Better lobster tails than MRE’s

Now my shock meter must be broken, because the news that one in four kids in this country is subsisting on food stamps just didn’t surprise me. I was a little amazed that so many more retirees are having to go to food pantries to get by these days, given that they represent the one sector of our defiantly nonsocialist society that proudly benefits from sharing the wealth (which is a good thing, considering the price of cat fud is going up like everything else). The one thing that left my jaw dropping was the ugliness of the comments on the NYTimes lede story on how many people are now relying on government help for food. If you need any proof that this is not a “Christian country,” wade into that cesspool. The same sort who believe women should die rather than get an abortion, and would ban birth control if they could, are damning parents for producing too many mouths to feed. And that’s the least hateful reaction. At least some commenters noted that the map of the needy was darkest in the “red” states, the ones that elect the con men who talk up the culture wars and fiscally fuck the voters every time. Reminds me of that old saying: Give a conservative a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and you’ll never eat again. . . .

Big Mac falafel and a side of hepatitis

I never thought I would say this, but I really hope all the union-busting going on in the NYC restaurant world suffers epic fail. I always thought unions protected the weak and thwarted the strong — when I was hired by the NYTimes the first time, at 29 and with no college degree, I got less pay and benefits, because of Guild rules, than all the old gray ghosts with their proper credentials. But more and more we’re really paying the price for Addled Reagan’s fantasy of a disunited America. Airline pilots are living on food stamps and sleeping in lounges before reporting for work transporting hundreds of fellow travelers. Too many people in food service cannot afford to take a sick day, let alone see a doctor when they are oozing in agony, and now restaurateurs want to bust the last bastion of protection for them and us? I understand all the problems of an overprotected work force, but I put in five years on our co-op board and know that if you want to get rid of a lame employee, you can do it. It’s not easy, and it is far from pleasant. But it also makes the other workers better; ebbing tides prove all boats can sink. Whoever takes over Tavern on the Green or Cafe des Artistes could even use a union workforce as a selling point: If a chef spits in your food, you can be sure his/her hawker does not carry a virus. Which is so much more appetizing than having it your way to the ER.

As the Inca terns fly

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?

And on Day 366 . . .

One of the most chilling chapters in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” has the father and son discovering what is essentially a fallout shelter stocked with canned food. It resonates on about 15 levels, starting with futility. But I guess Costco missed the point, because it is gouging the Beckkk-crazed with a year’s supply of dehydrated food for one for $999, roughly a buck a day more than people taking the Hunger Challenge and trying to eat on food stamps are allowed. What’s funniest is the fatal flaw. In a devastated world with no supermarkets or infrastructure, where in the name of Dasani are you going to get enough water to turn powders into dinner? Better to buy a can opener and a few cases of Goya and leave them around for fictional characters to find.

Salmon in cages and pigs flying

Paul Krugman asked a smart question recently: What do people on the editorial pages of the WSJournal really believe? They regularly sign off on some seriously crazy-ass shit. And at the same time the paper can run, on the same day, two superb news stories defying all the illogic of the wackos. One was on the virus threatening the farmed salmon industry in Chile — eco end times — while the other was on how the very modest increase in food stamps ($80! a month for a family of four) is lifting all boats — $5 in spending by recipients generates $9.20 in economic activity, the USDA calculates. Facts may be stupid things, but they can be rather useful when you’re dealing with food issues.

And while I’m acting sober, this is one of the most profoundly sad pieces I have ever read, on what is happening to some Alaska natives as the world spins and the salmon disappear. Or, to reverse that, what is happening to the world and the salmon as the natives comes unmoored from nature. Odd how we are flipping off the planet suffering without understanding we are the ones doomed. Earth 1, dinosaurs 0.

After that salmon lunch

And just cuz I’m realizing this all makes it look as if I only read my hometown paper and not the other daily and Sunday and many magazines we still spring for, I have to add that David Sedaris deserves a Nobel in political food writing for his take on the media-idolized “undecideds” in this election. No one could have put it better than to say it’s like the flight attendant offering a choice between chicken and shit with broken glass in it. The kicker is worth a closetful of Palinwear.

Cholla buds and Tuscan olive oil

Speaking of whom, I dragged myself off as I do every year to a certain state tourism event solely to see how badly my birthplace is getting dragged through environmental hell with fountains and spas. This year was even more unsettling than usual because the organizers had decided to downsize the venue, which is, admittedly, a very good way of making a McSame-worthy crowd look like an Obaman mob. I managed to get in and out without uttering the words “state rape,” but it was tough when I saw photos of the hideous hotel that has been installed in what really is a natural cathedral, Monument Valley. Even the salsa trail the same promoter was touting as a way of drumming up interest in a dead zone to the southeast was not redemption enough. Depressing as it all was, I did spot a stealable idea: the incredible shrinking hors d’oeuvre. Waiters were passing out crab cakes and risotto bites the size of nickels. And I mean minuscule. If the pros can get away with that, I’m going with quarters at my next party.

But beware the killer tomatoes

Maybe because we are so close to voluntarily electing a doddering guy who conjures images of state funerals, I’ve started obsessing on death notices. (Actually, it’s because I like to track how long it takes the NYTimes to notice a dearly departed has merited multiple homages over many days and to run an obit.) One ad last week that gave the cause of the demise as CJD was rather chilling at a time when our trusted government by big business, for big business is prohibiting cattle producers from testing their animals for mad cow disease. Even more amazing has been the reaction to the UN official who suggested the planet could benefit from all of us forgoing meat just one meal a week. To call it a lobbyists’ shitstorm would be to underestimate the next hurricane. Never in all of history have so many people had access to so much information, and still the national motto might as well be “in cheap meat we trust.” Beef is not supposed to be as everyday as bread. So my other new obsession is Hamburger Helper. Given how prices of wheat etc. have gone crazy while beef remains  a bargain, shouldn’t someone be marketing Noodle-and-MSG Helper?

Springwater, now with more statins

This same agency, of course, will probably get right behind the insane recommendation to put kids on cholesterol drugs. Kids. Whose little livers have to process whatever is in those pills for decades. I know from my pathetic health-writing years that the best prescription for a long life is to choose the right parents. But cholesterol should be controllable with diet and exercise. I guess that’s just not as lucrative for Big Business as taking the whole family through McDonald’s and then handing out the daily dose before the human larvae sit down to a long night of the latest Grand Theft Auto. If the choice is between hell and reincarnation, I’m going where it’s nice and warm.

Full-time travelers, part-time workers

Dinner afterward was one long argument about the quality of the movie-making, but I have to say the new Werner Herzog is a seriously good food film. A few sequences are as slow as an Omnivorish exploration of his own dieting, but I got my fill on the shoe-eater’s quoting “the best description of hunger is a description of bread” and his observation that the base camp of the first explorers now looks like “an extinct supermarket.” It does make you think about dried fruit as the new canned mutton. And the Frosty Boy churning out something that Skimpy Treat would have happily served is richly ironic in the land of hard-frozen ice. Mostly, though, I came away wondering why scientists are searching for the origins of life when death for humankind is rapping at the front door. Those scallops and squid and seals are going to be there long after the last greenhouse tomato has been infected with salmonella.

Prairies dark with buffalo

I always used to say the best steak I ever had outside Spain was a slab o’ buffalo at the Bridge Cafe way back in the last century. Because I’m not a “real” food person,  though, I can also admit that flesh from non-cows does make me queasy, so I have to say I don’t exactly seek out the other red meat. Even so, the Harper’s story on the savage efforts by cattle ranchers around Yellowstone to wipe out the last descendants of the beasts that were here when Columbus landed is sickening. If the argument is not ironclad, the descriptions of the bison themselves and their indigenous world are heartbreaking. Read it and shit (from salmonella and E. coli).

And the ad is for Dunkin Donuts

One more justification for hoping we will all be dead when history starts taking attendance: The NYTimes story on privileged kids too busy to eat because they feel compelled to power through to college, defiling the temple at every lunchtime. If they stopped to smell the cafeteria pizza, they might realize this is a race to the bottom. Knock yourselves out, kiddos. Ain’t no jobs out here. Unless it’s going into low-end medicine and taking care of all the children growing up on poor diets right now. Substitute “food” for “feet” in that old saying about complaining about no shoes and see what you conjure.

Clean acres

I owe my grocer friend with the unfortunate wingnut tendencies a big favor for steering me to the most brilliant food piece in donkeys’ years: Nathanael Johnson’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Pasteurized” in Harper’s. Whatever you think you know about raw milk, this will take you to about 14 higher levels. We spend all our time treating bacteria as WMD when they clearly exist for a good reason. Two great quotes from fully drawn characters: “Cheap food makes for expensive health care.” And: “Nature is dangerous, yes. But I can’t control it, and I can’t escape from it. I can only learn the best way to live with it.” Suffice it to say, that doesn’t mean with “probiotic” yogurt. Herd cows away from the grass they are intelligently designed to eat and before you know it humans are ballooning on corn converted into syrup. . . .

And that ferry is running on fumes

One of T.C. Boyle’s best stories (which is saying something) is “Top of the Food Chain,” in which cats are dropped onto an island to eat the rats that took it over after the lizards brought in to eradicate an infestation of insects were wiped out. I get something of the same uneasy feeling reading about the brave and noble women who are going to save an island by baking cakes now that their watermen are looking at an increasingly depleted Chesapeake Bay. It’s the feel-good story of the hour, but somehow I doubt switching from perishable crabs to baked perishables is exactly going to work when flour, butter and eggs are getting more expensive by the minute. The only thing more misguided might be rice cakes. With ethanol frosting.

Gold in that ethanol

Unlike at least half a dozen other neck-snappers in the audience at the Asia Society, I managed to stay awake through a long discussion of China’s environmental crisis and came away with one clear thought, offered by the moderator at the beginning: There is no such thing as a national issue these days — everyone everywhere is in this mess together. (Although, as one panelist noted, China is in much better shape than America simply because “their leaders believe in science.”) And so everything that seems like a distant “Darwin’s Nightmare” is just disaster moving closer to us: the Chilean salmon industry collapsing from the lethal combination of antibiotics and greed; rice running short; dioxin in the buffalo mozzarella. (Hey, was that garbage strike ever settled in Naples, or did a shiny new object just get waved at correspondents?) Reading how the U.S. “farm” bill is shaking out was the pissiest part of the week, though. Crop prices are heading skyward, average people cannot afford basics, but still the handouts are unceasing. Beneficiaries can have income of up to $2.5 million a year, the WSJ reported — and it wasn’t talking about the mesclun producer at Union Square whose greens go for $48 a pound and had a passer-by marveling: “The salad is more than the meat?” Big Agribusiness will inevitably prove the Rolling Stones wrong: You can always get what you want. Just let lobbyists give Congresscritters more than they need.