Nothing makes me feel older than watching the savagery directed at the Forelock a full 14 years after I was making my slow way on broken-femur crutches down Columbus Avenue when a then-very-influential flack crossed my path and yukked: “Oh, they got you, did they?” I was once a queen bee of bitchery. Today I’m a ladybug.
Speaking of the place where sausage is made, I was intrigued by how quickly the death-powers-that-be were persuaded to regret an error of omission. The obit should have been a no-brainer, not least because she was a longtime, widely respected contributor in addition to all her other accomplishments. But soon enough calls were made, pressure was put and there you have it. Once upon a time this would all have “just happened.” Now everyone leaves a digital trail of panko.
I got some pushback from a fellow old-school food writer who skipped the olive gravy train, but I was able to defend myself by saying I didn’t say “all” food writers jumped on the greased skids. She is right, though: There is a secret handshake among those who believed in the cause but didn’t need to be led to the story. And everyone knows how rules were bent to let “outlets with integrity” take the cannoli. I tried my damnedest, but no one wanted to hear that “the family retainer” is stealing the silver. A deal’s a deal. Or, cheap is a very good price.
I noticed a fair amount of high-fiving going on after the latest study to validate the health merits of the Mediterranean diet. To me this fell under the old “success has a million mothers, failure but one.” I’m so old I remember how the MD was sold to Americans: Food writers were rounded up and sent on a luxury liner through the Mediterranean, trip after trip, year after year, always coming home singing the praises of the one that brung ‘em. Common sense dictated that what they were selling was valid, but still: Without a shit-ton of promotion by people with a heavily underwritten agenda Americans would not be dunking their artisanal bread in extra-virgin olive oil but still slathering it with margarine.
People kept emailing me links to the sous vide of the Bitterman, and I first responded with tame thoughts like “everyone involved needs to take a Silkwood shower.” But then I started thinking maybe the food coven is not so bad after all — the circle jerk is demonstrably more despicable. If the guy’s a douche bag (I’d go with scumbag, myself), why even show up at an event for him? Taint is not just a body part. It’s communicable.
The other upshot of this was the flurryette of emails I got over to the Facebook. One brought up the most “galling” part of the original piece, to which I had to respond that I, too, know better about she who farts in public (or so her friend told me). There be elves in that smoke-filled townhouse.
My mom had a million maxims, one of which was that you only entrap yourself in a tangled web of deceit. (She always quoted the original, of course.) And I’m hoping that will be the case with the butter-golden girl of the most tarnished hog business. And with those who just promoted the book in the pages of what presents itself as an august publication, of the highest integrity. I’m so old I remember when you wouldn’t review a cookbook without actually cooking from it. Let alone shill a promotional brochure without pulling back the chicharron to acknowledge what lies beneath.
This weekend I clicked on the old-style link — the button on the radio in our bathroom — just in time to hear an impassioned argument for resurrecting at least the reputation of the hometown paper’s original food editor/restaurant critic. The Southern speakah made a great case. It’s just too bad the interviewer wouldn’t dance anywhere close to the reason why that ain’t gonna happen. The food world is surprisingly closed-minded, as I’ve known for years; trenches in wartime are more accepting of the “differently orientated.” Lie down with Daddy, wake up with infamy. Fleas would have a better shot at rehabilitation.
I lost a little of the iota of innocence I retain when I Tweeted about book blurbs, after hearing one for an apparently terrible cooking memoir was written by someone who apparently hates the writer. Jeebus. Has everyone’s phone been hacked? If you can’t tell the truth, can’t you take a pass? And I’m not going to surrender my last wisp of innocence and believe people are actually blurbing without reading. Next you’re going to tell me the Kwanzaa cake wasn’t created by the governor’s arm candy.
The food world is gearing up for its annual orgy of self-congratulation, but I guess I’m about as likely to find a Peeps shelter as refuge from the endless dithering about restaurants/books/chefs whose names don’t even ring a dinner bell for me. So I’ll volunteer that changing the location of the announcement of your nominees makes about as much sense as dancing about charcuterie. And that another list of nominees should never have gone out with so many misspellings at a time when copy editors and proofreaders and better are in huger supply than busboys. Coleman? Daries? McMeel? Randon House? Pilgramage? All that spewed, though, I will admit that the idea of a People’s Choice award is smart. It would save the stupid Oscars. And it could be a baby step toward Dancing With the Chefs’ Ghostwriters.
I actually roused myself from my Twitter-facing Aeron to go take in a panel on “post-gender food writing” and am only glad I had the good sense to check out the revivifying bar at Fedora afterward (it’s transporting). Otherwise, this was one of the dumbest “debates” I think I’ve ever sat through. The concept was confused, given how many men who have written authoritatively on food through the decades were never mentioned besides A.J. Liebling (for starters: Roy Andries de Groot, Richard Olney, John Hess, Evan Jones, James Villas, Seymour Britchky, even Johnny Rotten) or how many are having such an impact right now (can you say Michael Pollan, or that other guy who ate everything?) Bloggers were (not surprisingly, given the moderator) dissed as “girlie-girls” when the most readable ones I read all have literal cojones. But mostly I was amazed at how many cheap jokes were made at the easy expense of Panchito. I’m the last one to defend that Chimp enabler. But the next forum should be on “post-S.O. food writing” for sure.
Even acknowledging this probably only encourages the willfully stupid, but a certain heritage hire who will never learn that a Nobel prizewinner won for a reason decided to take him on, yet again, for his smart post saying kitchens really are not the space-age transformations we might have once expected — many more advances were made from 1900 to 1950 than from 1950 till today. Ms. Idjit of the Himalayan Pink Salt, being younger and of course smarter, begs to differ. She owns a 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook, you see, and the recipes therein prove no one had a blender or a mixer or whatever back then. Even aluminum foil was unknown! Start with the Googleable fact that stand mixers were not rarities in American kitchens 60 years ago — you can find models from before 1954 on eBay today. (My dirt-poor mom taught me to bake using hers.) Blenders? More than a million sold by 1954. And crappy cookware pre-All-Clad? Our dirt-poor family did fine with cast iron. Ms. Born Yesterday really needs to get in more. I cook in a 1929 kitchen, only moderately altered: I can stand at the stove and reach the refrigerator and the sink — the cabinets she cannot imagine holding up are doing fine; a stove older than I am, and in better shape, kicks the BTUs out of anything you can buy now. The design abides. What’s saddest is that one of the leaders of the Food Coven hyped this horseshit, just after touting the Julia letters compilation in which Mme. Child and her Cambridge correspondent endlessly document how advanced kitchens and appliances (and ingredients) were even in 1953/4. They even talk about foil . . .
Not to trivialize the latest WikiLeaks dump, but I’ll admit to entertaining myself imagining what similar dispatches from the old Food Coven would reveal. At the same time the smiling faces were cranking out cooking-is-love smarm, you know they had to be backbiting like nobody’s business.
One of the too-many-to-count reasons Twitter is addictive is that it lets you rant and get an amen. Like about why a quote whore gets quoted in every fucking story about restaurant trends. Seems to me that someone who’s consulted on something more recent (and, uh, successful) than Sign of the Dove might have a bit more to say. Even funnier, when I checked for a status update I saw the blog-mocker is now . . . blogging. The thing’s a bit dusty, of course, but what’s being mocked on this new blog? Bloggers. Don’t just stand there. Go consult.
As for the week in reviews, Ms. Prune’s was everything the Twits all said, smart and evocative and well-reasoned. Halfway through, I was so impressed I thought some savvy editor should lasso her to replace the glib shallowness usually provided by one of the leading dims of the old food coven. Then I sobered up. There’s a big difference between a one-off gig and rounding up a shitload of books, just the way there is between a mega-dinner party and running a restaurant kitchen night in and night out. Apparently the first thing to go is the diligence; if you can cook through two recipes you’re doing twice what most do. And read, did you say? Besides, the trouble with print is that there’s a limit — the space is constrained and both phrases and ideas are sacrificed. Mostly, though, sustainability is not just an issue with food.
And while I was challenged for challenging Time for breaking the old “friends don’t get friends to review them” rule, it was amusing to see how successive takes on the food memoir of Mr. Miller were not quite as enthusiastic. When you have to judge a book by its words and not its author, it’s funny how the flaws are exposed.