Thank allah Mrs. O stays on food message, because the whole country seems to be becoming a Failblog on her husband, who has had exactly a year to clean up nearly a decade of tax-cutting, warmongering carnage by that dry drunk and his smokin’-and-readin’ lump in the bed. But partly because one party believes nope is a plan, crucial jobs are going unfilled, and every week brings another recall of meat, and “meat-like substances.” No one seems to understand why health insurance reform was a priority. But right now people are sick from salmonella in at least 38 states. Who needs terrorists when shit is what’s for dinner?
Anyone who was shocked by the report on filth in soda machines must not have dined in a movie theater recently. The one where we experienced “Avatar” on Imax for $17.50 plus online surcharge had the scariest concession stand I’ve ever seen, with so many empty cases and supplies thrown about in the near-dark that I imagined I could hear the scratching of little rats’ feet and the unclenching of little rats’ sphincters. But did that stop me from ordering a “medium” popcorn? Of course not. I always need hand-to-mouth distraction to get through the usual 25 minutes of ads and previews. The worst part is that the line was so long I had time to dwell on the calorie counts after my friend pointed out they were posted. I would have settled for a “small,” but the next larger size was allegedly only 662 calories. Divided by two, that would be nothing. Somehow, I suspect menu disclosures are going to have the same effect nutrition labeling has had on supermarket food. We’ll all be “Wall-E” size before long. The smart people pushing “nutrient density” over calorie counts truly have their work cut out for them. Figures may not lie, but liars will always figure.
Meanwhile, the JGold Wannabe continues to turn some winsome phrases, but too often his sentence-stringing makes me wonder if anyone editing him has ever diagrammed a sentence. You cannot mention “a recipe” in one between-the-caps-and-the-period construction and, in the next, say “even made by an amateur . . . they can approximate.” Subjects, verbs, objects kinda need to connect. Maybe not in a deep kiss in a bar somewhere, but grammatically. Worse, as smart as he is about cooking, cockiness is dangerous: Advising blog readers to grind their own hamburger meat is absurd without a warning that the beef itself has to be carefully sourced. Someone trekking home from the supermarket with a “nice-looking” side of E. coli will not be saved by a clean Cuisinart. Shit’s shit, for crap’s sake.
In the grand scheme of things, one nut with a condom’s worth of flammability on a plane sounds a lot less scary than the 248,000 pounds of steak contaminated with it-will-kill-you-level E. coli that was recalled in six states. But which one gets nonstop coverage? Maybe we should invade Oklahoma to whip bacterial terrorism.
Nothing epitomizes America’s defeated attitude better than the coming teevee show about a “chef” who works in a struggling burger joint. We don’t even aspire to cuisine these days, even as fantasy; we’ll just settle for one step up from McFilth. Someone should put “Frank’s Place” back out on DVD. Gumbo is complex — and shrimp and crab don’t get recalled for shit.
Another gee-whiz report found that more than 60 percent of supermarket chickens are contaminated with one kind of bacteria or another. And the news is? Of course they’re filthy birds, especially after a trip through a modern factory. Which makes all the wingnut hysteria over KFC starting to offer halal chicken even more laughable. They act as if you eat it and you turn muslin. Get a brain, morans.
When Bob encouraged me to tag along on his photo shoot at the Bronx Zoo, I headed off to the 2 train with visions of Arthur Avenue in my cranial sieve. And our great lunch plus provisioning was definitely vaut the journey. But the real reward was an aside from the PR guy waiting with us at the Madagascar! lemur exhibit, when I asked what the fascinating cat-like creatures eat besides the carved pumpkin they were fighting over just then. As he was talking, I noticed the signage that mentioned the tortoise in the exhibit also consumes “lemur feces.” Talk about nose to tail. Or Kopi Luwak. Then he (the PR guy) added that there’s a tree in the world that can only grow from a seed that has passed through an elephant’s digestive system. And that tree supports 250 other forms of life. It’s chilling until you think that this might be the best negation of Darwinism ever. Americans are consuming more crap than ever, thanks to a seriously compromised food system. Why can’t we evolve to eat shit and not die?
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.
For all my bitching about the NYTimes, though, I have to say the front-page article on just how devastating E. coli is gave the food-safety movement a huge push forward, not least by showing exactly what paralyzed an attractive young dance teacher: a burger in a box with an enticing photo on it. Shades of “Food, Inc.” and how the label sends a farm-fresh message while the crap inside is literally crap. Why people buy that amazes me, but then I’m one of those absurd elitists who avoids even supermarket eggs because I know how they’re produced. And while this story was no real surprise to me, it did round up a surfeit of horrifying facts for the millions who are too busy drexting to pay attention to what gruesomeness they throw on the grill. My only quibble would be with the headline, which did not go far enough. The flaws are not in the inspection system. The dangers begin sooner and run much farther and wider. Just for starters, you can’t expect to have a slaughterhouse the size of four football fields processing 2,600 head of cattle in a day and not realize shit is literally going to happen. What’s most insidious is how the horror keeps hitting closer to home. Lawsuit-fearing fast food chains now must have higher standards than supermarkets, and of course the onus then shifts totally to the consumer. So kudos to the Times again, for making it clear you cannot wash bacteria off your cutting board or cook the crud away. Unfortunately, today everyone is righteously vowing to go vegetarian, but that won’t last. Beef is sacred. Everyone would always prefer to blame jalapeños or tomatoes rather than think about the ugly price of cheap meat. How soon till the next big headline, “Attack of the Killer Spinach”?
New media really is turning out to be just as formulaic as old, though. Usually the old “terror lurks in your cutting board” runs earlier in the summer, along with the beef-on-the-barbecue cliché. And I’m convinced that chestnut has conditioned Americans to just roll with the reality than a mind-blowing 80 percent of supermarket chickens are filthy. Then, rather than demand a cleaner food supply, they dutifully troop out (or click over) and buy a new cutting board. I guess I’m only surprised there wasn’t an ad tucked into the copy.
Count me apparently among the very few not shocked that Nestlé’s cookie dough contains shit under a technical name. The only surprise is that salmonella is not the culprit. But why would a product labeled with a warning against eating it raw be immune from contamination like just about everything your friendly supermarket sells anymore? I would ask what kind of parent would feed the stuff to a kid, but I know the answer: the same ones who think 99-cent cheeseburgers are essential to an American childhood. And how’s that working out so far?
When the last big salmonella outbreak was being hammered on the news 24/7, I tried yet again to sell a piece on how the whole burden of eating safely has been shifted to the consumer in the last few years. What made it most timely was the absurdity of the current situation: How in the hell do you thoroughly cook peanut butter for self-protection? No buyer bit, so I was a little surprised to see the same notion finally deemed front-page news. Leaving aside the sloppy copy-editing (one more time: potpie is one word), it mostly seemed to be a roundup of uh-huhs that built to yet another consumer freakout crescendo. I skimmed it, my consort studied it, but I didn’t see much mention of the biggest reason why processed food is increasingly unsafe. It’s too fucking cheap. How can a parent think a 79-cent meal is going to be fit for a one-year-old to eat? As the saying almost as old as caveat emptor goes, you get what you pay for. These days it could be a ticket to the hospital.
If I were the cynical type, I’d be wondering right about now if the great peanut butter panic is not just yet another attempt by Big Food to make irradiation acceptable at last. Once again, I’m reading pieces in credible outlets saying the solution to salmonella is to zap ingredients, never mind the unintended consequences. Maybe I’m just neurotic because I once went along with my consort to a photo shoot at a New Jersey plant that irradiated stuff, and it was one scary place. But I’m not exactly convinced the same industry that foists filthy peanuts and spinach and fake apple juice onto the public can exactly be trusted to do the right thing with an unnerving technology (there’s a reason they give you a lead apron in the dentist’s office). What’s most amazing is that the real solution is so simple. Why not just clean up the food supply? Make sure peanut processors scrub their equipment and the premises, say, and store their raw material more carefully and buy from certified-safe growers. Resorting to irradiation is like expecting cat-killing air freshener to solve a toilet overflow. Wouldn’t it be better to just unclog the pipes? Oh. Right. Nothing to sell there.
Talk about picking your poison: All this newfound fear over whether organic is safer is pretty laughable. Pesticides might be scary, but fertilizer is often just manure with a college education. And it stands to reason most farm products from China would be “organic;” the stories I could tell secondhand of people who have experienced outhouses and pigs together there would curl your tail. I get too depressed digging out my travel notebooks these days or I’d scare up the details from India, but I remember riding past an aromatic and especially verdant field with a huge billboard boasting that it was essentially a sewage treatment plant for the nearby town. And, you know, shit happens.