Eat First, Ask What It is Later

Note: This post is excerpted from a letter, entitled One Saturday Morning,  I wrote to friends on February 22, 1999. It was originally posted several years ago, but vanished from the Poobah archives because of the incompetence of my former web host. Welcome back.

Dear Correspondents,

The sky is low and gray and the temperature, at least by California standards, is frigid. Maybe 45 or 50 degrees. I awoke early enough this morning to indulge myself with a little reading and a wonderful breakfast.

Food Face

BON APPITITE - When you eat anything except rocks and calf's liver the world become one huge grocery store.

My current read is “The Man Who Ate Everything – And Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes, and Pleasurable Pursuits”, by Jeffrey Steingarten.

Steingarten, whose original job was improbably as a lawyer was appointed food critic of Vogue magazine. (He never explains specifically how he made the jump, but it certainly seems like a move in the right direction if you ask me.) When he was appointed, he found that he had numerous food aversions – not a career-building trait in a food critic. The book is the story of how he learned to eat nearly everything. It seems a redundant tale for someone like me who never saw a food he didn’t like, but it is a good read nonetheless.

For me, the world is a gigantic grocery store. When I go to zoos I don’t think of the beauty of the animal on the hoof, but rather how it might look roasted, on a plate, and surrounded by tender baby carrots and squash. I don’t view those National Geographic travelogues about boys hunting monkey with blowguns so much as adventures as narrated serving suggestions.

I eat anything except rocks and calf’s liver – and I’ve even consumed two wonderful portions of the latter before. I am an omnivore. I’m a highly-developed example of millions of years of successful breeding, producing a specimen who can gain weight in any climate or condition on earth – so long as there is something to eat other than rocks and calf’s liver.

Darwin would be proud I’m sure.

After reading a chapter on surviving on a subsistence diet (which inexplicably included recipes for perfumed rice with lamb and lentils and Swiss chard and bean soup with ricotta toasts), I got hungry and made breakfast. I scrambled up some delicious eggs with bits of Jarlsberg cheese, a touch of cumin, a light dusting of garlic powder, and some chives. As accompaniment I prepared a small bowl of fresh cantaloupe and strawberries, some buttered whole wheat toast, and some aromatic French roast coffee (made with a pinch of salt added before brewing). I savored every bite.

Now I’m floating around on a full belly, quite content, and intensely interested in food. I think I’ll have to spend the rest of the day watching cooking shows on PBS. This, in turn, will lead to an orgy of cooking this afternoon and a full belly tonight. Satisfying, but not healthy. Oh well, better to die with a smile on my face and a full belly, than hungry and pissed because I missed a good meal.

Your Omnipotence,

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Infotainment Rules

WHAT'S THE DIFF? - With today's oversaturated media market and constant demands for more and more entertainment, the news has become just one more Big Show.

Americans are an easily bored lot. We demand everything be ripe with entertainment possibilities. We’re a nation addicted to 24X7, 500-channel television – which we nevertheless claim has nothing worth watching – on which we gorge ourselves on a never-ending supply of reality shows promoting the most fame-crazed and mentally defective of us to open their lives in the most voyeuristic fashion. Real life made unreal by the millions of gawking rubberneckers tuning in.

And, the most unrealistic reality shows are the news shows.

Television news was once a place where networks expected to lose money on the public service of covering the news. Now ratings make newsrooms just like any other Disneyesque entertainment outlet. The Edward R. Murrow/Walter Cronkite newsroom was a place where serious people investigated serious topics, regardless of their inherent profitability. Today, there’s little distinction between the Daily Show bullpen and the CNN newsroom.

Once profit became the news’ primary MO focus-grouped, ratings-pregnant drivel stepped in as a sort of news lite where interviews are ‘booked’ and ‘talent’ eggs on the most disgraceful, but oh so entertaining, shout-fests. As much as everyone likes to complain about the ‘mainstream media’ – which is curiously deemed both too liberal and too conservative at the same time – we’ve got no one to blame except our infamously Nielsen-rated selves.

Because of our national, self-absorbed entertainment obsession, we’re killing the geese that laid our golden First Amendment eggs. We’ve abandoned print media altogether. Once-vibrant publications like Newsweek are going the way of the dodo because of the printed page’s inability to adapt to our real-time, excitingly manufactured, multimedia entertainment extravaganza demands.

But even e-media is slipping away. We’ve begun sucking the marrow from infotainment’s bones and it’s not long on this Earth because of it. Real TV news has been supplanted by screaming mimis like Glenn Beck. Even the ‘serious’ Sunday news programs are pale imitations of professional wrestling – all faux drama and glittery costumes bumptiously pontificating on the national debt or latest job numbers. We’ve molded the news to our ravenous need for entertainment and are in a rapidly quickening race to put it out of business too. It seems that as we’ve consumed reality shows like Big Brother we’ve unwittingly given ourselves over to Orwell’s Big Brother…

…and become a nation of scandal junkie couch potatoes minus the skills to tell the difference between Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart.

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