Saturday, March 7

Tip: Periodically Have Someone Check Your Plastic Bubble's Air Intake Hose For Kinks

Kim Severson, "Turning to Cube Steak, and Back to Childhood":
Although pounding tough pieces of beef to make them more tender has a long history in the Southern and Western United States...

...less primitive Americans in tonier regions developed corning and stocks.

Y'KNOW canning food only began to be perfected about 150 years ago. The first city in America wired for electric light was Wabash, Indiana in 1880. The rural South was electrified thanks to The Socialist and Class Traitor FDR. Home refrigeration dates to the 1930s; the icebox, its predecessor, pretty much required that one live near enough to a source of ice (seasonal or altitudinal) for it to be transported to one's location while remaining frozen. Corning, salting, smoking, pickling, fermenting, drying--actions we now take largely for the flavor they impart--were once matters of life and death for some Americans still living today. They did actually know more about preserving food, and increasing its palatability, than is suggested by their pounding it with their crude eating-slash-digging sticks. And this generally involved more than knowing the location of the nearest grain-fed boutique butcher's.

Is it really, really, really too much to ask that a nominally well-educated person have some broad sense of his place on a timeline that doesn't fucking begin with the dawn of Readily Available Premium Cable Channels? It's certainly possible that Ms Severson just wrote a really horrible sentence there--which would be sin enough--but the evidence says it's a transcript from whatever her grain-fed butcher was feeding her, seeing as how it links the actual, official, popularity of cube steak to steel-plated professional meat pounding.

And all of this being at the service of the semi-dredful Comfort Food meme, which is apparently being kept alive just to demonstrate how lazy food culture can become, and remain, and why the rest of the world is wise not to entrust it to English speakers. Not to mention the trendy update to Depression-Era chic. Listen: I'm 55 years old. The last time I got a home-cooked meal, cooked by someone else, on a non-holiday, that involved meat loaf, mashed potatoes that began the day as, well, potatoes, macaroni and cheese that began the day in separate packages, or anything else from that checklist, or began the morning with a bowl of oatmeal that wasn't ready to serve the moment oats met boiling water, was in 1965. Without question there are some people in America fortunate enough to have had real food served to them in their youth despite having been born after the general acceptance of the home microwave, the instant potato flake, and the invention of the term "Fresh Frozen"; but for most the whole business is a manufactured sham memory, the "comfort" they received (directly) from that sort of menu having been largely the radiated warmth leftover from a controlled nuclear reaction, and the "food" being, at best, moot.

The numbers of people who grew up eating actual "comfort food" and are still young enough to be able to calculate a tip must be so tiny that the Comfort Food Industry would today be vying with the Used Betamax Cult if it weren't for the incessant cheerleading of those professional food shills who deserve to be called "Foodies" except the word turns my stomach. But not as much as this professional quaintification of foodstuffs so the easily satisfied can dig into a bowl of something that doesn't look like it was designed by a Japanese florist and still feel superior.

10 comments:

Narya said...

For better or worse, I'm one of those people--and I'm 50. My mom is a good cook, and her mother--who was an Italian immigrant, which probably explains something--was also a great cook, so I grew up eating real food. We never (and I do mean not even one time) had TV dinners. My parents also would buy a side of beef from the local butcher (because it was, overall, cheaper than buying the meat piecemeal), and we froze and canned a lot of stuff, some of which my dad grew in a backyard garden and some of which we got from the local farmers' market. I grew up in a small town in the middle of what was then a farming county but that has become a far suburb of NYC. It was small, working-class/industrial when I lived there, and it's now a sad combo of the above-mentioned commuters and working-class people who have no jobs now that the industries have left town. The housing developments cover what used to be farms. Sucks.

whetstone said...

Is it really, really, really too much to ask that a nominally well-educated person have some broad sense of his place on a timeline that doesn't fucking begin with the dawn of Readily Available Premium Cable Channels?

If that person is writing for the NYT Style section? Yes. The utopian America described by that section is no less utopian and stupid than at an objectivist convention.

Blister said...

Well, just to balance things, I'm going on 63, and before my folks became proto-foodies in the mid-50's the comfort food I remember includes a lot of fried Spam, canned beets, and those ringworm pills that turned your whole mouth purple if you tried to fake swallowing them.

Blister said...

Oh, yeah, forgot the canned stewed tomatoes served hot in a bowl with a spoon and a glass of non-fat dry milk.

cavjam said...

The mac&cheez equivalent for those reared in a family which thought pasta "exotic" is potatoes au gratin. And Apple-smoked Gruyere with Yukon Golds may be a bit too chic, but it's fab delish and still "comfort food."

For much of the planet beans and rice is comfort food, aka food.

Sator Arepo said...

Alas, I am not allowed to read the NYT Style section, let alone the Style Magazine, as Mrs Arepo feels it is bad for my blood pressure.

Vivek said...

The "comfort food" meme is even more insidious than that, I think...the very notion should lend it to be a highly individualized thing. What is comfort food to me? It's precisely the food that my parents, grandparents, etc, made on a somewhat regular basis as I was growing up. As someone of Indian descent who grew up in New York, this is assuredly different food than the comfort food of a fifth generation American who grew up in Mississippi (for one, there's a lot less meat involved).

And yet, "comfort food" has taken to mean certain things, in particular, none of which come anywhere near my list of comfort food. Really, it seems now to have expanded to just about anything slow-cooked which can be marketed as somewhat "American."

Somehow, the whole project is to subordinate one's individual (and highly emotional) experiences and desires to marketing. And while this is hardly a new phenomenon, somehow I find this particular manifestation of it the most disgusting yet.

Narya said...

Vivek, you're totally right.

Take the commodification of desire and combine it with the particular manifestation of the commodification of food--and the industrialization of the food chain--and you have something that probably isn't a plot but sure seems like one.

Keifus said...

I think childhood comfort foods exist to the extent that families are still emigrating to the States from poorer, more patriarchal countries. Any second- or even third-generation Italian, Irish, or Polish--about 90% of the people I knew when I was ten, but substitute your own experiences based on geography and age-- certainly has a claim to remembered delicacies, where Grandma had the time to boil any cheap piece of protein into submission for the Sunday meal. I assume there will be a lot of hackneyed memories of Mexican favorites in the not-too-distant future. In any case, the favorable dollars per calorie tradeoff for highly processed corn products seems to be a uniquely American innovation, but I suppose I'd have to check that.

(As for me, Mom was a natural food nut when I grew up, and palled around with the vestigial remains of the New England farming folk. It was probably a rebellion: something to do with the scarce comforts of her own experience growing up in the generation that first discovered TV dinners.)

Linda said...

I was going to argue with DR's claim that nobody has homemade stuff anymore, since my last bout of homemade mac and cheese was Friday. However, I realize that I fall into one of Keifus's categories (3rd generation Polish-American). However, on thinking of it, my nieces and nephews don't cook homemade, even on the weekend, unless it's a bbq. However, there is a lot of guilt tripping in the push for comfort foods--YOU BAD PEOPLE, WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T COOK. The Barbara Kingsolver book was the worst--YOU BAD PEOPLE, WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU NOT ONLY DON'T WANT TO COOK, BUT DON'T WANT TO CAN YOUR LOCALLY-GROWN FOOD. Half the book made me gag. I can stand the stench of frozen food, but not self-righteousness.