Also, too, I keep reading fawning “stop-the-internets” features on how drugstores are becoming supermarkets, but not one points out they’re really more 7-Elevens. I priced Illy espresso at the 5,000th new Duane Reade near us, and it was a full 50 percent more than the closest food store, directly across the street. When “Whole Paycheck” is cheaper, by $6, gullible reporters might want to pitch the press release, pick up a notebook and hit the miles of aisles.
And my cynical side always goes into overdrive when staff meal comes up. I know I did a piece on Mexican cooks feeding the “family,” but even that was fraught with deception. I remember what my classmates ate in restaurant school, and it was nothing you’d write a book about — whenever a reporter comes close, the food always improves. Staff/family meal is the “celebrity chef upgrades airline food” BS all media outlets swallow. So I was happy to have a server of a sort validate my negativity. He split for a bit to eat and hear about the night’s specials and returned to say, when we asked: “Family meal is the most horrific part of working in a restaurant.” The best you can hope for is “protein, starch, salad.” The worst you can fear is food poisoning. Especially in this economy, it’s hard to feed staff (or family) for free. But it was pretty funny to ask: “Have you ever had Mexican for staff meal?” and hear: “No. But that would be the best.” Tell it to the Homme.
Of course, I’m such a cynic I suspect Mrs. O let the Lump in the Bed’s holdover chef do the dinner just to make it obvious that the Chimp’s legacy of disaster extended right into the kitchen. The other state dinners, for India and for Mexico, were planned and executed by celebrity chefs who actually cook. This was left to someone who spent years grilling cheese and apportioning pretzels. Asked for “quintessential all-American,” is it any surprise she would come up with goat cheese salad, lobster, steak, baked potato, creamed spinach and apple pie with ice cream (or, as they say in the pure and simple Heartland: a la mode)? What this mostly makes clear is that we’re no closer to defining American cuisine than we were 28 years ago when I got into eating for a living. Even then, all attempts to codify it splintered into regional styles (Southwestern, New England, Cajun, California etc.) Judging by what passes for American today, we’re lucky she didn’t whip up pizzas, burgers and cupcakes. And that makes me almost want to give Cristeta (or Yosses) credit: By serving apples in a crust, she validated all those silly media sorts nattering that pies are the new cupcakes. Too bad Hu wasn’t invited for a sleepover. He coulda had the next lukewarm thing: pizza for breakfast.
Apparently hospitals are the latest to follow the airline model of chefly promotion. I read the NYTimes feature on Sloan Kettering’s tailored food for pediatric patients and was very glad for any extra effort for kids going through hell. But it still seemed a little off. This is a hospital, after all, that has probably the worst cafeteria offerings I’ve ever encountered, and I have eaten Buffalo General’s. There’s a reason McDonald’s and other unhealthy chains have made inroads in what should be bastions of nutritional sanity. Who wouldn’t prefer a heart attack on a tray over steam table crap and overpriced salads on their last leaves? But I should have known this was a planted puff piece, and sure enough, here comes an e-release touting the CIA’s new course on hospital “cuisine.” Why don’t they just hire a few celebrity chefs’ names and call a press conference? Maybe at a Duane Reade with growlers. And, imagine this: sushi.
All the misinformed hoopla over the USDA’s hyping cheese seems to have died down, so no one seems to have noticed the latest insidious development. I succumbed to supermarket “cheddar” on sale and noticed it comes with a new tag: “3 a Day — milk cheese yogurt — for stronger bones.” I could live on dairy, but I really don’t think a nation of cows really needs to be prodded to ingest more fat. If calcium is the goal, the “5 a day” campaign should be upgraded to promote kale and other less-caloric sources. Considering every extra five pounds puts 25 pounds of stress on your hips/knees/ankles, it’s a lose-lose situation.
I know I’m easily outraged, but the New York Observer nearly sent me around the bend with its column “written by” a Four Seasons co-owner. It was bad enough he was allowed to produce what was essentially an advertorial. Worse was that he got to spew the lie that the Republicans are back and frisky since the election, as if a mere two weeks since the election created a surge. He described $14,000 lunch checks, people springing for a $1,500 bottle of Bordeaux — why, “it’s almost Reaganesque.” Hate to remind you, pal, but the guy who tanked the economy, the one whose name cannot be mentioned, was a Republican. But worst of all was reading that horseshit the day before Bloomberg announced huge cuts in city services because times are so tough. As someone on Twitter observed: “If only there were a way to charge people who can afford $1,500 wines to keep fire departments running.” Guess they really should restore the tax cuts for the obscenely rich. Screaming Eagle trickles down faster in a golden shower.
Thank allah he’s safely off on the booze beat, though, or we’d be sold the Wasilla snowbilly as just an affable sort with an unexamined past who couldn’t possibly wreck her own country and two others to boot. She’s trying to prove she’s not just stupid but willfully cretinous by insisting grocery prices are going way up. No matter that the hopelessly elitist bean counters say the average cost of the traditional dinner this year is all of $43.47, up pennies from last year, for SIXTEEN. But that’s with supermarket ingredients. And at that price, you probably get the salmonella for free.
I forget where I heard someone on the radio noting that it’s the anomalies that now make news — the old three-is-a-trend rule seems to have fallen by the spent-teabag wayside; the lone wingnut always gets the spotlight before three sane minds. But it was still sad to see the new game played with Halloween candy. A few cretins with issues hijack a holiday, and a foodstuff, and get the kind of coverage someone who discovered a new meat or a cure for the oyster die-off deserves. It’s almost enough to make you quit wearing deodorant. No matter that the stranger-danger-is-a-myth take gets even less coverage than what’s actually in candy corn. Me, I’m looking forward to all the gluten-free Thanksgiving stories.
On Halloween I saw a girl dressed as a box of McDonald’s fries and wondered where Child Protective Services was hiding. The company is really a national security threat thanks to the way it indoctrinates the gullible. And that includes the media as well as its patrons. Bad enough that the WSJournal was taken in by its insurance steer manure. Now, while everyone’s chortling over the court decision to make the chain pay for making an employee fat, the company is off breaking electioneering laws. Message: They don’t care.
Which is why the ad I came across for an insidious new product was so disturbing. Years ago Harper’s ran a great story connecting the dots among dollar meals, diabetes and the potential for drug companies to cash in beyond their craziest dreams if the whole country could be made insulin-dependent. And now here’s this chilling little pen being marketed like a watch, as essential as the air you breathe around a sunflower. I was worried when ads starting showing the portly as if they were normal. Now diseased is the new healthy. If there’s enough of our “civilization” for future archaeologists to excavate, I hope the ads survive. Just to give the diagnosis.
As always, someone misconstrued my Tweet when I linked to the Slate-esque confession by a novelist that she was responsible for Gourmet’s demise because of its indulgence of her free-spending ways. My take was that failure has a million mothers in this situation — who hasn’t been blamed besides the real culprit: the enthusiasm gap? (As I’ve hammered repeatedly, this was a Joni Mitchell line in action: No one missed it till it was gone.) But I’m so cynical I realized the come-to-Jesus moment occurred for the most craven of reasons — I read it only a day after a big House & Home feature and just thought: Someone has a new book coming out. It’s link bait, formerly arboreal media- style.
The big story on all-American McD’s threatening to cancel its health “insurance” for employees is the new zombie. Even after it was debunked, it keeps getting dragged out as a warning on “Obamacare.” This is the deliberate opposite of Upton Sinclair aiming at America’s heart with “The Jungle” and hitting its stomach; there’s nothing like fear of no more Cheap Macs to get idiots riled. The fact is that what a mere two or three employees per outlet are privileged to enjoy is virtually no benefits for absurdly high premiums. They, and their underlings, would be much better off under the plan slowly taking effect. But I guess this country would rather wither in the state of denial. You can’t have your 99-cent burgers and be served by healthy employees, too. Would you like shit with that?
The suspiciously timed “terror alert” for Americans traveling in Europe made me realize what the best definition of an ignominious end is: Meeting your maker at a McDonald’s with a bunch of other poorly dressed tourists too timid to eat foreign food.
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.
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.
Almost as chestnutty is the “McDonald’s has a classically trained chef” script handed out for “journalists” to dutifully regurgitate. Inevitably, that one winds up quoting some VP for chemistry more than The New Escoffier because, really, what the chain serves is anything but creative cooking, burgers du jour. And I would believe the catapulted propaganda more if just one Pierre Franey or Jacques Pepin ever emerged from those corporate headquarters.