As soon as the “Fairway is falling” hysteria started, I knew exactly how the saga would unfold in all the news outlets. Instead of seeing it as Chapter EleventySeven of the Twinkie tale, they sold it as the usual “not adapting to online shopping and new competition.” When the reality is that vulture capitalists loaded the chain down with debilitating debt while mismanaging what they had bumbled into. Now the lawyers and other bankruptcy grifters will loot the last assets until there’s nothing in the cash register left for the 1,400 employees, either for their severance pay or, most definitely, for their pensions. Who coulda predicted?
Weird jetsam gets caught in my cranial sieve. Whenever I pass the Puck Building, as I did the other night on the way to a friend’s play in the East Village, I flash back on the Wall Street wedding we went to there a full 30 years ago. I commented that the passed food was surprisingly good and the best man, standing next to me, threw his toothpick onto the tray and spat: “It should be. It cost a fucking fortune.” Did I mention it was a Wall Street wedding? And they’re back . . .
Maybe you can’t judge a cupcake chain by its abysmal scones. But the news that Crumbs up and folded did not surprise me, not least because the chain had already been retrenching and fudging why. You can get by with mediocrity in the food business for eternity. Crappy will kill you. But the bigger lesson: Mom&Pop, don’t let your startup grow up to be taken over by the likes of Bain capitalists. Just as I suspected, when the going gets tough, they’ll dump the debts, sell the assets, and only the little people get screwed. Maybe the Food Network should consider a “Zombie Bakeries” show, cast with some screwed-over Twinkies types. Anyway, banksters are never the best judges of either portion size or how much overkill the market can bear, so I do hope the quick-buck guys are heavily invested in froyo. Half the storefronts on the Upper West Side would be open for real businesses if that oversaturated concept had a meltdown.
Also to be filed under Haterade: The fury incited when a chef uses Kickstarter. It’s not as if there’s a limited supply of beneficent cash out there. Why not appeal to patrons who are willing to support you rather than settle for $4-a-month interest on a $50,000 deposit? The .01 percent may be hoarding their megabucks, but real Americans are clearly willing to underwrite farmers’ markets and goat farms and, yes, restaurants, whether for the greater good or the personal high. Banksters, as anyone who has been paying attention understands, are not exactly willing to open up their vaults for entrepreneurs in an industry with a fail record just slightly lower than man-on-dog reproduction. . .
I’ve probably typed before that I walked out of “Food, Inc.” ready to go order a burger, just a burger made from a cow that had been raised right, on grass rather than E. coli-inducing corn. And I know I’ve noted my consort and I eat more meat than ever now that we can find pork and beef raised right. And I am totally sure I have observed before that beans and rice, or corn and beans, are a far better choice than ground filth for those who can’t afford $20-a-pound grass-fed hanger steak. Still, nothing brought all those thoughts into focus more clearly than reading that a farmer is actually feeding his herd candy rejects during these tight times. Sure, his moneymakers aren’t dropping dead yet. But old Elsie was not designed by the Big Guy to thrive on slop. I was once commissioned to review a book that laid bare food fraud over the centuries that, to my warped mind, paralleled exactly the bankster thievery that was then threatening to bring on a global meltdown. So I know that, once upon a not-so-long-ago time, NYC feasted on “swill milk” — “milk from cows kept in vast, darkened cow sheds and fed the hot grain mash left over from distilling” — a nice little mess responsible for both the death of babies and the suffering of animals. Who was it who said that history does repeat itself — the motherfuckers just don’t listen?
I’m half-relieved the “fancy” food show will be in DC this summer, for the first time in my memory, not least because I can legitimately avoid that exercise in temporary bingeing. A bigger reason is that it points up how the center of power is shifting in this country as the banksters reveal themselves to be not masters of the universe but greedy fucking cretins. Both buyers for “gourmet” shops and vendors will be flocking to a different city, eating in different restaurants, now that the money’s moved. So it was good timing for Time magazine to finally do the elephant-in-the-media feature: Why is that backwater now booming? And of course it had to take an ideological bent. Much was written about “government contractors.” But the word lobbyist was never mentioned. You’d think they never bought a Congressperson (dinner).
Everyone’s yammering that JP Morgan Chase losing a coupla billion at the dog track is a reason to rein in the too-big-to-fail casinos, so let’s hope the regulatory flashlight shines toward Big Food, too. I just read about a singer forced to tour while shitting/puking his guts out thanks to the great American combination of no health insurance and salmonella in supermarket sushi, and that was after I read about the finding that the listeria in cantaloupes that killed people in 28 states was caused by new owners of a farm deciding cleanliness was not next to profitability. If you’re seeing more op-eds and other blather about the danger from farmers’ markets and small producers, connect your own dots. Of course they want you to think a manageable flock of chickens eating what comes naturally next to the arugula fields is the equivalent of a bomb in a muslin’s underpants. Corporations are people. With a fiduciary responsibility to investors, not to customers.
Apparently the new consumer protection agency already has banks trying to be more transparent: Chase, looking to sign up new customers, was out on Columbus handing out suckers. . .
Speaking of which, I dragged my consort to a party at a new restaurant down near Wall Street, and it turned out to be a total scrum where wine was being doled out in tasting-size dribbles once we fought our way to the bar, while the line for the lavish food stretched for miles. Worse was the crowd, mostly guys with that weekend-in-the-sun-with-alcohol skin color. Bob just looked around and said: “These are the fuckers who stole all the money.” Later I read in the WSJournal that supermarket chains are freaking because their profits are down because more people are dependent on food stamps, and food stamps are being cut. It’s kinda hard to get the “free delivery with $200 purchase” deal when that’s your whole allotment.