Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since you guys appear to watch a ton of television and cinema, and there’s near-ubiquitous product placement in both, I imagine you all have been exposed to a great deal of subliminal advertising. Do the A.V. Club staffers ever crave certain foods after watching a particular movie or television show? The question comes to mind because after watching 2007’s Zodiac, I ordered a BLT and bought animal crackers every chance I could for about a month. —H
I can be succinct in part because anyone who knows the show knows exactly why: Twin Peaks. Cherry pie. (And, to a lesser extent, doughnuts, maple syrup, and ham.)
As weird as this is, I can’t watch Akira Kurosawa films or domestic-story anime without craving white rice, which is a food I can take or leave at most other times. I blame The Seven Samurai, where the desperately poor villagers pay their protectors in rice, which is presented as the most amazing food ever, the height of luxury for the poor. The sequence where the mercenaries actually get and eat their rice strikes me as more food-porny than anything in, say, Like Water For Chocolate. I haven’t watched much anime over the past few years, but practically any movie or series that isn’t science-fiction or expressly about bad-asses killing monsters will at some point have a sequence focused on food preparation, awesome little bento boxes, and the intense pleasures of simple rice balls. At this point, I’ve been programmed to the point where just the sight of an animated Japanese character in a kitchen makes me want a rice ball wrapped in seaweed. Tampopo had the same effect on me, actually… it’s the only movie I’ve ever seen that made ramen look like a sensuous, sybaritic experience, and I think everyone I came out of that film with wound up really wanting some decent Japanese ramen.
Oh, H, if you only knew. In spite of my longstanding hatred of advertising, I am incredibly susceptible to any mention of food in televisual entertainment, which is a big part of why I currently weigh one hundred thousand million billion pounds. It doesn’t have to be good food (Fargo makes me want to eat Arby’s) and it doesn’t have to be good entertainment (catching a rerun of That ’70s Show in syndication immediately makes me crave Fruity Pebbles and Coke in bottles). There’s just something about the combination of being hungry and being entertained that makes me highly suggestible, even at the risk of my reputation or my life; I once brought four fried chickens and a Coke to a work-sponsored pot luck because I’d watched The Blues Brothers the night before, and in the right mood, I, like Wee-Bey on The Wire, would probably cop to several murders I didn’t commit in exchange for a good pit beef sammy with extra horseradish. But the movie that gets me the most in this regard? Any viewing of The Godfather—and I try to watch it at least once a year—gets me in the mood for a big-ass authentic Italian meal. Having seen Coppola’s masterpiece at least two dozen times in my life has ensured that, while I may not have Pete Clemenza’s criminal skills, I at least will end up with his waistline.
My girlfriend and I have been binging on The Big Bang Theory DVDs lately, and watching that gaggle of geeks sit around Leonard’s and Sheldon’s coffee table and wolf down Asian food every other episode has really started to get to me. Not that I usually need much prompting or pretext to pick up the phone and order some pad thai—but sometimes the characters will actually be describing their dishes and scrambling for the last dumpling, which really drives home in mouthwatering detail just how much I love Thai food and wish I were eating it at every meal, even at the risk of mitotic reproduction à la Sheldon. So far, though, this TV binge hasn’t made me want to run out and dine at The Cheesecake Factory, the place of employ of The Big Bang Theory’s female lead, Penny. And since I don’t want to sound like the show’s slimy, would-be Casanova, Howard Wolowitz, I’ll leave that far-too-tempting cheesecake double entendre untouched.
Sorry, just don’t have an answer to this one. Asian movies make me crave dumplings and Goodfellas makes me crave meatballs, but that ground’s already been covered. I guess you could put me down for “ditto.”
I am unnaturally obsessed with food (I start thinking about lunch the second I finish breakfast), so I try to avoid the Food Channel and anything like that, because I don’t need additional cravings. But most recently the food scene that stuck in my head for how much it made me want to track down the recipe, execute it as shown, and eat it right away was, maybe not surprisingly, in Julie & Julia. However, it wasn’t one of Julia Child’s dishes that had me salivating. Early in the movie, Amy Adams’ character Julie Powell makes a little off-the-cuff dish of oily grilled bread covered with what looks like fresh sautéed tomatoes and/or peppers. It looked so simple, beautiful, healthy, and unhealthy at the same time. I tracked down a similar-looking recipe and tried it and it was delish, but a pain in the butt to make. This is why I can’t watch food on TV.
I feel like this is an obvious answer, but hey, it’s true: I rediscovered white russians after The Big Lebowski, a pretty common phenomenon among people who enjoy the film. White russians help The Dude abide, and goddammit, that’s good enough for me. (If only someone would start some kind of fest that celebrates that movie.) I’m a picky drinker, in part because of stomach ailments and in part because I want booze to taste good, and the white russian is pretty much the perfect cocktail for me in that regard. Watching The Big Lebowski, the urge to drink one is overwhelming; I suspect the White Russian Advocacy Council secretly funded that movie. They do good work, if so.
I’m a big fan of the public TV show Check Please, which sends three “ordinary people” out to three restaurants in Chicago (each picks one), and then they come on TV and describe their meals. When they end up at good places, it’s food porn of the highest order, with penetration-style close-ups on pork chops and desserts. Even if a restaurant doesn’t sound that great, the visuals make it all look delectable. Our own Nathan Rabin was even on the show a few years back, big-upping Fat Willy’s Rib Shack. Mmmm, ribs.
Do cigarettes count? I’ve never been a huge smoker, probably because I didn’t start ’til I went away to college, and even at my most committed, I’ll only have a couple of cigarettes a night. Unless I’ve been drinking, of course. Anyway, even with my limited exposure, I’m not stupid enough to think this is a healthy thing, so I keep trying to quit. Word of advice: If you’re trying to quit smoking, make sure to avoid every movie made before, oh, 1970? Noir is the worst. Cigarettes are extensions of character, the smoke itself is part of the composite beauty of each shot, and there’s no coughing or shortness of breath or yellowing teeth to dissuade me from lighting up. Watching Humphrey Bogart rolling up his own coffin nail in The Maltese Falcon, and my logic, reason, and intermittent asthma no longer seem so important. It’s stupid, sure, but nobody ever said stupid was uncool.
My wife and I will often eat meals while watching TV shows, which sometimes results in some weird cravings that have nothing to do with the shows we’re watching. For instance, we were on a big Dallas kick a few years ago, and the first couple of times we watched it, we just happened to be eating scrambled eggs and bacon. Because we liked the show—at least up through season three, which culminates with J.R. getting shot—we also came to associate scrambled eggs and bacon with the experience of watching Dallas, and ended up eating this meal a bunch more times. Thankfully, we eventually fell out of our daily Dallas viewings, or we’d be dead by now. A similar thing happened with Mad Men—when we rented the first season, we watched the first couple of episodes while munching on ham and cheese rolls. After that, we had to eat ham and cheese rolls (which we soon re-christened “Draper Rolls”) while watching Mad Men. Other “only in my house” food-TV combinations include fajitas with Battlestar Galactica and chili with Curb Your Enthusiasm. Clearly, my wife and I have great taste in TV, and questionable taste in food.
Not that I ever need an excuse to eat pie (sorry, Paul F. Tompkins, but it’s clearly the superior dessert), but recapping Pushing Daisies every week for TV Club gave me a damn good justification. I don’t think there’s been a non-Food Network show with more blatant gastroporn in the history of television, and while I never managed to come up with anything as delicious-sounding as Ned’s pear pie with gruyere crust, Pushing Daisies always provided me with a good-enough reason to pick up a slice (or entire pie) to enjoy while watching. Alas, Pushing Daisies is gone, but I just found this recipe for pear-gruyere pie, so maybe it’s time for a little culinary homage.
As much as I enjoy food (both preparing it and eating it), film and TV hold very little sway over my culinary choices. I’m far more susceptible to lengthy descriptions of food items in prose. (Michael Pollan’s descriptions of the products grown on sustainable farms in The Omnivore’s Dilemma almost made me quit my job to become a sustainable farmer, y’know, for shits and giggles.) The one time I can recall really being overwhelmed by the desire to eat something in particular was after seeing the episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” on The X-Files. There’s a segment of that episode where Mulder eats an entire sweet-potato pie in a little rundown diner, quizzing the owner about alien abductions. I so wanted to try sweet-potato pie (which I’d never had) after that. So I finally ordered a piece at some restaurant and ended up hating it. Lesson learned, I guess.
The entire “Ron & Tammy” episode of Parks And Recreation made me hungry for late breakfast, but this short scene sealed the deal:
Whenever I watch The Jerk, I have an overwhelming urge to eat pizza out of a cup. But then “2 Girls, 1 Cup” had to come along and ruin cups for me. Now I eat my pizza from a martini glass, which is way classier.