Now with less logic

Not for the first time, I’m thinking the leading cause of obesity etc. in America is sloppy reporting. The new health columnist at the WSJournal just blithely informed her myriad readers that trans fats are what make croissants flaky. Sorry, that would be the beurre, a nice healthful fat since time immemorial. And don’t get me started on the coverage of the single study linking a little unneeded avoirdupois to longevity. Since my femoral calamity, I stop and think every day that every five extra pounds will put 25 pounds of stress on a joint like a hip or knee, not to mention the fact that the additional exertion involved is comparable to hoisting a sack of flour up a staircase. To spin the old joke: Even if you don’t live a little longer with your flesh spilling blithely over into the next airline seat, it will feel like forever. Then again, maybe putting your newspaper/magazine down will make the journey lighter.

Celluloid heroes

Maybe I don’t get out to the movies enough anymore, but the brilliant “Michael Clayton” seemed to be phat with food significance, and not just because a couple of whistle-blowers have already been found as “suicides” in contracting scandals involving nutritional support for the troops. I loved that the law firm’s faux pity party for the dead partner was at the Waverly Inn, the implication being that the only way schlubby lawyers, no matter how rich and powerful, could ever eat there would be to rent out the entire restaurant. I liked the back story on the failure of the Clooney character’s restaurant (location, location, loan sharks). But given that the whole script was built on corporate greed to protect the bottom line at all costs, I really had to laugh at the sight in one scene of a stack of margarine containers in the refrigerator next to the Dom Perignon. Obviously the owner had stocked up for his manic armload of fresh baguettes from a bakery in SoHo. But you have to wonder how many legal beagles are on retainer to protect against future claims against that fake food sold as the healthful alternative to butter. Good night and good luck indeed.

Don’t inspect, don’t tell

Big Food’s new motto seems to be “make shit while the sun don’t shine.” With the entire federal government evidently taken over by hacks and cronies, one company just got away with marketing frozen fecal burgers for months and now the chocolate industry is looking to cut its costs and push up its profits by getting DC approval to substitute vegetable oil for cocoa butter. Apparently pure food for everyone is a socialist idea. The WSJournal, in one of those stories that reeks of Murdochian sulfur, ran a long take on both sides that lent too much credibility to BF. Anytime candy makers start talking about healthier options, I want to run straight to the cane sugar — right now study after study is turning up nutritional benefits from real chocolate. And even if those are underwritten by Ghirardelli, you have to wonder why a 67-year-old burger packager simply shut down in a matter of days after getting caught with manure in its main product. Killer Jack in the Box, after all, is still selling strong.

All the trimmings

This year’s Thanksgiving issues of the food magazines are better than they have any right to be, at least the two and a half I have ingested. Bon Appetit’s is very smart and beautifully designed, breaking down the meal into dishes and cooking the hell out of them. And Saveur’s is taking me many tries to get through simply because it’s readable. Unfortunately, while I did learn that hybrids have taken over the cranberry world, I was surprised at how pumpkin can leave such water on the brain. Apparently since my last expedition to the bogs around South Carver, Mass., when Howes and Early Blacks were all any grower produced, Big Food has shifted toward genetic monkeying to such an extent that a couple growing organic can warrant a story just for doing what came naturally only 15 years ago. But I can’t imagine anything similar has happened off in another harvest capital my consort and I trekked to for our ill-fated book. Even if you bought a Dickinson pumpkin in Morton, Ill., you would not get a great puree for your pie next month, simply because what the cannery does best is extract liquid: One ton of raw pumpkin produces 600 pounds to be tinned. Try that at home, and not with a jack-o’-lantern.

A green thing eaten raw

There’s a silly e-joke going around about a drunk who gets caught in a field with his pants down and responds in feigned shock when the arresting officer points out that he’s humping a pumpkin:

“Shit, is it midnight already?”

Unfortunately, worse forms of pumpkin abuse are happening on the commercial level. Trend-obsessed companies are turning an aroma-free kitchen workhorse into massage creams and masques and much scarier stuff — one company is marketing pumpkin pie shampoo, another pumpkin pie syrup to be mixed into cocktails or, more chilling still, coffee. The freakiest is selling pumpkin body oil. Anoint yourself with that and you might want to stay in after dark.

Gold in the four food groups

The day after reading that food banks are running on empty in New York  thanks to the federal government sweating the small stuff out of the budget, I was lured to Petrossian for an early (for me) press event staged partly to introduce its new private tasting room, complete with caviar omelets. Crazies can call Paul Krugman shrill till the Wagyu cows come home, but something is wrong with a country where the super-rich cannot find enough ways to dispose of their income and the working poor can’t even get vegetables to puree into secret ingredients for their macaroni and cheese. But if you really want your head to explode, start following the WSJournal’s coverage of the investigation into the suspected fraud and corruption involving some of the country’s biggest brand names (Kraft, Conagra, Sara Lee). Every day it gets worse. Nothing, of course, has been proven in a government that does not admit torture, but the gist is that companies and middlemen supporting the troops’ need to eat are jacking up prices to obscene levels. War profiteering once would have been considered treason. Now, where have you gone, Jimmy Dean sausage?

Shave and a drumstick

The other vivid detail from an NYT story last week is that a Georgia poultry slaughterhouse raided by immigration is now hiring “men from a nearby homeless mission.” I assume they’re slightly better groomed than the bums shaking coffee cups on my corner. But I’m not sure I’d want them anywhere near my wings. There are worse things than salmonella in chicken potpies.


Processed food is getting scarier. Kraft is now making an orange product — I wouldn’t call it cheese — that it says will “help keep your digestive system on track.” Is that a promise or a threat? Somehow I keep hearing Angelica Huston in “The Grifters” when something else that color appears. . . .

When the levees choke

You know it’s predawn in America when food manufacturers start begging for more regulation. In a week when E. coli was detected in lettuce yet again, even after all the blustering from the same Pinocchio who also promised to rebuild Katrina, the WSJournal reported that private companies have come to realize they need public help policing what they sell. To quote the president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, “A strong FDA is in our interest.” And when big business gets hungry, government has to feed it. Grover Norquist, the phone in the bathroom is ringing. Your salmonella tub is about to run out of water.

Organic candy for the soul

Campaigns to get Americans to eat better are the surge of the food wars. Marketers will seize on any tiny sign of progress as huge news, and the media will chime right in while people just get fatter and more diabetic. Take Hannaford Brothers’ test of a star system for supermarket food, which it just proclaimed a huge success after a year. The billboard in the NYTimes read: “Sales jump for many foods that get a ‘healthy’ rating.” But the story said the biggest increase was all of 7 percent, for lean ground beef; the other “jumps” were 1 to 5 percent. That strikes me as being as statistically significant as the Chimp’s approval rating. After googling Hannaford to see how many other news outlets swallowed the press release, I’m starting to wonder about that chain. Not only is it trying to persuade shoppers to avoid good whole milk, but a 65-year-old woman was not allowed to buy wine in Maine because she did not have her driver’s license on her. Chain policy is to card anyone who looks under 45. Which, if I’m doing my math right, is more than double the drinking age in any state. See what happens when a grocer turns nutrition nanny? Grandmas can’t get their heart-healthy shiraz.

Chemicals a day keep the pounds away

The maddest kitchen scientist on the planet has to be “Hungry Girl,” whose diet “recipes” are regurgitated in a certain daily pooper-scooper. I read them for the exercise. You could scratch your head for hours trying to figure out what “sugar-free maple syrup” might be, let alone “no-calorie butter spray” and “Gerber Mini Fruits” (of which one-quarter cup is to be mixed with fat-free vanilla yogurt and Fiber One bran cereal; let your digestive tract wonder where the natural went). The measurements are even more entertaining, like “24 sprays.” Apparently when you’re doling out no calories, you must be precise.

Get out your razor blades

Is it too much to ask to be allowed to put away our whites after Labor Day before huge mounds of Halloween crap start showing up at the grocery store? I’m a sucker for candy corn, but not a full month before the leaves even begin to turn below my windows. And with summer squash still dominating the Greenmarket, is it not far too early for a “pumpkin frost latte” at a crapola chain near Union Square? Compared with seasonal greed anymore, global warming looks to be happening at glacial speed. It almost makes you pray the Chimp’s drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub approach helps the Chinese steal Christmas. Lead in the fruitcakes would slow them down.

Curds way

So much for trying to drink the right thing. I bought organic milk three days in a row, and every single container was right on the edge of sour even though it was at least a week away from the sell-by date. The three brands came from three different stores, including Holy Foods, and not one of them was out of refrigeration for more than the 30 minutes max it took me to get home. It was almost enough to make me quit straying from Ronnybrook, except that the fourth container I bought last week came from that great dairy, and the milk was this close to off. But then things are already turning on the milk front. As a compulsive reader of coupons, I see Horizon organic now comes with “DHA Omega-3.” You tell me why milk needs an additive replicating something found in
fish oil. The carton says it “helps support brain health.” And if you’re stupid enough to believe that, I have some Stouffer’s “artisanal” lasagne to sell you.