Whenever I see a photo these days of the Big O living it up in a restaurant somewhere around the world, I sadly realize again how much the presidency has been diminished. We officially now have a giant peach-colored toddler banging his fork on the table for an overcooked steak with ketchup. America is no longer leader of the food world.
Not fud except for the source, but: Traveling in the Obama era is always better than it was during the Reign of Error when we had to pretend to be Canadian or at least insist we were not Americano but New Yorkese. Still, it was illuminating to talk with a Northern Irishman in Turkey who responded to my lament that there’s a whole lot o’ racism and ignorance on display in this country lately. “No offense,” he said, “but hasn’t there always been?” And before returning to irregularly scheduled snark, I have to note that the consensus among the mostly youngish Turks I met was: “Fucking Erdogan is killing everything. But we need the economic stability.” Looking at the rampant destruction of the city for shopping malls and luxury housing, it did seem as if, as one young put it, “We’re losing our birthright.” Unlike Americans, though, they will at least credit their leader for the extra lira in their lives.
On the lighter side, the story about Erdogan installing a food lab in his megamansion to test for poison inspired some animated discussion over one lunch. One tablemate wondered why, if he’s so terrified someone is out to get him through the gut, he doesn’t just have his wife cook for him. My response: “Maybe he can’t trust her, either.”
I read KKKrazy people, so I know there was a shitstorm over the Big Os’ dinner destination on New Year’s Eve. Somehow it’s beyond the pale (so to speak) when the most powerful man in the country if not the world chooses a $295 prix fixe. Personally, I’d rather have a president worthy of perks. Not a dry drunk choking on pretzels while sneaking O’Doul’s.
And now for something straightforward: Why would a positive — regulations lifted, oysters cleaning up the bay, new business booming — be spun as a negative? Watermen are already having a tough time thanks to climate change; the smart ones would start planting “seeds.” But I guess if rent-stabilized tenants are portrayed as a problem for landlords, oyster farms would have to be seen as eyesores. At first I wondered who has a weekend house in that town. But my cynical side suspects that the real problem is who made it happen. Hope and change must always be painted black.
I was half-relieved when the Big O was seen around the food world reaching over a sneeze guard (and who hasn’t been tempted to do that while trying to communicate with the salsa sloppers)? At last there was a true scandal to get worked up about! But then he went and jumped the line for barbecue, and that was a brisket too far for libtards. Still, imagine the shitstorm if he had had his retinue stand down for that $300 worth of smoky bliss. The kkkrazies would be foaming at the mouth over the billions in tax dollars wasted by the wait. Instead, they have to pray away the gay.
For once I blast out my instant reaction on an issue and I get burned. Of course there was more to the story of the FDA ban on aging cheese on wood; it was not all about a 2012 law promoted by fascistic libs and signed by ol’ Obummer. And of course I’m on the side of the artisanal cheese producers, after having once spent the better part of a day watching Parmigiano-Reggiano being made outside Parma — that small plant was cleaner than any operating room in a hospital catering to hyper-rich Saudis. But I still understand why the government might want to err, even ridiculously, on the side of caution. The great free market simply cannot help itself. With no watchdogs, any producer would be tempted to cut corners; even with policing listeria happens. As for the great free-market argument that “no one would hurt a customer; it would kill sales,” why did the FDA also announce this week that it had set safety standards for infant formula? Think about it. American manufacturers can’t even be trusted not to poison babies . . . .
My favorite wingnut finally got me to pay attention to the new FDA rule forbidding American cheese producers to age their stuff on wood, ostensibly for sanitary reasons. He was all wrought up about libs and Obummer, so I had to point out that neither likely bears the blame and shame for this bureaucratic overreach. Somewhere, you can be pretty sure, someone from the industrial cheese world got paid to get the law changed. Legislators are not looking out for “we the people,” because we only pay their paltry $174,000 salaries, not make them into millionaires. Artisanal cheese producers have even less clout. But if there’s an upside to all of this, it is an acknowledgement that Big Cheese does feel threatened enough to try to stifle the competition. Once you’ve had a Jasper Hill, or a Rogue, processed crap just won’t do it. Meanwhile, the Big O has set in motion a way for “we the people” to let the White House know what matters, as one more way to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, who famously never “listened to focus groups.” Another way for the little guy to fight back would be to launch an insidious campaign to send the message that the dread feds are forcing us to shun home-aged goodness just to prevent the occasional outbreak of listeria. Make the bought-off in Congress own their sellout. Call it “Buy Imported.”
Usually I disregard Tweets that link to stories older than, say, 12 hours — info-junkie that I am, I know so much new information has usually come out that whatever is being reported as new is really as fresh as yesterday’s baguette. But when one of the smartest women in food politics Tweets, I listen. And her catch — on gubmint loans for local food — illustrates the great chasm between “reporters” today and reality. The former are constantly whining that the Big O is not giving them enough access. Yet this eminently encouraging information was just lying lox-like, there for the taking. It’s as if they don’t know how to use either the Google or the .gov.
Whatever else you might say about the Big Os, they are the most food-savvy White House occupants ever. He not only knew to make a pit stop at the most revered deli in America but could riff on the menu afterward. “Stinkburger” and “meanwich” may not be the most clever coinages. But joking about them seems much more presidential than choking on a pretzel after too much O’Doul’s.
Late to this, but I have to say all the restaurant analogies for the rocky start to the Obamacare.gov exchanges have been pretty amusing. Either the site was as slammed as a Shake Shack or the whole program was hopelessly in the weeds. The reality is somewhere in between: The Health Department finally showed up to try to keep the cooks from spreading Hep A, and it might disrupt service a bit till the customers are covered, too. Too bad safely insured journamalists are all wannabe Yelpsters now.
The reaction to the kicking-a-cripple cuts in food stamps made me wish the Big O would indeed open his FEMA camps and start the impounding of the “patriots” already. So much ugliness is being spewed, even by people who would have you believe they believe “food is love.” I keep hammering away that fast food chains and Walmarts are mooching much more, letting taxpayers compensate for their shit wages, but resentment is the stone-soup du jour in this country. Jay Gould was on to something: “I could hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” And his heirs sell Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups.
The latest reminder that I should type faster: Skittles have overtaken broccoli as the sad fud in the news. Before that, wingnuts were spewing spittle over the report that the Big O told kiddles his favorite edible is broccoli. I’m half with ‘em — it’s a weird choice. But even if it were a whopper, was it really worse than the Chimp and his yellowcake? Oh. Right. One was a white lie.
Given all the fuss over the Big O’s smoking gun, I’m wondering why we libs didn’t go crazier over the Chimp’s “pretzel” incident. There were no photos to prove he hadn’t overindulged in the O’Doul’s (or worse), and the only witness was the dog. Who, you’ll notice, just happened to kick off this week . . .
The shot seen round the world will go down in history, but something else struck me on seeing the photo linked everywhere by everyone. Over the three decades I’ve been writing about food, we’ve all, readers and writers alike, come to believe fast and chains are all Americans have. And yet somehow the Big O’s campaign finds independent after independent. Maybe the choice is clear: Pizza lift. Or car elevator.
Meanwhile, the Big O is showing what government of, for and by the people can do: Buy up the pigs and chickens and (unnoodled) catfish that farmers can’t afford to feed in this drought that somehow happened despite the rabid denial of climate change. And the USDA will be doing that while the do-nothing Congress takes a nice vacation rather than finishing the farm bill. Which is stalled partly because subsidies matter more than food stamps. Because wingnut logic holds that paying people to grow food is naturally better for the economy than helping the needy afford that food: Econ 101R — you grow it, they will buy it. And because this is a nation founded by God, whose first commandment was fuck the poors.