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.
We’re also getting awfully close to drowning in bourbon coverage very soon — with the Kentucky Derby coming, the clichés always win. So I half-admire the booze reps who are trying to pitch a reinvention of the mint julep. Ill-advised as it is, at least it’s something different. (Gin or vodka would be far, far worse, and absinthe scariest of all.) But given what a hard sell juleps are every year at our party, I think the hoariest advice might be the best. You know, muddle the mint in a silver cup, add the ice, pour in the sugar syrup, shake it all up, then throw it out and drink the tequila.
I know I rant too much about the predictability of holiday food stories (if this is Easter, these must be Peeps gags . . . ) But it’s still funny to see how the kitchen goddesses of Ireland get cycled through every spring. One St. Patrick’s Day it’s the daughter-in-law, the next Easter it’s the mom herself. And every sprigging year editors fall for it.
This is a bit of a re-Tweet, but it was odd to see ramps suddenly being touted for Easter on a day when everyone was bundled to the max looking at the sad remainders of New York winter at the Greenmarket. Some flack must have told the producers to hop to it.
After reading another WSJournal story, on the crisis-level tomato shortage, I stupidly expected to see stores looking the way they really should in snowy March, free of flavorless hardballs. But there are big piles even at our neighborhood Food Shitty, and the Manhattan Fruit Exchange had the usual half-dozen or more varieties, if pricier than usual. Once again, it illustrated the disconnect between semi-food, the processed crap delivered to fast food outlets in tractor-trailers, and what most Americans throw into their overloaded baskets. And how the two are covered.
But I have to give the Journal credit for setting the record straight on macarons. They are not fucking macaroons. Buried deep in its late-to-the-meringue front-pager, though, was a funny detail. McDonald’s actually started selling the things three years ago. So all the hysteria online and off over the fast-fooding of high-end patisserie was actually driven by ads, the ones that only recently started showing up in the Paris metro. Guess I’m only amazed we aren’t seeing more MSG-free “soup is good food” pieces as winter winds down.
Hellmann’s is the Rachael of the processed food world — its name is 98 percent likely to be misspelled every time. It’s equally good at catapulting the propaganda, too, garnering huge publicity merely for switching to “cage-free” eggs in one of its several lines of mayonnaise. Not to be all unappreciative or anything, but wouldn’t it send more of a message to save up a few extra million dozen until you can promote a switchover for the non-lite stuff? Otherwise, clean-conscience eggs are squandered in fud Michael Pollan would not advocate eating. But at least it’s not as silly as Chipotle hyping its change to “vegan chicken” for its burritos. I mean, really — those poor birds are sentenced to live without natural worms in their diet, only to wind up as mega-meals for meat eaters? Why not just keep them gluten-free and wrap them up in flour tortillas?
Some poor flack got saddled with an impossible task: pitching cocktails pegged to Elvis’s favorite foods (way novel way to dance on the grave on the anniversary). Unfortunately, anyone with half a palate knows that if you mix flavored vodka plus a couple of kinds of super-sweet booze with a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich you’ll be heading straight for the toilet, and not to strain at stool. You’ll be talking to Ralph.
I’m also laughing over everyone who is shocked, shocked that the world’s most famous athlete turns out to be not a tiger but a hound. (Sorry, Mr. Feed Me, as much as I admire you.) Forget how many op-eds are not written by the names that sit atop them. Just consider how much ass-covering goes on in the food world — how many pieces even in the more-ethical-than-you paper are not even typed by their bylines, how many cookbooks are published with recipes the neon name never even tasted, how many famous faces let underlings do the blogging and Tweeting, how many interviews are cobbled together with all the authenticity of chop suey, how many “signature” recipes were bought if not stolen. Today you can actually get a job on a legit newspaper when your heftiest credential is making up shit for tin chefs. As Leonard Cohen sang it, everybody knows. Good thing chefs/food writers never sleep around. Only sex is a capital offense in this country. Ask poor Craig.
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.
Not that I mean to demean a profession that is evolving so much faster than old media it looks like an iPhone running against a Trash-80. The holdouts still typing up spelling- and grammar-challenged releases and blasting them out like so many Nigerian come-ons leave themselves open to ridicule. The ones who are realizing you attract more flies with judiciously applied single-source honey are earning their money. Cold-calling chefs for magazine stories used to be the eleventeenth circle of hell; catch one at a bad moment and you were fucked for that assignment, and maybe longer. Now I freely confess I start with their facilitators, most often for the kinds of pieces that don’t need rich quotations and extended questioning, just a few details or quick thoughts or recipes. Fact-checkers want documentation more than ever, and a Q&A by email can out-verify a transcribed phone interview. For all my gaffes I know will be preserved for cyber-posterity, I suspect there will be many more by over-reaching kiddles. I can count on a couple of pairs of tongs how many chefs’ reps have totally blown me off in 25 years at this. But I actually got a “we’re too busy for national coverage” this week. Much as I hate Frank Sinatra, I could hear “flying high in December, shot down in May” echoing in my cranial sieve. All fad things come to an end.
Bad week for blood relations. First I read that one of the spawn of Go-Fuck-Yourself got a Secret Service boss canned for refusing to take her girlfriends to lunch. And then some flack sent me a release touting half-sisterhood to a used-up actress as kitchen cred for a sushi chef. Which was unfortunate, because it brought to mind that old saying about what starts to smell after three days. For once “Top Chef” survivorship would be preferable.
Horseshit trend of the week came from a SFChronicle piece on trout as the new salmon. It may be eco-preferable, but there’s one little problem: That fish is what it eats. It tastes like grain. There is no miracle protein for chefs on a debased planet, especially one that consistent. But at least whoever suckered a reporter into taking the release bait did not try to pitch catfish as the salmon answer. Its flavor is mud.
I’m not above gloating, but even I was surprised by how quickly I was validated with my prediction that the NYTimes front-pager on killer beef would be obscured by worse horror stories about vegetables. What was it, 48 hours before the Washington Post was trumpeting “Healthy Foods Carry Hidden Dangers”? And those include, of course, leafy greens, tomatoes, sprouts and berries. A smarter commentator than I noted that fresh oysters are actually a pretty minimal hazard for the average American, but why let reality get in the way of a good scare? The mission was accomplished: Dangle a new shiny object and watch the media grab it and amplify.
A really great book came out in the last year called “Swindled,” on all the ways all through history profiteers have scammed people with food, even lethal food. Obviously nothing ever changes, because the NYTimes let the beef industry respond to its devastating indictment with a lying-through-its-cud letter to the editor saying E. coli is like floods, just one of those annoying acts of nature. Anyone who has read “Fast Food Nation” or seen “Food, Inc.” knows that ranks right up with Eve-ate-dinosaur-apples BS. But this weirdly emasculated media keeps giving liars free rein — the WSJournal let the Coke huckster in chief blame sedentary lifestyles for obesity, not his sugar water sold for cheap in 50-gallon vats. So I am perversely encouraged by Jon Corzine’s sly attack on his opponent for New Jersey governor. Let’s call a fat slob a fat slob. Put the weight on him.
Time magazine increasingly seems to be going for the Onion, and not just with that subscription-canceling cover celebrating the Vick’s VapoRub tears of a rodeo clown. The new issue has an ad that outdoes the most out-there parody, with “smart choices” labels on fake butters, frozen sugar water, crappy ice “cream” etc. Whatever you wanna call Country Crock, nutritious is pushing it. It’s all part of this up-is-down, war-is-peace media environment that also allows full-page ads in hometown newspapers shilling for high-fructose corn syrup. Really, at long last, have you no standards?