“You seem to think because you got chicken to go you’re in luck”
-Gordon Lightfoot, ‘Seven Island Suite’
I’ll never forget Mike Bloomfield’s memoir (‘Me And Big Joe’) about travelling and performing through Arkansas and Missouri on a tour with Big Joe Williams, the legendary bluesman and composer of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’. Bloomfield was a young guitarist who later achieved fame in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The book was published 25 years ago and quickly disappeared. Too bad: it is a rare glimpse into a fading world.
One afternoon, after a long bout of drinking, playing and singing, Bloomfield woke up (on the floor) to the scene of a young girl eating a fried chicken leg that she had dipped into a mayonnaise jar. She offered him some.
For a city boy from up North, this seemed weird: a girl on a kitchen stool, fried chicken on the table and a big jar of Duke’s. However, having a southern mother, I didn’t find it quite so shocking.
We were never tempted to go that far. I take my KFC or Popeye’s neat, so to speak, on the rare occasions I indulge. I admit that Duke’s is excellent—not as sweet and clingy as other brands. Many folks pledge allegiance to Hellmann’s, but not me.
Recently, I have felt obliged to put my two cents worth in the “food war”. You know, the “Kingsolver-Waters-Pollan Talking Blues”. Which is a warmed-over version of the “Lappé -Are You Sanpaku?-Sugar Blues”, of 35 years ago, back when “magic journalism” was just getting started.
I recall at the start of second grade Miss Wheeler dropping a couple of molars she got from a local dentist into a jelly jar of Coca Cola and keeping it on her desk. “Look, children!” She’d refill it every few days, and over the school year the teeth disintegrated into pebbles.
I guarantee it didn’t stop a single one of us—not me anyway, nor anyone I know. As Bob Garfield of Advertising Age put it, Coke has “a preternatural ability” to combine with all kinds of ethnic street vendor foods, my cuisines of choice.
Of course, I’m also a very big vegetable and herb guy. Yes, that’s me, making pesto and flavoring bottles of cooking oil . . . not. I have only one food obsession: making tomato sauce. Every year in late August and early September, I become a fruit scientist and wolfman. But the rest of the year—forget it. I don’t much like food.
Ever notice how often food is a drag? Only in the USA could there be a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to dieting. This is because most food is addictive, which means that—on an unconscious level—a lot of folks find it unpleasant to eat. They fear not eating, rather than actually enjoying eating. Follow that? It’s a subconscious response to our sedentary lifestyle.
Ever notice also the foods that have almost no flavor? There are quite a few. My favorite is the pitifully bland scallop. A dish for people who hate food. Scallops possess only heat, fat and “anti-taste”, like anti-matter.
Coke and fried foods like pork, clams and dark meat chicken—these are the “super foods” like giant nebulas in the flavor cosmos. They consist entirely of taste. Meatballs hang up there in the galaxy too, like super novas.
Our problem is that we live in Paradise. This is a big problem. It’s wrong biologically. We should drink very little milk, for example. Yet not only do we drink a lot, we also eat mountains of cheese. Even yogurt has been changed into a type of ice cream dessert. It used to be healthy. Also, cottage cheese has gone out of style. Women used to diet on it. The small plates with parsley seemed very sensible.
The proverbial foods of our plus-sized Paradise—milk, honey (meaning sugar, including soft drinks and candy), the “golden egg”, and rich foods such as nuts—these are real killers as a regular part of a diet. The number one cause of death is caloric intake. Rich food should be made sacred again, even if that means “pagan” or festive. No more all day, all week, all month and all year food parties. Also, let’s make fasting fashionable again, along with pilgrimages. Walking on our knees. Bitter herbs.
There was a great (but gory) Jack the Ripper-themed film a few years ago titled “From Hell”. In it, a murderer seduces his poor prostitute victims with grapes. The period history is correct. Grapes were a rare delicacy until about 50 years ago. Their dried form, raisins, is the symbol of ambrosia in traditional cultures—the food of the gods. And its fermented juice is regarded as the blood of our Lord. Enjoy with care!
So, let’s forget about striking or boycotting the sugar companies and corn syrup processors—let’s go after big, bad Duke’s and Hellmann’s. It may be that we shall find it impossible, as a society, to diet. The government—God help us—may have to restrict our intake for us. It may look like the “road to serfdom”, but I believe I’ll take it.
The spiritual problem of living in Paradise is that it is a terribly dangerous illusion. Indeed, the hot topic in the food war is the harm that overconsumption does, not only to ourselves, but also to our families and the environment. We may wake up dead, but what about everyone and everything else? A legacy of frugality beats “take-out” every time.