Kinda grim to live in an e-world where the kerfuffle is bigger over one bad review of a London clone than over the fact that thousands of sick pigs were dumped into a river in China and only the thinnest allah-save-us-from-the-sequester thread keeps Bushwhacked farmers from doing the same here. Can I just point out that Balthazar was not a great food venue when it opened in SoHo way back in the last century? The best it managed was two stars. I still remember jumping through 65 hoops to get a lunch reservation when it was new and being rewarded with profoundly mediocre cooking in an admittedly glorious setting. In my eating around NYC for a post-9/11 story, I took a friend there for another dinner so just-average she couldn’t be persuaded Leroy Neiman at the next table qualified as a celebrity big enough to validate eating West 50s classics. Today, to me, it’s La Grenouille for kiddles. I wouldn’t turn down dinner there. But did a city just a Chunnel away from Paris really need an Epcot bistro?
You have to wonder about a state (Hoosiers’) that wants to require two transvaginal ultrasounds if a woman chooses to exercise her legal right to an abortion but that also insists it’s unconstitutional to allow anyone to photograph/videograph a factory farm. Apparently they would have no problem with force-feeding and gestation-confining women. And in Oklahoma a nutcase blocked a law banning texting while driving because, you know, it’s a slippery slope to the long arm of the law snatching Whoppers out of drivers’ hands. Oklahoma, of course, is where the new abortion laws were so overreaching a court just struck them down. Apparently a woman can do what she wants with her phone and her diet, but all her lady parts belong to the state.
Speaking of water, one of the most gruesome stories in donkey’s years is the one about the Canadian tourist whose body was found in a rooftop tank on a hotel where all the guests had for weeks been blithely drinking and showering in what came out of the tap. But as I thought about it I remembered (or maybe misremembered) another story, about a naturalist in the Caribbean who died at his remote lodge in the mountains and whose widow filled his coffin with ice cubes to keep him “fresh” in the heat for the wake. As the hours went on and the ice for drinks ran low, of course, the mourners had no qualms about scooping out rocks for their rum punches. Maybe instead of moving hundreds of guests, the LA hotel should have just offered free minibar access.
This may be the biggest setback yet to the noble goal of underwriting local farms by agreeing to buy whatever they can grow. CSA now has a second translation: Child Sexual Abuse. Spell it “one more reason to be glad the pope is 86ing himself.”
I probably click about 60,000 links an hour, so I thought I’d be forgiven for missing the original “God made a farmer” ad before Tweeting the parody. But thanks to the vibrant multi-culti world of Twitter, I got pushback from an actual farmer, who objected to the portrayal of all farmers as (subsidy) takers not makers. Then my consort inspired me to watch said original, and I noticed it included none of the sort of farmers I know from the Greenmarkets, those with no faith in organized religion, those raising their children to pick carrots but also aware they need trained help (which they complain is hard to find), those who drive hours to bring eggs and duck and once-a-season kale shoots to urbanites. Bob said his students were awed by the ad because it uses stills (photos, not bourbon makers). And he made another good point: The message is conveyed through cowboy hats. America loves cowboys, so the farmers are stand-ins without the horses. While we argue about image, it’s really only about selling trucks. Funny how that happens.
Not to put too fine a point on it, and nothing funny to say about it, but every innovation like plastic spouts on milk and cream cartons is chipping away at a wonderful world. Look inside an albatross, one that’s fed on the garbage patch where so many of those conveniences wind up. We are on the road to Wall-E with no Pandora in sight . . .
And given that I’m coming up on my 30th anniversary of fleeing the NYTimes the first time, I particularly enjoyed thinking back to those days when the Escoffier Room was truly fusty. Bob insisted I check out the top university before making the leap, so we drove up one day, took a tour and had dinner in the swankiest restaurant. And oh, jeebus. I don’t remember the specifics, just that everything represented as what Calvin Trillin famously called “stuff-stuff with heavy.” And it looked and tasted if it had been cooked by amateurs. I wound up at the New York Restaurant School after marveling that those students’ touch was so assured after only 12 weeks of training. Now, aside from the cold and corporate dining room, the CIA seems to be the same as it ever was. As was the food in the inevitable slide show. Fried “frog legs” with what appeared to be toothpaste? Deja vu all over again. Condolences to them, but no wonder the American team came in seventh in Lyon.
I posted a few fast thoughts over to the Epi Log on the overseas uproar over horsemeat in the supermarket burgers, but the more I dwell the more I’m amazed at the reaction. Americans learn there is shit in the meat, and they keep on cheesing. Brits hear what the Continent considers a delicacy is in theirs and they lose their shit. I didn’t keep up with the day-to-day coverage, but I do wonder if the real reason all those horse patties wound up being converted to fuel might not be that the mystery meat came from the good old USofA. Where horses are so doped up even the connoisseurs are trotting scared.
To get the obvious elephant out of the dining room, I have to wonder what might have happened if all the sound and senseless fury devoted to outlawing foie gras had been channeled toward shaming gun nuts. Eleven bullets per 6-year-old sounds more horrific than beaks getting shoveled full of corn like so many Americans at a Las Vegas buffet. (Also, too, you have to wonder where the leaking hearts are when it comes to horses. Now we’re learning they’re pumped so full of drugs the Europeans are afraid to eat that delicacy?) In all the ugliness after the latest big massacre, I remembered a food story I’d done for the NYT magazine way back when, on “hunters’ cuisine.” And I Tweeted a link but immediately deleted because it could be so easily misinterpreted. It ran less than 15 years ago, but the merchants of death have done such a good job skewing the national debate that no publication would touch anything like that today. While anyone paying attention would realize the guns blazing in theaters and grade schools and now restaurants are useless for hunting unless you like your meat already shredded.
Bad enough the icebergs are melting. Now iceberg lettuce needs its temperature checked to be sure it’s not melting into lethal slime. Good thing polar bears in zoos are spared both these days.
After taking a month off here, I’m finding everyone everywhere else has apparently said everything that needed to be said about the big issues. Hostess really was Bained. Junk food chains threatening to screw their employees on Obamacare really are risking both loogies hocked onto the pepperoni pizza and Typhoid Mary infecting the Caesar salad. And going after a tiny roach with a tank really was overkill designed to bump up traffic to a site in math-wizard withdrawal. But I will add two thoughts on the public flogging of the Furry Anus, which admittedly was entertaining but also turned Tarantinoesque as it continued, and continued, kicking a cripple: He would have been so much smarter if he had had the foresight to open in SoPo, where every restaurateur is automatically now a hero. And my, how Times have changed. I remember when just the notion of linking reviews to restaurant websites was roundly rejected as undignified if not a corrosion of integrity. Now actual linkbaiting is “service journalism at its finest.” Somehow I’m sure that plays in Grand Forks.
Apparently this is National Upton Sinclair Month. NPR has been doing some great segments on his career away from the typewriter, and now news has broken that a worker at a tuna cannery was cooked to death on the job. And why do I suspect the story will hit America’s stomach when the heart should be more engaged?
At the same time, I can’t blame anyone for tuning out the unending shitshow that is coverage of industrial agriculture. One day it’s about a turkey plant getting fined for essentially enslaving the mentally deficient, the next it’s a roundup (so to speak) of how many animals are being slaughtered right now because farmers just can’t keep feeding them. Don’t even ask where the “other white meat” campaign money came from, went to . . .
I realize no one will ever be able to think straight about the soda “ban” and how it’s not Big Gubmint restricting liberty but actually a feeble attempt to warn Big Fud it will face tobacco-level settlements unless it reins in its own greed. Everyone railing about loss of liberty seems to have no problem with far creepier legislation — there really are laws being pushed to require women to let the state literally get all up in their lady parts. Compared with spreading ’em, having to fill a soda cup twice seems rather minor. There’s also the little problem beyond the obesity that the law is meant to thwart: New research is calling Alzheimer’s Type 3 diabetes. And how might you acquire adult-onset diabetes? Maybe by filling that soda cup repeatedly? Some days you have to wonder if the Depends manufacturers aren’t the ones really pushing the high-fructose corn syrup.
On a related subject, I know talking about the obese is politically incorrect, but there’s obese and then there’s morbidly obese. The other morning I read two jaw-droppers. The first was about a condemned man suing to stop his execution because he’s too fat for the lethal drugs to work. And I don’t mean 300 pounds — the guy is packing 480. (How you get/stay that big on a prison diet escapes me.) The second sad report was on how companies are designing ever-larger medical equipment as America keeps gorging and gorging and ballooning and ballooning. The lede was about a man who needs back surgery and can’t have it until he gets an MRI, but he’s too ginormous to fit into the scanner. And I don’t mean 500 pounds — the guy is packing 680. I do not envy the surgeon who will eventually have to slice through all that avoirdupois to get to his spine while no one sends him off for lessons in eating more sanely. The last line of the piece was the saddest: It would be best to prevent obesity, but instead the European manufacturers plan to keep capitalizing on the American market by manufacturing ever-larger machines. Wonder how things worked out for the dinosaurs . . .