This week I learned that I am now allergic to bacon. No sympathy please. The thought of bacon at this moment absolutely repulses me. My belly’s fight with bacon has left my body scattered in several ways so I’ve got some pretty stray, random thoughts on food. And not just random thoughts, but also weird stomach-recovery-eating patterns. Last night I ate seven Samoas (now called Caramel deLights) in four minutes–thanks a LOT, Molly Davis. You Girl Scouts are really ruining us all. My only saving grace is that half a box would be 7.5 Samoas and I managed to stop at 7.
Photos of Food
Fine. Do your thing. Take your food photos. Post your food photos. Stare at them. Stroke your phone screen. Celebrate good times. Food is beautiful. Appreciate the food you have. Enjoy it. Savor it. Bless us oh Lord, right? But please, do not expect other people to care.
I’m glad that everyone on Instagram is being fed. But can we all agree that the food photos are a little out of control? Even typing this feels cliche. I found a New York Times article actually titled 11 Ways to Take a Better Food Photo on Instagram. Is this real life? Are these the things we are putting our effort into now?
I remember in first grade in 1993 being at the YMCA after school care program eating our daily serving of canned chocolate pudding or chopped pineapples from a vat. For some reason there was always a salt and pepper shaker set on the table in our room–usually these were just used for clandestine experiments. Brad Snyder leaned in one day, pointed to the photos of vegetables on the sides of the shakers, and casually said, “My dad took these pictures. He takes pictures of food.”
Well, I was still me, even if I was three feet tall, and I didn’t believe him. So when his mom came to pick him up, I asked her if it was true. Did Brad’s dad really take the photos on the sides of the salt and pepper shakers? Brad’s mom told me that his dad was actually a food photographer. Who knew? For years, I couldn’t look at that classic McCormick salt and pepper pair and not think of Brad’s dad whom I never met. Now, that everyone is a food photographer, I wonder what Brad’s dad is up to.
Allergies and Aversions
Allergies and aversions are hotter than ever. And I say this as someone who is no longer eating fatty pork because it turns me into a blubbering baby. When I was younger, I have exactly one memory of a friend of mine being allergic to a food. I’ve mentioned this before. I was at my dad’s softball game, eating peanut M&Ms. I gave one to the kid with the bowl cut whom I played with and pretty soon an ambulance was there to pick him up. (He lived.) Other than bowl-cut-kid, I can’t think of another allergic friend.
Now the allergies and aversions abound. And I believe them. Well, most of them. They’re legit. But what did we do before? Just stuff our faces with everything and wait out a tolerance? Sounds terrifying.
Now we are so aware of what’s in our food that we can actually realize what’s wrong with it or make up what’s wrong with it.
In this episode of Portlandia, the main characters want to order chicken at a restaurant but before they do, they want to know what the chicken was fed. The waitress lists the chicken’s diet including sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts. Fred Armisen asks if the hazelnuts are local. Carrie Brownstein asks how big the area is where the chickens are allowed to roam free. The waitress brings out a manila folder to show Colin’s portfolio (Colin is the name of the chicken they would be ordering). Armisen and Browstein leave the restaurant, go to Colin’s farm which is some sort of farming cult. They stay there for a while, both fall in love with the cult leader, and so on. It’s brilliant. But is it that far off? Well, yea, maybe. But let’s admit that the now-standard warning label on restaurant menus was not there 10 years ago. It’s progress though. People should be safe to be allergic. But I do pity the person who has to go around asking if the food contains sulphur dioxide.
American cuisine was not always scallops wrapped in bacon (ah!). It was certainly not always combinations of Asian and French and fusion-runeth-over. I like this description of what we Americans are eating now: “’New American is the catchall term for any cuisine that defies categorization,’ according to Phil Vettel, the Chicago Tribune restaurant critic.” We aren’t sure what to call it though which makes sense if we’re not really sure what it is. Right? Wikipedia is confused too. Modern American, New American, Contemporary American, whatever they’re serving in upscale restaurants. What is this stuff?
During the Great Depression Americans needed cheap and filling foods. But rather than turn to the various immigrant communities who were trying to serve up their native foods which were not only cheap and filling, but also delicious, America did what it’s still doing. We said, “Down with the immigrants. They must assimilate.” And we churned out foods like milk corno, milk, chocolate pudding with milk, creamed carrots, vanilla corn starch pudding, mashed turnips, creamed cabbage, more milk. It was recommended at the time that children get a quart of milk per day because of the Depression-era necessities it contained. Maybe the cow industry was involved. These foods listed above are examples from a typical school lunch program. The school lunches were meant to give children nutrition and also to teach immigrant children how to eat like an American. Americans believed that the flavorful immigrant foods had too much taste and that bland foods were what we needed. Spicy foods were actually classified as “stimulants.” Because people would have wanted to eat more of the flavorful foods, bland was the way to go. It didn’t matter than the immigrant foods were cheap to make and just as, if not more nutritious, we had a war to fight and new Americans to assimilate.
One Depression-era salad included canned fruit, cream cheese, gelatin, and mayonnaise. Yum. Here’s another: canned corn beef, plain gelatin, canned peas, vinegar, and lemon juice. (Sources: http://freshairnpr.npr.libsynfusion.com/a-culinary-history-of-the-great-depression and https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27213074-a-square-meal.)
Vince Papa’s Dinner Menu
My maternal grandfather was in many ways a product of his time. The bland movement was a way of life for Vince. At my mom’s birthday a couple of weeks ago I listened in awe as my mom, Aunt Carol, and Uncle Michael rattled off the week’s menu. Grandpop demanded the same meal each week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. They all stood there agreeing “Oh yea and Wednesday was burnt meat night.” Burnt. Meat. Apparently my Gram had to put the meat right on the grates of the stovetop and burn the meat. Mom, Michael and Carol talked about how Grandpop didn’t allow pepper, peppers, onions, or even chicken. No chicken. This list is longer but I was too stunned to process it all. The thing is, Chas and I have been to the town that Grandpop’s family is from. Cefalu, Sicily has some of the best food I have ever had. Ever. Gelato served inside a brioche roll. Pasta all Norma. Arrancini Siciliani. Fish markets to make your eyes smile. Vegetables and fruits as bright as the Mediterranean waters nearby. I would post a photo here of some of these things but I didn’t take any. Kev?
Anyway, when little Nancy, Carol, and Michael went out into the wide world outside of Northway Drive, they couldn’t believe what they were missing. My aunt said that she moved to the beach with her friends when she was 18. Her friends said they wanted to make Sunday dinner. She did not recognize the roast beef. She couldn’t believe how flavorful roast beef could be. And this is not because my Gram was a bad cook. Quite the contrary. It’s because she was a good wife (of the time). And Grandpop got what Grandpop wanted.
Do not go to Iceland hungry. Unless your wallet is fat and your appetite is really weird. As much hiking, walking, exploring, and hot-bath-soaking as Chas and I did in Iceland, eating was much more of a chore. Because of Iceland’s remote location, it’s pretty difficult to get food there. After eating his and hers $20 bowls of creamed asparagus soup one night, we learned our lesson. From there on out, rather than turn to the packaged salted, dried cod which was omni-present, we went with car sandwiches and oatmeal. A car sandwich is a sandwich you make in your car. We splurged one night on an incredible seafood restaurant in Reykjavik and it was amazing but more kroner than we could spend on all the car sandwiches you could eat on all of The Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Those Who Are Hungry
May I link my own blog? It’s not fair to write an entire entry about food and not mention that there are people who do not have enough. Renee Buettner whenever she saw a person hungry, poor, in a forsaken state would say, “There, but for the grace of God go I.” I always loved that Yoda-like phrase. Because I am straight up lucky to be able to write this piece about food. And there are definitely people in this city and this world where this playful little commentary wouldn’t be possible. So there, but for the grace of God go I, but no bacon, please.