Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Day the Brownies Made Me Think

by Abigail

I'm a foodie. The crazy kind. I think of parmesan reggiano as a staple. I keep assorted colors of quinoa in my pantry, and think it amusing to make tri-colored quinoa dishes. I use whole grains and flax meal. I have opinions of butter (West Country with Maldon sea salt, thank-you.) I cook things from scratch and rant about why o why would anyone ever buy those god-awful meals kits? (Seriously, doing the same thing yourself with real ingredients takes about 10 minutes more and makes a 10 times the difference. Ask and I will tell you how. At length. With arm gestures.) Indeed, I claim to despise all sorts of nasty frankenfoods, or edible food type substances. Naturally my children hate my cooking.

Still, I get cranky with some of my kind. They do so like to prate and babble about natural as the be all and end all of good. Esp when it comes to food. But sadly, key phrase repetition is all most of them grasp. Subtlety is a concept as far removed from them as what natural really is. Natural is simply natural. It can be better, say beet juice instead of possibly-hyperactivity inducing red-dye #40. On the other hand cancer is completely natural. Being eaten by wild animals is completely natural. Plutonium is natural. I'd really rather you didn't use it in my food, thank you very much. Cheese puffs and hair dye are completely unnatural, and by golly, I do so like them. Unnatural preservatives, on the other hand, actually do have their uses. Sometimes you need things which can last unnaturally long times. And sometimes, those preservatives are less bad for you than dipping things in salt, or make things tastier than a long lye bath. My problem, mind you, comes when everything is preserved to a fare-thee-well and beyond, as apposed to special cases. And while were are chatting about preservatives, let me just add that the dreaded sulfites that people get so worked up about are as natural as they come. Sulfites are pretty much sulfur. You know, the really stinky mineral. I can't help but think that if something has a box on the periodic charts it's even more natural than cracked wheat or broccoli. Allergies are natural too, btw.

Don't get me wrong. I still – mostly – despise frankenfoods. And one day I will get around to bashing McDonald’s and the Fast-food crap dispensers (and I mean that quite literally considering what ends up in the burgers) as they so richly deserve. I mean quite apart from asking us to eat a mix of ground up cow parts and cow poop, one has to take a moment to ask why on earth they need 17 ingredients in a “Chicken-ish Nugget.” Or why they have to treat the fries in such a wide variety of poly-syllabic chemicals. (And now, just to piss people off I will point out that a potato is made of many poly-syllabic chemical compounds all by itself). Or the awfulness of meals in a box. Or the pseudo spaghetti sauce that Prego and it's nasty ilk serve. Right there, that alone is enough to justify the Italians declaring war on us. But they are clearly an easy going people. That and we have a giant army and rich tourists.

Still, I must confess those frankenfoods have their uses and their virtues and to be a fair and decent person one must acknowledge them. And to acknowledge them one must first acknowledge that human beings come in wide varieties with a wide variety of needs. It's easy to despise artificial sweeteners until one becomes a diabetic. The purists dismiss the diabetics desire to have a candy bar, and not make themselves sick. The purists believe they should just learn to live without, or have only a tiny taste. Of course, the purists don't approve of candy bars in the first place, so they don't really get what the lose means. Likewise, the vegetarian. Now someone full of the militant rigidity of a teenager might be willing to eat lentils and greens. But I actually like meat. I just feel bad about making animals suffer for it. So I enjoy a lot of products that were once much like beans, until a wide variety of chemicals and a laboratory/factory process that would make Dr. Frankenstein himself blanch, turned them into something much like sausage patties, or burgers. (Avoid the fake bacon, sometimes only pork fat can play the role of pork fat.)

And then there were the brownies. I love brownies. I love to make brownies, the simplicity of chocolate, butter, flour, sugar, eggs. The way you can play with them by adding cocoa, or nuts, or spices, or a dozen other things to create all sort of variety (One day, if you are good, I shall tell you of the cherry, cream cheese, and peach brandy ones.) Still, I have friends for whom such things are sickening. I don't mean in the the moral or dietary outrage kind of way. I mean in the roiling gut, auto-immune kind of way. For them butter isn't something to be slathered on warm bread, it's a prelude to bloating. Wheat means their immune systems will attack their intestines. Which sounds kind of painful. Eggs, can mean swollen lips and trouble breathing. I think we can all come together on agreeing that breathing is really rather important.

Which brings me to the brownies that made me think. One day I was sitting around, drinking tea and eating brownies with a friend. This is not a radical act, but in this case it was an act of defiance against an almost religious view point. Why? Because I was eating brownies with a friend who can't eat my brownies. My brownies would harm her. We were eating frankenfood brownies. Wheat, egg, dairy free. Simple, ordinary, everyday, taste-like-brownie, brownies, with the exception of the fact that they simply weren't. One wonders how they are made. However, they are made it is very much not natural. Strange and bizarre alchemy must be done to turn things not of wheat and gluten to taste just like things of wheat and gluten. The binding of the eggs replaced by clever chemistry, the richness of butter, likewise.

So one must inevitably come to the conclusion that frankenfoods, at least some frankenfoods, have their uses and virtues. It's not the frankenfoods which are the problem. It's the zombification of food, when all the food offered is strange and unnatural. When it's not broccoli and potatoes, but broccoli essence turned into a vitamin and shoved inside a potato which has been dehydrated and reformed into a stick which is then coated in potato flavoring and deep fried. Just eat the damn broccoli and potato. Stop mucking about with that. But know that sometimes, you have to have a brownie, which is in no way except taste and texture, a brownie. But, like regular brownies, it should be a rare and special thing.

Long Live Complexity.
And Brownies.

6 comments:

Delle Jacobs said...

All in agreement! Except that Plutonium is man-made...

Susanna said...

You should stop hanging around that gluten-free chick. Just imagine how pure your philosophy would be then.

Frankenfoods have their place, such as in my children's lunchbox. Let the nice teachers deal with my hyperactive children. If course, I'm kidding.

I think you can eat natural and gluten-free/dairy-free. It's baking that's hard.

Diabetes is a bitch, as we well know.

Tina said...

I would like to eat at Abigail's house.

This is my favorite line: "It's not the frankenfoods which are the problem. It's the zombification of food, when all the food offered is strange and unnatural."

I think of this when I read about this new class of chef, you know the ones. They serve cilantro froth and perfect cubes of molded shrimp paste on dry ice. In test tubes.

I know a gluten-free chick. She picks out great wine and likes to eat outdoors. She's one of my absolute favorite people to eat with because she knows what's in her food and appreciates it.

Little Miss Wicked said...

I honestly read this and blushed harder with each sentence. I'm a worshipper of the frankenfood. Meals in a box- I have everything from tacos to stroganoff. I always assumed that brownies, cakes, and such start out as powder from a box. And Prego is the most important thing on my grocery list. I should really take the time to figure out how to make all of these things the real way...

Liz Fichera said...

I try to cook as naturally as possible but it's not always possible. That's the problem. Thank god for the crock pot.

Great post! :-)

staśa said...

You rock.