Latest Parade Magazine begs question: has eating replaced buying stuff as the way to celebrate in America

Most of us have heard of twice baked potatoes and those who frequent Chinese restaurants often see twice cooked pork on the menu.  And home brewers sometime pride themselves on their twice fermented beer.

But today’s Parade Magazine one-ups all double-cooking by presenting a menu of delights that has been homogenized not once, not twice, but three times.  Let’s call it thrice-homogenized cuisine.

The basic starting ingredient in Parade’s recipe is Memorial Day.

In the past, Parade has often had special articles, sections and whole issues dedicated to Memorial Day. Today there was not a trace of the holiday, originally meant to honor the members of the United States armed forces who fell while fighting in the Civil War and long ago expanded to include American soldiers who died in any war (which thankfully leaves out the immoral traitors of the Confederacy who fought for slavery and against their own country).

What Parade did feature for its Memorial Day issue, on both its cover and the main story covering 3.33 of the 12 pages that did not have full-page ads, was an article about 12 foods they called “All-American classics.”

The largest of the several cover headlines gives a hint to how Parade’s editors cooked up the notion of an issue essentially dedicated to American food classics.  The headline reads: CELEBRATE SUMMER FOODS!

The jump from Memorial Day to American food classics “Celebrate Summer Foods” is a simple matter of homogenizing three times. Each homogenization involves the reduction of a complex experience to a single attribute shared with other experiences:

  1. Memorial Day is homogenized until it becomes not a holiday to honor fallen soldiers, but the beginning of summer.
  2. Summer activities homogenize into eating summer foods.
  3. Summer foods homogenize into American food classics.

Thus, Memorial Day serves as the unspoken rationale for an article that tells us the origin of and one great place to buy 12 food products that all originate in the United States.

Parade arranges its menu of American classics into four categories, as follows:

  • Crispy: Corn dogs, fried clams, granola, cob salad (iceberg lettuce topped with lots meat, eggs and a creamy dressing)
  • Creamy: Ice cream cones, California dip (dry soup mix stirred into sour cream), whoopee pie (two circles of chocolate cake with vanilla cream in between)
  • Chewy: Hamburgers, chili dogs, saltwater taffy
  • Cheesy: Muffulettas (New Orleans cold cut sandwich), chimichangas (deep fried fritters).

As usual, Parade scraps any pretense of healthy eating from the start. The only real vegetables are the crudities you bathe with dip and use to line the iceberg lettuce. The only real fruit is the dried stuff you mix into the high-calorie granola.  Parade could have provided balance and supported the movement for better nutrition by substituting many healthier American dishes such as fruit or sweet potato pie, green bean casserole, collard greens, baked beans, clam chowder and pot roast with root vegetables.  I have saved for its own sentence the quintessentially healthy American dish, one that other than hamburgers and hotdogs symbolizes Memorial Day/summer picnics: corn on the cob!

Parade is probably the most widely-read publication in the United States by virtue of being a freebee found among the coupon offers and advertising circulars of most Sunday newspapers.  The Parade website has no reference to Memorial Day except for an article by Martha Stewart on her favorite Memorial Day recipes and another giving 20 recipes for a Memorial Day cookout. Looks to me that as far as Parade is concerned, all its readers want for Memorial Day is a good home-cooked meal.

Since beginning OpEdge almost three years ago, I have written often about the commoditization of all emotions and human interactions in contemporary America. To express anything, we buy.

I’m wondering now if food consumption—eating something—has replaced the economic consumption represented by buying something as the central way to express oneself, at least in groups.  Today’s Parade made me realize that we now reduce Memorial Day to a barbecue; that’s pretty much what July 4 is, too. My Mother’s Day blog built a case that the primary means to celebrate Mother’s Day is to bring her breakfast in bed (with a nice restaurant meal a close second). We’ve always had Thanksgiving and the candy elements of Valentine’s Day and Halloween.  A few years back, the news media reported on the trend of every childhood activity, even a simple practice, to be accompanied by a snack.  Do we see reality reflected in situation comedies, in which a lot more of the action takes place over food nowadays? Compare “Big Bang Theory” and “2.5 Men” to “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” (or even to “Seinfeld” and its dependence on a local restaurant booth as a regular set.)  In the contemporary sit coms I cited, the actors spend much more time chowing down than in older sit coms.

At the end of the day Parade’s triple homogenization is based on the double consumption of raising food to the primary expression of celebration: you have to buy it to eat it, which means you are consuming twice, once as an economic entity and once as a celebrator.

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