“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all the questions for the time being.” — Franz Kafka
FOOD, DANGEROUS FOOD
I was just wondering how long our food fetishist mania will last.
Oh, I’m not talking about the move toward more natural and locally-produced foods and homemade meals. We all agree it’s better to eat a nice bowl of stir-fried vegetables and brown rice than it is to scarf a Whopper, Coke, and fries.
A Double Whopper With Cheese
I make a banana bread that’s twice as tasty as a Sara Lee cake. My oatmeal cookies and Italian butter cookies make Oreos taste like so many plastic lids.
Sure, it’s a big investment of time and labor to eat well and right but we have to be creative about the whole deal. For instance, I try to cook two or three dishes every Sunday afternoon, making enough to last the rest of the week. Once a month I make a huge batch of spaghetti sauce, freezing it in four separate containers and then using one a week for my rigatoni fix.
A frozen pizza takes 25 minutes or so before you can dig in. My homemade pizza takes about three hours, including the time it takes to make the dough and let it rise. But man, when I eat it I know I’m doing better than Tombstone (which, by the way isn’t at all bad tasting.)
When I make my own pizza, I control the amount of cheese I put on it. I throw on good green things like spinach. I cut down on the salt and add more garlic powder to the sauce to make up for it. I use whole wheat flour. It’s a flat out better food than something I grab from the freezer.
Nobody can argue that making your own meals, using wholesome ingredients, and minimizing the use of white sugars and white flours isn’t smarter than the alternative.
Brown Is Better
But I can find a lot to argue about with the people who are obsessed with food. The Starbucks switch from using cochineal as a food coloring is a case in point.
The coffee chain has been using cochineal to make its some of its drinks and food look red for years. Cochineal is South American and Mexican bug whose shell weight is nearly 25 percent carminic acid. People have been using carminic acid extract mixed with elemental salts to produce a red dye for 500 years.
Carminic Acid-Covered Cactus
In fact, the sainted Mayas and Aztecs revered the insect and its dye so much they often used them as currency and tribute. I call the two peoples sainted because so many folks today speak in reverent terms about them, as if anything and everything they did was superior to our venal, corrupt, tyrannical society.
Some of those folks, no doubt, jumped on the viral bandwagon that made Starbucks stop using cochineal.
It’s ironic because cochineal is a natural food product. And I was under the impression that we were trying to get more natural in our grub. (This despite the fact that things like arsenic are as natural as, oh, quinoa, a South American grain popular with the Bloomingfoods and Whole Foods Market crowds.)
So thousands of people got online and shrieked at Starbucks to stop using cochineal. Why, I don’t know. One theory has it that vegans are repulsed by the use of the once-living critter product.
Now that’s ironic because I can’t picture many vegans having a jones for Starbucks’ Strawberries & Cream Frappucino, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Raspberry Swirl Birthday Cake Pop (what the hell ever that is), Mini-Donut with pink icing, and the Red Velvet Whoopie Pie. These are the only products Starbucks dumps cochineal into. My understanding is that vegans want only the purest, non-animal foods in their bodies, not products whose names sound like sex toys or Cracker Jack prizes.
The Red Velvet Whoopie Pie?
Snopes.com figures the whole thing is the result of the “Ugh, gross!” reaction.
“Our distaste at the thought of ingesting bugs is based on cultural factors rather than the properties or flavors of the insects themselves,” Barbara Mikkelson writes on the urban legend-busting website. “Western society eschews (rather than chews) bugs, hence the widespread ‘Ewww!’ reaction to the news that some of our favorite foods contain insect extract.”
Here’s the funny thing: Starbucks now will begin replacing cochineal with lycopene extract from tomatoes. The tomato was long thought to be a poisonous fruit, especially after a 16th Century British barber named John Gerard wrote that tomatoes contain deadly toxins. Brits and American colonists refused to eat tomatoes for the next 200 years based on Gerard’s single statement, which was probably based more on the fact that the dark and uncivilized Spaniards and Italians ate them as much as on the presence in tomatoes of trace amounts of the glycoalkaloid tomatine.
A Plateful Of Poison!
Tomatoes really didn’t become popular for use in America until the late 1800s, so strong was the mistaken notion that they were noxious.
If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person, you might conclude we haven’t learned a thing in half a millennium.
The only song I can think of that mentions pizza is this ditty by Dean Martin.
You may know this already, but Martin was never much of a drinker, despite putting on a lush-y facade in his eponymous 1960s television variety show.
Dean Martin, Buddy Love (With Stella Stevens), and Jerry Lewis
And another thing, he wasn’t the inspiration for the Buddy Love character in the Jerry Lewis movie, “The Nutty Professor.” Buddy Love was an oily, arrogant, perfectly tailored ladies man who’d take over a piano bar and sing love songs at the drop of a hat. Truth was, Buddy Love was Lewis’s own doppelganger.
Hmm, that pic makes Young Franz K look like a sweetheart. Another sweetheart, Bertolt Brecht, had a similar line: “Eat first, philosophy later.”
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