January 8, 2014

Steak and a Baked Potato

Carrying on my discussion of white foods from Taki's Magazine, I have to admit to not really liking the kind of traditional expensive steak house fare that's heavily advertised in airline magazines: Ruth's Chris Steak House and the like. To my taste, a giant slab of steak gets repetitious compared to taking a smaller amount of beef and chopping it up and stir-frying it with vegetables like the Chinese do. And the Chinese approach is much cheaper since you don't need such high quality beef.

Of course, Ruth's Chris Steak House is largely in the traveling salesman business. And much of America's traditional fare is what traveling salesmen thought a safer bet after they had heard about that one horrifying chapter in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle:
It seemed as if every time you met a person from a new department, you heard of new swindles and new crimes. There was, for instance, a Lithuanian who was a cattle-butcher for the plant where Marija had worked, which killed meat for canning only; and to hear this man describe the animals which came to his place would have been worth while for a Dante or a Zola. It seemed that they must have agencies all over the country, to hunt out old and crippled and diseased cattle to be canned. There were cattle which had been fed on “whiskey-malt,” the refuse of the breweries, and had become what the men called “steerly”—which means covered with boils. It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged your knife into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff into your face; and when a man’s sleeves were smeared with blood, and his hands steeped in it, how was he ever to wipe his face, or to clear his eyes so that he could see?

So, Ruth's Chris Steak House advertises itself as The Best USDA Prime Steak Restaurant, meaning everything it sells has passed the toughest inspection, which of course go back directly to the uproar caused by The Jungle. Plus, by serving you a big chunk of meat, you can have some confidence just from looking at the size of this piece of fine meat that it came from an overall healthy cow and that your meat dish wasn't assembled from bits and pieces of diseased cows that are then covered in a sauce.

Same with the baked potato -- it's just a whole potato, so it's unlikely to have had filler or worse added to it. You can put butter and sour cream on it -- more foods that you can inspect visually for gross contamination. The chives might be a little mysterious looking, but they seem unlikely to make you miss tomorrow's big meeting with food poisoning.

So, one motivation behind the much-derided traditional cuisine of mid-20th Century Americans was an attempt to avoid being swindled by unscrupulous businessmen.

Another point about mid-Century cuisine served in middle class homes is that much of it was modeled on business dining in restaurants, meals served to people who might not have all that much in common but who want to develop a friendlier relationship. Business dining was in contrast to exploratory dining among people who already are friends and who have already dined together and who find their tastes are enough in sync to want to explore cuisines together.

So, business cuisine in 1950 had a high emphasis on common denominator foods (e.g., steak and potatoes) that wouldn't be likely to weird out a customer. In turn, that had a lot of influence on what people ate at home. In general, the goal of mid-Century American culture was to create a friendly, open, fairly egalitarian, non-exclusionary society in which Americans would feel comfortable doing business with each other across a vast continent. This influenced norms toward some degree of homogeneity, blandness, and conformity in minor matters like cuisine, but was overall such an enormous success in terms of prosperity and national solidarity that we've forgotten the reasons behind many of the details, and thus view this culture with ignorant contempt.

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

"So, one motivation behind the much-derided traditional cuisine of mid-20th Century Americans was an attempt to avoid being swindled by unscrupulous businessmen."

-------------

This is the famous high trust society we hear about?

Anonymous said...

From fee.org, a different viewpoint:
The Jungle was, first and foremost, a novel. It was intended to be a polemic—a diatribe, if you will and not a well-researched and dispassionate documentary. Sinclair relied heavily on both his own imagination and on the hearsay of others. He did not even pretend to have actually witnessed the horrendous conditions he ascribed to Chicago packinghouses, nor to have verified them, nor to have derived them from any official records.
Sinclair hoped the book would ignite a powerful socialist movement on behalf of America’s workers. The public’s attention was directed instead to his fewer than a dozen pages of supposed descriptions of unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking plants. “I aimed at the public’s heart,” he later wrote, “and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”1

Though his novelized and sensational accusations prompted later congressional investigations of the industry, the investigators themselves expressed skepticism of Sinclair’s integrity and credibility as a source of information. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote of Sinclair in a letter to William Allen White in July 1906, “I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth.”2

1. Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916 (Chicago: Qued-tangle Books, 1967), p. 103.
2. Roosevelt to William Allen White, July 31, 1906, Elting E. Morison and John M. Blum, editors, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, 8 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951- 54), vol. 5, p. 340.

Anonymous said...

Meat and potatoes are always good. Cheaper cuts of beef and other meats are good fried together with potatoes, onions, and other veggies. Such a meal can be more satisfying than a piece of filet mignon. Expensive steak places can be a bit underwhelming because they'll just give a piece of filet mignon with a plain baked potato or a piece of broccoli or asparagus. Granted the whole point of the restaurants is to serve the nice cuts of beef but it can be underwhelming. More prepared fine cuts of beef like filet mignon burgers or stir fry can be very good, but it always feels a bit wasteful.

Anonymous said...

In general, the goal of mid-Century American culture was to create a friendly, open, fairly egalitarian society in which Americans would feel comfortable doing business with each other across a vast continent. This influenced norms toward some degree of homogeneity, blandness, and conformity in minor matters like cuisine, but was overall such an enormous success in terms of prosperity and national solidarity that we've forgotten the reasons behind many of the details and thus view this culture with ignorant contempt.

This is part of the success of chain restaurants, fast food places, Starbucks, etc. As much as it's fashionable to "eat local" and eat like a native in exotic locales, travelers like chains because they know what they're going to get. If only as a fall back or reserve from the local cuisine.

Anonymous said...

ou do understand that was a work of fiction, not even the author claimed it was a work of investigative reporting. It was a work of fiction by someone who hoped to discredit capitalism and freedom.



Dave Pinsen said...

"This is the famous high trust society we hear about?"

That's a good question. Maybe the key issue isn't trust per se, or institutions, like that Turkish economist claims, but the ability to build an institution such as a chain restaurant with consistent processes and standards. A way to measure this empirically might be to look at the number of home-grown restaurant chains (of, say, 50+ locations) per 100,000 people in countries, and compare that to country rankings by Human Development Index. So, you wouldn't count McDonald's in Brazil, for example, but you'd count Bob's.

a very knowing American said...

Mid-twentieth century futurism seemed to assume that the future would be like the present, only more so. In the present, everyone has a car, with tail fins; in the future everyone will have a flying car. In the present, everyone is eating bland factory produced food; in the future, everyone will be living on food pills. I miss my flying car, but I'm happy to skip the food pills.

Henry Canaday said...

Hmm, maybe. But maybe Americans ate much more steak and potatoes because: 1) these foods were very cheap in the U.S., unlike Europe; 2) they are fast and easy to prepare; and 3) the taste of charred animal flesh really sets off our pleasure sensors.

Some have argued that the secret of great French cuisine and its sauces is that the sauces are made to include that charred-flesh taste. In general, all great cooking, like Italian and Chinese, may just evolve over centuries as basically poor societies find clever ways to mimic the tastes we love and that rich societies can obtain more easily.

Anonymous said...

So, you wouldn't count McDonald's in Brazil, for example, but you'd count Bob's.

I guess "Bob's" is an exotic sounding name in Brazil.

Space Ghost said...

Why would the United States be unique in developing this sort of cuisine? Surely early 20th century/postwar Germany, Japan, France, Italy, etc had traveling businessmen who would have the same concerns?

Meat-and-Potatoes-Eating Joe Sixpack said...

In general, the goal of mid-Century American culture was to create a friendly, open, fairly egalitarian society in which Americans would feel comfortable doing business with each other across a vast continent. This influenced norms toward some degree of homogeneity, blandness, and conformity in minor matters like cuisine, but was overall such an enormous success in terms of prosperity and national solidarity...

*COUGH* Robert Putnam *COUGH*.

...that we've forgotten the reasons behind many of the details and thus view this culture with ignorant contempt.

Uhh, define the "WE" which has so much contempt for this culture.

Anonymous said...

British food is pretty bland. Cucumber sandwiches with white bread are a traditional snack. German food is bland as well. I say this as someone who likes plain meat and potatoes. There's very little flavor in German food except for saltiness.

Anonymous said...

James Lileks spends much of his blogging on mid century White culture. Here is his food section:

http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/index.html

What were they thinking? How did they eat this bilge?
Good questions, but you won't find them answered here. This is a simple introduction to poorly photographed foodstuffs and horrid recipes. It's a wonder anyone in the 40s, 50s and 60s gained any weight; it's a miracle that people didn't put down their issue of Life magazine with a slight queasy list to their gut, and decide to sup on a nice bowl of shredded wheat and nothing else. It wasn't that the food was inedible; it was merely dull. Everything was geared for a timid palate fearful of spice. It wasn't non- nutritious - no, between the limp boiled vegetables, fat-choked meat cylinders and pink-whipped-jello dessert, you were bound to find a few calories that would drag you into the next day. It's that the pictures are so hideously unappealing.

Sid said...

"This is the famous high trust society we hear about?"

Early 20th century was not a superlatively high-trust society.

Anonymous said...

Sriracha sauce is a spicy sauce that's popular these days, and it seems to have become popular entirely through word of mouth. It's never been advertised. I'm not even sure if it's FDA approved.

Anonymous said...

Youtube has a video of cows being feed whiskey mash. The video presents it as a wonderful thing to do

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U10D9TDYtfs

Anonymous said...

"we've forgotten the reasons behind many of the details and thus view this culture with ignorant contempt."

--------

Please go easier on victimology. The reasons why food was the way it was might be important for your brain but they count for nothing as far as your stomach is concerned. The real reason the mid-century cuisine is held in contempt by many is because it just doesn't taste well.

Dave Pinsen said...

Re Ruth's Chris, you're right that it's largely a (high end) traveling salesman place, but the point of the steak is less about standardization/safety than obvious luxury. Traveling salesmen can eat in even non-chain coffee shops and restaurants in most of America, confident they won't be at much risk of food poisoning. And in many places, they can find a fine restaurant if they want to treat clients or potential clients to an expensive meal. What Ruth's Chris offers is an expensive meal that also looks expensive.

You don't have be a gourmet to recognize that a thick, well marbled, perfectly cooked steak is expensive. Same with large lobsters, which Ruth's Chris also serves.

Other expensive meals, in contrast, often need more of a back story for their luxury to become apparent (e.g., the Black Label Burger).

Anonymous said...

There's the "hot dish" from the Midwest:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_dish

"Hotdish is a variety of baked casserole that typically contains a starch, a meat or other protein, and a canned and/ or frozen vegetable, mixed with canned soup. The dish is popular in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.[citation needed] Wisconsin hotdish typically adds a "healthy" amount of cream and cheese to the mix.[1] Hotdish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at family reunions and church suppers."

Congo Sam said...

@Space Ghost,

That is precisely why, starting with a different attitude to good eating, the French ended up with the Guide Michelin and the spread of Parisian cooking.

Anonymous said...

. The real reason the mid-century cuisine is held in contempt by many is because it just doesn't taste well.

"Well" is an adverb.

The adjective is "good".

Which is precisely how all that white bread cooking actually tastes: Mmm, mmm, GOOD!!!.

Semi-employed White Guy said...

I've eaten at Ruth's Chris three times. The second and third times were on my employer's dime. I would never pay for it on my own again. The quality of the meat was no better than the Longhorn or Outback chains. The quality of the service was worse. Only the prices were exceptional. The business model seems to be set high prices and fleece the sales weasels with the expense accounts. I used to know a big pharma sales rep who took doctors there.

Anonymous said...

"This is the famous high trust society we hear about?"

Well, parts of it were high trust. Other parts were being inundated by unassimilated riff-raff from Eastern and Southern Europe.

Nanonymous said...

Absolutely nothing's wrong with feeding whiskey mash or any other distillery by-products as long as they are fed soon enough, before significant bacterial growth begins.

Funcrusher said...

"Traditional" American cuisine is the way it is because of 1) The bland cooking it inherited from Great Britain 2) Its lack of aristocratic tradition, and 3) The relatively instantaneous industrialization of its food culture.

A lot of Italian and French cooking seems to have been developed for nobles with refined tastes and unlimited access to expensive, exotic foods, herbs, spices, and refined sugar. Not all of it, but a lot. As these societies became richer, aristocratic foods, techniques, and ways of eating became accessible to the average person.

Notice these countries are also Mediterranean. Not as spicy as tropical countries, but certainly spicier than Northern Europe.

Steve mentions the mid-century stop-and-chat diner culture, but compared to Italian/French eating traditions, American culture was always more utilitarian. We took to fast food quickly. "Get me something meaty and edible with crappy instant coffee. To go, please, so I can get back to making money."

Anonymous said...

Neal Stephenson touched on this 20 years ago in Snow Crash. Everyone's local place had their specialty, well-loved by the patrons. Travelers want something familiar, and without their local favorite, steak and potatoes was accessible and a bit lux. Then McDonald's and the Three-Ring Binder Management System took over the food industry and the local favorite became the national, the the international, go-to dish. As Stephenson wrote, the main thrust in this business is "No Surprises".

That said, I truly believe that the modern steakhouse is for people who don't like food. A steakhouse's job is to take a fantastic cut of meat and not screw it up, which is pretty much something I can do in my backyard. I prefer the places that take the iffy cuts and offal and create something truly delicious, which is a much rarer and difficult thing altogether, and a lot of Americans still don't have the palate to appreciate it.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Oradea, Romania, 1998: the locals loved the new McDonalds, not only because it seemed so Western and open and fashionable, but because they marveled at these unfamiliar new things like clean rest rooms, or hairnets and gloves on the food preparers.

Blandness and predictability sound beneath us now, because we are accustomed to safety. But when Mum was driving us somewhere in the 1950's, the sigh of relief when she saw a Howard Johnson's liberating us from "Jerry's Clam Shack," "Tommy's Diner," or some other unfamiliar place where you really could get sick, told the children a great deal about comparative dining.

As for predictability in entertaining and social mixing, that is also quite American. Anyone who took the time to learn the rules could play. One could signal one's willingness to be middle-american. Tougher and tougher the more ethnic you seemed, sure. But at least you had a shot at the playing field.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the unsophisticated American palette (prior to urban reversals over the last, what, 20-30 yrs) was a result of its provincialism. Fine dining, variety, and exoticism didn't mix with well frontier living.

So Old World family knowledge/tastes were lost. Come the early/mid 20th century, children grew up only knowing plain foods and upon reaching adulthood and moving off the farm, their tastes were set and they didn't fancy experimentation.

Anonymous said...

I miss my flying car, but I'm happy to skip the food pills.


One of the fundamental divisions of mankind is that between foodists and non-foodists. I'm a non-foddist, and I could happily get my daily dose of nutrients from a food pill. But foodists would still eat food if it had zero calories. In fact they might see that as a plus, since they could eat more food.

Anonymous said...

Well, what is interesting is New Mexico also has slowed population growth it doesn't have the professional jobs of Texas to attract any non-Hispanics unless its retires in some cities. Its a mining state but there is a lot less mining and it has a low immigrant population for a Hispanic state, so its a slow growth Latin state which will probably take California another 20 years or Texas another 30 years to slowed down to the growth rate of New Mexico.

Primitive Thinker said...

That's the reason why I contend that people like Chipotle and PF Chang's even though they're less flavorful and more expensive than a regular Mom and Pop Mexican or Chinese restaurant. You can feel confident that the meat you're getting is clean and not from a stray dog or cat. When I was visiting family in still Communist Hungary in 1982 I double checked to make sure that the family dog was still running around after I took the first bite of meat that was offered to me at dinner.

Primitive Thinker said...

That's the reason why I contend that people like Chipotle and PF Chang's even though they're less flavorful and more expensive than a regular Mom and Pop Mexican or Chinese restaurant. You can feel confident that the meat you're getting is clean and not from a stray dog or cat. When I was visiting family in still Communist Hungary in 1982 I double checked to make sure that the family dog was still running around after I took the first bite of meat that was offered to me at dinner.

Dave Pinsen said...

"I've eaten at Ruth's Chris three times. The second and third times were on my employer's dime. I would never pay for it on my own again. The quality of the meat was no better than the Longhorn or Outback chains."

I've eaten at Ruth's Chris a few times, along with other chains (e.g., Morton's) and local high-end steak places (e.g., Gibson's in Chicago). And I've also eaten at Outback and Longhorn. No way the steaks at those two chains compare with Ruth's Chris (though Outback's steaks are better than Longhorn's). The best filets and ribeyes I've ever had were at Ruth's Chris, but I can get a very good steak at 1/3 the price at my local Colombian restaurant. And you can usually get excellent steaks at a good French bistro, where they'll use cheaper cuts but prepare them deliciously.

"A steakhouse's job is to take a fantastic cut of meat and not screw it up"

Yeah, pretty much. Also, to leave its guests stuffed. I once went to and helped sponsor a dinner a local bank division hosted for its top brokers. Instead of having it at a steak house, they had it at Aquavit. One of larger brokers was still hungry after eating his salmon fillet, which was the size of a deck of cards.

Dave Pinsen said...

"That's the reason why I contend that people like Chipotle and PF Chang's even though they're less flavorful and more expensive than a regular Mom and Pop Mexican or Chinese restaurant."

What? P.F. Chang's is much more flavorful than a Mom and Pop (and nephews and cousins and children) Chinese restaurant. Try their Kung Pao shrimp and compare it to your local Chinese place's. P.F. Chang's is the Yellow Tail of chain restaurants: big, bold flavors.

As for Chipotle, its menu is more limited than a typical Mexican restaurant, but its burritos are plenty flavorful if you have them put the hot salsa in them.

Albrecht said...

As a boy I dined often with some mid-Century Americans. It was always the same kind of thing: A roasted piece of meat, usually beef, some vegetables, usually over-cooked, potatoes, quite often mashed, washed down with coffee, tea or ice water, preceded by grace and followed up with something sweet like jello or chocolate eclairs. Afterwards we would watch 60 Minutes. We were blessed and we knew it even if we hardly appreciated just how blessed we were.

Anonymous said...

That's the reason why I contend that people like Chipotle and PF Chang's even though they're less flavorful and more expensive than a regular Mom and Pop Mexican or Chinese restaurant.

Most Mom and Pop Chinese restaurants don't serve "authentic" versions of the dishes. They usually serve Americanized, toned down versions of the dishes that are more palatable to more people.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

"As much as it's fashionable to "eat local" and eat like a native in exotic locales, travelers like chains because they know what they're going to get. If only as a fall back or reserve from the local cuisine."

The McDonalds at Tokyo/Narita airport always looks like an overcrowded refugee center for (white) urban hipsters and presumably locavore advocates. There is even a convenient overflow area across the corridor that is frequently packed to the brim with these people dining on the floor and such.

ben tillman said...

So, did/does Ruth's Chris advertise in other inflight magazines, or have you just been looking at the same ad I recall seeing in the Southwest magazine for so many years?

I'm always pleased as punch when my sirloin comes off the grill looking like that filet mignon in the ad.

Difference Maker said...

One of the fundamental divisions of mankind is that between foodists and non-foodists. I'm a non-foddist, and I could happily get my daily dose of nutrients from a food pill. But foodists would still eat food if it had zero calories. In fact they might see that as a plus, since they could eat more food.

Aye, that may well be. I wouldn't eat if I didn't need to, for hunger and for health

I would simply skip out on that whole aspect of human existence like a robot

Alice said...

Sorry but I love beef. Maybe plot is the Polish genes, which subsisted on terrible cabbage and root vegetables. Or the Irish genes which divested on cabbage and different foot vegetables. Or the German genes that know 'beef is for rich people, chicken is for peasants, so the middle class eat pork and sausage.". Beef is expensive. And yummy. And it is plentiful and inexpensive here and nowhere else.

Anonymous said...

Some idiot was trolling for slate or another rag last Thanksgiving that favoring white meat from the bird was racist. As the NPR hipster journalists are now saying "fact is" choosing white, bland foods is a good way to avoid getting sick. Getting food poisoning used to be a big damn deal. If the meat is supposed to be white, and it is white, and if the meat is supposed to have only a mild flavor and it does, then you are on your way to a safe meal. On the other hand, judging whether meat is gamey or rotten relies on a good nose (not broken, not over exposed to smoke, etc), a reasonable IQ and sobriety. Safer bet is white meat.

Auntie Analogue said...


Peasants could not get meats, so that affording meats was not in question. In feudal society the nobles owned the land and all the animals on it; peasants merely worked the land and were not allowed to kill husbanded or wild animals for food.

Every once in a while - at major ecclesiastical events such as Easter, or at harvest festival - the nobles would let the peasants kill a pig or a deer to feast upon. This explains why common Americans esteemed meats - they'd thrown off the yoke of peasanthood and, so long as they could pay for what they wanted, they were allowed to eat all the meats they liked. This held true for first and second wave immigrants from Europe, as their enjoyment of meats that had been proscribed to them in the old country buttressed the already established common American esteem for meats.

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century advances in animal husbandry, novel machine-driven distribution systems (rail, road, and then aviation), the abandonment of salt as a meat preservative - displaced by refrigeration, further reinforced the popularity of meats. A family that subsisted on meat dishes and that served them to their guests showed that it was well-off, able to afford the good things in life.

It was only after all those advances had become commonplace and thus taken for granted that the haute cuisine foodist fads, which became affordable for the common people and not just for the nobility and the early industrial barons, emerged, both here in North America and also in Europe. It wasn't until the foodist craze began that the hitherto less varied, yet still nutritionally excellent, American diet came to be disparaged as mere "comfort food." All this had very little, if anything, to do with the fears or tastes of traveling salesmen.

All that said, this still holds true: De gustibus non est disputandum.

Edward Cefala said...

Food is a game now if it wasn't always. I still dip into Cook's magazine and Lucky Peach because they are no-nonsense. The closer you get to NY, LA, or Chicago the more likely it is that you have a crappy expensive meal and an amazing meal at a restaurant with no waiters.

My hint for now is that it's not likely that anyone will have bad Burmese food. This is where the Chinese food cooks are reliably light on the sugar and the bill is low. I'd recommend Banh Mi and pho, but I think that's been around long enough now that most people who read Sailer will have had at least one bad experience with it.

Chief Seattle said...

Judging from my grandparents vs parents, people ate just fine in the 40s and 50. Both sets of grandparents were northern European, regular middle class in small North Eastern towns, and both sets, including the men, enjoyed cooking, canning, and gardening. Roasts, ham, potato casserole, lasagna, hash browns, pickles, stews, pies, etc. Healthy, happy, not fat, not skinny.

It was my parents that dropped the ball in the 80s. Dried out pork chops, pot roast with disgusting boiled onions, baked un-breaded fish fillets with lemon. Not just white bread, but the cheapest store-brand white bread, bought on sale and then frozen. Fluffer nutter sandwiches. Campbell's tomato soup. The high point was Ortega hard shell taco night.

High end steak places are more about signalling than food. There's a certain type of person that likes to drop steak house names to indicate their own importance. I've only eaten in them on expense accounts, and I'm always disappointed. If I want good steak I can cook a $20 supermarket rib-eye with some mushrooms, a baked potato and a $12 wine.

agnostic said...

The link to the falling inequality of the Great Compression has more to do with not raising a fuss over trivial things, and not so much with conformity.

We have a highly conformist culture today. In food, it was Italian, then Greek, then Thai, then Spanish, then whatever. But at each time, there was an intensely conformist drive to do what everyone else was doing.

Or look at yoghurt, which has been enjoying a bandwagon effect for decades now -- despite having no fat and more sugar than a candy bar. (Not the stuff that keeps people on that Greek island living for so long.)

The difference between mid-century and Millennial conformity is whether people whine or not while all engaging in the same activity. Back then, they didn't complain about there not being a dozen different breeds of cattle that they could choose their steak from.

Whereas now, the supermarket has over 100 different options for yoghurt. And it's not enough to all be on the Thai bandwagon -- we have to compete to see who knows where the best particular Thai restaurant is.

Or which band nobody's heard of yet. ETc.

Cocooning periods swing towards greater conformity, while more outgoing times are more free-spirited.

The inequality cycle is something different, and related to status-striving. The attitudes are "making do" vs. "complaining for something better" (which, of course, you do not desire but DESERVE).

The Great Compression was not only a mid-century thing. It included the '20s and early '30s (the Jazz Age), plus the '60s and early '70s -- not conformist periods. It's an odd combination -- making do and not obsessing over status contests, while also enjoying a free-wheeling lifestyle. It was tailor-made for fun-loving populists.

Anonymous said...

About "White Food", Steve Sailer, Taki Magazine, Jan 08, 2014.

Rachel Laudan is a historian of science who seems to be a world expert in this. (Her blogsite is www.rachellaudan.com.)

She has an online article, "Birth of the Modern Diet", Rachel Laudan, that I think was published a couple of times in Scientific American (perhaps updated versions?).

Her blog has a web page where the article can be accessed. Extract synopsis:


"The origins of modern Western cooking can be traced to ideas about diet and nutrition that arose during the 17th century...

...attend a 16th-century court banquet in France or England, the food would seem strange indeed... ...to wash it all down, we would probably drink hypocras, a mulled red wine seasoned with ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. ...

Fast-forward 100 years, though, and the food would be reassuringly familiar.

Before 1650, the elite classes throughout the Islamic and Christian worlds from Delhi to London shared pretty much the same diet: thick purees, lots of spices, sweet and sour sauces, cooked vegetables, and warmed wines. Sugar was ubiquitous...



...middle of the 17th century, the northern European diet began to change. This new regimen relied on fewer spices, based its sauces on fats such as butter and olive oil, and incorporated raw fruits and vegetables.

Sugar appeared only at the end of a meal. What happened? ...




...Most crucially, doctors advised their patients on the food and drink they should consume.

...cooking stood as the basic metaphor for the systems that sustained all life.

...By the middle of the 17th century, ... physicians of a quite different persuasion began to join the courts of northern Europe. These scholars derived their ideas from Paracelsus, an itinerant doctor from Germany who, in the 1520s, began to mock the structure of classical medicine.

Historians of science still debate the causes ... the technology of distillation seems to have contributed to it. ...

...prominent physicians of the 17th century advocated this new understanding of digestion, ... Thomas Willis, then the best-known doctor in England and a founding member of the Royal Society of London. ...believed that digestion involved fermentation rather than cooking...

...British physician Willis, who had noticed the sugary urine of patients suffering from what doctors later termed diabetes ... The moral was clear: sugar was dangerous, perhaps even a poison.

... entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in this new cuisine, selling “restaurants”—which is French for “restoratives”—to those who could not afford their own chefs.

...Europe’s middle classes emulated the aristocracy, developing a taste not only for restaurants but for all the new cuisine.




...The modern curries of India and moles of Mexico, for instance, resemble the cuisine of pre-Paracelsian northern Europe. ...

The Western cuisine born in the 17th century long outlived the dietary theory that inspired it..."





So the history of how White Western food came to be unique is entangled with the development of Western medicine and early Western science. Somebody had to do it.

As someone who has eaten much of what's available around the world and grew up on habaneros, I say nothing compares to the classic 1950 steak house meal, done right. And all those other white bread classics. The real problem is you can't find them anywhere anymore. Oh, how can Steve Sailer be so wrong? It not just something for traveling salesmen in the 20th century. It's a 500-year long science experiment; a unique cultural accomplishment. Eat it proudly, Steve, eat it proudly!

David said...

One of the most annoying things about Mexico is the hippie type of ex-pat, usually female, who INSISTS on trying the "real" or "native" food, and by "insists" I mean "asserts as a moral virtue." How many times have such hippies dragged me to absolutely disgusting dives and forced me to look at an inedible dish? Believe me, no sensible non-Mexican soul wants to dine in a hole-in-the-wall madre-y-padre restaurant here, much less eat from a street stand. Montezuma's Revenge is real and doesn't come only from the water.

One of the best things about America in this regard is corporate chain restaurants. They are valued for predictability and safety the world over. For example, KFC is considered (in some places in Asia, too) to be a kind of upscale restaurant, believe it or not. The local one is full of rather snobbish customers and has a wait staff.

You'll not find me in a filthy garage slurping homemade mole off a rancid chicken enchilada, but wit' my gringo homies instead, up in Chili's eating a well-done burger and drinking cola sin hielo. There's much to be said for being unadventurous.

(My time in Mexico is almost over, and I'm more of less glad of it. I will tell all on my hobby blog in the next month or so.)

Dave Pinsen said...

"As someone who has eaten much of what's available around the world and grew up on habaneros, I say nothing compares to the classic 1950 steak house meal, done right. And all those other white bread classics. The real problem is you can't find them anywhere anymore."

You can find them at some private clubs. A friend of my father's is a member of the University Club, and we ate there a few times as his guests. My father called it "an Ivy League Sizzler". Meat and potatoes, usually a carving station with some roast, maybe a cooked salmon, some veggie dishes, a pasta station, and a couple of heavy desserts (e.g., chocolate mousse with whipped cream). For that matter, you can find essentially the same sorts of food without the fuss at a typical New Jersey diner.

Cail Corishev said...

I never liked steak until I learned to cook it myself to the right internal temperature. Restaurant steak is generally tough or will have a strip of gristle running through the center of it. My friends would be sending theirs back because it was over/under-cooked, while I happily ate my fish or pork tenderloin.

Then I got good quality steak (direct from a farmer) instead of the factory stuff, and learned to cook it quickly. Practically melts in your mouth, and you want to chew the bones afterwards. Then I got an old cookbook from the 60s that recommended putting a pat of butter on top of your steak (and pretty much everything else). Holy crap.

Anonymous said...

...middle of the 17th century, the northern European diet began to change. This new regimen relied on fewer spices, based its sauces on fats such as butter and olive oil, and incorporated raw fruits and vegetables.

It sounds more like the aristocracy and urban middle class changed their diet and simplified it to something closer to what the rural peasantry were already eating.

Anonymous said...

"This is the famous high trust society we hear about?" - right after the then largest immigration wave in our history, certainly.

jody said...

haha, well, i think steve is pretty wrong on this one, although he does come up with some impressive out of the box thinking when he wants to take an observation about society in a new, counterintuitive direction.

the reason americans eat a ton of cows has nothing to do with trust. it's because, they can.

don't want to get into a bunch of long posts on food though. otherwise i'll end up spending an hour typing about columbian exchange, food chains (not restaurant chains, the old food chain from high school biology class), proliferation of cattle animals around the world, where tomatoes and potatoes and chocolate come from, food infrastructure (which lots of countries don't have), and then i'll end up debating the merits of various steakhouses which will devolve into michelin star discussions.

jody said...

any yelpers on here?

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

I heard corn-fed beef is bad cuz corn produces lots of bad bacteria in cow stomachs. Cows should really eat grass.

Bill Kurtis said so and put his money on it.

http://www.tallgrassbeef.com/

But Kurtis seems to having troubles with his business:

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20121206/BLOGS09/121209882/bill-kurtis-tallgrass-beef-fined-403-000

-----

Maybe we should feed pot to cows and sell it to hippies.

Far-out Cow Inc. Potted Meat the Right Way.

Anonymous said...

"Safer bet is white meat."

But don't eat wild mushrooms just because they're white.

Anonymous said...

Grits are bland as hell and worse than oatmeal, but negroes be eating that stuff.

Anonymous said...

White meat sure can be nasty:

http://youtu.be/mbYqznD0R5M?t=1m45s

Even with beef, it loses its color as it rots. Yech.

Garlic and onion are white but they stink. Good for you though.

Isaac Bickerstaff said...

I'm surprised that the right doesn't use a successful page from the leftist playbook and coin a word that can be used as a shorthand insult/accusation along the lines of racist, sexist or homophobic.

What's needed is a word that means something like "fear and loathing of one's own cultural norms". James Taranto tried explaining the term oikophobia, but didn't get very far.

It seems like such a word would be good politics and would help to highlight what actually has been a very powerful idea in the US for a long time. Maybe it goes back to the time of Mark Twain, the idea that if a thing is an American norm, its crap when compared to somewhere else. Europe is his case.

Its sick when a society's ruling class despises it's own society.

Anonymous said...

In your bread musings I'm surprised you didn't mention Texas Toast. It's like a bigger, worse version of typical whitebread.

reader said...

And what about that Portland, Ore. principal who said PB & J was racist?

Anonymous said...

Wow. I guess this was the trick post to draw in all the SWPL Steve readers, huh?

Arashtorel said...

This continues today. Tacky chain restaurants like Chilis and Applebees cater to the business lunch. They have huge menus with an option for everybody. They'll have something vegetarian, something gluten free, something atkins/paleo friendly. Its designed to offend the least amount of people.


I'd never eat there on my own, but when doing business lunches, I always choose Applebees.

pat said...

...attend a 16th-century court banquet in France or England, the food would seem strange indeed... ...to wash it all down, we would probably drink hypocras, a mulled red wine seasoned with ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. ...

I guess I'm a throwback, that's what I drink now. When the weather gets cold I drink Hot Buttered Rum or Mulled Wine. I use Splenda rather than sugar but otherwise that's Rombauer's recipe for Hot Mulled Wine.

For this I use Almaden Cabernet from a seven liter box. The spices make anything better a waste. Stick in the microwave and Bob's Your Uncle.

Albertosaurus