Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Worth Our Salt

People who eat health food are always trying to get me to eat some healthy version of whatever it is I am enjoying. It's always the same pitch. "This is just as good as your chips." Or, "It tastes just like those!"
It never tastes like potato chips are suppose to taste. They know this. Thats why as a last resort they will tell you, "It doesn't taste like cardboard at all."
Bull Shit!
Now I know it tastes like cardboard. Its the same thing as a cute flirty girl at a bar whispering something the location of her tattoo and then issuing the blanket statement, "I hope you don't think I am being a tease?" Well now I do.
If you say it, you are being one. Same as if you tell me the health food store chip doesn't taste like cardboard.
It does.
In a final effort they will attempt to sell you on it's healthy properties and it's amazing flavor. Careful health food people, this is where you can drop the ball hard. For instance, I was recently asked if I wanted to try a healthy alternative to the lay's potato chips I grew up with. After we went through all the above steps mentioned it came time for that final pitch.
"It has flax seed oil to keep you regular and it has delicious spices!"
It tastes good and it's good for you!
Desperate attack.
Flax seed oil is like fiber and bran mixed together in a potent natural colon cleanser. The "spices" were the real thing, just organic varieties of peppers, oregano and paprika.
Alright, what the hell. It has tasty spices and it will help me shit. Well, thats exactly what it turns out to do perfectly; it helps you shit spices. Hot, burning on the way out spices.
Put that on the outside of the bag.
Look, if a diet rich in fast food has made things painful, this made it burn. Sorry to put that in your head people, but I am writing this as a public service.

American food has always been safe. Healthy? No. But you knew where you stood with something. The goal was always to make things look the same and taste easy.
Wonder bread.
It brings a smile from childhood to your mouth doesn't it? The real wonder is calling it food at all. They tell you on the bag that it is fortified with vitamins and minerals and you think, how can this be bad? The reason they add those vitamins and minerals is simple. To make wonder bread they have to render edible food virtually devoid of any nutritional value. So before they finish making it they have to pump artificial versions of those good things back into the bread. Umm!
What you get is a white, bland, doughy bread that is little more than a condiment delivery system.
If you had wheat bread back when I was a kid, that was excuse enough to get beat up during recess and called a faggot!
We have come along way indeed.
Then there is that other marvel of modern science I grew up with; American Cheese!
Flat, orange squares pressed out perfectly and stuck to plastic, they were a 1970's main stay in any school lunch room. Stick one of those onto a slice of wonder bread and you have yourself the quintessential American snack; grilled cheese sandwiches! Um um good! Bland, but good.
If you ever wanted more flavor, you could always add a dash of Ranch dressing. But lets not get too excited.

I think you can tell how open we our to others as a country by what food does really well. For a long time the typical kid ate American cheese sandwiches made on wonder bread and potato chips for lunch. You could just as easily use peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for this example too.
Bland? Sure. A little boring at times? Yes. But you knew what you were getting and the message to the world was easy; we will remove flavor, nutrition, taste and anything that makes you stand out to create a uniform easily digestible unit of food.
Conform to our ethnic palette cleansing!
Resistance is futile!
Then, somewhere in the 80's, salsa hit the Midwest!
Suddenly, flavor was actually flavorful! Then came curries and more exotic spices in jars with strange labels. Some of the words weren't even in American.
As immigration became an issue in our modern culture, our culture began getting alternatives to boring bland casseroles, meat-loafs and hot dogs. It was an exciting but dangerous time to be shopping for food in America. That divider bar at the grocery store wasn't just a bar anymore; it was a border!
Just exactly what was that Taco version of Hamburger Helper doing north of our border?
As I was weaning my taste buds away from ranch dressing and cheetos, the health food thing went mainstream. Now even exotic foods from different parts of the world could have the joy sucked out of them and sold to us on the merit of being good for us. Being American, we fell for it of course.
What makes something healthy now?
It's organic. That means it was grown with out pesticides or fertilizers. Most of the time.
It has added vitamins and minerals.
It has no flavor because as well all know anything that tastes good has been chemically engineered in a factory somewhere. You want something to taste good? Then you need Red Dye #5!
Funny thing is, most health food labeled "Health Food" simply isn't.
It's not made from organic sources nor is it free of added healthy sounding stuff like "vitamins" and "minerals."
In other words, were back to wonder bread, only now; it comes in Wheat!

It's not enough to just be food anymore either. If your a snack food, you gotta have a web site baby! Cheetos has a site with games, health advice for kids, a break down of the ingredients for parents and even a cheesy fact of the day. Thats where I learned that the first true cracker was made in Massachusetts! Oh sure, you can get a pun from the inside lid of a yogurt, but they don't have the graphics's a web site has.
Lets not forget the most famous American snack food ever brought down from the Heaven's for mans mass consumption. Of course I speak of; the Twinkie!
When contemplating the Twinkie, with its golden sponge cake and vanilla cream filling, it is tempting to think it is the peak of perfection. But you would be wrong my friend! The fried Twinkie is where its at!
Every culture fries food, but in America we fry just about everything to delicious perfection. There is nothing that a vat of boiling animal fat can't make better.
You want to see the great American melting pot in action?
He's the immigrant working the fry station at McDonald's.

You want to know everything about us? Go to Wendy's, Burger King, Jack in the Box or any other number of cookie cut out fast food places. What do you learn? We want it hot. We want it fast. We want it cheap. Flavor? Yeah, there is ketchup and mustard.
That was it for a long time. A side of ranch would get you looked at weird and a request for salsa might get your ass kicked as a Communist! Taste is almost a second thought to fast food. They know it will be desirable because no matter what progress they have made to coming up with healthier Whoppers and more nutritious Big Mac's, its still the fat, salt and marketing that drives us to them with open mouths like moths to a flame. We mistake speed for quality. We take flavor, any flavor and blow it up to its most basic description. Food is now spicy, hot or fiery! Lets not confuse things with talk of different peppers or types of spices from regions other than here. Too confusing! If I see flames next to it on the drive through menu then I know what I'm getting. Besides, if it gets too hot, I can just dip it in some Ranch.
Ah Ranch!
Is there nothing your pudding like consistency can't drown into submission? Maybe America isn't a melting pot. Maybe its more like a blob of ranch dressing. Everything and anything it touches is over powered by its white, friendly and mild flavor. You can put up a fight, but it will just be there, always tasty and always good with new things.
The statue of liberty shouldn't be holding a torch anymore. It should be a waitress holding a menu in one hand and a side of ranch dressing in the other. Why? We don't make anything anymore. We have become a service industry nation. We are all waiting on each other, tipping each other and secretly dropping each others orders on the floor when no one is looking.
Think what you will about this, but remember that the phrase, as good as his salt, came from Roman Guards. They were paid in salt. Might not sound like much but salt was not only a form of currency, it could preserve food for long trips. The better you were the more salt you got. Hence the phrase.
Are we worth our salt these days?

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