Why Bad Food Is Good For You, By Mara L.

On your quest for good food in New York, you talk to people who’ve been here for a while. One thing you hear is truly disconcerting: That it is advisable to go for cuisines with lots of sauce, since unfortunately there is very little fresh food in New York, which is more conspicuous (as in ‘tasting badly’) in, say, Tuscan cooking.

This piece of information makes you spend a couple of weekends on the web. Apply for a job in Rome? Milan? But of course, you have already fallen for New York, so it’s no use.

A friend brings you a New York City Guide from the 1950ies. There, a wise author shares major insights with his European audience: The East Coast Person likes bad food, because it makes her eat less, and thus be skinnier. (Isn’t this what you’ve once read about Andy Warhol, that he used to go out for dinner every night and order a dish he knew he didn’t like, so as to eat as little as possible, this being, in his terms, the New York Diet?) According to the author of the guidebook, the East Coast Person considers it totally uncool to even so much as hope that dinner might be tasty. Rather, the task is: learn to hope that your food is ‘bland’, and all the other words which are happily used by New Yorkers for the skinless boneless chicken they eat. Some nice bland chicken for me, please.

Copyright 2005 Jens Haas

For Europeans in the 1950ies, the idea that bad-tasting food might be desirable is so outlandish that the guidebook author goes to great lengths at explaining it, so you really get the point. Am I, you wonder, a last-century Italian? No, I’m not. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so appalled by the claim that there’s lots of ‘Italian food’ in New York, when, what there really is is the kind of food which impoverished Sicilians in the 1920ies to 40ies used to eat. Or actually, not even that. Poor as they were, they had to compromise even more once they got here, using the nastiest kinds of mayonnaise in their tuna-salad (just to give an example).

Coming up: The Dilemma Of Remorseless Pleasure.

The New York City Diet, By Mara L.

I’ve been invited by Jens Haas to join his blog as a guest writer, and, seeing some of his work on American food, I can only say, yes, this is where I want to write. American food—sorry, I do apologize for being a disgustingly generalizing and really quite arrogant Italian—is not particularly appealing. Indeed, it is not unheard of that people move back to the old world for culinary reasons (forget the nonsense they tell you about deeper friendships back home, friendships with pasta, that must be).

Copyright 2003 Jens Haas

I should say who I am: I am an architect, and friend of Jens. I’ve lived in northern Italy for most of my life, in London for some years (years of culinary suffering, of course), in Paris, and lately in Berlin. This is where I met Jens. Berlin, by the way, is not exactly a place of culinary delight either.

Before you move to New York, people tell you that the great things about New York are that
(1) it is not America,
(2) you get food from all over the world there.

(1) is probably true (whatever it means). Admittedly, I have become addicted to New York and do not plan to leave again, even if that means that I shall starve.

But (2) is the biggest lie you’ve ever been told in your life. Or, of course, all depends on interpretation. When people tell you (2), they imply that there is good food from all over the world. This is what makes it conceivable to you to move there. Truth be told, there is food from all over the world, but is it good?

Once you are here, you try to keep your spirits up. Isn’t it true that there are only 7 or 8 places in Europe where you *really* like shopping for food? Of course, you won’t find such extraordinary places in one week. This is a major research project, and one that takes true gourmet dedication. In this series, I’ll share my findings with you.

Coming up: Why Bad Food is Good for You.