Archive for August, 2010

And NPR discovers food trucks

August 2010

The Consort had a field day at his CUNY gig comparing the price of Time magazine by subscription with a Starbucks — you can now get five copies for one cup. Even that might be too cheap, though, given the bizarre Organic v Supermarket piece it ran. Just consider: When it came to beef, organic was not even an option, but a friend snared yet another plug for his feedlot stuff. And the presentation was all Organic Fail when the results were nuanced. I guess something had to wrap around the ad for the the anti-fat drug du jour. But even that was not as bad as the wildly ill-timed op-ed the hometown paper ran against locavorism. Right in the middle of a huge recall of industrial eggs is not the best moment to throw up some lies, damn lies and statistics. Right at peak tomato season is not the best month to compare hothouse tomatoes and California hardballs. Right when everyone has moved beyond food miles to the bigger picture is not the savviest hour to engage in fuzzy math. Smarter people than I, particularly at Grist, seized on the hugest problem with the piece, though. Those of us who choose to buy as much local food as we can aren’t doing it for only one reason. Just to name one, we’re dabbling in real estate. Every perfect $5 heirloom tomato could help keep a farm in business and a Gekko out of a trophy house on the Hudson.

Highlights for Children, w/edible souvenirs

August 2010

One other reason to buy local food: You can feel really smug when the rest of America is in freak-out mode after nearly half a billion supermarket eggs have been recalled. (Worse than the salmonella was the thought that eggs sold in May might still be in refrigerators — and I thought I was bad at GE pruning.) Nearly 20 years ago I sold an op-ed to the hometown paper on another reason to eat local food: You don’t have to worry about shit in it. Nothing is new today except the scale of the disaster, the fact that one producer can flood the market with literal filth. But my bigger beef is with the hollering machines (formerly known as print megaphones). Just as with the oil gusher and the mine explosion and every other regulatory breakdown, now we’re getting no end of stories breathlessly reporting that “the company had a long history of regulatory issues.” Whatever happened to preventive journalism, to exposing the bad guys before they have poisoned more than a thousand people? Once the manure is out, it’s a little late to be exposing the holes in the barn door.

Going Gaultier

August 2010

Just back from Buffalo, I’m pretty amazed at how quickly the poison of the wingnuts’ indictment of Mrs. O for vacationing in the land of “gazpacho soup” seeped into the water supply. In the local counterculture weekly, I spotted an ad for a restaurant that showed her face over a Marie Antoinette reference. Maybe it was meant to be so out-there it was in. Or maybe they forgot “let ’em eat organic carrots” is what’s elitist now.

X marks the position

August 2010

And no wonder the antithesis of the Lump in the Bed has set off a shitstorm by suggesting Americans could maybe eat a little better and move a little more. On each leg of our JetBlue trip, my consort and I sat in an exit row penned in by a guy who probably weighed as much as the two of us put together. (The second offender, interestingly enough, was reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”) Wherever we went in between I had to pull my jaw closed at the sights — a mother so huge she had to ride a cart at Target, a young couple so gigantic their super-sized frozen custards at Kone King disappeared in their ham hands, a slightly older couple in shorts at Wegmans who could have commanded admission in a freak show only 50 years ago. (Judging by the astonishing avoirdupois on display, the chain’s slogan should be: “Where giant people push huge carts.”)

Our last meal was typically Buffalo-excessive, with three ginormous softshell crabs in a super-rich sauce, and my in-law equivalent said the problem was portion sizes. But I had to note that very few of the morbidly obese we had gawked at looked able to afford $27.95 entrées. They gorge on the 99-cent crap with Big Gulps. The saddest sight was of the “little” boy wearing only basketball shorts going in for a fix  for his mom at a gas station — he had a gut worthy of a case-of-Bud-a-day drinker and looked to be about 8 but walked like a 70-year-old, his feet and joints strained trying to support his bulk. I was marveling that “that kid is doomed — no way can he ever get that weight off once he grows up” when Big Mama Overfeeder backed her honking-huge truck straight at us. She must have heard me.

How do you thaw a chef?

August 2010

Before eight people were shot, four slaughtered, at a downtown restaurant, the talk of the town was the “marinated” cat, the one some angry fool was caught with after being pulled over by a cop who then heard the yowling from the trunk. The thing was allegedly slathered in oil and chilies in preparation for cooking. Of course none of the coverage asked the obvious as my consort did: Shouldn’t he have skinned it first?

Oh, just go eat in a bookstore

August 2010

Back in the real world, the weird news of the week was the big profile of a cartoon character in Dining. Which definitely brought home how far the section and the food world have sunk. Once Emeril could be taken down as the emblem of all that was wrong with celebrity cooking shows on the teevee. But at least he started out a real chef, one so obsessive he made his own Worcestershire at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, one so respected (and subdued) that Julia Child partnered with him in an episode of one of her own shows. By the time he had turned into a caricature, he was ripe for the mocking. But this guy? When Bob opened the paper and saw the travesty, he asked me about the back story and all I could say was that he was known for being known. I would make some sarcastic comment like how the next thing you know Styles will be showcasing Snooki. But . . .

Secret sauce

August 2010

And I Tweeted this, but will say it again: The hometown paper had to be fucking with us, running a photo of a meal tray at Guantanamo with one item labeled “yellow cake.” The only thing worse would have been a Judy Miller byline alongside it. Sicker still was that the story was all whining about reporters’ not getting access to the real story while another photo showed Ensure and a feeding tube looking as innocent as the Harry Potter books in the library at the hellhole. Anyone who saw “Titicut Follies” knows force-feeding is horrific. Showing the accouterments without discussing the technique is like a spin inside a spin. Can you imagine Upton Sinclair being shown a workman’s boots protruding from a sausage grinder and only whimpering about his obstructed view?

No recalls for local eggs

August 2010

Speaking of which, I have to admit I was a little disturbed by the photo of the Big O and his younger daughter swimming on the Gulf Coast — there are stunts and then there’s stupidity. I’d be hesitant to eat shrimp from there, not because of the oil but because of the dispersant a less than trustworthy company pumped into the source of so much seafood (and life). Then again, maybe it’s no worse than eating beef treated with ammonia, or chickens festering in their own feces. And I wonder how many others noticed the latest report proving it’s beef and chicken that are most responsible for most food poisoning; produce actually comes in third. But tomatoes and scallions have no Big Ag protectors. Too bad there’s no cure for spoon-fed reportage.

Today’s $4,000 bag

August 2010

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but one of the best classes I took in high school in Arizona was required: General Business. We learned stuff as simple as how to make change and as daunting as how to “buy” stocks, which involved translating the tables and tracking our paper profits and losses. But one exercise must have helped make me a total cynic: We had to analyze a few advertisements (then only in print) to decipher what the company was and was not telling people. Among the ones I went after was Pop-Tarts, then the cool new breakfast but a total disappointment to my family — my mom baked, and we could tell whatever was sealed in those foil packages was anything but food. I don’t remember the specifics, but I got an A for picking the BS to pieces.

So why am I surprised that “real” media should have gone batshit over the opening of a store promoting the processed crap in Times Square? These are the same people who think any edible grotesquerie is worthy of front-page real estate, that an inventor who calculates chemicals+chemicals=profits is worthy of a cheesy, puffy obit. Thank you, internets, for doing the ultimate mashup: Blog-Google Pop-Tarts and you’ll get something on all trending topics: Homosexual Pop-Tarts Tampon.

So who boozed it up in Saint-Tropez?

August 2010

Shrinks are obviously on vacation this month, because the craziness just keeps escalating. Some of the silliest was over Mrs. O’s trip to Spain (where, you know, they speak Mexican) and her daring to eat “gazpacho soup” with the king. I have one suggestion for anyone who worries too many tax dollars were wasted on security for her: Check out the tab for keeping Go Fuck Yourself undead. . .

Stale English muffins

August 2010

Only bloggers forced all the decent media types write about the trip, of course. Similarly, the story about a little girl getting licensed to bankruptcy for trying to sell lemonade in Oregon was deemed by the hometown paper to be an incident made for the internet. And I where did I find it? In print.

French bistro with wiener schnitzel

August 2010

Meanwhile, old media continues to get played by the few and the noisy white people left behind over in Flushing. Now the WSJ has not only picked up their lament that all the supermarkets are gittin’ too furrin but added the lovely detail that the one that is not Asian “caters to Hispanics.” This is like a sick sequel to “Gran Torino.” When I think of American food, Lean Cuisine is not at the top of my shopping list. (And judging by the photos, those “lite” meals ain’t working.) I guess this is how the dinosaurs went, kicking up a ruckus rather than learning to love new food. Or at least different brands of the same processed crap — Kewpie really is great in a BLT.

Blind and tasting, too

August 2010

In other publicity whoring, what are those “prominent chefs” thinking in suing over the false marketing of extra virgin olive oil? Way to highlight your dependence on crap ingredients, guys. Real restaurateurs would not get caught with supermarket blends. Rachael Ray on the label should have been a pretty good tip-off . . .

Sorbet is not a flavor

August 2010

Hate to argue with a paper that is so sure it’s always right (can you say Whitewater/WMD?), but we all really don’t scream about the price of ice cream. Grom would be out of business if “we all” were balking at $17 a scoop. What was most ridiculous about the whole premise is that it’s only food that ever gets nickel-and-dimed. I have yet to read a an exploration of why a pair of shoes advertised on P3 has to cost $700, or a bag $2,100. Still, even that equine excrement was not as silly as the take on vegetarian food at weddings. What wasn’t fit to print was what vegetarians might possibly be served before the cake, although we did learn the mysterious stuff costs more than red-blooded American meat. Anyone worried what Ripert and Boulud would think should invite Charlie Trotter. Vegetarian cooking’s come a long way since Moosewood. Rubber is not a vegetable.

Sated, with an I and not a D

August 2010

And this sounds insensitive, but one of the high points of my week was the Batterberry sendoff. It really was a memorial that reflected a seriously impressive life with a ripple effect far beyond what he made his name doing. The overflow crowd included lots of boldface food names, but Garrick Utley started things, and Geoffrey Holder did almost a performance piece that I couldn’t quite understand totally in the SRO section but apparently involved Lena Horne and ended with applause loud enough to be heard wherever the two departed are now. Among the many great remembrances was Dan Barber’s LOL recounting of what he went through to write an Adam Gopnik-level introduction for Michael and Ariane when they got a Beard award this year. His Moleskin is a book waiting to be expanded. Another eulogist noted that The Batt (or Bat) was described in the big obit as “puncturing the pomposity” of Gourmet — which was a phrase he would have found to be “a little labored.” He may be unimaginably gone, but he’s still editing. . .