I may be repeating myself, but for good reason: In 1992, when my consort and I schlepped to 12 states to document harvests of a dozen foods that come into season only once a year, we both got probably the sickest either of us has ever been after spending a day in a Vidalia onion field in Georgia alongside an industrial henhouse. Whatever was going on in that fowl prison would have put me off supermarket eggs even if I hadn’t already gotten wise to local=safe despite what the catapulters of propaganda will still tell you.
So I can feel North Carolina’s pain as the sad citizens, and the ocean, deal with the aftermath of the flooding from the latest storm to prove denial makes one crappy seawall when it comes to climate change. All the toxins that we inhaled a quarter-century ago are even more widespread in a country that has put a chicken into every 29-cent potpie. Add to the fowlness the 4,800 now-rotting sources of cheap bacon and you’re talking eco-disaster. The feces has literally hit the fan.
Back in the Seventies I worked on a weekly in Iowa where my job description included schlepping to farms to check out the status of the corn crop. Those were the days when farmers dual-cropped, and there were always a few hogs living high around the barn; the poop was relatively minimal and the stench bearable (think Blue Hill at Stone Barns today). Today I’m (somewhat) amused to see everyone freaking out at the photos of industrial agriculture a friend had published in the hometown paper. Twenty-five years ago Bob and I went to the pumpkin capital of the world at the peak of the season and stood by the field thinking: This is not a harvest. It’s mechanized rape of the fields. Now we’re finally seeing the shitstorm that is the reaping of the sowing. Even if a lot of deniers can’t spell the latter.
PSA, BTW: This is one of the most intense food movies ever made.
I am way, way behind on collecting my thoughts and images from an amazing revisit to Torino, which is an entirely changed city since our last trip in 2005. But I have to share a couple of thoughts from the flights to and from. On our way over, Bob and I were seated far apart because the photo center where he was teaching had booked his travel; he worked the American gate agents hard to get us together, but we boarded with me in like 86E and him in 23E. He gently asked the woman in the aisle seat in his row if she would consider switching and she instantly snarled: “I PAID FOR THIS SEAT.” Okay, bitch. It all worked out fine because two Italian guys in two rows near Bob figured out a way to win this game of musical seats, and then the crew came through with even better seating with tons of legroom. But it really struck me how the greedy airlines and their gouging are turning passengers on passengers. I mean, it’s bad enough you have to walk through the rows of business luxury to get to steerage these days (life was better when first class was curtained off). And it’s even worse when Turdblossom is seated in one of those fuck-you-peasants seats on your homebound leg from Milan.
The better part of my recollections involves the food and beverage service. I’ll give huge props to AA for generously pouring (decent) wine from jugs rather than handing out stingy little, cluttery bottles. I’ll take back half those props for them serving “Italian” dressing with the salad with the craptastic pasta on the way home. But the LOL came just before we landed at JFK and the bitchy flight attendant was condescendingly handing out the “hot pocket.” He offered one to my Italian seatmate, who waved it away, and got a snarky “Oh, you’ve had it before, have you?” And it was one scary slab of starch with a thin layer of processed cheese product in the middle, with so little flavor it actually verged into negative taste. This was on July 8, 2016. And the “best before” date on the box was 24 May 2017. Doomsday preppers need to fly more. . .
As an unabashed booster of Buffalo not least for its cuisine, I was as appalled as the restaurateur who FB’d the other day about a new food truck there by the name of Gourm-Asian. Even that, though, is not as bang-your-head-on-the-desk-worthy as a new product from one of those processed-crap conglomerates: Artesano (in big letters) style bread (finer print, hyphen omitted). How cynical could the suits be in envisioning “real Americans” wandering the Kroger aisles and stumbling upon Portlandia? Spell much?
If I were prone to conspiracy-think, you’d find me walking into a Chipotle, lunging over the sneeze guard and grabbing a stack of burrito wrappers with which to craft a tinfoil toque. It really is hard to wonder if the whole scandale was not some sort of sabotage, given the glee the processed-crap media took in reporting that people claimed to be sickened by food marketed as clean. Even I never imagined the day would come when the Murdoch Crier would run a hed shaming “fresh ingredients.” Seriously? Jack-in-the-Box did much worse than inflict the squitters, and it’s still cleaning up. I’ll admit the higher-standard-bearers were a little late in confessing they’re using beef imported from Oz. But their pork integrity should still be the standard. Meanwhile, someone actually died after eating Dole greens, and there’s not a hint of Kochian outrage. No one will ever know if Chipotle’s troubles were leaf-driven, but maybe all those salad startups with megabucks could get their McComeuppance as well.
Speaking of diets, news that kids are getting fat from too many antibiotics should be news to exactly no one who understands the food system. They fatten chickens, don’t they?
Maybe the wingnuts should actually want the poors to be able to buy beans with food stamps. The Cat WCTLWAFW once snared edamame at a dinner party and wound up too full to steal the magret.
Apparently brown lives don’t matter much either — this story of a worker who was baked in a tuna oven, with a pittance charged as the fine, reminded me a construction worker was recently buried alive on the Pastis renovation site. And then I read another story about a day laborer in a hummus factory ground up like so many chickpeas. Upton Sinclair wrote in vain . . .
I always joke that I recognize more names lately in the paid death notices than in the socially vetted wedding announcements. One reason I scour them is to keep up as food legends fade away. The latest was our old neighborhood butcher, who was a real character who did things right back in the competitive days when every neighborhood had at least one butcher. His shop over on Broadway was very Old World, with gleaming tile and a sawdusted floor, and he was always behind the counter, wearing a bolo tie that looked doubly incongruous as soon as he started barking. The great Irene Sax summed him and his business up well in her still-invaluable “Cook’s Marketplace” in 1984: “Yes, he has prime beef, pale veal, game, does 50 percent of his business over the phone. But you don’t have to be rich to shop at his market. Specials are always posted, and his butchers are glad to sell an elderly woman a piece of Romanian tenderloin or some lamb breast. That’s why, Oppenheimer boasts, his shop is busy all summer, when other butchers go hungry because their customers are in Maine and the South of France.”
As his family said in paying to memorialize him, he was a butcher to the stars as well as to us earthbound cooks. Maybe if he had played bass on a one-hit wonder back in 1968 he would have merited a real obit.
Our most memorable encounter came the day after one Thanksgiving, when we went back to bitch that our “fresh” turkey had freezer burn. He just said, with his German brusqueness: “Take anything you want. I know you’re not trying to put one over on me.” He bought an awful lot of goodwill with a few veal cutlets. And don’t get me started on the butcher farther south who once sold us a turkey with a tumor and pretty much told us where to stuff it . . . .
I could spend another week mulling how to make any of this amusing, but I just need to type these revelations from various conversations while I can still decipher the chicken scratches in my notebooks.
–Thyroid cancer is apparently quite common in Turkey and “they think it’s because of Chernobyl.” I still remember the housewife in North Wales way back when who was worried about just that effect despite official denials and spat out: “They think we’re stupid.” And it’s a reality to harsh your caffeine mellow as Fukushima radiation in tea is now being detected in Japan.
–Twice I had extraordinary eggplant, smoky but buttery after it was roasted or grilled and then mashed with milk. But my lunch date one day was shocked when I mentioned it: “It’s not in season. You can find it in the supermarkets, but it has no flavor when you don’t see it in the markets.” There’s a concept!
–And when a great server at my last supper asked about Turkish food in New York and I said it was pretty lame, his response was: “The vegetables don’t have the heat. They put vegetables in the fridge and it kills them.” He also, finally, explained why Turkey is the only country where I have ever been able to not just tolerate lamb but actually enjoy it (and I ate tongue, cheeks and brain in one dish): “There’s no grass here. The lambs have to eat what they can find, herbs and weeds.” No wonder their severed, skinned heads appear to be smiling in all the markets.
I keep thinking if I were a banana, I’d be ready for bread. So I’m amazed that a GMO genius is not tackling the liver-spot browning of aging humans. Instead, the Murdoch Crier belatedly reports, someone has come up with the Arctic apple: You can slice it and watch it stay white. Given that another genius already has a technique to keep apples looking just-cut for 21 days, you have to wonder what the market is. At least there’s an upside: This strange fruit will actually be labeled as strange fruit. Conventional growers want it kept the hell out of their traditionally modified Garden of Eden. And will no one consider the tree testicles?
I went off to college freshman year with a grant, a scholarship and a loan, and still the only way I figured I could get by would be if I lived on Del Monte green beans, which I loved and which cost 17 cents a can. (This was way back in the last century, when you could also save money by not buying bras.) Turned out the dorm had vending machines with everything nukable from honey buns to cheeseburgers for just a couple of coins. Not only did I not starve. I managed to pack on 30 pounds, fast. So the Murdoch Crier’s story on food pantries at New York colleges really jumped out at me. It’s actually come to this in the richest country in the world? Cereal handouts? The saddest deet is that much of the demand comes from the unemployed who are going back to school in a time of shrunken financial aid. I’m feeling lucky I only had to lose the weight, not the crippling debt. And you really have to wonder why the story is behind a paywall. Charging rich people to read about the poors makes you think it’s all just sports. Or “Hunger Games.”
And this is a great story on bacon mania that stops before it gets to the nasty bits: the shit lagoons and the piglet Ebola. Keep choking that drugged-up chicken, America.
Now I read my three-year-old (literal) snail mail. And learn a bay leaf (or many) in the fancy flour will forestall a giant leap into the food of the future: Bugs. Guess this is also a good time to remember why sifting originated. Screening is everything.
The digital haboob over the hometown paper’s clearly incompetent teevee “critic” raised another question beyond “how in holy hell does she keep her job?” And that would be: Whom do she and the Chimp Shill blow? But the most depressing thought is the response I got over to the Twitter from someone noting how bad political coverage is these days: “They are all Panchito now.”
Guess I should be glad they aren’t spelling it suckertash. // Every time I have a conversation with a farmer this time of year, I have new appreciation of the term “punch-drunk.” // POS is not what restaurants say it is. // Cross between scones and muffins — Scuffins — sounds like something you’d kick. Why not Mones? // Rare first-world problem: I buy eggs so fresh I can’t peel ’em. // Louise Slaughter FTW on antibiotics in animals. // The more cookbooks you own, the more likely you are to cook the same things over and over . . .