This is why you’re dead

Gourmet has become the zombie of the food world — there’s no way to keep the damn thing buried. The latest ghoulishness comes in the form of a cookie cookbook rounding up 68 years’ worth of recipes paired with easily the most disturbing photographs I think I’ve seen outside “The Gallery of Regrettable Food.” Maybe it was meant to be arty. But it made me wonder if the missing ingredient might not be Zoloft.

Pig in a blanket, indeed

So I guess I have to acknowledge the big issue, that the hometown paper’s Sunday magazine finally decided to emulate the New Yorker and devote nearly every page to fud. I tried to slog through it, but even for me it was just too much, too close to fetishizing rather than enlightening. Apparently all artisans are young hipsters too constipated to crack a grin. Every CSA experience has to reflect the same arc, from scorn to worship. (I read backward, obviously.) Self-promotion is now acceptable if you include your boss. Etc. Etc. What was most fascinating was that this should have been the fattest issue of all time. Even back when I contributed to the Food column, in those halcyon days when it was more recipes than plodding prose, I knew the only reason it existed in such a “serious” publication was to lure advertisers. This month I think skinny Relish sucked in more. Still, one commercial appeal worked: By the end, I was ready for a shot of Patron.

Stew and abstinence

And even that is not as obscene as what Taste of Home has become. A magazine that most subscribers loved for the lack of advertising is now one blurry mess of editorial and promotion. I was stopped cold by an ad for liners for slow cookers, with a “Cook Smart” feature on the facing page on using your slow cooker. Last tip, for an easy way to clean your crockpot? Use a liner. I guess the oceans are not fully clogged with enough plastic crap yet; why not start selling something a nonstick gadget should not even need? And at least the all-white, all-female, deliberately naive “field editors” have been retained for comic relief. One, in Smalltown, Texas, submitted “Fire Island ziti.” Obvious missing ingredient in her heartland intro: Teh gay.

2,000 words to say: Prep as U go

Taking a short bile break to restart my wit engine. But first have to wonder if anyone knew you can grate shit in a Cuisinart. Everything but a whole snapper, apparently. And last I read, the iPad was the Typhoid Mary of tech — touching one in an Apple store would give you serious cooties. Now it’s the greatest thing to caress before eating? I need a drink. Or a week’s worth.

“Yeah, like the rubes are getting a deuce @6”

I reTweeted a link to a news story on a dog park in Boston that is turning scooped poop into energy, enough to power one streetlight. If only someone could do the same with all the horseshit generated over a single restaurant opening in Manhattan, one 99 percent of a certain paper’s readers will never experience. The place should have been named Arturo, for its biggest media benefactor.

Dinner party Q: What’s up with fruit carts?

Speaking of which: Years and years ago we met a filmmaker couple at a dinner party who said they hated Sunday Arts & Leisure because it was nothing but promo pages for whatever movies/plays/concerts were opening that week. But at least it made sense for that section to do a huge fall-season blowout every year — Broadway gears up after touristy summer, and the Film Festival kicks into gear, and music venues have their schedules set for cold nights. But restaurants, let’s be serious, are a different sort of animal, not least because people gotta eat no matter what month it is. So it’s always sad to see Dining reduced to whipping up excitement for a bogus phenomenon as if it were just another weekly magazine (before the internets, I used to keep copies of fall preview issues just to see how many restaurants opened way past schedule or, too often, not at all). I guess you can fool some of the readers some of the time. And it did manage to sell four times as many ads as usual. As in exactly four.

Note to WSJ: Egg producer means chicken

And speaking of rotten eggs, it’s both amazing and not really surprising that wingnuts have decided the real culprit in the great half-billion-egg recall is not the factory owner who extracts maximum profits with minimal sanitation. It’s the “illegal immigrants” who are paid very little to tend the many, many hens. So give their overlords more tax cuts. And wonder why you order a burger and never get to specify whether you want shit with that.

Unclean omelets

I used to justify continuing our subscription to the WSJournal by saying my consort prefers it to the NYTimes. But I’ll admit I’m addicted not just to the feces-flinging  monkeys on the opinion pages and the slovenly copy-editing in the local section but to the increasing transparency of how the paper’s overlords perceive the other 98 percent of America. One piece, on Restaurant Week, carried a hed referring to “the great unwashed.” Yes, only the little people go out for bargains. Another focused on the wines in first class (not even business class) on various airlines. There’s news you can use while swilling box pours back in steerage.

Dice those chives

Lately I’ve been thinking and Tweeting a lot about Richard Thompson’s prescient song “We’re All Working for the Pharaoh.” Who could ever have imagined pennies would wind up as the new dollars, if you were damned lucky? Food aggregators are apparently offering $12 a post, which is $12 more than the Huffington Post is paying as its founder flogs the Big O to do more about job creation. But things could be worse for the gainfully unemployed: We could have big jobs.

In both my stints at the NYTimes, the restaurant critic was always a protected species, a creature devoted mostly to one vital gig, finding and rating the best places to eat in a city with more than 15,000 choices. I’m still stinging from the acid flung the morning I had to call the PS to plead for a critic’s notebook when we were light on copy. It was way too much to demand (although we got it). So I guess it’s no wonder the JGold Wannabe appears to be so overstretched he’s cranking out stuff for the magazine that would take the Bulwer-Lytton trophy. That may have been the most pretentious lede in the history of food writing. Obviously, you can’t answer readers’ questions, chuckle over your fud and round up recipes without something having to give. Straining at stool can be lethal. Ask Elvis.

Way to dodge the big question: How was it?

Worse was the profile of the guy who swears “The Pot Knows.” And not just because of the grammatical errors (you miss badly, not bad). One of the most vital and vibrant voices on Twitter was reduced to a pitiable old man whose ingestion of nutrients was made to seem unsavory. The Esquire profile was, clearly, an impossible act to follow, but why make someone with so many struggles do your standard cook-and-pony show? All my assumptions about the guy were eradicated by the great time suck where we surrender so many hours. I know he’s tough enough, rich enough, in love enough. And he must have thought the same in agreeing to this stunt. Unfortunately, it turned out to be about as palatable as the Chimp running for the cameras with Iraq veterans fitted with prosthetic legs. Readers who had no back-story were probably blown away, but it was telling how many comments elsewhere lamented that “I miss his movie reviews.” Earth to the clueless: He is not now a food writer. He never stopped reviewing. Call it profile fail. Or, “powdered broth.”

Hack chicken

One of the hoariest chestnuts in journalism is the “secrets of food stylists” story. It just resurfaced, again, but the spin was how food photography is changing. Unfortunately, the evidence was attributed to the same names who were in all the early pieces I read that revealed the ice cream in the ad is not ice cream. Fossils make strange trendsetters.

And NPR discovers food trucks

The Consort had a field day at his CUNY gig comparing the price of Time magazine by subscription with a Starbucks — you can now get five copies for one cup. Even that might be too cheap, though, given the bizarre Organic v Supermarket piece it ran. Just consider: When it came to beef, organic was not even an option, but a friend snared yet another plug for his feedlot stuff. And the presentation was all Organic Fail when the results were nuanced. I guess something had to wrap around the ad for the the anti-fat drug du jour. But even that was not as bad as the wildly ill-timed op-ed the hometown paper ran against locavorism. Right in the middle of a huge recall of industrial eggs is not the best moment to throw up some lies, damn lies and statistics. Right at peak tomato season is not the best month to compare hothouse tomatoes and California hardballs. Right when everyone has moved beyond food miles to the bigger picture is not the savviest hour to engage in fuzzy math. Smarter people than I, particularly at Grist, seized on the hugest problem with the piece, though. Those of us who choose to buy as much local food as we can aren’t doing it for only one reason. Just to name one, we’re dabbling in real estate. Every perfect $5 heirloom tomato could help keep a farm in business and a Gekko out of a trophy house on the Hudson.

Highlights for Children, w/edible souvenirs

One other reason to buy local food: You can feel really smug when the rest of America is in freak-out mode after nearly half a billion supermarket eggs have been recalled. (Worse than the salmonella was the thought that eggs sold in May might still be in refrigerators — and I thought I was bad at GE pruning.) Nearly 20 years ago I sold an op-ed to the hometown paper on another reason to eat local food: You don’t have to worry about shit in it. Nothing is new today except the scale of the disaster, the fact that one producer can flood the market with literal filth. But my bigger beef is with the hollering machines (formerly known as print megaphones). Just as with the oil gusher and the mine explosion and every other regulatory breakdown, now we’re getting no end of stories breathlessly reporting that “the company had a long history of regulatory issues.” Whatever happened to preventive journalism, to exposing the bad guys before they have poisoned more than a thousand people? Once the manure is out, it’s a little late to be exposing the holes in the barn door.

Secret sauce

And I Tweeted this, but will say it again: The hometown paper had to be fucking with us, running a photo of a meal tray at Guantanamo with one item labeled “yellow cake.” The only thing worse would have been a Judy Miller byline alongside it. Sicker still was that the story was all whining about reporters’ not getting access to the real story while another photo showed Ensure and a feeding tube looking as innocent as the Harry Potter books in the library at the hellhole. Anyone who saw “Titicut Follies” knows force-feeding is horrific. Showing the accouterments without discussing the technique is like a spin inside a spin. Can you imagine Upton Sinclair being shown a workman’s boots protruding from a sausage grinder and only whimpering about his obstructed view?