St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Anglaise in America

Food lies to us all the time. There’s Little Debbie, that deceitful brat, who makes everything look delicious on the packet but when you make the mistake of eating one of her sad little cakes you are instantly consumed with thoughts of death. Then there’s the great American snack food and murder instigator the Twinkie. When they went out of business a few years ago and then were bought out and started being made again, I wanted to try one to see what all the fuss was about. That was my first and last time. I vowed that day that if I was ever in a plane crash with a cargo hold full of Twinkies, I’d eat the other survivors before I ate the Twinkies.

Andy from 'Parks and Rec' saying, 'When they say 2% milk I don't know what the other 98% is.'

The deceptions of food go beyond mere lies and veer into the realm of a postmodern nightmare. It’s as if all the signifiers and signifieds have been thrown into a bingo barrel and matched at random. Milk, for example. That pasty white traitor. When I moved to the US I was totally bewildered by the milk aisle. Yes, the milk aisle. No-one had explained the code used by the American milk mafia. Half-and-half. What the hell is that? Half what and half what? It doesn’t say. It just is, like Yoda, or roadkill. Then there was 2% and 4% milk. A lot of comedy mileage has been made out of these, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t know what they mean. I’ve been told, “It’s 4% milkfat.” What’s milkfat? Is it different from baconfat? How much “milkfat” does normal milk have — more or less? Is it 4% fat, or does it contain 4% of the fat in whole milk? The deceptive words and coded references baffle like dazzle camouflage. The tenuous threads of reality have snapped and now nothing means anything any more. A saunter down the milk aisle has been known to rattle the sanity. I need a shot of adrenaline just to make it all the way to the other side with my psyche intact.

Charlie from 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' getting to the bottom of the Pepe Silvia conspiracy.
Charlie tries to crack the milk conspiracy.

Now let’s talk burgers. Oh, America. You break the heart. The burger is your greatest invention and the one thing you should always get right. It’s vexing how many places I’ve found — not just shitty street vendors but proper sit-down restaurants and steak-houses, that can’t get a damn burger right. They seem to have nothing but grey meat, and I’m too old to waste my time on food that’s been sitting on the event horizon of a black hole and had all the colour and flavour sucked out of it by the whirlwinds of the vortex. Part of my burger sadness is my own fault. In my naivety when I first moved here I thought a cheeseburger only had cheese on it — no meat. I think I was confused by McDonald’s, where the cheeseburgers are so dinky I didn’t realise there was any meat in there. Then, when I ordered a portobello burger, I thought I’d get a nice patty with a bit of mushroom on top. I can’t convey to you the sadness of the burger I had to choke down that night. Like its tricksy cousin milk, the hamburger has names that don’t actually mean anything. But I should have known — it’s called a hamburger and there’s no ham, so I can’t get into bed with a con artist and get upset when they rip me off.

Homer shaking his fist at an egg in 'The Simpsons'.
Homer: “You better run, egg!”

The hamburger lied from the start, but the humble egg is so elegant in its simplicity. I thought they’d never let me down. When I saw something called “fertile eggs” at the supermarket, I thought it must be referring to eggs that hadn’t been chemically neutered by hormones and antibiotics. When I got them home my housemate was aghast. It turns out that in America “fertile eggs” means “fertilised eggs” and somehow I had to spend a whole hour explaining the difference: “fertile” means “can reproduce” whereas “fertilised” means “will reproduce”. All eggs are fertile (before they’re omelettes, anyway) but an egg is fertilised when it’s been introduced to a partner’s sperm and started to form a zygote. So high-school biology taught me anyway, but maybe these eggs aren’t biologists, they’re grammarians. “Fertile” is an adjective that refers to an on-going state. “Fertilised” is a past passive participle with perfect aspect, which doesn’t just mean it looks good, it means it refers to an action that’s been completed. Mic drop. Get a grammar lesson, egg, and stop wasting my time.

Oprah saying, 'I love bread.'

Lastly a word to sugar. Sugar, I love you. You’re great. But you’re in a lot of toxic relationships. Sometimes you have an unlikely hookup and against all odds it works. Honey on pizza is surprisingly delicious. So are bacon-wrapped figs. But you’re in some long-term relationships that are just awful. When I was growing up legend had it that McDonald’s had to add pickles to their burgers because they contained so much sugar they were at risk of being classified as candy. I don’t doubt that’s false, but the fact that it resonated with people means that we are all aware that things are way too sweet. So sugar, let’s get down to business. First, get the hell out of my pasta sauce. If people want sugar on their pasta, let them add it themselves. I don’t need to buy a jar of marinara only to find out it’s candy. Same goes for bread, which doesn’t exist in the US — it’s all cake. And salted caramel? Don’t make me retch. Salted caramel makes me hate both salt and caramel and whoever tricked me into eating such a vile frankencandy.

Now I know as an Aussie I come in for some stereotypes myself. I do love Vegemite but I don’t ride kangaroos. Well, not to work anyway, they’re more of a recreational vehicle. But I ask you, America, what did bread ever do to you? Why did you have to hurt it so? I don’t want to stop you all eating your horrible breadcakes and preggo eggs and Little Debbie’s nasty turdrolls, but you’ve got to start saying what you mean or how will I ever manage the grocery shopping without having an identity crisis? Am I even the real me any more? Or am I just the cut-rate, mass-manufactured, sugar-laden version of me that only looks good on the shelf?