Recombinant Cuisine

Sheila Kennedy’s recent blog post about the demise of the Twinkie being primarily a function of changing snack food preferences and increased awareness of health consequences brought to mind a favorite passage from Neal Stephenson’s “Reamde”:

Having now lived for a few decades in parts of the United States and Canada where cooking was treated quite seriously, and having actually employed professional chefs, he was fascinated by the midwestern/middle American phenomenon of recombinant cuisine. Rice Krispie Treats being a prototypical example in that they were made by repurposing other foods that had already been prepared (to wit, breakfast cereal and marshmallows). And of course any recipe that called for a can of cream of mushroom soup fell into the same category. The unifying principle behind all recombinant cuisine seemed to be indifference, if not outright hostility, to the use of anything that a coastal foodie would define as an ingredient.

The food-as-culture-war thing has been popping up in various ways recently. Papa Johns and Chik-Fil-A are rallying points to culture warriors who seek to thwart the menace of liberalism. That they pick these places while fighting against universalizing access to health care is especially notable. It’s as if they are demanding, even relishing, the right to go from fat to sick to bankrupt. This is somewhat reminiscent of the climate change deniers who demand that FEMA be defunded.

As for the Twinkies, if you can’t make money selling Americans tubes of processed cream filling, what hope is there for any venture, really?


  1. gizmomathboy says

    Which have less calories and fat than a Starbucks latte of some type (Pumpkin Holiday Spice?).

    As own commentary noted, Hostess wasn’t innovating. Like a Ben and Jerry flavor, or some other weird things (I can’t recall them all).

    Then again, I haven’t eaten one in like 7 years. Too much sugar for my diet and hard to justify even as a guilty treat.

  2. PeterW says

    I know this is not really the point, but Stephenson’s gratuitous slam against the Midwest/Middle America is as pointless as it is wrong. There really are no “parts of the country” where food is taken much more seriously than other parts: you would have to be living in a bubble to think that no one on the coast makes rice krispy treats or uses cream of mushroom soup in recipes. Or to think that foodies are limited to the coasts, for that matter.

  3. says

    I guess what gets me is when a desire to eat crap is made a badge of pride. Similar to when not knowing stuff is turned into a sneering disapproval of “intellectuals” or “elitism.”

    • John M says

      As opposed to sneering contempt for an entire swath of the country based upon…Rice Crispie Treats? Sorry, coasts, I was only inadvertently flipping you the bird when I had one last week.

  4. says

    This has been bugging me for days. First, I’ve found it a useful maxim around the kitchen to never take the advice of anyone who says “foodie”.

    The assumption of culinary (and dietary) superiority based on having a magazine editor’s sense of the trendy is unwarranted. Cuisine is a lifelong study. A workable familiarity with wine requires years. Scratch a hundred American “foodies” (please) and see if you find one who can tell you anything about French cuisine. And that one bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking after seeing Julie & Julia. Hell, three-quarters of the “chefs” on the Food Network don’t know how to hold a knife.

    “Recombinant cuisine”? Please. The American food explosion of the 70s was just a largely unlettered appropriation of the French nouvelle cuisine of fifteen years earlier. And what th’ hell is Fusion but Rice Krispies treats for the well-off? It is now possible, because popular, to style oneself a lover of opera without being able to read music or Italian and, what’s worse, to sneer at folksong just to make yourself feel like more of an expert.

    Twinkies are, or were, spongecake with cream filling. What’s abominable about that is (was) their mass-produced awfulness, not its lack of cachet with food hipsters. The only thing wrong with a busy parent reaching for the Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom in order to feed a brood is the lethal sodium content. I’ve gotten a big kick out of people saying that Hostess’ business died because the love of sugary crap is passé. Is Coca-Cola™ next? How can anyone walk through a grocery store and say something like that?

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