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.
I always wished the prison predecessor of “Fast Food Nation” had gotten the same traction, and maybe now, as a book, it will. Profit really is the toxic ingredient in the criminal “justice” system in this country — millions and millions disserved is the feature, not the bug. Even so, this exposé struck me as profoundly sad. A friend emailed the link with “dang, so much margarine,” which is ironic given that the gubmint, which sets the rules, is now cracking down on trans fats. My reaction: “Shit, so much diabetes.” Calories on these trays are as empty as the souls of those who come up with them. Although I do take tiny comfort in knowing most of the 1 percent have palates that never evolved to appreciate anything much more challenging. As I’ve often said, the tastes of Park Avenue gazillionaires and Death Row inmates are sadly similar.
Speaking of potential goldmines, airport chefs really need to invade Terminal One at JFK, as do a few of those trend trackers who rave about the food revolution beyond the get-there-crazy-early-so-we-don’t-all-die security. I was trapped for hours in the megastorm, waiting for Turkish Airlines to board, and the only crap on offer made the old days in the Cafe Regret look misty-colored. After trudging past all the same bleak offerings repeatedly, I finally settled for a $13 “smoked turkey” club with “Swiss” on “ciabatta.” And, once again, I realized why Americans are so fat. When nothing tastes like anything, you keep eating, and eating. Maybe there was bacon in that mess, but it was really just a salt strip. Someone, say at ORD, should be laughing. Of course, just a few hours in that overpriced food desert gulled me into thinking a guy in a chef’s hat greeting passengers on the plane might be a sign the food onboard might be above average. About five hours later (including two at the gate, one in de-icing and on the runway), dog dinner was served. Not dog’s. Dog.
I’m late to the Olive Garden brouhaha, but I have the answer to why the water is unsalted, a question that had been bothering me because I went to an all-day “science of flavor” conference over the summer. One speaker there noted that food processors use so much sodium because the only thing cheaper is water. Turns out the company cares more about the warranty on its pots than about adding almost-free flavor to crappy fud. But the most unsurprising revelation about the vultures now pulling the strings is their real mission: sell off the real estate and rent it back to the poor suckers left holding the poop-filled doggy bags. It’s only amazing they aren’t planning to offer unlimited Twinkies. If it weren’t for screw jobs, there would be no jobs at all.
I pay way too much attention to this mierda del toro, but the more I read about the kkkrazies attacking Mrs. O’s school lunch do-over, the more I realized the ol’ yellowcake/Whitewater media machine was getting spun on high yet again. And sure enough, after story after story of lunch ladies rebelling because healthy fud was being wasted, the real story comes out. Kids are indeed eating the healthy fud. And once again, a lie made its way around the world before the truth could get its apron on. Meanwhile, the “squirrel” distracted from another inconvenient truth: The new rules are just new marketing opportunities for Big Food. A sad thing I learned last winter is that factories are already churning out products designed solely to scarf up food bank dollars. Now I guess it’s all “let ‘em eat Whole Grain Hot Pockets” in school cafeterias.
As always, food writers discerning mega-trends at the food show were like blind people trying to describe an elephant. I thought there was more popcorn, and an encouraging amount of non-GMO labeling, and more Korean and Indian inroads, but any of those perceived phenomena could have just been the trunk, or the tail. Also as always, the most popular ingredient was either “no” or “-free,” especially with gluten. When I ran into a big importer friend, we were laughing about all the fads we had seen come and go over the decades as companies seized on anything to get consumers freaked about. I noted that sodium-free used to be the buzzterm, and now there were no end of booths showcasing nothing but . . . salt. And I’m also so old I remember when Brooklyn hipsters were so scornful of the show they staged their own little rebellious counterpart. This year they were in the soulless Javits Center themselves, having ponied up the big bucks to push their artisanal jerky and $7.50-a-quarter-pint mayonnaises. At least none of them appeared responsible for the kale chips that foretell the end of that craze. These crispy messes weren’t just the leaves, as has been the style; instead the greens had been converted into Lay’s salt+grease. Only the bacon cheeseburger cheese from another producer was more absurdly American.
Don’t ask why, but I had to spend way too much time recently in the baby food aisle of every store in our neighborhood. And there was not a jar of lamb and rice to be found, as the vet prescribed. There was, however, a generation of diabetics foretold. Nearly all the options, jarred or pouched, were fruit or fruity vegetable. Even the turkey had to be sweet-potatoed up. Maybe Darwin is intervening from the Great Galapagos Beyond, though. All those thirsty kids set loose in a water-deprived world will speed up extinction. And then the planet can finally right itself.
For once I blast out my instant reaction on an issue and I get burned. Of course there was more to the story of the FDA ban on aging cheese on wood; it was not all about a 2012 law promoted by fascistic libs and signed by ol’ Obummer. And of course I’m on the side of the artisanal cheese producers, after having once spent the better part of a day watching Parmigiano-Reggiano being made outside Parma — that small plant was cleaner than any operating room in a hospital catering to hyper-rich Saudis. But I still understand why the government might want to err, even ridiculously, on the side of caution. The great free market simply cannot help itself. With no watchdogs, any producer would be tempted to cut corners; even with policing listeria happens. As for the great free-market argument that “no one would hurt a customer; it would kill sales,” why did the FDA also announce this week that it had set safety standards for infant formula? Think about it. American manufacturers can’t even be trusted not to poison babies . . . .
My favorite wingnut finally got me to pay attention to the new FDA rule forbidding American cheese producers to age their stuff on wood, ostensibly for sanitary reasons. He was all wrought up about libs and Obummer, so I had to point out that neither likely bears the blame and shame for this bureaucratic overreach. Somewhere, you can be pretty sure, someone from the industrial cheese world got paid to get the law changed. Legislators are not looking out for “we the people,” because we only pay their paltry $174,000 salaries, not make them into millionaires. Artisanal cheese producers have even less clout. But if there’s an upside to all of this, it is an acknowledgement that Big Cheese does feel threatened enough to try to stifle the competition. Once you’ve had a Jasper Hill, or a Rogue, processed crap just won’t do it. Meanwhile, the Big O has set in motion a way for “we the people” to let the White House know what matters, as one more way to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, who famously never “listened to focus groups.” Another way for the little guy to fight back would be to launch an insidious campaign to send the message that the dread feds are forcing us to shun home-aged goodness just to prevent the occasional outbreak of listeria. Make the bought-off in Congress own their sellout. Call it “Buy Imported.”
Also, too, I never thought we’d see the day when riot cops would show up at a McD’s shareholder meeting, but we are living in interesting times: repeating history by refusing to learn from it. All the money can’t go to the bosses without necks starting to look a little blade-worthy. Protesters weren’t too happy about the marketing of processed crap to kids, either. Which must be the only reason they aren’t saying: “Let ’em eat Happy Meals.” Pitchfork Factories R Us.
So a company will spend a bloody fortune on a commercial, and a columnist will dutifully write it all up, without either addressing the fact that no amount of smoking and sizzling will ever turn industrial beef into food fit to eat. I believe that’s what’s known in scientific terminology as “polishing a turd.”
I’m so old I remember when a coupla hippies from Vermont were among the good guys in food. But they sold their soul to the corporate store, and the other day the slingers in the Murdoch Crier included a coupon for a buck off a gruesome example of overkill under their once-good name: two types of ice cream in one pint carton with a “core” of peanut butter or salted caramel fudge etc. It’s Mad Dog 20/20 in the freezer aisle. At least you can get fat for a good cause. It’s “fairtrade.” Probably gluten-free, too.
Sad to realize whoever invented “dough conditioners” will probably get an obit. And ponzu will always sound like a scheme. Also, sadly, too: It’s a good thing Orwell is not around to hear “botched execution.” You use that verb for brownies, FFS.