Now with Shinola

Why it so difficult for people who are paid to gather and disseminate information to grasp what trans fats are and what the damn things do in food? (Hint: not make it taste better than butter or lard.) I hate to keep pointing out the obvious, but doughnuts and cannoli and muffins were invented long before Crisco was ever perpetrated on the planet. The latest prize for most blatant exhibition of willful cretinism was the inclusion of a quote in the NYPost from a guy who loves him some trans fats and puts “a stick of butter on everything.” To steal from the superb “Passing Strange,” whoever edited that story let his ignorance fuck his stupidity and called the bastard journalism.

Agent orange

The only reason I ever set foot into Duane Reade is to use the Chase cash machine rather than gimping all the way over to Broadway, so I always feel like an Estonian in my first supermarket — there’s so much stuff in one place in this neighborhood dominated (so far) by independents in tight quarters. Lately I’m feeling so cheap I waited behind two other users rather than surrendering two bucks to Banco Popular, and so I had lots of time to scan the merchandise. Which is how I spotted Natural Cheetos. Could there be a more absurd oxymoron? I actually went to the web site to see what might make them qualify and am still mystified (is it the expeller-pressed oil?) But not as baffled as I am by a crazier question: Considering who the biggest consumers are (literally and figuratively), why would you use that word as a selling point? Aren’t all those guys sitting in their moms’ basements typing in their adult diapers more likely to respond to Intelligent Design Cheetos?

Tip jar at the ATM

News that McDonald’s has gotten rid of trans fats (unless you read the fine print) is also pretty laughable. I never thought those were what made the “food” so bad for you. It’s like a heroin addict boasting about giving up coffee (or a Chimp sacrificing golf). On the same page of the WSJ that I read that, though, I also saw that Mr. Flay has finally achieved superstardom, as the instructor at the mayonnaise school. He’s actually pretty good, and not just because Hellmann’s is my own private heroin (something I would have to stop saying if I got paid). At least shilling for a comestible makes more sense than this bizarre new trend of placing chefs and restaurateurs in ads for banks and investment companies. I always think of the food world as being as profitable as Branford Marsalis famously said jazz is: How do you make a million? Start with two. To which I would add: Would you buy a used broker from this realm?


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.

Punish them with apples

Get ready for the return of the Twinkie defense. The Brits are researching whether there’s a correlation between a crappy diet and violence. But it says everything that, rather than actually feed prison inmates better food, they are merely going to test half with placebos and the rest with vitamins and fish oil capsules. Big Pharma must be salivating at the contracts to be had down the line when all gruel is additive-enriched. And actually, the inquiring minds could save themselves mega-quid just by analyzing the intake of the latest King George. Eating nothing but grilled cheese and burgers obviously leads to war crimes.

Paving the road to Wellville

I can’t imagine surimi is any better for you than the steak of the sea even with mercury in it. But I’m no expert, and the one Time magazine found said it best: Readers are done no favors by single-food scare stories. On a petty level, I did wonder why the store next door was, yet again, given a pass in the testing; it only is about the biggest seafood retailer in town. And it should not have taken a listen to Brian Lehrer to hear from a real authority how the dangerous stuff actually gets into the tuna to begin with. Phyllis Richman predicted many years ago that sushi would  become the new hamburger. If we can swallow the reality  of mad cow and E. coli, what’s a little industrial spillover? We do like to leave the lights on and the microwaves humming in this country. . . .

In other nutrition nuttiness, let the “consumer advocates” rail against NYC’s new rule requiring certain restaurants to post calorie counts. As I must have said a thousand times, I have not eaten a Mrs. Fields cookie since learning back in the last century that each one contains about 260 calories. And I was, back then, a scholar when it came to the back of Fritos bags. So all those defenders of the public’s right to be stupid, the ones who say anyone can easily discern the difference between a bucket of chicken wings and a salad, should be sentenced to Southwest-salad-with-crispy-chicken hell. With Big Gulp cholesterol drugs for the ride.

By contrast, I was happily surprised by the junk brochure from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia that my consort dropped off on my desk the other day. A promotion for a health web site, it included not just a notice of a “dark chocolate and red wine reception” but a photo of and recipe for a salad made with warm goat cheese in a panko crust. We’ve come a long way from the “pasta makes you fat” attitude toward healthful eating. I’m not sure, though, I would want a tour of the Mutter Museum after that reception. Elephantiasis is a terrible petit four.

No wonder pizza is BFD

Before Pakistan, my consort had been starting every day for the last two weeks railing that there was no news on the front page of the NYTimes — it was all puff pieces and thumbsuckers; one morning the “lead” was actually a picture story that could have run in July, or next February. Given how craven the paper has gotten in pandering to advertisers, maybe it was all a ploy to get readers to turn to the back page of every section. That’s where I learned about a “100 percent juice blend” being marketed to “help nourish your brain.” And if you think flavored sugar water is going to keep Alzheimer’s at bay, you might enjoy Sunday Styles. Whose back page carried a full-page ad informing the gullible that Diet Crap has been pumped up with vitamins and minerals. To paraphrase a British tab’s headline after the Chimp was selected a second time: How can 300 million Americans be so stupid?

Let ’em eat Cheetos

Judging by the dustup over a piece by a Murdoch refugee granted asylum at the Taj Sulzberger, bumper stickers on nutrition nazis’ cars should read: Figures lie and liars figure. The dutiful regurgitation of a “study” finding that “healthy eating really does cost more” prompted literally hundreds of comments, some of which actually made sense. A smarter lede would have laid out the truth that “empty calories cost less,” which is no accident given a Congress in thrall to Big Food lobbyists rather than sensitive to small-scale growers. It’s the same kind of sleight of word that made a Coke seem a better nutritional investment than a small cup of Haagen-Dazs at the height of the low-fat insanity, when crazy studies were flying by wildly. The most amusing part was when the verbal scrum turned into an ode to lentils, which Ms. 401K angrily insisted “no one could eat every day.” Tell that to nearly a billion Indians. . . .

If wishes were bread

I got a very small laugh out of Irving Mill proudly listing the redundancy of an “organic egg omelette” on its lunch menu (can you make an omelet without breaking shells?) But neither my consort nor I was amused by the $4.49 travesty we tried from the cathedral at Columbus Circle; this alleged bread was all adjectives and no satisfaction. Ten organic ingredients plus filtered water were followed by “dough conditioners,” and they all added up to nasty gumminess. Usually we let a bad bread die a slow death over a few days out of guilt; this one went straight in the trash. And it made me appreciate the fact that Ray Sokolov, in his report on Google cafeterias, coined a pretty good one with “Wholier-Than-Thou.” PC is becoming a terrible rating for food.

Neil updated: Toothless, toothless

If you like eggs, though, you might want to think about the latest installment in the saga of how foie gras is making certain idiots batshit insane. The food world’s equivalents of the right-to-birth crazies are now talking about petitioning the USDA to declare lusciously fat livers unsafe to eat. Their faux concern is exquisitely timed, just as Eric Schlosser has highlighted how humans continue to be obscenely abused for reprehensibly cheap burgers. It just makes it patently clear how badly these nutcases with no lives want to shove their noses in my plate. No wonder some days it seems we have never evolved out of Eden and that goddamn apple.

On the bright side, all government agencies are apparently so under siege that the chances of foie gras even moving onto the agenda are about as high as bananas all around in the Middle East from the Chimp and his ivory-tickling enabler. The very credible report just issued on the FDA was enough to give any sentient being the E. coli squitters: no money, no computers, no coherence, but more scary food imported and grown and distributed every day. No wonder the nutrition nazis are feeling emboldened enough to propose limiting sodium in processed foods. Everybody knows that’s going nowhere in the age of Big Food and osteoporotic government. Salt on your own private plate would be banned first.

Nachos too slow

Almost everything I cook I have shopped for myself, so maybe I’m more than normally sensitive to how prices are edging up scarily fast these days. I can never have exact change ready when a lemon poppy seed muffin at the corner shop is suddenly a dime more, or stay calm when anything from Eutopia is 30 percent higher, let alone be prepared when the potholders I have always bought for $4.25 are now tagged $4.99 in the same store. But even I was surprised, on buying four movie tickets at Lincoln Square the other day, to be asked for $47 cash (of course the credit card machine was not working). Last time I looked, I don’t think a ticket was $11.75, yet I have not read a peep about it anywhere. I couldn’t even imagine what would account for the increase in this strong economy, but it did put me off my popcorn. Which turned out to be a good thing, because the same theater determinedly gouging at the box office had exactly three attendants at the concession stand while a good 40 people were lined up with money in hand. All I have ever read since the hysterical days of nutrition nuttiness and movie-popcorn-is-a-heart-attack-in-a-box has been that theaters make all their profit on food and soda. And here was one staffed like FEMA.

Celluloid heroes

Maybe I don’t get out to the movies enough anymore, but the brilliant “Michael Clayton” seemed to be phat with food significance, and not just because a couple of whistle-blowers have already been found as “suicides” in contracting scandals involving nutritional support for the troops. I loved that the law firm’s faux pity party for the dead partner was at the Waverly Inn, the implication being that the only way schlubby lawyers, no matter how rich and powerful, could ever eat there would be to rent out the entire restaurant. I liked the back story on the failure of the Clooney character’s restaurant (location, location, loan sharks). But given that the whole script was built on corporate greed to protect the bottom line at all costs, I really had to laugh at the sight in one scene of a stack of margarine containers in the refrigerator next to the Dom Perignon. Obviously the owner had stocked up for his manic armload of fresh baguettes from a bakery in SoHo. But you have to wonder how many legal beagles are on retainer to protect against future claims against that fake food sold as the healthful alternative to butter. Good night and good luck indeed.

No Boy Butter for him

For all the blathering about bloggers and ethics and unfounded information being disseminated in the Wild West of cyberspace, you have to wonder how a statement like Stu for Stupid’s at the Philadelphia Daily News ever made it into print. Railing on like Rush at his most drug-addled about calorie labeling in restaurants and french fries losing flavor, he stated confidently that trans fats are “basically lard.” He only wishes. Lard is a good fat compared with what he thinks makes cannoli taste good. It’s not quite on the level of his wishing another 9/11 on America, but really, someone should lock this loudmouth up on a smoking foie gras farm until he can get his facts straight. W.C. Fields called. He wants his hometown’s reputation back.

Don’t inspect, don’t tell

Big Food’s new motto seems to be “make shit while the sun don’t shine.” With the entire federal government evidently taken over by hacks and cronies, one company just got away with marketing frozen fecal burgers for months and now the chocolate industry is looking to cut its costs and push up its profits by getting DC approval to substitute vegetable oil for cocoa butter. Apparently pure food for everyone is a socialist idea. The WSJournal, in one of those stories that reeks of Murdochian sulfur, ran a long take on both sides that lent too much credibility to BF. Anytime candy makers start talking about healthier options, I want to run straight to the cane sugar — right now study after study is turning up nutritional benefits from real chocolate. And even if those are underwritten by Ghirardelli, you have to wonder why a 67-year-old burger packager simply shut down in a matter of days after getting caught with manure in its main product. Killer Jack in the Box, after all, is still selling strong.


Processed food is getting scarier. Kraft is now making an orange product — I wouldn’t call it cheese — that it says will “help keep your digestive system on track.” Is that a promise or a threat? Somehow I keep hearing Angelica Huston in “The Grifters” when something else that color appears. . . .