Why Can’t Americans Make Gravy?

I am a Canadian, but unlike most Canadians, I don’t dislike Americans. I don’t feel threatened by them, I don’t envy them, and though I don’t find them any more arrogant than Torontonians. Many Canadians have made a living criticizing the United States. Lord knows Americans have their flaws, and pretty much every one of them has been pointed out a thousand times over, but there is one flaw that has not received nearly enough attention; their ability to make gravy.

Growing up, I took gravy for granted. My mother, my aunts, all my friends’ mothers, all of them could make gravy. Even the fathers and uncles could make gravy in a pinch, so I assumed that anyone in the civilized world who could cook could make gravy. Then I got a job that required me to frequently travel to the United States.

I will never forget my first encounter with American gravy. I believe it was in Nashville, and I had some mashed potatoes with gravy. At first I thought they forgot to pour the gravy on the potatoes, but when I looked more closely I could see that the gravy was the same colour as the potatoes. I thought someone was playing a joke on me, but I could see that everyone else at the table had the same horrifyingly pale gravy. This came as a shock to me as Americans always seemed to talk about gravy a lot, so I naturally assumed they took great pride in their gravy. I first heard the expression “everything else is just gravy” in an American movie, Platoon.

It isn’t just that Americans don’t use gravy browning. Proper gravy is still someone dark in texture before the gravy browning is added, and even the lightest turkey gravy isn’t white. It’s as if Americans add bleach to their gravy. It’s so strange that Americans have such a light coloured, bland gravy, when their cooking is generally known for being heavy and rich. How is it that Canadian gravy could possibly be so much thicker, richer, saltier, and tastier than American gravy? American cooking has always been open to embracing the cuisine of other countries, most notably China, Mexico, and Italy. Perhaps it’s time for them to steal a gravy recipe from their Canadian neighbours.

When Did the Debate Over GMO Food End?

About 15 years or so ago there seemed to be a raging debate about whether genetically modified food was going to solve the world’s hunger problems or destroy mankind. I was living in England at the time, a place that seemed to have a particularly acute preoccupation with food safety, no doubt due to the presence of both mad cow disease and Paul McCartney.

I was never really that concerned about genetically modified foods. I always figured something else would kill me long before genetically modified canola, so I never really paid that close attention to the debate, but I was always at least vaguely aware of its existence.

In recent years, as I became a father to a couple of kids and started taking a serious interest in food, I couldn’t help but notice that there didn’t seem to be anyone talking about the dangers of GMO foods anymore. It seems that for most people gluten is a much bigger worry than GMO foods. Organic and locally grown foods, which tend not to be genetically modified, are growing in popularity, but most of the interest in those foods more to do with the lack of toxic pesticides than alterations to the food’s genetic makeup.

To be honest though I don’t really understand what is different about organic fruits and vegetables other than that they are more expensive and have more spots on them. I wonder if scientists were to someday be able modify an apple such that the apple actually developed the ability to eat its pests, thereby eliminating the need for pesticides, would the apples then be considered organic? But I digress…

Did the opponents of GMO foods simply give up or were they just soundly beaten by the giant food companies? I suspect it was some combination of the two. Large multinationals have an admirable track record when it comes to doing battle against concerned citizens, so the result was probably never really in doubt. But after a couple decades of eating all these GMO foods, humanity doesn’t seem any worse for wear, so perhaps the right side won that war.

Beer Snobs Are Worse Than Wine Snobs

For many years now, wine snobs have been unrivaled as the most notorious and annoying in the realm of snobbery. Wine bottles were the perfect vessel for conveying ones superiority over the common man. There are a seemingly endless amount of small and exclusive wineries that allowed someone with only an upper middle class income to drink wine that a neighbor or friend had never seen. By contrast, the barriers to entry into the world of car snobbery are prohibitive to most people, as you would have to spend some serious money to drive a car that none of your friends had ever seen up close before.

Wine also give snobs much more opportunity to revel in their snobbery, what with books and courses that explain how to properly drink and appreciate wine as well as a huge vocabulary of adjectives, most of which are completely devoid of actual meaning, to describe wines. You don’t need to do a course to learn how to enjoy a Ferrari. You put the top down, find an open road, and stomp on the gas pedal. For snob points per dollar, nothing could compare to wine. Until now.

Snobby wine drinkers have long looked at beer drinkers with disdain. While the image of the wine drinker was one of culture and sophistication, a beer drinker was symbolized by the guy in the sports bar watching football and washing down 4 pounds of hot wings with a gallon of light lager, English soccer hooligans, Homer Simpson, and middle aged slow pitch softball players. Then just a few years ago, hipsters starting mobilizing themselves and created the rapidly growing world of beer snobbery.

I don’t know why but I personally find beer snobs exponentially more annoying than wine snobs. It was always accepted that if you drink enough wine with people you would eventually cross paths with a wine snob, but beer drinking was always a pretension-free oasis, where you could simply relax with friends and enjoy the beer of your choice or whatever your friends were offering. Then all of a sudden you had these stocking cap wearing, bearded zealots popping up everywhere who look down on anyone who didn’t stand in line for two hours in rural Vermont to drop $20 on a six pack of beer.

I actually enjoy most of the beers that beer snobs love, I just don’t feel the same vitriol at the types of beers they hate. While I generally prefer more flavorful beers, I have no problem drinking you average light lager. Those who turn their noses up at mainstream beer brands have clearly never gotten drunk on their neighbor’s home brew.

How Anthony Bourdain is Fueling the Rise of Pretension in Cooking

A few months ago I read Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”, the book that transformed him into a celebrity chef. Though I had never actually watched a full episode of one of his shows, I had heard a lot about him and had seen enough bits and pieces of his show to know that it involves him travelling around the world and eating all kinds of things that I get nauseous just thinking about.

Usually when I read a book I either like it or don’t like it, but I found that I loved certain parts of the book and hated others. The parts that I found very interesting were the first hand, behind the scenes accounts of what is involved with running a restaurant and the stories of the characters he had come across in his years in the food business. What I hated was the contempt that Bourdain seemed to have towards so many of his customers. He repeatedly uses the word “rubes” to describe customers, and seems to look down on anyone who orders the special, goes to Sunday brunch, dines on the wrong day of the week, or god forbid, likes their steak well done.

While I found it informative when he talked about why many restaurants fail, I didn’t feel it necessary for him to use up half the pages in the book with a seemingly endless series of detailed examples of how so many of the restaurants he had been involved with had failed. It almost seemed like his was reveling in the failures of these restaurants.

The most striking thing about the book, knowing what I know about Anthony Bourdain the TV star, is how he talks about how he wouldn’t order the special or eat at the Sunday buffet because restaurants use both to get rid of not quite so fresh food. This is the same guy who in recent years has been filmed eating live warthog rectums. It is not clear whether he at the rectum on a Thursday evening or if it was a Monday special.

For the purposes of full disclosure I will admit that for someone interested in food and cooking I am a relatively picky eater. I don’t eat shellfish. I look at eating lamb the way others look at eating dog. For me, cooking is about making eating as enjoyable as possible. I am more adventurous than some meat and potatoes people I know, but less adventurous than others. That is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. I believe that people should eat dishes that are (more or less) healthy and that they enjoy. Cooking should be about you, not about how you appear to others.

For me, Anthony Bourdain symbolizes how pretension has infiltrated the world of cooking. For far too many people, cooking and dining has become a game of one-upmanship. Cooking is no longer just about preparing food, but about proving how sophisticated you are. When he is not busy traveling the world, Bourdain spends his time feuding with pretty much every celebrity chef on the planet.

Pretty much the only chef that Bourdain has not criticized is Julia Child, but had she been alive today I am sure he would have found some fault with her. I should point out that some of his criticisms are both creative and hilarious, such as wishing he could travel back and time and bully Jamie Oliver, but they are still part of the overall problem of viewing cooking as some sort of competition. Cooking is not about image or competition; it is about the enjoyment of food. It is ok to order the special. It is ok if you like your steak well done.