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Friday Fits – Zagat, Fresh Ham & Bosco

September 5, 2014

Let’s try something new.

Did you know I keep a running list of topics I want to write about for the FLB? Some of these tackle larger issues and need to be addressed with a structured series of posts over time. Others are so trivial, that they can’t possibly justify a post of their own.

So instead of just letting those minor complaints sit around and fester, I thought it might be a bit more constructive to periodically share a few of them. I think it’s going to feel good to get these off my chest.

Do you remember that post a while back about how caloric restaurant food has become? Well in the original report from CSPI they found the following quotation printed on a Red Robin menu, “We are the burger authority, Zagat surveyors agree”.

Zagat? I know I’m probably late to the wake for these once indispensable culinary resource guides. But based on the menu quotation, it is painfully obvious that the Zagat I knew and loved is dead. Once the prized bible of business diners, it’s now a hamburger handbook (and a bad one at that). I first knew something was amiss when I glanced at a copy of the guide a few years ago and saw Cheesecake Factory with a surprisingly high score.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

The internet has destroyed a lot of things. So along with book stores, road atlases, newspapers, and television, we now have to include Zagat guides as well. Farwell you things of the past. We’ll remember you fondly for those days when you were good, and try to forget those ugly days at the end as you were clutching for relevance and survival.

Thankfully ham has remained unscathed by modern information technology. Actually, one could argue that in recent years with the rise in small, independent charcuterie, local/sustainable/organic meats, nose-to-tail eating, and the farm-to-table ethos, that ham is better now than it has ever been.

Usually when most people talk about ham, they are referring to the cured stuff. Technically, ham is just a part of the pig – the upper part of the leg, to be precise. If the meat you are eating is pink (like bologna pink and not medium rare pink) it has been cured. Yes, it can get a bit confusing sometimes because some misleading natural foods brands will try to convince you their meats are uncured just because they’re processed with celery juic and sea salt. Now that’s baloney.

Fresh ham is just cooked pork leg meat. If it’s pink at all, the only reason is that it has been cooked to 145 degrees and not to the point where it’s completely gray.

Most likely you won’t find “fresh ham” on a deli sandwich with cheese. But that’s what I encountered on a menu recently. What they are likely selling is freshly sliced ham, or cured ham that hasn’t reached its expiration date and gone slimey.

And don’t tell me that a place which serves cured ham, uses only meat without any preservatives. Regardless the source of the nitrates, no meat is that tell-tale shade of pink without them.

Man, the semantics of ham work me up. For that matter so do school lunch menus.

It’s been months since I’ve looked at one of these things, and the truth is that they look awfully similar regardless of if you’re in Princeton, NJ or Albany, NY. Maybe because they are all managed by the giant food service company. But looking at the current menu I was stymied when I came across something called a Bosco Stick. Naturally, I looked it up.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

Actually, maybe the original Bosco Stick isn’t so bad. It’s mostly cheese wrapped up in dough. The manufacturer includes frying instructions, and I bet when fried these are mighty tasty. But I’m pretty sure kids don’t need any more clever bland-cheese and refined flour delivery devices. Serving industrially produced crap like this with more vegetables on the side just means more vegetables on the side that get tossed into the trash (or never taken from the line in the first place).

And given the state of the vegetables in the cafeteria, I can’t say that I blame the kids for leaving them behind. Frankly, I can barely get my kids to eat vegetables when they are well prepared and delicious.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that it’s not this.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2014 10:01 am

    I can’t understand why anybody has paid any attention to Zagat since the Internet arrived. It’s nothing more than a crowd-sourced website, without the website and curated down to snippets. Yelp, with all its faults, as far better.

  2. September 5, 2014 10:05 am

    And what exactly your problem with “fresh ham”? Did you actually taste the meat in the deli sandwich and find it slimy, or are you just objecting out of fussiness? Fresh ham is a perfectly legitimate descriptor for the pork leg, as you admit elsewhere in your rant. I just bought some fresh ham at Price Chopper and made some delicious spiedies. There’s still a few chunks in the fridge if you want to stop by.

  3. September 5, 2014 10:18 am

    I haven’t thought of Zagat in years, but then, I didn’t take it all that seriously back in the day either.

    My kids (12 & 13) still go to school with packed lunches. Mostly they pack them for themselves and I facilitate that by having a lot of easy to pack healthy food in the house.
    The school lunch menus are abysmal but at least Saratoga offers a salad bar to their middle and high school students.

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