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Our Food - Essay from Newsletter 59

Where’s the Beef


One of the most famous television ads is the iconic Apple commercial for the Mac that ran once during the Super Bowl in 1984.

Actually, it ran twice. As Low End Mac reports, “Contrary to popular belief, 1984 did not run just once. In order to make it eligible for Cannes, Apple bought airtime on KMVT in Twin Falls, Idaho at 1:00 AM in December 1983.”

But that’s beside the point.

Another ad that us older people might remember featured three women in their 80’s looking at a hamburger on a counter at the fictional “Home of the Big Bun.”

“It certainly is a big bun,” one woman says. Another woman agrees.

“Big fluffy bun,” the first woman says. The second woman agrees and lifts the top of the bun to reveal a tiny hamburger topped with a tiny piece of cheese and a pickle that nearly covers it.

Clara Peller leans forward and asks, “where’s the beef?”

Memes like that drown out the voices of people questioning whether we should be eating much beef in the first place.

And now Joe Biden wants to take away your hamburgers.


Except, of course, he doesn’t.

It’s the way every argument gets turned.

Somehow if gay marriage is legalized it will threaten all marriages.

I’m not sure how.

Kim and I didn’t look at our marriage and say, “I guess that means that we love each other less” or that “our vows must not be worth as much.”

“Man,” we didn’t think, “if other people who love each other can be married too - what’s the point of us staying married?”

Meanwhile, many of those telling us how marriage was threatened by gay marriage, were cheating on their spouses.

That, in my opinion, is a threat to the institution of marriage.

No one is coming for your marriage, your guns, or your hamburgers.


Starbucks started up in 1971.

How much do you think a cup of coffee was at Starbucks when they opened?

According to BBC’s Food Programme, 1971 was a big year for food. McDonald’s introduced the Quarter Pounder, portion sizes were increasing, supermarkets were innovating like never before and introducing more processed foods.

Oh, and according to the Food Programme, coffee at Starbucks was free because they didn’t sell cups of coffee - they offered samples to sell their beans.

My memory of dinners around that time might be fuzzy - but I remember we always started with a salad and the main course was a meat, a starch, and a vegetable.

I have a recollection that a lot of the vegetables were canned. The store brand was Heritage House. We had an electric can opener, dumped the beans into a pot, and heated them up on the stove top.

(You’re allowed to roll your eyes at me at this point and think, “OK, Boomer” - although only a boomer would use such a meme long after it’s gone out of fashion.)

The impact of meat

1971 was also the year that George Harrison organized the concert for Bangladesh to bring awareness to famine in Asia.

That same year, Frances Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet” was published.

Not only did it include vegetarian recipes, but it made the argument that if we stopped eating meat and instead embraced a plant-based diet we could eliminate hunger in the world.

It’s an amazing year of contrasts. Meanwhile Hamburger Helper was introduced for people who didn’t want to give up meat to help stretch it a bit farther.

Food prices were increasing. Even people not giving meat up were cutting back on portions and increasing the “sides” in their meals.

The increased prices led to Sweden introducing the first food pyramid in 1974 which was the same year that the first edition of the Moosewood Cookbook was published.


I’ve been thinking about that lately as I’ve been cutting back on meat.

I’m not vegan.

I’m not even vegetarian.

But I am trying to move in that direction.

No one is coming for your hamburger.

I will grill a hamburger or two this summer. But it’s not at the center of my meal every day.

One thing that’s different now than fifty years ago is that we’ve learned so much about cooking vegetables.

I just can’t sign up for a cuisine where taboule and cous-cous were required eating.

But I’m loving experimenting with spices and techniques from around the world. Instead of making non-meat versions of meat recipes, I’ve been buying way too many cookbooks and cooking dishes from other cultures that are built around vegetables.

I made Grace Young’s Kung Pao Chicken recipe. It actually didn’t have that much chicken in it. So I swapped out the chicken for mushrooms and didn’t miss the chicken.

Our farmer’s market has a couple who sell mushrooms, so I often buy their oyster mushrooms.

This week I took a recipe for beef bulgogi and made it with mushrooms instead. I have to say I hardly noticed the difference.


I’m not saying you have to do this. I’m just saying, I’m enjoying this journey.

I live in an area where you’ll often see an oversized SUV with just one person in it.

When past administrations talked about emission standards and goal for increasing gas mileage, a local radio host got on the air indignantly and said, “no one’s gonna tell me I can’t get in a Hummer if I want to and drive to the store for a six-pack.”

That’s true.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that no one is going to tell an anti-vaxxer-who-refuses-to-wear-a-mask anything.

No one is coming for your SUV, your freedom, your guns, or your marriage.

And no one is coming for your hamburger.

Unless it smells really good and I feel like having one.

I may come by and ask you nicely.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 59. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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