Headline writing ain’t what it used to be

And I’m back to repeating myself: Any reporter trying to sum up a food show that huge and fractious is just a blind person describing an elephant. Pick a trend, any trend — you’ll find three examples to verify it. I saw more ginger. And hibiscus. And much more Indian convenience food. But I also had to agree with Cesare, whom I ran into as I was limping out after more than five hours without stopping: There’s never really anything truly new. Sure, there are better cheeses, far better cheeses, in fact, but they’re really just an ancient product. Otherwise, it’s line extensions: honey with truffles, chocolate with chipotle, popcorn with truffle oil, salsa with peaches, taleggio but organic, cashews  with wasabi. And on and on for miles and miles of aisles.

Given that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, I will insist that the attendance on Day 2 (which is when I usually go, after the initial crush and before the dispiritedness sets in) seemed way down to me no matter how the organizers count. Definitely there were fewer of those disturbing attendees who are so barn-size they have to get around by motorized cart. And the hired hustlers were definitely off their game. I walked away from more booths than I can count when the people behind them were chatting away as inanely as the co-pilots on that doomed Buffalo flight, oblivious to people standing in front of them with questions and obvious interest. Then again, the combination of fewer people and more obstacles to engaging may have forestalled a repeat engagement with intestinal distress. I almost lost my stamina on my first stop in the “ladies” room when half the lumbering creatures emerging from stalls as I waited in the mega-line did not pause even to rinse their hands. One emerged clutching a huge wad of toilet paper. Not good for someone cursed with an overactive imagination. . .

On the upside, for the first time in more than 20 years there were signs that even the food at the “fancy” level is evolving. The most fascinating thing I tasted was a Sichuan berry at a booth displaying a dazzling array of microgreens. Sid Wainer, the best one-stop sampling opportunity at the show every single year, has long had fresh produce on display. But getting to taste anything raw and green in the soul-sucking wasteland of the Javits Center is rather mind-blowing. Tasting something fascinating is harder to describe. And I was quite impressed with how Edwards’s pork products out of Virginia, which have always tasted great, have been taken to a whole new level now that the company is starting with heritage breeds. Eat it, Smithfield.

On the downside, I have to confess I succumbed to the much-ballyhooed bacon chocolate (not upchuckable) and Baconnaise (gag reflex kicking in) but could not even approach the truly frightening Tur-Duc-Hen. I also had to spit out many more things than normal, and not just because my digestive system is not getting any younger. I left wondering, as always, how so many fools can set out to build a business with products that are so unsalable. Why don’t their loved ones warn them?


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