The Basement Files: Edible pretentiousness


From time to time I have been known to be a bit pretentious about things. I listen to so-called pretentious music, I correct people’s spelling mistakes on Facebook, and I cringe every time someone pronounces the “t” in often. When it comes to food however, I’m quite the opposite, and often (silent “t”) find myself at odds with “foodies” who espouse their utopian culinary ideals on the general public.

Just because the cheese comes from a can doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty, just ask anyone who likes a traditional Philly cheese-steak. And I don’t care who you are, at some point in time you are going to eat fast food, and you are going to like it, no matter how much you don’t want to admit it. Sure, it may be the whole “pot calling the kettle … whatever” thing, but when people get pretentious over food, it kind of irritates me. Most of the time it’s relegated to a petty “squab-ble” here or there, but this past week took the cake when I came across a duo of news-bites that I found unable to digest. Ok, enough food puns and let’s take a look at what’s been shoved down my gullet this past week.

The “Parma” Initiative

When it comes to food pretentiousness, one’s mind usually thinks of the Europeans. What did they do this time you ask? Well, the European Union, you see, seems to think that the hard cheese you buy in that big green cylinder that you shake on pasta and pizza and such shouldn’t be called “Parmesan,” because it’s not made in Parma, Italy. Asinine I say. They tried this chicanery once before with “sparkling wine,” saying that it can only be called “champagne” if it’s made in “Champagne, France.” Tough, if it’s bubbly and alcoholic, and made in the exact same manner, people don’t give a rip where it’s made, its champagne, and the same goes for bourbon whisky (which is only “bourbon” if it’s made in the U.S. and with strict guidelines) and the same will go for Parmesan. Now, while they won’t say “exactly” why they want to do this with the U.S., like they have done with Canada in a recent trade agreement, European Commission spokesman Roger Waite only replied that it “is an important issue for the E.U.” Since no real answer was given, one must begin to speculate, and speculate I shall.

My guess, is that “authentic” European cheeses are not selling as well as their mass-produced, and identical-tasting American-made (or Canadian-made, or non-European-made) counterparts. I hope the U.S. doesn’t capitulate to such a ridiculous request, but if it does, I suggest we just call ours “Better-Than-Parmesan” cheese, because sales numbers don’t lie folks.

A missing ‘link’

This little factoid came at me out of the blue this week, but apparently, there are people out there that absolutely hate that people are putting ketchup on hot dogs. I know this must conjure up that scene in “Sudden Impact” of Dirty Harry saying that you “never put ketchup on a hot dog,” but I never realized it was an actual “thing” until just recently. Apparently it’s a big no-no in Chicago, but coming from a city that can’t even get pizza right, I wouldn’t take them seriously when it comes to anything culinary. However, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council in Washington, D.C., agrees. Yes, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council … I can’t believe one exists either, but they do, and you can visit them at if you don’t believe me. According to them, you shouldn’t put ketchup on a dog if you are over the age of 18. They even have an entire “etiquette” sheet, complete with video accompaniment. It’s insane, about as insane as telling someone what they can, or can’t, have on a hot dog.

I couldn’t wrap my head around why this is an issue at all, so I had to investigate further. I mean, if you thought cheese-whiz tasted good in your coffee, who am I to tell you to stop? So, I poked around some foodie message boards and got some “answers.”

The most common response was that ketchup contained sugar, so it was “sweet,” and that killed the taste of the hot dog. However, using the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s (still not joking) own guidelines, “relish” is acceptable. Yes, relish … shredded pickle slices that have been soaked in brine, most of which contain sugar! Relish will kill flavor faster than ketchup will any day of the week. So why is one fine and the other frowned upon? Well, National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, what say you? I say, top the dog with whatever you dang well please — it’s a hot dog for crying out loud, and you know what, it goes dang good with ketchup … or catsup, whatever you prefer.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.