Then again, how desperate would you have to be to take a flack up on an offer to live-blog a press stunt? People are really going to clog the series of tubes with twits on tea in return for the chance to be a star handing out business cards in the age of Facebook? Sounds like the cyber casting couch. Then again, that kind of comfort work is working out okay on the Bam front. Ad Age “caught up to the celebrity chef on the set of a Crest commercial shoot” and asked, “How do you stay authentic?” Not coincidentally, the accompanying photo showed him in an organic tomato field. Presumably up to his knees in manure.
One of the funniest (and not ha-ha) things I’ve heard recently was some talking head saying the economy is actually doing really well, it’s just that journalists are getting laid off and crying the blues. Which makes me think maybe that should have started happening in 2004 — we wouldn’t be saddled with a reprise of the worst administration ever if Americans had been clearly informed that the village idiot they wanted to have a drink with had driven the country into a ditch. On the bright side, though, I am noticing this really interesting break between the bloviators who get so much airtime and the serfs condemned to cover them. For every George Will agreeing with Phil Gramm that this is a nation of crybabies you get a reporter recounting living on a food stamp budget, driving less or otherwise cutting back. And while I am no fan of the Svelte Pantload’s desperately unfunny navel-gazing, his piece on what famous chefs could cook for dinner for $10 put the lie to the notion that this is a recession in mind only. The image of Tom Colicchio having to put back a zucchini because it breaks the bank? Priceless.
Now that the NYTimes op-ed page has become just another stop on the promotional circuit for authors of food books, I shouldn’t have been surprised that bananas were served forth. Not much of the fruit of the matter was a surprise to me because I had to review a predecessor of the latest tome seven or eight years ago (without consultation, some tight-assed gray ghost of a copy editor rewrote my lede [clumsily paraphrased here, since it has been seven or eight years]: “No one looks intelligent eating a banana. Imagine sustaining a whole book on the subject.”) And I have done at least one story on growers who specialize in “heirloom” bananas and so remain more worried about the extinction of polar bears. But I was amazed at the glib description of the apple as a fruit that is largely local and also at the throwaway at the end about “what other fruit can you slice over your cereal?” How about them apples? Or peaches, or strawberries, or apricots, or even mangos? Looking around at the mess on my desk, I can safely say you can look forward to contemplative pieces soon on fat, and Fairway, and maybe even “Sam the recipe guy’s just a bunch of recipes.”
And of course it is not only the copy-edited who disseminate shit. Consider just a few gleanings from my writeme inbox. I got an e-release touting a restaurant with its address omitted but the flack’s bold-faced, not to mention a misspelling of ragu (the six-letter word goes not on pasta but into a French oven). I got another talking about a restaurant having a “modern flare” and saying classic Italian specialties can be “transformed into gastronomical creations” (which came first, the birth or the makeover?) I am also not sure I would want a meatball that has been roasted for six hours unless I were a golfer, although I do love the idea that you can “heat up, serve and impress” the thing (dinner is always what I want to dazzle). And if you are going to make French fries to seduce kids, why in the hell call them pommes frites? Finally, when you want to promote cupcakes in LA, I think you mean “begone.” Use two words after “hot dog carts” and it sounds like ghetto English. And they ain’t be coming back.
I know food magazine advertising is meant to get you to stop and stare rather than read what you bought the damn thing for in the first place. But the trend toward portraying meat as the nasty bits left after an amputation gone awry is still unsettling. I saw a really gruesome beef thing showing what looked to be scabs of cow. Why? Your guess is better than mine. And another one headlined “pork & nail polish” made me read every word of copy to try to figure out not just why those words were juxtaposed but what exactly those skinned penis parts above them were. Apparently you can use Smithfield’s frozen finest to fix a run in your stockings. Or something. Bring back the GE Profile kitchens with the chubbies chasing themselves in the stainless-steel mirrors. . .
Who needs terrorists when we have the FDA? Now there’s salmonella in raw tomatoes. In 16 states. I’m notoriously bad at math, but I think that’s close to a third of the country? The NYTimes helpfully points out that the problem is with “raw, uncooked tomatoes.” Whatever that means, it is clear that whoever catapults the propaganda for the fruit eaten as a vegetable has been super-careful to manage the message. Rather than admitting most of the cottonballs being eaten out of season are at risk, every story dutifully reports the types considered safe. I know I’m sounding beyond monotonous, but can someone remind me why we are spending $500,000 a minute in Iraq when the bigger threat is a gutted agency charged with overseeing so much of the “homeland” food supply? And to think idiots worry about eggs anymore. Of course, sentient minds might wonder why the FDA is wrestling with what is clearly a USDA problem, but that might be unpatriotic. Maybe Obama can set up a new agency regulating only arugula.
This was a good week for flacks with Upper West Side food emporiums to sell. Zabar’s got both the broadsheet and the tab (maybe more?) to take the same bait. (Q&A ruled.) And the propaganda catapulter for the book coming soon from my favorite grocer gets mega-points for deftest dodging in describing Bedlam on Broadway. “Memorable” and “incredibly unique experience” would certainly apply to my last expedition — within three minutes of walking in, I had steered an older man in a suit with a shopping list in his hand and wife-fear on his face first to the romaine, then to the arugula, and then I was muscling my way to the portobellos when I heard “move your fucking cart!” and turned to see a Sydney Pollack look-alike in ridiculous shorts waving his fist at a black church lady slowly picking through the onions. Her howling response: “You son of a bitch!” Yep, like no other market.
Orwell should be glad he’s not around to see what buzzwords are doing to human intelligence. I got an e-release last week touting “local” Dover sole. Sounds good, but those white cliffs are not exactly on Long Island. (Of course, the same menu boasted “farmed” foie gras. As opposed to free-range, you think?) And then there was the poor trendoid I overheard at the meat case while I was scouting Holy Foods for national sausage indicators. He wanted “organic, grass-fed brisket.” The guy behind the counter said they were out just then, but he could order either organic or grass-fed. He chose the former, I guess because cows raised on unnatural food are fine if the chicken byproducts are pesticide-free. Let’s hear it for fair-trade Doritos.
I admit my travel is pretty much limited to the C train these days, but I am still mystified by the constant flurry of news reports on the upgrading of eating options in airports. Every day another “top” chef seems to be announcing some deal to bring serious cooking to the most barren of wastelands, the concourse just past security and before the gate to airborne hell. It always reminds me of the day I went up to Harlem with a bunch of Moveoners to meet with Charlie Rangel to argue against the coming insanity of a war on Iraq. The congressman turned out to be represented by an aide, but the aide had the most revealing revelation: Anytime you see the Chimp photographed at a soldier’s hospital bed, you can be sure he is going back to sign a bill cutting something that benefits veterans. Now I think every story touting food in airports is another sly way for the airlines to distract attention from the reality that they are now lower than flying Greyhounds. I used to move between states by bus, and even they stopped to let riders eat. All of which is by way of saying my travel-advisin’ friend is right to raise a red flag on the plan to sell energy drinks at 30,000 feet. The last thing people stuffing dirty diapers into seat-back pockets need is caffeine easily ingested on an empty stomach. . . .
Now might not be the smartest time for a relative of the Chimp to be publicizing a food-related enterprise, given how his li’l brother’s latest scam has been proven to be just like all the others: not simply a scam but a bilk-the-taxpayers-big-time scam. (Would you buy a used curriculum from that family?) But I see the vacuous niece is grandstanding again with $30 grocery bags allegedly designed partly to raise money for what the simpering simian has dubbed “food insecurity” among children around the world. Why do I suspect it’s all a sneaky way of figuring out how to get school lunch subsidies here down to 30 cents a day, too?
Maybe I finally have to agree foie gras should be banned. No duck or goose should ever have to give up its bloated liver for a promotional stunt like the one Burger Pretender was briefly reported to be running. Thanks to my new addiction, I heard marketing geniuses had cooked up a fecal patty topped with foie gras plus blue cheese (activists should shut the chain down for that dairy offense against taste alone). The too-perfectly named European blog of People for the Harassment of Carnivores (Fish & Chimps) extracted a strange denial, but not before the Wonker-Outer noted that pricing the thing at 85 pounds was brilliant because it sent a quality message so strong not a single one ever needed to be sold. And now that the behavioral economists’ reasoning has been exposed, can we please declare a total media blackout on $1,000 omelets and other gold-plated bullshit?
I should have the tautest jaw in town for all the dropping it does. I just read an interview with a very charming celebrity who was asked if she was “suffering from writer’s block” because she has not had a cookbook out in a while. This is a person who I doubt has ever written more than her name on the back of a check, but she swears she’s “working on one right now.” Yeah, she and seven hired pens. Then again, my cynicism barometer might need recharging, because it took a far out-of-towner to get me wondering what the hell is really up with that My Little Pony enterprise. Richard Thompson wrote a great song asking the crucial question, with the operative verbs starting with the letters J or P. There must be a segueway in there somewhere. . . .
Both my parents were WWII Marines who knew from KP, and I still cannot conceive of anyone ever using the word “spud” in actual conversation. But not one of the countless regurgitations of the press release I read failed to shuffle “potato” out in favor of “spud” by the second graf. What, “brown tuber” was taken as a synonym? Even worse than the idiotic flack-talk transcribed into print on- and off-line was the easy bait of a ridiculously overpriced item — if the Pentagon were so transparent with $55 baked potatoes, or $81 burgers, we could halve the $12 billion wasted every single day. And somehow I don’t think it’s truffles pushing up that tab.
Maybe I’m a natural-born cynic, but my hype-ola antenna went up immediately on skimming an ode to the Cheddarhead state as the new artisanal wonderland. Over the years I have turned down more free trips there than the Schnorrer has taken best new restaurant jaunts. But even I was surprised to open my door a few days later and find a big box on the mat from the hip new purveyor whose arrival made the story Twaddle-worthy. I always wonder why subjects think anyone wants to write about them because they have just been written about in one of the most-read newspapers in the country. And here’s how “cutting-wedge” the story was: The sliver of exemplary cheese in that big box has been winning awards since 2001. Hit me with your swimming suit. . . .
“To be immortal you have to be dead” is one of my favorite sayings (the third clause in “drinks at 5, dinner at 6 and . . .”) But immortality is being granted for lesser and lesser achievements lately. The founder of Popeyes at least led a life worth reading about. But national obits for the guy who invented the EggaMuffin? WTF? They all dutifully regurgitated his inspiration as eggs Benedict, but how do you get from a freshly poached egg with hollandaise to scarifying yellow rubber with fake cheese? The attention paid would be annoying if not for another great saying: “Success has a million fathers, failure but one.” Dude, you got it.