Today’s $4,000 bag

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but one of the best classes I took in high school in Arizona was required: General Business. We learned stuff as simple as how to make change and as daunting as how to “buy” stocks, which involved translating the tables and tracking our paper profits and losses. But one exercise must have helped make me a total cynic: We had to analyze a few advertisements (then only in print) to decipher what the company was and was not telling people. Among the ones I went after was Pop-Tarts, then the cool new breakfast but a total disappointment to my family — my mom baked, and we could tell whatever was sealed in those foil packages was anything but food. I don’t remember the specifics, but I got an A for picking the BS to pieces.

So why am I surprised that “real” media should have gone batshit over the opening of a store promoting the processed crap in Times Square? These are the same people who think any edible grotesquerie is worthy of front-page real estate, that an inventor who calculates chemicals+chemicals=profits is worthy of a cheesy, puffy obit. Thank you, internets, for doing the ultimate mashup: Blog-Google Pop-Tarts and you’ll get something on all trending topics: Homosexual Pop-Tarts Tampon.

No ads, pls. We’re Chore Boying.

I read this often in the pol porn I’m obsessed with: If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But it applies to Big Food just as much. Of all the “new and improveds” for spices, roasting is the absolute dumbest. Why can’t we just buy tiny quantities for freshness? Spices are toasted right before using because that brings out the strongest flavor and fragrance. Do it a year in advance and consumers might as well throw that $4 for a jar of cumin or cinnamon in the trash can. The one lined with bags with “vanilla” “scent.”

J Street for carrots

I was encouraged to see the letters to the editor on salt were smarter than the megaturd that inspired it. Readers get it: The problem is not salt on the table. It’s salt in processed crap. And how do you avoid it? Eat less processed crap. But the media has a really hard time just saying that, without getting the fair and balanced story on Cheez-Its. (Christ on a cracker, does anyone need those? Eat a chunk of really good Cheddar.) And it’s easy to see why. Whether online or in print, newspapers and magazines need Big Food’s ads, these days more than ever. So this is the best of times: They can have their requisite salt freakout and clean up, too, because what’s coming is an onslaught of full-page ads for “new, lower-sodium” junk, just as we saw in the MSG war between rival soup companies. There’s no money in real food and no end to the profits on cheap food.

Half-and-half and one Splenda, pls

New rule for processed crap: If it’s nutritionally worthless, it’s got a huge “multi-grain” label on it. The latest is whatever that stuff is that’s packaged in tennis ball tins. If I were a devotee, I’d be annoyed that my junk favorite was being made healthful. No one eats chemicals bound with rice flour for a good reason.

(In other nutrition nuttiness, I liked the study that came out showing industrial sausage is worse for you than plain steak. You think? In other news, water’s wet.)

Whole-grain buns

Speaking of “food comes from the supermarket,” one of the most impressive feats in food marketing has been the blithe acceptance of beef hot dogs. Untold hordes have been duped into thinking they’re eating something better than pigs’ ears, snouts, anuses, etc. Cows don’t have those nasty bits, do they? But now I’m seeing big ads for “Angus franks” and really have to laugh. I don’t have to try one to know it will certainly not taste like steak. Parts is parts.

The color of tofu

A couple of damning photos also made the e-rounds, contrasting Teabaggers with wackos the last time that set was so riled up and out in the streets, protesting integration as “communism” in the 1950s. The real reason for their anger is clear enough. But what’s most fascinating is that the wingnuts today are, as Fey posing as Falin pointed out, so obese they have to protest sitting down. Back then they were skinny. But of course that was before government corn subsidies made American food so cheap.

Time for food trucks

Everyone else can obsess on the supersizing of the Last Supper over the centuries (although I did like “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!”’s take: they might need a bigger cross). I was dwelling more on the scary thought that Big Food is developing a “special” salt for garbage we don’t need. It’s a testament to how over-sodiumed most processed crap is that the reasonable amount of salt you would use on your own fresh tortilla chips is way too imperceptible in the stuff that needs to last for months in a bag at an inflated price. Unfortunately, I read about this new sprinkle in the same paper that informed me, by way of a UK restaurant critic, that blue cheese has twice as many calories as other cheeses. This in a piece debating the merits of the calorie accounting on restaurant menus required by the new health reform law. We’re longtime subscribers, but I am really starting to wonder how long we can stay with the Foxes at The Wall Street Post.

Who will sanitize the hand sanitizers?

And speaking of hysteria, the media obsession with Toyota is turning me into the equivalent of a Prius birther — maybe it actually is all a careful campaign designed to make hybrid cars look dangerous and keep Americans dependent on oil. The same thing inevitably happens with food. If there’s an E. coli or salmonella outbreak in anything relatively natural, it’s always attack of the killer tomatoes, suicide-mission scallions, lethal-weapon spinach, death in an eggshell. But if the government recalls a few million tons of it-will-kill-you-level contaminated processed beef, good luck finding out about it. Worst of all has been the coverage of the recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein. That shit is in everything (153 products on the FDA warning list alone), and it’s not making tabloid headlines and leading the teevee “news.” Big Food gets to keep its dirty secrets secret. Maybe Cheetos eaters deserve what they get: messed pajamas

Corn: A grain in Tostitos, a grass in cattle feed

It was easy to Twitterize NYMag’s story by a usually smart writer doing his part for the salt package by eating badly for nine days: “The man who mistook grease for sodium.” Please. Salt does not give you zits, or stomach cramps. You do not need to over-ingest cheeseburgers to abuse the stuff. You don’t even have to combine it with fat to fuck yourself up. Just open up a can of MSG-free soup. My stomach cramped as I was thinking about how the media is no smarter about nutrition fads than it was back when I got sucked into the fat-fearing insanity simply because the Snackwells ads were paying the magazine bills. I always used to say nutrition is an infant science (never say it to a dietician at a party), but Michael Pollan is even harsher. The salt crusade is just misguided, and the media is just playing the same role it did in the run-up to the Iraq War. But they need the eggs. Like the ad for a “doesn’t get better than this” sandwich that contains half a day’s sodium allowance in one too-dainty-for-a-construction-worker handful. I grew up watching my dad eat salt out of his hand to settle his stomach, before he could afford Tums. His kids all developed a taste for salt on cantaloupe. Six of us are still standing. No one with ads to sell is going to tell you salt is not an issue if you cook your own food. For all the bitching about the nanny state, someone needs to stop the enablers. Which is a funny thought now that the old-media blogs are the new salt mines. And I doubt they will even get the tagline on that ad: “Oh goody, it’s Monday.” We are living in a 24/365 world. It’s too late to demand: “Give us salt or give us liberty.”


Another sign that we’ll be digging out of that useful idiot’s mess for a good long time is a huge and underreported recall of salami that has people puking and squittering across 80 percent of the country. Amazing how much energy/$$ was wasted scaring everyone about furriners all these years rather than putting cops on the food beat. What’s also weird is that the salmonella may be coming from peppercorns, which once were considered preservatives, not poison. Funny to think that if the spice was imported from China, they’d be on that case like stink on shit. As it is, good luck even knowing more than a million pounds of risky meat-like substance may be contaminated. The media would prefer to keep you more focused on Edwards’ porking than on cured danger in the deli case.

Way down in the hold

The link-bait of an op-ed the NYTimes ran on frozen versus fresh salmon made me wonder why canned didn’t enter the environmental equation. It can be shipped not just without air freight but also without freezers. I posted a quick qualm over at the Epi Log but was soon sucked into questions on the Twitter that ate my life: Someone has to be cutting corners on this new bounty of frozen salmon out of Alaska. Might it be the Chinese? The Brits, after all, are already benefiting from a supermarket price war. Since farming has backfired big time, the red chicken of the sea seems destined to win the race to the bottom.

Smart for dummies

Then again, this nonsense seems part of the new media drive to bring back the Clinton glory days, with all trumped-up scandal all the time. One surly cretin in the LATimes of all papers even attacked Mrs. O for promoting eating right and exercising (something the Chimp wife he worked for never did while idly smoking and reading for eight miserable years). We the readers are left to discern from heritage sheep’s entrails that the reason Big Food had to pull back on its up-is-down, war-is-peace, Froot-Loops-R-nutritious campaign is that there’s a new sheriff in town. The crap those processors got away with doesn’t fly anymore.

Just don’t call ’em “everyday crumbs”

As much as I admire and appreciate The Crusader Whose Name Sounds Like Bee Fodder, to the point that he spoke and I obeyed on Holy Foods, I’m not quite convinced of his new crusade to throw a diet saddle onto the health reform horse. I’m gimping evidence of the reality that you can eat well and exercise and in a heartbeat still wind up causing expensive damage to your only body. All the fast food reforms in the world would not have precluded that happening. And so I hear calls for taxes on soda and stop cold: Diet soda is no better than the fructosy crap; in fact, it may be worse. I agree that Americans are eating horribly and Big Food + Big Pharma is making it worse; Harper’s years ago pointed out that a bad diet that turned the whole country diabetic could be very lucrative for both industries. But now that Holy Foods has moved into my neighborhood, I’m starting to realize you really do catch more flies with organic sugar than even the most esoteric vinegar. I’ve only been inside a couple of times, but I am always struck by how wide-eyed other shoppers are in a neighborhood so starved of serious food; they look, I imagine, the way medieval peasants did on setting foot into the cathedral at Chartres. But this glory is accessible in the here and now. Make vegetables sexy, put the processed crap farther away, and yes, they will come. In a battle of Dunkin’ Subway v Holy F, I’m afraid I’m on the side of sanctimonious.

Doughnut hole in the head

If health insurance ever, ever gets reformed in this country, I do hope the batshit insane wingnuts now acting thuggishly at town halls don’t give up too easily. Surely they can get duped just as easily by Big Food as they have been by the pre-existing death panels. Next they can run around protesting calorie counts on menus and salmonella-free beef as un-American. “Get the government off our clean water!” would make a good slogan.

What, no artificial lettuce to be had?

Some years ago an editor friend at an important women’s magazine suggested I look into a mysterious phenomenon in food (for sport, not for a fee). A “girl” was said to be making millions with emails on fake food, but at the time some were unsure she even existed. Some, shall we say, suspected she was a front for Big Food — none of “her” recipes ever showcased raw, raw and more raw ingredients, only heavily processed crap combined with even more heavily processed crap. The results may all have been low-calorie, but then so is Tab. Human bodies need natural nutrients.

So I have to say I approached the LAT profile with almost unnatural interest (on the second try, after a blog goaded me, though; the first attempt was thwarted by a miscoded display ad). And of course I found only a timid nod to the head-scratching going on out in the real world. The poor test kitchen even had to test processed crap, and I know from nearly six good years that that team is most comfortable and most adept with what farmers produce with the help of the oldest mother of all.

One of the many reasons I rarely link here is that I don’t want to drive traffic to train wrecks and encourage the addled engineers. And I am not alone. Imagine if a once honorable newspaper had chosen to do what newspapers once did so well and challenged a huge phenomenon whose success runs counter to all that is good. The hits would just keep coming in this viral blogiverse. But that might scare off the advertisers obliterating your stories. Good luck living on little box ads for “lose 25 lbs” and “free Jewish recipes.” How’s that selling-our-souls-to-the-Google working out for downsized journalists anyway?