Lost-in-translation of the week: One of the British papers dutifully reported on the made-for-denutted-media outburst by Wasilla’s own Taco Crunch Supreme but didn’t realize she wasn’t reaching for “some more ingredients” in trashing the regal Mrs. O. I guess I can’t blame the reporter and editors for not knowing what marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars add up to. Whenever I read a hed using “pud” from their side of the Atlantic, I want to spell it out, too.
I wasted time on xmas arguing with our hostess over the new, Chertoff-enriching cancer boxes at the airports (a k a “police states with shopping,” as Andrew Sullivan has dubbed them). But Champagne had clearly sapped my wits or I would have cited the latest terror scare to sober her up: salad bars, targeted with ricin (or something). And that was a story that came and went faster than you can say anthrax. A country in which probably the bulk of the population has never even tasted airline food will cede all rights for fear of a Muslin on a plane but keeps right on chewing no matter what’s in the trough. Nothing gets between Americans and their all-you-can-eat.
On a related tangent, Twitter has no room for an altercation, so I’ll respond here to the follower who challenged my Tweet about the grimness of a cheesemaker shutting down after an E. coli outbreak while the scum who foisted half a billion possibly contaminated eggs on the country is probably getting richer than ever. My consort, for once, got it right away: It’s like what happened to Martha Stewart — she went to jail for a set-up while banksters guilty of worse offenses walk free to this day. The system is rigged. But that’s the big picture. The small one, to answer the question “Artisanal E. coli is OK?”: No E. coli is ever okay. But the reach of a tiny producer is much more limited. Eight people in four states were sickened by the cheese. Contrast that with only the salmonella from the Schwann’s ice cream truck that laid low 740 people in 30 states. All that said, though: I have never seen an artisanal cheesemaker in Italy doing what was described in the FDA’s complaint. Even on the most isolated farm high on a mountain in Piemonte, sterility ruled. Amazing to consider anything-goes Italy has more rigid standards. Then again, anyone who’s seen “Food, Inc.” knows why the shit gets in the American milk to begin with . . .
No one is more aware than I am that 90 percent of food-world success is just pretending to show up. But I still find my jaw dropping every time I read anything about “Hungry Girl.” For the longest time I didn’t believe this corporate tool actually existed. Now it doesn’t matter. Print-age media has been so thoroughly co-opted that the original hometown daily can run a huge recipe piece without ever stopping to think how many ads it lost by giving away all those brand names for free. I’m so old I remember writing for a newspaper editor in Norfolk, Virginia, who would not even allow us to use “Tabasco” in a recipe; it had to be “hot red pepper sauce,” so we didn’t appear to be shilling. But I guess there probably is no substitute for Jell-O Sugar-Free Fat-Free Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix. And thank the food gods for that.
The WSJournal’s take on the quintupling of onion prices in India was typically clueless. The worry was not that the poor can no longer afford an essential ingredient; it was all about the political fallout. As the hed put it, complete with typo: “Indian’s Onions Make Politicians Cry.” And one sentence actually read: “The government has responded as if it were a national emergency.” Onions aren’t exactly freedom fries. As always when food is involved in the Murdoch Crier, though, more questions were raised than answered. The last graf says a Delhi restaurateur is substituting cheaper radishes for onions. If that’s possible, it should be a separate story.
Thanks to Obamafoodorama, I see Mrs. O has decked the White House with boughs of cranberries and pomegranates and other edibles. I hope she’s ready for the shitstorm from the kkkrazies who’ll be upset she isn’t using Double Downs and Happy Meals and other real American food. Only traitors don’t need insulin.
I’m way behind on my book readin’, but a couple of enticing reviews of the new Mastering the Art of Lost Correspondence did finally entice me to pick up my copy. Flipping through quickly, intending to go back and revel at leisure, I was amazed at what first caught my eye. One caption had “traveling in Province,” and another mentioned Curonsky. With so many trained wordsmiths out there, desperate for work for any fee, why would the publisher not run this past one last set of cheap eyes? Or, given the cult of the Child, solicit volunteers?
But the one letter I randomly read almost compensated — Julia ranting in 1953 about our hometown paper: “Such a horrible report of a priest’s speech, supporting McCarthy. The way they say it’s only the left-wingers who are against him. I really read those things and scream from the stomach.” Which sorta describes how the sane feel these days plowing through gushing coverage of today’s wingnuts who think tea comes only in a bag. So to speak.
And I also am now in possession of what I guess is the first Twitter cookbook. Shove it back somewhere constricted, and not just because the foreword is by Panchito. The only laugh is his overwriting: Two adjectives alone would nearly eat up a single Tweet. Twitter is not meant for the mainstream; I often find myself deleting emails I want to send to friends who are not in the cult because I realize they will never be able to wade through, let alone translate the abbreviations and symbols. A link to a good recipe database would be the best Tweet of all. I didn’t waste much time with it, but the guacamole recipe is indexed on the wrong page and also sounds like one only an Irishwoman could love. Nice stunt, but even Strand ain’t buying.
I do hope there are no razor blades in the afterlife. Poor MFK would be slicing her wrists big-time on reading her mentee’s “savory taste” and “a delicious one at that.” And I could not get through the where-are-the-hosts-of-yesteryear BS and so had to rely on Twitter followers to confirm what I suspected — the likes of Zarela went unacknowledged. But I did read just far enough into the review to wonder where TF the editor was. I guess now that “real America” has decided there’s no money for 9/11 responders it’s okay to fantasize about explosions and fires outside an East Side restaurant. I still remember getting censored in reviewing then-rational James Lileks’ immensely entertaining “Gallery of Regrettable Food” in about 11/11 for mentioning one dish looked like something had blown up in the kitchen. We are all insensitive now.
It’s getting so it’s impossible to count all the reasons to despair over the state of “journalism” these days, what with nine-hour spiels on the Senate floor written off as a tempest on the Twitter, and self-proclaimed valley-trash fame whores on magazine covers. But the stunt a privileged kid pulled in gaming the food stamp system for an “exposé” hit a new low. And guess what he discovered: You can buy $19-a-pound swordfish with government benefits. Math is a weak point with wingnuts, as evidenced by the mess they’ve made of the federal budget over the last decade, but you would think he would understand one extravagant shopping trip does not a month’s meals make. I’m just amazed he didn’t go down to Holy Foods in a pimp outfit.
I thought it was just me dislocating my shoulder trying to heft all the recipe troves this season; one actually takes it as a point of hyperbolic pride to be cited as weighing “15 pounds.” But Anne Mendelson also noticed: The cookbook stack is too damn high.
Not to trivialize the latest WikiLeaks dump, but I’ll admit to entertaining myself imagining what similar dispatches from the old Food Coven would reveal. At the same time the smiling faces were cranking out cooking-is-love smarm, you know they had to be backbiting like nobody’s business.
Of course, that’s the old food world. By chance I finally caught up with the desperately unamusing Xmas windows at Barneys and realized they might count among the last gasps of Tin Chef mania. Teevee is fading. The new superstars of food will be those who pushed hard to get the child nutrition law passed, those who are fighting for food safety, those who make it possible for small farmers to at least dream of competing with taxpayer-subsidized corn/soy conglomerates. Etc. Our next-door neighbors’ daughter has switched her major to food policy, which to me represents a huge leap forward from the possibilities open to me when I decided to leave journalism to go into food in 1983. Once upon a time we only had to lead Americans to food. Now maybe you can teach them how to think.
In the meantime, I despair at the idiocy on display in major publications in the age of the Google. The WSJ, for instance, had a dutiful recounting of a dinner promoting “real Italian,” with a billboard that had buffalo, as in milk, capped. Which was only the least of the ignorance-on-parade glitches. (Funny how the more high-end the ads in that paper, the more carefully vetted the copy is — guess they think the unwashed Palinites won’t notice all the grammar/syntax/punctuation errors.) And the hometown paper ran the most bizarre story on “single-entree” restaurants in the Metro section that quoted a Florida expert on driving for food and included in the sidebar restaurants that offer a full range of seafood. I know we can’t use the sausage cliché anymore, but I’m just glad I went back there to work and understand exactly why one hand doesn’t know the other is stinking up the joint.
Out-of-towners are always the little kids at the emperor’s parade — we had dinner with a sublimely food-savvy friend in from Chicago the other night and he was ranting about how cheesy the Seconda Tenuta looks. Italians, this Italophile said, do design right. And the Batali-ized translation “looks like a Bennigan’s, where they just shoved in all this shit to try to make it feel authentic.” He was happy with the espresso he’d scored with his wife but horrified by the aesthetic disaster around him. Somehow, he didn’t sound mollified when I said he should, given all the raving about the emperor’s ermine, be happy he got in at all.