By Bill Singer (AKA Geezer Bill)
Last night I ate a kale salad. Kale? Foods once-weird and strange have become the commonplace. Lo, we geezers seek them out and boast of our gastronomic prowess when eating them. Why? Because the food industry has learned how to appeal to geezers.
When we were young, we ate sugary flakes sold by cartoon characters. Or maybe we were bribed to eat certain cereals because the box it came in had a decoder ring inside.
With dinner, we all ate Iceberg lettuce. It was just called “lettuce” because there was no other type of lettuce. Sometimes my mom cut a tomato into pieces on top of it – then it was “salad.” If our relatives were coming over for dinner, mom put oil and vinegar in cruets she bought on sale at Woolworth’s. Everyone poured some on their salad and considered themselves sophisticated.
But as we aged, the food industry, hungry for larger profits, grew smarter.
Other lettuces began to appear and our “normal” lettuce became Iceberg. It was probably given that name so we would think “cold, hard, tasteless” – just like ice. New lettuces had new names – “Romaine” had that vaguely European name that made you think it was the lettuce of kings and queens. And butter lettuce – eat it and it will melt in your mouth.
Mushrooms, which once were white with small caps, grew brown and had caps so big, you had to eat them in a bun. Or they became so small and dark they could only be found by a French pig in a black forest.
Another food industry idea was to give an old food a new name. Zucchini became courgette. Bell pepper became capsicum. Green tomatoes morphed into heirloom tomatoes.
The next step was to come up with clever combinations of old favorites. Hence, purple cauliflower, yellow, orange, or red bell peppers.
Now that the food industry had our attention, it was time for altogether new foods. And what better way to get us to eat new foods than make them exotic. And what’s more exotic than a foreign land. A place with poor soil, no water, and plenty of poverty to go around. A place where a farmer would give up his left hand for one fertile acre in Kansas. But who would want to eat a food grown in Kansas? The last new food from Kansas was genetically modified corn.
Of course, if the food came from somewhere else, it had to have a name that was hard to pronounce. The more people practiced pronouncing the new food correctly, the more they would want to eat it. Quinoa could be Kwin ooo-ahh, Keen oh ah, Que in ah. It could have been called small brown wheat – but who would buy that?
Or, the name of the foreign food could be intriguing, like Dragonfruit. Dragons are dangerous. Do you dare eat this fruit?
Besides, if a food comes from someplace foreign you can make it scarce, and thus raise its price. After the new food becomes popular and more of it needs to be produced, of course, it can suddenly be grown on an acre of land in Kansas.
But if the new food couldn’t come from a distant land, it had to be healthy. But “healthy” sounded like exercise. Instead, the term used was “superfood.” If something is a superfood, it must do something super for your body! It should make your blood flow smoothly. Your bile ducts perform better. Your eyes see a brighter blue. Your ears hear the sound of one hand clapping. Or, if you’re a senior citizen, make you feel like you’re 22 again.
Kale, which hadn’t been eaten since the 30s to prevent starvation, became the leading superfood. Add it to edamame and flaxseed and you had a superfood salad. If one superfood is good for you, three must be better!
If the new food tasted bad, that was OK, because chefs would then be able to write new recipes that would completely hide the taste of the new food.
Here is an actual description of a dish from a restaurant in San Francisco. “The menu includes … celtuce served with a burnt hay sauce, carrots infused with coffee, and a tofu dish coagulated with ocean water…”.
This raises a number of questions. What is celtuce? How do you burn hay? How do you infuse a carrot? Or coagulate tofu? Do I really want to eat this thing?
Well, of course, I do. It’s new. It’s a superfood. And the recipe is to die for. How could I resist?