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?
In the same set of coupons, I also came across one for something emblazoned “Let’s remove the guesswork.” Not once in the three blocks of copy did it mention what the problem was for the solution being sold. I’m guessing it’s diabetes, a guess that of course induces really sick thoughts about how Big Food and Big Pharma could have been in cahoots all these decades — make ‘em sick and then sell ‘em medically processed crap. Then again, there are billboards on bus shelters in Queens promoting oblique antidotes to opioid-induced constipation. One pill makes you plugged up, another makes you squitter?
Speaking of (slightly staler) diets, this is timely if you conjure “food tasters in the Vatican.”* Given that the Pope was on a pretty restricted regimen, on doctors’ orders, it looked more than a little unseemly to have manicured celeb chefs out crowing about what they were cooking for him. For cripe’s sake, he wanted to sleep on sackcloth and they forced him to lie down on Frette. Not only was it a little too look-at-me, get-me-press, but it was also kinda cruel. If your guest can have only fish and rice, why show off with truffle-and-mushroom risotto and fresh burrata? God forbid Gandhi ever came to town. It would be beef in barolo sauce.
*Not fud, but still amusing: When I was working late overnight on the copy desk at my new gig at the Bulletin in Philadelphia in 1978, we got word that the pope had died. Everyone said: “Yeah, we know. Last month.” Then, on hearing it was the new pope, a cheer went up: “Overtime!” Every decade that passes makes me wonder what they put in that wannabe reformer’s Communion wine. . .
Groundhog Day now occurs in October. Every fall, food outlets fall for the “OMG, there’ll be no Thanksgiving without pumpkin!” And every winter stores remain stocked with the stuff. It’s as if Googling “pumpkin shortage” won’t give 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, etc. options. Pro tip: Don’t believe the hype about cranberries, either. Growers will never blow through that glut.
“Not the Onion” is the easiest joke in the lead-in book, but the news deemed fit to print on the new California cage law for laying hens really did need a disclaimer. The reporter (or editor) was working so hard to give what Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere” that the story nearly veered into parody. One Midwestern producer bitched that having to provide a few more inches of space for each bird would force him to install heaters “to replace the warmth provided by more closely packed chickens.” (Good thing the MTA never realized it could dispense with heat on the L train.) Then there was the faux concern that “low-income people who rely on eggs as a cheap source of protein” would be hurt the most. As the price goes up, on average, 27 cents a dozen — about 2 cents an egg. (Maybe the penny should not be phased out just yet.) But the real LOL was the whining from a lobbyist that “roomier pens” would “cause injuries” because “chickens are more likely to run, raising the risk of a broken leg or wing.” Cuz that’s how it works in nature, so teenagers must still be strapped into strollers. The view from somewhere is pretty clear: The losers in this six-year fight are full of manure.
File this under “what’s good for Big Pharma is good for America:” The best way to get coverage of Piglet Ebola is to send out a release touting better factory farming through chemistry. Leave it to the reader to see “1.3 million pigs died in January alone” and “the need to bury carcasses has even raised concerns about the effect on groundwater” flashing neon. The obvious question is never answered: Why? What part of the lie of evolution caused this? Meantime, half the nation’s sows have a disease that causes their litters to shit to death and people are panicking about fakes on a plane. . . .
Not to trivialize the hysteria, but what is the deal with beheadings? Even whacking off the face of a soft-shell crab, let alone the cockscomb-bearing part of a chicken, is anything but easy. How in holy hell are these guys managing to make human head-torso separation seem even more effortless than scimitaring off a Champagne cork? And the bigger question: Why are knife manufacturers not cashing in? Admen, start your engines.
Guess I should be glad they aren’t spelling it suckertash. // Every time I have a conversation with a farmer this time of year, I have new appreciation of the term “punch-drunk.” // POS is not what restaurants say it is. // Cross between scones and muffins — Scuffins — sounds like something you’d kick. Why not Mones? // Rare first-world problem: I buy eggs so fresh I can’t peel ’em. // Louise Slaughter FTW on antibiotics in animals. // The more cookbooks you own, the more likely you are to cook the same things over and over . . .
I’m late to the Olive Garden brouhaha, but I have the answer to why the water is unsalted, a question that had been bothering me because I went to an all-day “science of flavor” conference over the summer. One speaker there noted that food processors use so much sodium because the only thing cheaper is water. Turns out the company cares more about the warranty on its pots than about adding almost-free flavor to crappy fud. But the most unsurprising revelation about the vultures now pulling the strings is their real mission: sell off the real estate and rent it back to the poor suckers left holding the poop-filled doggy bags. It’s only amazing they aren’t planning to offer unlimited Twinkies. If it weren’t for screw jobs, there would be no jobs at all.
And every time I read about the huge fruit recall thanks to listeria, I had to Tweet/FB/rant that the big bug scare does not affect anyone who eats fruit only from a local farmer. But I have to add that the doomsday effect as Big Ag/Big Food tries to recover will undoubtedly be a new study underwritten by BA/BF “proving” locally grown fruit is more dangerous/less nutritious than the supermarket kind. I always steal this line from a grower/vendor at our neighborhood Greenmarket: Better to pay the farmer than the doctor. But then I don’t hold Big Pharma stocks.
Okay. This drove me off the Twitter long enough to dust off this little 11 1/2-year-old enterprise: Someone started approvingly Twit-nattering about “family meal” being such a great deal. OMFG, they’re eating foie gras and sashimi together, in a Reuben, no less! Can’t anyone just be serious and admit restaurants are actually not in the bidness of keeping the noncustomers happy? Ask a waiter (and why is that word less politically correct than “server”?) and you’ll nearly always learn he/she has barely tasted the stuff on the menu, let alone indulged in the equivalent of the exclusivity of a Chipotle quesadilla. As I had to Tweet: Someone sneak a smartphone into staff lunch without gullible media present and reassure @gastropoda that grownups actually eat better than schoolkids on a GOP budget. No middlemen allowed.
So a company will spend a bloody fortune on a commercial, and a columnist will dutifully write it all up, without either addressing the fact that no amount of smoking and sizzling will ever turn industrial beef into food fit to eat. I believe that’s what’s known in scientific terminology as “polishing a turd.”
I’m so old I remember when a coupla hippies from Vermont were among the good guys in food. But they sold their soul to the corporate store, and the other day the slingers in the Murdoch Crier included a coupon for a buck off a gruesome example of overkill under their once-good name: two types of ice cream in one pint carton with a “core” of peanut butter or salted caramel fudge etc. It’s Mad Dog 20/20 in the freezer aisle. At least you can get fat for a good cause. It’s “fairtrade.” Probably gluten-free, too.
“Grand Hotel Budapest” is Wes Anderson’s most food-centric movie yet, not least because so much of the plot hinges on a confection. But I’m thinking he should get an Amtrak residency just for the great tip he passes on through his characters: Pack wine to avoid the cat piss on the train.
Even I initially got suckered into thinking that residency would be a cool thing — but I thought that mostly because the rail overlords didn’t need to go looking for writers when I had already done a few rolling odes on my own. It’s undeniably magical to sit in total comfort and type as you glide up the Hudson River and westward along the Erie Canal, particularly when it’s snowing and you know everyone else is stranded in airports. But it didn’t take long to realize the R word is just a press trip by another name. And everyone lauding the concept should be aware that that is how so much delectable travel-and-food sausage gets made. Even worse: It’s like the Pillsbury Bake-Off without the glory. There are no free rides. You take it, they own it.
Some days you don’t even have to wonder how the media got gulled into selling the invasion of Iraq, or the impeachment of a president. You only need to read coverage of a “celebrity chef.” Just as I predicted, the Butter Guzzler’s “$75 million comeback,” splashed all over “real” media, turned out to be a flash in the bedpan. Suddenly she closes a flagship restaurant? You don’t shut down if rabid fans are turning up in droves. Still, it’s not over till the fat lady pantses. She could still team up with the Duck Dynasty or Mozilla bigot and fool “reporters” one more time.