Right after reading about an oceanologist who worries countless species are already going extinct in the Gulf gusher, I saw lots of Tweets about an admirable New Orleans chef suing BP for loss of seafood and business. I feel her pain, and rage. And I guess enriching lawyers is the predictable American response. But it really will do as much good as Cindy Sheehan taking Dick Cheney to court for miring us in two wars that are pumping billions to BP. Money isn’t going to change anything. Still, someone suing makes more sense than the wingnut I saw ranting that America cares more about sea turtles than the “preborn.” I assume she never eats eggs.
Had a great discussion about the Mr. Cutlets ethics kerfuffle the other night. Over a free dinner. None of us were surprised by his accepting big-name chefs’ “gifts” of expensive food. Or, really, by his not disclosing to either his editors or his readers that he didn’t pay and his judgment might be skewed in covering friends. Neither is without precedent in this funny little world we professionals eat in. (Rated D.D.) But did he have to smugly crap all over the little people whom regular brides and grooms hire? Luckily, a few of them chimed in to comment that even bigger names than he snared do . . . catering. My favorite response, though, was a question about the column that did not even need to be asked: Did you pull this out of your butt?
Tweeted the other day how odd it is that Americans get so freaked out about recalls of spinach and other produce but are cow-like in their attitude toward shit in the meat (in 37,000 pounds last week alone, as a matter of fact). A couple of followers suggested it’s because we “know” meat is bad for us. But I don’t think that’s it entirely. There’s also the fact that media scaremongers consider filthy meat a dog-bites-man story, one also best avoided because the beef industry, as “Food Inc.” made so clear, defends itself beyond aggressively. So news outlets will continue to blare any outbreak of salmonella/listeria/E. coli in the produce aisle as “attack of the killer tomatoes” and let the ammonia-soaked ground feces walk away clean.
I wanted to rant about Salon’s “too many farmers’ markets!” story, but the more I reread it the less I understood what the point was. Farmers have always wanted the best price for what they grow, and if their neighbors won’t or can’t pay of course they will truck it to the happy suckers on Union Square. Lancaster County could try luring in rich fucks who want weekend getaways and good food, but then the farmland would be converted to housing and what good would that do anybody? And given that this city of 8 million mouths has a mere 49 Greenmarkets, I’d say we’re a long way from oversaturation. Let’s go back to bashing farmers’ markets as elitist.
Also, too, let’s trash reusable grocery bags. A new study found they’re about as clean as money (well, it didn’t put it exactly like that). As if Americans needed an excuse to give up and go back to wasting thousands of plastic bags on a single shopping trip. Right now every conservation effort with the slimmest possibility of helping should be cheered, not mocked. The earth has a big hurting hole in it, and it’s spewing what we’re so dependent on for a plastic-based lifestyle. As our beef addiction makes clear, bacteria are not that scary at all. You can wash a shopping bag easier than a beach. (Yes, I’m getting sappy. It’s just that my big fear is reincarnation.)
I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I know where cornhole comes from. So why was I so surprised on opening up the coupons this week to find one for Heinz vinegar with an ad showing an ear of bright yellow corn? What doesn’t start with corn in this country? How monopolized is the food chain by one heavily subsidized food? Once upon a time a country that grew so dependent on a single vegetable would suffer mightily for it. Now we need new bumper stickers: What would Squanto think?
When someone is said to be “working in a pizzeria,” I assume he’s hands-on. But the hometown paper didn’t bother to fill the hole you could drive a Domino’s truck through in the Abramoff story. “The Wire” should do at least another episode in Baltimore, on the crook holed up in the back office, and have Tom Waits wonder: “What’s he doing in there?” It could have a second life on the Cooking Channel.
I don’t know what is more stupid, the LATimes having “Hungry Girl” weigh in on the healthfulness of ballpark food or some company dreaming up “Skinnygirl” margaritas in a bottle. One only knows how to combine as much processed crap as possible to produce the lowest number of calories and of course would be afraid of a fish taco — it doesn’t come from the freezer case and is not made with Splenda. The other must know the awful secret of how some girls do stay skinny: drinking the crack cocaine of alcohol and talking to Ralph on the big white telephone.
Photo of the week. It’s a cocktail, not a milkshake. But you get the message.
Big news in the cheese world is that a huge batch of mozzarella was seized by the cops in Italy after someone noticed it turned blue once the plastic was ripped off. No story I read answered the obvious question: Why is Italy importing mozzarella from Germany? What, China is closed?
In the grand oily scheme of things, it should be hard to get worked up about the small stuff these days. But every morning I flip through the WSJournal’s new New York section and despair over the Lunchbox, which must be copy-edited in Chennai (“New York’s Chelsea”?) Most egregious, I saw paninis, and in a headline, no less. Meanwhile, the NYTimes implies that Uniqlo’s new line must be very tasteful — it has a “softer palate.” Also, too, apparently that traditional Muslin concoction hummus is being given the all-American treatment and will soon be available in chocolate-raspberry-ranch flavor. And remember the Angostura bitters crisis? It was the Helen Thomas/ACORN of food hysteria. Everyone ran with news of the scary shortage without walking down to the corner store and checking to see if it might be available. Mani, near me, had it every day I saw dire warnings online. Mostly, though, inquiring minds would like to know why two such offbeat restaurants as a Brooklyn-born Mexican and a bizarro Asian wound up multiply reviewed on the same day. Funny to think there was once a time when what is now the Etiquette Expert could tear flacks new assholes for not giving her exclusives first. . . .
Which makes it all the more obvious that the internets are going to be the death of old media, but not for the reason anyone expected. The more I see the establishment outlets dumbing down, the more I wonder why anyone would pay for the paper products. The NYT now prints online comments that even a small-town paper would properly copy-edit, if not reject outright. And the New Yorker, of all magazines, is running cookbook reviews online that make the Drivelist read like Elizabeth David. (Almost.) I only slogged through a couple, but seriously: 5,000 words on almond paste in a world where you could, you know, look it up? Drone, blather, repeat.
I also was awed by the contest I caught on Twitter for entries in a food publication: Get your work considered. For a mere $20 “reading fee.” This is almost worse than all the competitions for recipes and photographs that acquire all rights just through submission. There’s screwed. And then there’s tattooed.
Trying to think of a “Mediterranean” destination for dinner the other night, I kept clicking on Menupages menus and finding the worst words in the restaurant language: Small plates. Which of course translate as: Inflated prices. (The only thing worse is $22 entrees up-sold with don’t-go-away-hungry $8 sides.) I find nothing alluring about going out and having to order three dinky dishes and paying $45 or more for less satisfaction than you get with a single well-conceived main course. But through Twitter talk, I realize this may be why tapas have finally taken hold in this country, after stops and starts since way back when Bryan Miller was giving every tortilla-and-fino dispensary a shout-out. An e-pal noted that tapas originated as (and often still are) freebies in bars in Spain. Only once chefs here started gouging did the whole concept become a solid trend, with every cuisine marked up crazily. As my old friend Mr. Wong always said, the more New Yorkers get fucked, the more they like it. Even more with $16 tongue.
The most disturbing story I read all week was about the Subway franchise going up with every floor of the new building at the World Trade Center. We’re looking at an extinction-level disaster in the Gulf thanks to human hubris, and someone decided a deli in an elevator was a good idea? Yes, I’m an absurd eco-snob and would have less of a problem if the sandwiches being dispensed from this insanity were made with real ingredients; if something awful happened and a hero happened to be the last meal of a construction worker it might seem less grim on environmental and spiritual levels. But what the hell ever happened to packing a lunch? My dad worked construction on Arizona highways and always took soup in a Thermos. No composting was needed. Tesellating cheese 50 stories off terra firma can’t be what nature intended. Besides, without rats, can it really be fast food?