"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 February 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Food For Nought



Good news - taste is back in

style, or so say the marketing

experts at FoodNet. "We're not

depriving ourselves anymore"

when it comes to more visceral

satisfactions. They go on to

state, without a trace of

apparent irony, that "pleasure

and enjoyment are important

factors" in dining decisions,

and "closely related to taste."


[Pink Panther Flakes]

But even a casual observer of

culture can see that, for the

most part, taste informs neither

our enjoyments nor our

pleasures. And if culturally

this means we share a fondness

for Singled Out, it means

something far more victually.

Food, it seems, isn't just for

breakfast anymore. We don't just

want to eat our cake, we want a

girl to pop out of it, too.



Sometime between 1950 and 1990,

the wires got crossed. No longer

do we want to consume while

we're being entertained, we want

to be entertained by what we

consume. Instead of watching TV

while eating our dinners, we want

to watch our TV dinners.


Unfortunately, food makes for

poor television, though

obviously it's been tried.

Granted, the Discovery Channel's

Great Chefs series is not

without a certain sensual, yet

minimalist charm. But

television's demand for motion

from its subjects remains a

problem - Vincent Foster

notwithstanding, few people

like watching a cold fish.



Cereal companies in the Jay Ward

era made great strides in

animating foods, a tactic which

has fallen mostly by the

wayside, but was in reality the

first step in preparing foods

for the center stage, that they

would ultimately take on the

Web. After all, what were the

Snap, Crackle and Pop of Rice

Crispies if not a prescient

server push?


[Makin' Cheese]

The food that plays best on the

Web is, not surprisingly, food

that has an intrinsic element of

frivolity, though it's not

unheard of for serious food to

undergo a dumbing down - but

funning up! - in its journey

through the ether. Cheese, for

instance, has an unnatural level

of popularity, and is perhaps

the best-represented single food

on the Web.



CheeseNet, the most professional

of an outstanding group, is

somehow unsettling in its

completeness. Its World Cheese

Index doesn't, as you might

suspect on first glance, measure

the global popularity of Regis

and Kathy Lee, but instead

displays an encyclopediac

smorgasbord of cheeses, from

Appenzell to Wensleydale, that

can be viewed either

alphabetically or by country.

More illustrious, if less

thorough, is The Cheese Page,

whose graphic representations of

young Mozzerella should be made

illegal under the FDA, if not

the CDA.



By far the most successful

general food site is Epicurious,

a zine whose upscale design

and subject matter would at

first glance take it out of the

Food as Fun pursuit. But their

"guide to coping with problem

foods in public" reveals lessons

in connoisseurship that are Miss

Manners by way of J. Crew. What

they offer is not so much

convenience food as convenient

food knowledge, an easily bought

elitism whose aesthetic is as

prepared and simple as any Stove

Top Stuffing: Add money and



[The Poll]

Despite the lack of real play in

Playing With Your Food,

Epicurious comes through in The

Recipe File, which allows you to

empty the contents of your

refrigerator in order to find

the appropriate stew. And, if

anything illustrates the

arbitrary relationship between

taste and food in the digital

age, it's the latter-day

manifestation of a chicken in

every pot, The Poll, which shows

us, for example, that for those

with a preference, the line is

drawn pretty evenly between

apples and oranges.



On the other side of the

(grocery) aisle are the snack

fooders - and admittedly, while

the preponderance of snack food

on the net, evidenced by the

likes of Otter Pops, may please

some, it might put others in a

pickle. The culinary

cheerleaders at FoodNet may

think our interest in

convenience food is a sign we're

simply giving up prep time for

play time, or that our interest

in food as pleasure means that

we've given up dietary standards -

"Nutrition is on hiatus," they

lament - but what it really

means is that we now want a

Recommended Daily Allowance of




One supposes this is one

regulation that the otherwise

laissez-faire Snack Food

Association could really get

behind. A lobbying group that

speaks for the "Snackers of

America" (as well as Frito-Lay),

they aim to add salt and crunch

to the dry and tasteless

political arena through the

curiously less-than-filling

snax.com site. With a mission

statement that promises "[t]o

respond and anticipate the needs

of our members" by fighting

"nasty notions of snack taxes,"

they're sure to get the Homer

Simpson vote.


From Snack PACs to Lunchables,

it's a paradigm shift worthy of

its own digizine - if

sound-bite-wheezing politicians

make sense as celebrities,

bite-size Cheeze Whiz and celery

can represent a grave political

reality. And if the decision to

obey your thirst leaves a sour

taste in your mouth, remember,

no one forced you to put it in

your head.

courtesy of Ann O'Tate