Minneapolis, Minnesota,
March 30
Michael Dane is America's favorite middle-aged, Jewish, bisexual social satirist. Or, at least one of them. Often referring to himself in the third person, he used to do standup comedy on the road, but now he just writes down funny things. His book of food humor, called "Does This Taste Funny? A Half-Baked Look at Food and Foodies," is available at Amazon.com


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JULY 1, 2011 1:42AM

careful with that blowfish

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Ever since I traded ‘being crippled by anxiety disorder’ for ‘teaching myself how to cook,’ (I think I come out ahead there) I’ve started to read more about food instead of, you know, just eating it. And there are parts of the foodie ‘scene’ about which I had no clue. Like the fact that there’s a foodie ‘scene.’

Or ‘trending’ foods. I don’t remember Mom ever serving dinner with a hearty “Dig in—this is the latest food trend.” I can’t picture asking my neighborhood butcher which meats are ‘trending’ this year. Frankly, I don’t even like the word, because I’m usually opposed to verbing nouns on principle.

Apparently, every year, a secret cabal of foodistas decide, for the uneducated communal palate, what foods will be hot in the next year. Looking at lists from the past couple years, there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind which foods are ‘trending.’ Here’s a sampling from several of last year’s lists:

  • bean soup                                                        
  • organic chocolate                                             
  • smoked fish                                                     
  • Canadian cheeses
  • organ meat
  • whoopie pies
  • bacon-chocolate-chip pancake mix

Well, I can’t count the number of times last year when I said “Bean soup? Nah, that’s too trendy.” And we’re hip enough here in the hinterlands to enjoy organic chocolate (I actually prefer free-range chocolate—I don’t want to imagine thousands of chocolate bunnies cramped in some windowless shed). But why Canadian cheeses? “Try this Gouda—it’s so…well-mannered, not like those boorish American cheeses.”

I’m good with the smoked fish, but ‘organ meat’ doesn’t belong in the same sentence as ‘trendy.’ Not sure it belongs in the same sentence as ‘food.’ All I know about whoopie pies is that they’re Southern. Even Wikipedia is confused, calling them “an American baked good that may be considered either a cookie, pie, or cake.” What I do know is that they weren’t exactly ‘trending’ where I went to eat in 2010. Lastly, ‘bacon-chocolate-chip pancake mix?’ Look, that’s not a food trend—that’s a stoner’s idea of a balanced meal.

Sometimes I think the foodie fraternity is just messing with us normal eaters. Makin’ shit up. Like they’ll just decide on some off-the-wall, bizarre animal to tout as the next hip thing in food, and then stand around the granite islands in their high-tech kitchens laughing at us for eating…otter tails. While they chow down on some mac and cheese.

If foodies aren’t messing with us, explain blowfish. This is a fish that, when prepared properly, “has the consistency of white tuna, but with a more delicate taste.” Oh—but when NOT prepared correctly, it will kill you. Call me boring, but I think there are enough food items that definitively will not kill me, even if I screw up when I’m cooking them, that I don’t feel a need to try something that might kill me if my technique is a little off.

I use garlic in almost everything, clove upon clove of clovey goodness, so when I first heard about black garlic, I had to learn more. I went to a website for a company that sells the stuff, and there was a detailed description of how ‘black garlic’ comes into being:

·        “Black Garlic, Inc. uses the finest garlic. Our direct relationship with farmers enables us to select the raw garlic that will produce the best black garlic.  




Most of the magic happens behind the closed doors of our patented machine.”

Whoa, hold on there! That first paragraph seems all ‘connected to nature’ and then you throw us a curve. ‘Our patented machine’? Mind telling us what kind of machine that would be, Dr. Octopus? And why are the doors closed? What are we NOT being told about the ‘magic?’

You know who should look into this? The Garlic Council. There must be one--there’s an American Egg Board, a California Milk Advisory Board (which is where I still go for all my milk advice), and dozens of other shadowy organizations, each bombarding us with propaganda for their special food interests. It always seems sad to me when foods have to lobby for our attention—we get it, pork, you’re tasty.

Of course, the list for following year was entirely different (foods only ‘trend’ for a year, I guess), and included ‘tiny pies.’ Please, for the love of Julia, explain to me why we need smaller pies, and why these freakishly small pies will suddenly become popular! Are plate manufacturers scaling way back, or did the Pie Council poll a bunch of people who said “I like pies just fine, and I’d eat more of them, but they’re always so big!”

One food item that is supposed to  be hot this year is, coincidentally, another example of the convergence of the foodie and stoner mindsets. They’re called ‘cakeballs,’ and they are balls of cake…filled with ice cream. We’re talking dessert squared here. They may not be trending nationwide, but they’re HUGELY popular with twenty-something pot smokers.

Ultimately, I think ‘food trends’ are a load of crap. I think they’re just PR campaigns paid for by the people who raise whatever is supposedly ‘trendy.’ Maybe the ostrich egg market takes a dive, and all of a sudden ostrich eggs are on the cover of Cook’s Illustrated and suddenly everyone’s buying gigantic skillets. I don’t know how the food-trend-spotting process actually works, but I imagine most it happens behind the closed doors of some patented machine.

You know what food I think is gonna be popular next year? Pizza. You know why? Because pizza will always be popular. Sure, there may be years when thick crust is in, or some odd combination of toppings, but the basic template of dough, sauce and cheese is the perfect food. Here’s how perfect pizza is, conceptually—if your slice is topped with something you don’t like, you just take it off and you still have dough, sauce and cheese! It’s genius!

In researching this book, I did a comprehensive survey of six of my friends, and the results were interesting—when asked their favorite food, over sixty-seven percent chose pizza. Granted, one person specified ‘a thin crust pizza with Roma tomato sauce and mozzarella, topped halfway through with prosciutto and arugula until the arugula just slightly wilts,’ but I got the impression that if it were a death row/last request scenario, he'd be fine with a plain slice of cheese from Domino's.

When it came to ‘least favorite food,’ there was more of a range of replies—beef liver, chicken liver (yeah, organ meats are really taking the country by storm), sardines, horseradish, and for some reason, somebody said ‘creamed rutabegas.’ Why would you even try creamed rutabegas? Sounds like the Rutabega Council was just getting desperate—“Look, nobody’s buying these—maybe we should tell people to cream them, so they seem less like…rutabegas.”

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I was with you right up until you mentioned garlic.
God preserve us from the stuff.
"Press send FRed(tm) and fumigate this post.No you moron you can't have BlowFish for lunch, the inflatable Japanese Chef has the day orf."
My salad last Saturday night came with shaved fennel. All these years, I thought, I've been eating unshaved fennel--no wonder people looked at me like I was a bum!
Foodiness--I suppose, given our relentless secular age, our primal desire for spirituality needs to announce itself somehow. I once talked with a person who proudly claimed, as if it were a moral victory, to use only four or five sheets of toilet paper. I have seen some criticism being directed against foodies recently, mainly for the elitism of it, but sometimes for the desperate macho claims that you should personally kill the animal you're about to eat. Geez, creamed rutebegas suddenly sounds mighty tasty.

Now, on another topic: I love verbing nouns: makes me feel all Shakespearean, and he was the verbing master--though I read that he might have been a stoner. Why is it people simply cannot accept that the man was a genius? And I see you are not above using "y" to adjective the noun "clove."

Great post: it provokes, punctures, and mocks. Bracing.
Good luck with this. Yes roma tomatoes are fine but San marzano ones are devine. Pizza rules but many a slice are to gummy for me.
Michael. submit this piece to the foodie magazines. I think this is one of your best.
Hilarious. (And I'm not even stoned!)
Give me a cheeseburger and fries any day!

A few years back, polenta started showing up at ritzy restaurants with a price tag that defied explanation. Polenta! I'm Italian - polenta (corn meal) was a staple in our house. My grandmother referred to it as "depression food" because it was cheap and filled the belly. Some food guru came up with the idea of adding a little cream to the mix and, viola, suddenly its gourmet. I laugh my ass off every time I see it on a menu.

Great post!
The OS gremlins are at it again!
R -- finally.
Food snobs are ridiculous. Let's just eat good food--like pizza. I like it with fresh tomatoes, basil, and the whole milk mozzarella.
I don't know where to start - milk advice, bacon-chocolate chip pancakes. I love your writing, ideas, attitude. This is going to be a great book!
Creekend: i think inflatable japanese chefs are the subject of an entirely different post...
Con: i'm way out of the loop, since i don't think i've had fennel of EITHER kind...
Jerry: great points--thanks for stopping by...i love that your comments are better written than a lot of posts...
Algys: yeah, i think in food in general 'gummy' is usually bad...
Sheepdog: thank you so much--will have to do that whole 'selling' thing...
Jeannette: Thanks! (and why not?)
jane: that pizza sounds great! appreciate you dropping by...
Donna: how funny--just wrote a whole piece on polenta--i kinda liked it--hearty, at least...
Miguela: Food snobs might be worse than wine snobs...
Jamie: Thanks for the kind words of encouragement--i'll put you down for an advance copy (lol)...
Don't be hatin on the rutabagas! They're one of my favs! They are especially good creamed -- like mashed potatoes, with warm cream and butter and plenty of salt and pepper, with cheese and chopped green onions thrown in. I also love sardines and horseradish (Who hates horseradish? It's not like you're eating a bowl full!)

But I agree with the whole trending thing. Plus, cake balls. WTF? Those, you can hate on.
Great post. I watch a lot of cooking shows and am always surprised what people throw together to come across as appetizing.