuna and it runs 18 inches. Good thing foie gras terrorists can’t count. One at any Chang joint would be leading the paper.
Also funny to watch Panchito get his expandable knickers in a knot over the Big O’s choice of a date-night destination. Anyone with a quarter of a brain understood any restaurant would be the wrong restaurant to some idiot or other. So his rant reeked of the same link-craving desperation as the silly attack on Mrs. O for being honest about her feelings about cooking. Worse, it reminded some of us of what a truly lousy judge of presidential character he is. Didn’t he cover the Chimp eating cheese sandwiches at the “ranch” right up to the 8/6 warning of 9/11? Inadvertently more amusing was Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum, who got his wedgie over the audacity of a couple even heading to Manhattan for a night out. His prescription for a good time is to stay home and fuck your turtle.
Five of the most foreboding words in the English language are “I’m a registered dietitian and . . .” What follows is inevitably some misguided hectoring based on research just proven flawed or about to be proven definitively flawed. I guess I’ve been in this business far too long, because I can still remember when fat was the scariest thing that could enter the alimentary canal. How many RDs did I have to track down to get them to say what a magazine editor needed to have said before more studies showed it wasn’t just any fat that was problematic? Now I’m getting badgered for snarking that sugar is naturally superior to high-fructose corn syrup. Big Food obviously still has big money behind the latter, because its minions are out hammering its message, Michael Pollan be damned. My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that corn tortured into either oil for shortening or sweetener for soda is far from anything my great-grandmother would have recognized. This is the crew, after all, that sold us Snackwells as lard asses only got lardier.