19 July 1996

Into the flesh

DID NATURE EVER INTEND FOR MEAT to be described as "Smooth 'n Creamy™?" That thought popped into my pointy head when I first laid eyes on my chum Rand's spread of the most refined of viands, the chateaubriands of retail carnivore offerings. Let the ladies come and go, speaking of Spam in Korean-language packaging, of fire-engine red cans of Greek cow loaf, of a categorical cornucopia of Pork Brains in Milk Gravy, none with less that all-important 1,100% Minimum Daily Requirement of cholesterol. He's amassed just under a hundred cans of shredded, reduced, processed and refined meat, all carefully stacked and arrayed in a simple shrine in the foyer at the top of an East Village stairway, and after popping most of a case of Busch, it's pretty damn giggle-inspiring.

Atop my own refrigerator, only a few choice items snuggle alongside the Finnish Leningrad Cowboy Cerveza and the Mah Ling Bran Dough (not, as it might appear, named after the rotund acting legend)—the microwave pork rinds from Florida, the Poke Salet Greens from Kentucky. I've tried to nurture the fixation on all the countries of the world from which we import tinned animal flesh—Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria—yet no matter how much I hear about the deification of "the meat," it hasn't taken. But Rand, like a handful of otherwise sane friends, has developed an almost morbid enchantment with foodstuffs whose labels hold no mystery, offering more detail than even the greatest devotee of sweetbreads and organ meats should desire. Make a minor study of the label of Brian's Potted Meat, which proclaims it as "The Flavor of The South™" Tasty "Beef tripe." "Pork stomachs." Sure, pig tripe. "Chicken." Don't ask what parts. "Partially defatted beef fatty tissue." In-a-gadda-da-vida, baby. "Pork fat." "Beef hearts." It just keeps coming. Before you swill into your ale, there are still several ingredients before arriving "Extractives of Paprika." They're so cheap they won't even let poor paprika be.

So why the fascination? Why the fetish? And if this is a shrine, what the hell are you praying for? "It makes me happy" is the most profound explanation my friend ever offered for harvesting unappetizers like these. No one's intending to wake up hungry iin the middle of the night and put a wedge of trailer-park pate between a pair of stale saltines. Atop my refrigerator, the canned meats are strictly for votive purposes. Then again, when the cockroaches take over the earth, I can rest secure knowing they'll have something to munch on besides my bones.

[Originally published in Newcity, 19 July 1996]