Tagged: Spam

Group-Thinking Your Palate

It’s been suggested that George W. Bush salted his language with an assortment of “Aw Shucks-isms” (‘nucular’, ‘y’all’, ) in an effort to bond with his audience.

Is that what Julia Child was thinking when she began her thirty year love affair with McDonald’s? Or Why Martha Stuart claims to love Spam, and Feran Adria to love Twinkies?

TV personalities are difficult to parse, because, as Oscar Levant observed about Hollywood: “Underneath all that phony tinsel…is real tinsel”. But few of us, even those who should know better, can ever really turn their backs on the nostalgia magnet of our childhood tastes. And, there’s no reason to, so long as we remember the Great Second Rule of taste:

Just because we like it, doesn’t mean it’s good. Continue reading


Coprophagy Now!

Much has been written lately about the disgust reflex, (see Pollan, The Omnivores Dilemma, Stuckey Taste What You’ve Been Missing,). It’s a fascinating facet to any discussion of taste. Why and how we develop a “disgust” reaction to certain things varies from the biological to the most narrowly cultural.  It’s a defense mechanism, but also a way to align our tastes with peers, and express group preferences. That’s where things get sticky.

While the sources of disgust may seem self evident, they are not universal. The mere mention of drinking ones own urine, though met with extreme disgust in America, is common among many peoples. Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai of India drank a glass of his own urine every day. Urine is known to be an effective disinfectant and a useful field dressing for small wounds. But its association with solid excrement, which can indeed be deadly, puts it off limits in our culture.

Certain foods are also grouped under the general heading of Crap, one of our many words for excrement. Anything not liked can be called by this name.
And recently, we’ve been going through a sort of renaissance of coprophagy―the eating of excrement―in the form of Fairground foods, and even in places ostensibly reserved for Haute dining.

Now, this is a phase that many infants go through, and so it’s not surprising that our more infantile food culturals are trying it out too.

And that’s a good thing. It’s necessary to get this out of our system, and the sooner the better. Throwing, eating, and being generally fascinated by the waste products of our bodies-or our society-will lead to a deeper understanding of our foods and our bodies.

“We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun.”.



I can’t imagine a food less local, less organic, or less seasonal than Spam. Not to mention fake tasting and bad for you. Oh, and expensive. But there it is…

Meanwhile many people, particularly in Hawaii and on certain stretches of Melrose Ave. speak of how Spam got them through the War. We don’t see them huddled in bomb shelters, out of nostalgia, instead of going to the beach…. but they’re perfectly happy to eat the feces of our processed food industry.  And many, nostalgic and determined as can be, defend it as a good food.

Like babies in a nursery playing with their own feces…as the adults suppress the gag reflex, and wait for the Food Revolution to start up again..

Madonna/Whore Syndrome

The Madonna–Whore complex: “The inability to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving relationship. First identified by Sigmund Freud, this psychological complex is said to develop in men who see women as either saintly Madonnas or debased prostitutes. Men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna)”.

The Madonna–Junk Food complex: “The inability to maintain gustatory arousal within a committed, culinary culture…….this is said to develop in people who see food as either a culinary and nutritional delight, or as debased and impure junk. People with this complex desire food which has been processed, branded and marketed, (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected, pure natural and cultivated variety (the Madonna)”.

As Foodies gush about the culinary whores, ‘awesome’ donuts, ‘yummy’ In-N-Out burgers, ‘amazing‘ Poutine’, etc. (Whores), all just in it for the money, they pretend, dutifully to be faithful to the precepts of higher faith―local, fresh, in season―of their pure and adored goddesses, (Madonnas).

The Madonna/Whore syndrome has morphed into a single phenomenon: Madonna has assimilated the whore. Now show business has done us the favor of providing both a face and a name to hang our theories on. The same things that make Culinary Pornography, can turn culture into a whore as well, until finally the whore becomes a Madonna: The burger as fine dining fad, (Mhyrvold’s 30 hour burger, etc.). We develop extravagant rituals and recipes for the simple burger, whose charm is in fact its humbleness. Like taking a hooker to the prom. This can lead to confusion.

Madonna in 1979-Always Ahead Of the Curve, Contemplating The Ascendancy Of The Bush Years

“Freud argued that the Madonna-Whore complex is caused by oedipal castration fears which arise when a man experiences the affection he once felt for his mother with women he now sexually desires. In order to manage this anxiety, the man categorizes women into two groups: women he can admire and women he finds sexually attractive. Whereas the man loves women in the former category, he despises and devalues the latter group.”

And which is exactly what happens when foodies, enamored of the fresh local and seasonal ethos, cavort happily with the most foreign, plastic and out of season ingredients such as:

  • Trueburger in Oakland Ca. Two local sous chefs with actual experience in fine kitchens create a milkshake made with Hostess Twinkies.
  • From Animal in L.A., CA, the Loco Moco Burger, which includes Spam and Fois Gras.
  • And the ubiquitous Iceberg and blue cheese Wedges, trawled from our recent culinary past (to provide comfort to those who fear culinary castration?).

It looks like we have yet to reconcile our youthful indiscretions with more mature desires for beauty and truth.

“Animal’s Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have no limits when it comes to meat. From the chefs now dubbed “carniwhores” comes the latest and tastiest creation: foie gras loco moco ($35), a caloric time bomb that’s worth every heart-clogging moment.”

“Carniwhores”! The secret’s out!

Ingredients, (partial list): foie gras loco moco, quail egg, spam, hamburger, Maple syrup, Teryaki sauce, rice, scallions…Cost: $35

How to be ‘pretty genius’:

“I think anyone that can use Spam on a dish and make it work is pretty genius.”

Is there a definition for “making it work”?

Animal Chef Vinny Dotolo:

“I started wondering out loud what Hawaiians eat. …It eventually sparked this idea of doing a Loco Moco. It is a big thing over there and people weren’t really rocking it too much here. The challenge was to make it both traditional and Animal-esque, which is where the foie gras comes in. I felt it needed some heat, so I added Sriracha, which gives it some acidity as well.

We put seared foie gras and lightly browned Spam on a burger patty, top it with a quail egg, and also scallions, plus we use Carolina Gold rice instead of usual white rice. There are about four sauces here and they can be hard to distinguish as they mix together and form a different flavor. There’s a foie gras sauce with a little maple syrup, a homemade teriyaki sauce, and the Sriracha. The Sriracha really tied it all together, adding heat and acid, otherwise it’d be just a hamburger with foie gras.”

And what we’re left with is the feeling that many young cooks and diners are made uncomfortable by the simplicity, the purity of “Madonna” food, (Fois gras for example), and find comfort in the street-smart confusion of canned, preserved, processed, factory food like Spam and bottled hot sauce, which also, conveniently saves them from having to actually taste or know anything.

Because you know, this is awesome. And Pretty genius.