Shut Up and Eat Your Gluten

10 July 2014

When I was in college way back in the early aughts, I worked as a prep cook in a restaurant kitchen. It was hard work and the pay sucked, but I learned a lot about cooking and got to practice my Spanish with the rest of the staff, who hailed primarily from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. In the process I learned a lot about the rich and vibrant Central American culture, which turns out to be centered around three core elements:

  • talking about dicks
  • creating models of dicks out of food
  • calling one another gay

Needless to say, I fit right in.

One day a customer came into the kitchen and handed out a few laminated business cards explaining that she had Celiac Disease and could not eat anything containing gluten. At the time I had never even heard of gluten, and years went by before I heard the word again. Then I started seeing food products labeled “gluten-free” on supermarket shelves; I remember feeling surprised that a condition as rare as Celiac Disease could generate a sufficient market for gluten-free foods.

As time went on and these foods continued to proliferate, I realized that Celiac disease could not possibly be driving such a sweeping trend, and I started hearing about the supposed harmfulness of gluten. It made no sense to me, considering that gluten-based foods have been staples of virtually every human civilization, and I figured it was just another fad that would never gain traction outside of the Bay Area (world capital of made-up problems), where it would eventually fizzle out.

A decade and three time zones hence, the gluten-free craze is stronger than ever; there’s even gluten-free beer, for fuck’s sake. I’ve met people here in blue-collar Pittsburgh who swear that giving up gluten made them lose weight, feel better, and shit bricks of solid gold. Naturally, I remained skeptical – until I tried it!

Just kidding, of course I didn’t try it; I’d rather felch a drifter on TV than give up pizza. But I did suspend my disbelief a tiny bit, figuring that if so many people found a gluten-free diet beneficial, there just might be something to it.

Well, science has finally weighed in, and – surprise, surprise – it’s total bullshit. Count it! The gluten-free phenomenon strikes me as very similar to the so-called “paleo” diet in that both are based on pseudoscience and a fundamental misunderstanding of human evolution. This is not to say that these diets are not healthful, but whatever benefits their adherents claim to derive from them are either psychosomatic or simply the product of paying more attention to diet and eating fewer processed foods. When will people learn that eating right does not have to be complicated?

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Stop Consuming These Things

3 November 2010
  1. American Cheese Undisputed champion of disgusting foods, this putrid, sweaty, dog vomitesque substance is a testament to American poor taste.  To call this abomination “cheese” is not only an insult to perhaps the finest food known to man, but also an inaccuracy: it’s not cheese at all, but a heavily processed amalgamation of milk solids, whey, food coloring, and preservatives.  That’s why it’s labeled “pasteurized process cheese food”; I assume “food” is necessary to indicate that one can consume it, inadvisable though that may be.  Why does this stuff even exist?  There’s no shortage of real cheese; in fact, you can buy a 1 lb. block of store brand cheddar for about the same price as an equivalent amount of American.  If you eat this shit, you are a cretin with poor taste. On the bright side, American cheese was the basis for one of my favorite Simpsons moments (from the good old days, of course).
  2. Cool Whip

    As with American cheese, I cannot fathom why this product exists.  Real whipped cream is awesome, and you can buy a can for about $2.50 or make it yourself for even less.  Why would anyone choose to purchase a tub of chemicals that looks and tastes like something you’d use to shine your dashboard?  And please don’t tell me that it’s because some people are lactose intolerant.  Reptiles and birds are lactose intolerant; mammals, by definition, are lactose tolerant.  Like the sudden prevalence of peanut allergies, lactose intolerance is a symptom of our spoiled, pussified society.  As Chris Rock said, “you think anyone in Rwanda is lactose intolerant?”
  3. Tater Tots
    People often debate the relative merits of various types of fries; I love them all.  Shoestring, curly, wedge, waffle, whatever – there’s not much better than a well fried bit of potato, dusted with salt and dipped in 2 parts mayonnaise and 1 part ketchup.  I’ve got a boner right now just thinking about it.  Tater tots, however, are the retarded stepchild of the french fry family.  According to Wikipedia

    “Tater Tots were first created in 1953 when Ore-Ida founders F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg were trying to figure out what to do with left over slivers of cut up potatoes. They came up with the novel idea of chopping up the potato slivers, adding flour and seasoning, then pushing the mash through holes and slicing off pieces of what came out on the other side. Tater Tots were born.”

    So, tater tots are made from pressed potato sweepings; eating them is one step away from eating compost.  Whenever I talk shit about tater tots, somebody always rushes to their defense, in some cases making the absurd claim that tots are actually superior to fries.  To these unfortunate souls whose palates never progressed past 2nd grade, I argue as follows: do you like steak?  Yes?  Well, how about I take a steak, put it in a blender, then glue the resulting shreds together with some sort of food-grade glue?  I rest my case.

  4. Skim Milk
    It’s both amusing and depressing that America is a nation of lardasses despite our obsession with diet in general and fat in particular.  Skim milk is a great example of this pointless and futile obsession.  A cup of skim milk has 66 fewer calories and 8g less fat than a  cup of whole milk; on the other hand, it tastes like ass.  Is this a worthwhile trade-off?  I submit that it is not.  First of all, fat does not make you fat – calories do.  66 calories is not nothing, but unless you’re chugging glass after glass, it’s not a lot, either.  If you do drink a lot of milk, low fat (2% or 1%) tastes decent and has fewer calories.  What really pisses me off is people who order their coffee drinks with skim milk.  Way to save 2 calories there, fatty; you’ll be slim in no time!  In the meantime, enjoy your shitty pseudo-cappuccino.
  5. Partially Hydrogenated OilThis one is not on the list for its taste, which is actually pretty good, but for its deleterious effects on health and the fact that it has largely displaced the wonderful food that is lard.  Lard’s subtle flavor and inimitable texture make it a valuable ingredient, especially for baked goods; nothing beats a pie crust made with plenty of lard.  And it’s really not that bad for you; it has less saturated fat than butter, and in my experience less is needed.  At some point, though, lard became demonized as a health menace.  I’m not sure why; maybe because it comes from pigs, and pigs are fat, or maybe because it has a lot of cholesterol, even though there is no conclusive evidence linking dietary cholesterol to cholesterol in the blood.  In any event, partially hydrogenated oil (e.g. Crisco) became the recommended “healthy” alternative to lard.  Only recently, however, did we discover that the stuff is basically poison: it raises bad cholesterol levels while lowering good ones and there is ample evidence linking it to heart disease and obesity.  There is even some research suggesting that it can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Oops!  The lesson here is never to doubt the glorious pig, giver of bacon, sausage, ribs, and yes, lard.

    Now that's good eatin'!

  6. Macro Beer
    To all the frat boys drinking Miller Lite and the hipsters drinking PBR who crowd good beer bars: FUCK YOU.  Go drink your swill at some shithole that doesn’t have Stone on tap.  Feel free to call me a snob, for on this matter my snobbery is fully justified; there is absolutely no good reason to drink cheap macro beer.  First of all, it tastes like nothing at best and urine at worst; I can down a few bottles of Hopslam and fill your glass with something better than Corona.  But it’s cheap, you say?  Well, allow me to retort.  If you’re just out to get drunk and cost is your only concern, then liquor offers far more alcohol for the buck and doesn’t require consuming liter upon liter of 4% ABV bathwater in order to catch a buzz.  Furthermore, though more expensive, good craft beer often packs considerably more punch, mitigating the price discrepancy.  For example, my local beer store sells a case of Bud Light for $15; at 4.2% ABV, that works out to $1.24 per ounce of alcohol.  The same store also sells the fantastic Founder’s Dirty Bastard for $39/case; at 8.5% ABV, that works out to $1.59 per ounce of alcohol.  When you look at it this way, cheap beer doesn’t seem like such a great value. 

    Honorable mentions: non-dairy creamer, Wonder bread.  Suggest more in comments.


Happy Taliban Week

21 December 2008

This evening, millions of Jews will start celebrating Chanukkah.  Many people think that Chanukkah is a major holiday, but in fact it is one of the most minor on the Jewish calendar.  Why, then, is it so widely observed, especially by relatively secular Jews?  Jealousy.  The celebration of Chanukkah as we know it is mainly an American phenomenon; Jewish immigrants saw what great fun Christians had on Christmas (which is mostly a ripoff of pagan traditions, but that’s another story) and wanted in on the action, so they devised their own version.

There’s a common perception among non-Jews that Chanukkah is a sweet holiday, perhaps even better than Christmas: eight nights of presents, exotic food, and games of dreidel.  The fact is that Chanukkah doesn’t hold a candle to Christmas, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Sure, you get eight presents, but they’re usually cheap and lame; parents often use them as an excuse to give you things they were going to buy you anyway, like socks.  Whereas on Christmas you eat awesome food like ham and goose, on Chanukkah you eat Jewish cuisine, which is usually as unappetizing as it sounds.  Take gefilte fish, for example; I’d rather eat an aborted orangutan fetus.  Finally, dreidel has to be the shittiest game ever invented; it’s basically the equivalent of taking turns flipping a coin.

What the fuck?

What the fuck?

The most pathetic thing about Chanukkah, however, is the fact that few Jews even know what they’re celebrating.   The true story of Chanukkah (not the revisionist popular version) is that of a civil war that took place between Jews living under Syrian rule during the Hellenistic period.   On one side were those who had largely assimilated into Greek culture and adoped a modern, liberal value system.  On the other side were the Maccabees, a band of fundamentalists who took issue with the lifestyle of their brethren.  The Maccabees revolted and scored a victory by brutally murdering and forcibly converting their enemies.  Sound familiar?  It should; the Maccabees were basically the Taliban of their time.  Tonight, Jews across the world will unwittingly celebrate these violent, ignorant assholes.  What a disgrace.

But hey, at least it’s not completely made up.


I Wanted a Meal, Not a Math Problem

18 December 2008

Hola amigos.  I know I haven’t rapped at ya much recently, but I’ve been busy with finals and whatnot.  I’m all done for now, so I’ll be able to drop science on you more consistently.  Let’s get right to it: last Friday some classmates and I went out to a local tavern to celebrate the end of classes.  As soon as we had had our fill of wings and beer and merrymaking, we were collectively bitch-slapped back to reality by the bane of all American diners: the check.  There were eight of us, and we each had to spend several minutes scrutinizing the bill, trying to figure out what we had ordered and how much we needed to chip in.   Predictably, despite our best intentions and effort, our cash pile was well short.

Why does dining out require a Ph.D. in astrophysics?  Well, for starters, there’s the obnoxious institution of tipping.

Mr. Pink makes a good point: why does society deem waiting tables, and not other jobs, worthy of a substantial tip?  More importantly, how do employers get away with paying waiters and waitresses (side note: when and why did they become “servers?”  I refuse to use that term) far less than the minimum wage?  They should be salaried or paid a legal hourly wage just like all other employees, and service should be included in the price of the food.  No calculation required, and no conflict because people have different ideas of what constitutes an appropriate tip.  I anticipate objections to the effect that the consumer will lose power and get inferior service.  I claim that the consumer already has little choice in the matter, since tipping at least 15% is obligatory unless the service is particularly bad.  In such cases, a customer could complain to the management and have his bill reduced.  Besides, why do people consider it a right and a pleasure to lord over those whose job it is to serve them?

The tip is not the only hidden cost of dining out; there are also taxes to worry about.  Because tax is added after the subtotal, it’s difficult to know what fraction of the tax you owe.  To make matters worse, Pittsburgh levies an additional 10% tax on all alcohol purchases.  Why can’t tax simply be included?  I see no reason why merchants should be allowed to advertise a price that is lower than what you’ll actually have to pay.  This goes for all purchases, by the way, not just those made at restaurants.  How nice would it be to know exactly what you’ll owe before placing your order?  This would also have the advantage of simplifying transactions.  As it is now, when something is listed at $1.99 (does this gimmick really still fool anyone, by the way?  Just price it at $2, for fuck’s sake), it will actually cost $2.09 in a state with 5% sales tax.  Unless you happen to carry around lots of coins, you’ll get stuck with 91 cents in change.  This is not a mere inconvenience; making all this change represents a nontrivial cost to the economy (scroll down to the fourth section).

Lastly, there’s the fact that separate checks are not the default.  When a group of people dine together, why is it assumed that one person will pick up the check?  This is not the case most of the time, and the diners have to do the work of figuring out who had what, which can be difficult due to the cryptic nature of restaurant checks (“who had the Chx Frs x 2?”).  Making split checks the default would clear up this confusion and make everything go much more smoothly.  I suppose it would be a little bit more work to enter each customer separately, but waiters would also save time by having to explain the bill far less often.

There you have it: three simple suggestions that would make dining out a more pleasant experience for all parties.  Get on it, legislators.


Thanksgiving and our “Poor Theories of Other Minds”

28 November 2008

Thanksgiving is an awesome holiday, rivalling Halloween as the best day of the year.  It lacks the major downfalls of the other main holidays: it has no overt religious or military connections; it is never on a weekend, guaranteeing a few extra days off of work or school for most folks; there is no gift-giving required, and it has built-in feasting AND drinking, unlike, for example, New Years, when people drink plenty but often don’t focus enough on food.  And, invariably, something happens on Thanksgiving causing me to walk around for days as if I see reality in a new light.

There was admittedly a lot of build-up for this year’s revelation, and to be fair it isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this strange phenomenon.  It has, however, become unusually clear.  In the past few weeks I’ve heard it said of many a person (myself included), either explicitly or implicitly, that they have a “poor theory of other minds” (coined, I believe, by Mike) or that they have a very difficult time understanding what and how others think and see things.

For some reason, the small degree of overlap between different individuals’ thought processes is always especially clear on Thanksgiving.  This may be because we (or I, anyhow) tend to sit down to eat, for a fairly long period of time, with people with whom we do not usually take meals.  I find this to be true even when eating with my extended family, and because of this fact, I’m always uncomfortable at family holiday meals and tend to avoid them whenever possible.  This year, I became fixated for some reason on trying to get inside others’ heads, and found it to be entirely impossible.  It’s always difficult, but this time I found few leads to go off of, and less mental overlap, than at other times.  I would be willing to wager that most people who attempt this exercise will either fail outright or wrongly attribute their own thought-patterns and content to other people.

We have a lot of societal infrastructure that seems to function entirely based on people’s common faith in that infrastructure.  Currency, the postal service, celebration of invented holidays (e.g. Thanksgiving), banks, airports, table etiquette … everyone seems to agree on the workings of these things and trust them unquestioningly, understanding and accepting their rules and methods of functioning.  Some such institutions are shared almost world-wide – New Years, for example, is celebrated across the globe, and we can watch the calender turn over on television in major international cities where the people speak different languages and use different toilets from ours.  So clearly, there is some commonality in what occurs in peoples’ mental spaces.

Yet the possibility of so much overlap is difficult to grasp, especially when the sharp differences between peoples’ comprehension of reality is so apparent even within our own country.  The people who presumably share our trust in so much of everyday reality include those famous musicians who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those super-religious people who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those people immersed in [insert subculture here] who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those people who have different conceptions of etiquette and social norms who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those people who grew up in a different decade or socio-economic group or population density or region with mannerisms utterly incomprehensible to others.  There are just so many differences in thought content between individuals; the sharper the difference, the more we pay attention: think of Bob Dylan’s mental content vs. Sarah Palin’s.  But these differences exist between everyone to greater or lesser extent and with respect to different parts of our mental states.

Another example of an obvious thought-content difference: Beavis and Butthead vs. the viewers who laugh at them.  There is clearly minimal overlap between the thought-content and patterns of B&B and those of the average person.  There are probably very few people whose minds are actually comparable to that of Butthead, but I’m sure there are some.  Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that every group of people is as different from some other where some part of their mentality is concerned as Beavis and Butthead are from the average person with respect to nearly everything.  There’s a little Beavis in all of us.  How sweet.

This was amusing and only a little frightening until I thought a bit too much about the fact that a whole bunch of Beavises and Buttheads has put together governments, banks, parks, driving laws, holidays, gas lines and water pipes, jokes and traditions.  It seems a little tweaking of our minds and all of this would have been impossible.  How the hell did all of that happen?  How does it survive?  A less radical question:  How do Beavises and rappers and conservative religious folks and even those of us with less nameable differences manage to interact every day with so little difficulty?  The fringe-folk are actually pronounced crazy or imprisoned or merely ostracized, but there is a whole continuum of minds out there.

It has occurred to me that although most people probably wonder what others are thinking on a semi-regular basis, bringing it to full attention might make some uncomfortable.  This girl I used to work with told her boyfriend that I was studying psychology (people constantly confuse philosophy and psychology for some reason) and he said “watch out, she’s analyzing you crazy fuckers.”  If only I could.

It has been suggested that I write with more humour.  I’ve entertained (and frightened) myself, but as for making others laugh I have better success when it’s unintentional, probably for the reasons described above.

So, [insert dick joke here] (thanks, Dan).

Let me know if anyone else is as baffled as I am by the functioning of society.


On Parsimony

26 November 2008

While we’re on the subject of my parsimony, I’d like to share with our readers my unique approach to commerce.  You see, most cheapskates look to save themselves as much money as possible.  This approach, while natural and logical, has a flaw: it allows savvy merchants to exploit the consumer’s predictable and narrow focus on minimizing cost.  Let me illustrate with an example: suppose you go into a cafe and order the cheapest sandwich on the menu.  Knowing that the cheapest item will be ordered frequently, the cafe owner may have priced it such that it yields the highest profit margin on the menu.  You leave the restaurant happy that you saved a buck, unaware of the fact that you put money in the cafe owner’s pockets and settled for what was probably an inferior sandwich.

That’s why I approach transactions not with the intention of maximizing my expected value, but of minimizing that of the merchant.  In a zero-sum game, these approaches are one and the same; capitalism, however, is not zero-sum, so they can lead to very different decisions.  Take a buffet, for example: your typical consumer will eat a substantial but reasonable portion of food and walk away feeling satisfied.  How can he be satisfied, though, knowing that it is possible and indeed probable that the restaurant turned a profit on him?  When I go to a buffet,  I skip the previous meal or two and stuff myself to the point of intestinal distress.  My goal is at least to deny the restaurant a profit, and preferably to cost it money; in my view, temporary discomfort is a small price to pay for accomplishing this.

You're not making a dime off me.

You're not making a dime off me.

Another example of my strategy in action is pizza.  Most pizza places charge a flat rate for any topping.  Why should I pay $1 for onions or peppers, which cost the restaurant mere pennies?  I order toppings not based on which ones I like best, but on which cost the pizza parlor the most.  That these tend to overlap is purely coincidental; I’m acting with a higher purpose in mind than gratification of my taste buds.

I’ve employed this approach for years, and I’m a true believer in its efficacy.  Be warned, though: it is a highly advanced strategy that can easily backfire in less experienced hands.  Those just entering the wonderful world of frugality should stick with the standard approach, but if you’re a veteran cheapskate looking to take your game to the next level, give it a try.