Every morning’s food news should come with a warning: If the libertarian in the clown car gets anywhere near the White House there will be no Big Gubmint to get between you and sick chickens and listeria-laden ice cream. The United States of Somalia will have no mandated kills and recalls — live free market and die. But on the lighter side, I was reminded of the first guy I ever heard rave about Blue Bell, a supervisor in a soft-shell crab processing plant on the Chesapeake who described how those beautiful swimmers molt: “They have to be real still after shedding. It’s like a hangover, a bad one, where you wake up and your skin is in the bed next to you.”
I heard a fair amount of sad chuckling after the Newtown massacre over the confusion between the two NRAs. The fud one, of course, was perceived as the innocuous lobby. But an oddly combative interview on Lenny, and a flurry of publicity for the book, made me realize again that very few pimps pimp for noble causes. You can hurt people with unregulated guns & ammo but also with laws that keep wages at a Bangladesh-in-the-USA level ($2.31 an hour, FFS?) Uzbekistanstan, indeed.
And I’m happy to see everyone freaking the crust out over pizza being declared a vegetable, but if food had been treated more seriously by the media all these years maybe Americans would have understood how it happened. I’ve written before how the backwater on the Potomac suddenly became Restaurant Central under the Chimp’s reign of error (thank you, Panchito), but no one ever connected the dots — a consequence of segregating food coverage in the getting-and-spending sections. Stuffy old French places from the Reagan era were still good enough during the Clinton boom, but somehow money started flowing in the streets in the 21st century, especially around Penn Quarter. If you want to keep frozen Freedom Fries on school lunch menus, you have to buy yourself a few congressmen. Over drinks and dinner.
I know the wingnuts are desperate to bring Zombie Reagan back to addled life, so I’m assuming the latest decision on school lunches is bait. Ketchup may have failed as a vegetable. But tomato paste on pizza will now do. Although I almost agree with Big Food: More than a quarter-cup of “paste” would make a slice inedible. Do the bureaucrats mean sauce?
I should be embarrassed to admit I patronized a Starbucks in Istanbul, at Attaturk, but the local chain was charging 3TL more for the cappuccino I desperately needed before making my way on to Beyoglu. Over the next week I repented at leisure as I noticed tip boxes wherever we went. Bad enough the shitty coffee is exported. But the shakedown custom, too?
All those fools who voted for a dry drunk they wanted to have a beer with must have been happy to see what the Chimp said he was eating when he got the Osama news: a fucking soufflé. Just the sort of Freedom Food you’d crave after clearing brush. But my favorite detail is that the restaurant, which also boasts of serving very American “vin et Champagne,” has to define its signature offering on its website for the rubes — “a fluffy baked dish made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites.” Which sounds a bit like yellowcake, non?
I wasted time on xmas arguing with our hostess over the new, Chertoff-enriching cancer boxes at the airports (a k a “police states with shopping,” as Andrew Sullivan has dubbed them). But Champagne had clearly sapped my wits or I would have cited the latest terror scare to sober her up: salad bars, targeted with ricin (or something). And that was a story that came and went faster than you can say anthrax. A country in which probably the bulk of the population has never even tasted airline food will cede all rights for fear of a Muslin on a plane but keeps right on chewing no matter what’s in the trough. Nothing gets between Americans and their all-you-can-eat.
Apparently I was the only one not stunned by the hometown paper’s exposé of a cheese scandal: An unspecified amount of tax money is spent helping the USDA work with Big Food to use more cheese when more cheese makes Americans fat. My only surprise was that it was the lead story. Really, the most important news of the entire Sunday? With a lede based on a promotion “early last year”? (No credit was given to the first report of this, of course.) And of course my contrarian side was on high alert as I slogged through the acres of type. Question 1: Did the high-fructose guys plant it to distract attention from their contribution to obesity? (This is a paper that got played with Spitzer, not to mention with WMD.) Tax dollars pay farmers to grow the pound-packing corn to excess while the same department warns about fat. Question 2: Didn’t most of the evildoing happen during those lovely eight years when the whole government was for sale? It takes time to root out rot in bureaucracies, especially of the Christian College variety. And we’re supposed to be shocked, shocked that government agencies exist to enrich private business? Question 3: Isn’t the fact that farmers are fucking with nature to produce a glut of milk worth more than an aside? Also, too, would it be better if they just handed out cheese to the poor, as Ireland has started doing? (Neighbors in Arizona who qualified for government commodities always got cheese in a can back in the Fifties and Sixties, when the teabaggers of the time were skinny.) Still, the most serious question is this: Is the American cheese on a Wendy’s burger really even cheese? It has more in common with the plastic encasing each individual slice.
Some other random thoughts: American cheese will have finally arrived when any story about a store specializing them does not refer to processed Kraft in the lede — it’s been a long time that no one has been wrapping Vermont Shepherd in plastic singles. And the dustup in DC over the ban on chocolate milk in schools makes it even more clear that Americans are enslaved by Big Food (does everything need raspberry-chocolate-ranch flavoring?), although I wonder if kids might like the white stuff better if it were whole and not skim or whatever watery crap they’re being served. And, cynical as I am, I actually felt proud to be an American when Mrs. O took the foreign dignitaries’ wives to lunch at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I’ve only been once to eat, but the place feels like France. Now we have Freedom Food to show off in our own country. And Saint Alice was not involved.
Speaking of “I can’t believe I share a country with such cretins,” I don’t often link, but this take on a new “French dip” is pretty priceless. We really have gone from Freedom Fries and Best Cellars touting alternatives to French wines to a junk chain shilling its latest “heated meatish matter” with French “maids” on tour. Hope it reminds people that the French health-care system kicks the ass of ours (No. 37). But it’s funny to see all the French connections when the damn thing was inspired by a sandwich that originated in Los Angeles. Philippe Burger might have sounded too . . . Kerryish?
I like clean water and nonlethal drugs too much to want the government totally off everyone’s back. But the more the short-term bosses of us muck with diet regulations for our own good, the more nervous I get. I used to live on Coca-Cola but now have one maybe every couple of years, so a tax on the stuff would not be a biggie. But letting Tab off the hook is the bureaucratic equivalent of empty calories. I always thought there was something to the studies that found people who drink diet sodas tend to eat far more because their appestats never get the “full-up” signal. Given that coffee and tea would not be covered by this silliness even though they can rival Pepsi when sweetened, it’s a slippery slope to taxing french fries and letting the 8,000-calorie taco “salad” slide. Where there’s a law, there’s a loophole.
I guess the wingnuts are right. We are now living in a world where up is down and recession is prosperity. How else to explain the realities that the Thai prime minister was ordered to resign for having a cooking show and one candidate for the leader of the Land of the Free is appearing on a cooking show? Maybe he realizes his soulmate is going to fire the White House chef and he’ll need some yummo recipes. The ones his junkie wife passed off as her own. Shouldn’t a wannabe war president have bigger ribs to grill?
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.
An email with “hell has frozen over” in the subject line could not have been a more appropriate arrival in the same week one of the more insightful reviews was published under a byline old gray ladies probably would not recognize. I guess we will not be eating well anymore. Unless we do it at places like The New French, which really struck me both times as being the closest thing New York has to Le Comptoir in Paris. We are living in interesting times with food, and an analytical mind is as good as 40 years of eating for a living. Of course, the same was true 25 years ago this year, but the coven was much nastier and more insular back then. All that said, though, I have to admit I will never forget my first day back at the NYTimes after 15 years of eating for a living on my own. I later learned that Atexian instant messages were bouncing all around the Style department wondering “Who is that?” but only one person stood up, strode over, introduced herself and welcomed me warmly. Obviously she knows there are limitless second acts in American lives. Big fist bump to her.
Speaking of flacks, I kept hearing that stupid country song, “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille,” while scanning the e-release on how the snootiest of British food purveyors is finally opening an outlet in the United Colonies. Somehow mustard priced like caviar sounds like “with four hungry babies and the crops in the field.” Already I’ve found Zabar’s has replaced the wondrous fresh lasagne sheets from Italy with clunky, gummy stuff made closer to home, apparently for price reasons. Even for those of us fortunate to love subways more than gas fumes, this is now officially a populace under de facto rationing. And a $24 jar of jam sounds as reasonable as a $175 burger.