Illustration by Randolph Caldecott.
You know how J. M. W. Turner tried to exhibit his work at the Royal Academy and the Royal Academy was all, Wow, your work is way too innovative and interesting and we can’t show it because it would threaten all our hidebound, bourgeois ideas and force us to reevaluate everything and make important societal changes? Yeah, well, I totally see their point. Once a year, anyway.
Because every November, all the food magazines and blogs start trying to bully us into to reinventing the wheel. Don’t be a fogey! they scream. What, you’re still eating turkey? HAHAHA. Well, if you insist on being a “traditionalist,” stuff that turkey with linguica and kale! Baste it with ramen! Douse it in pomegranate molasses! (All this is said in a vaguely threatening, SportsCenter-style cadence.) This isn’t your mom’s green bean casserole! You’re not even seeing those losers, are you, with their stupid political views and opinions about your love life? Surely you’re having some awesome no-strings Friendsgiving celebrating the new family you’ve chosen! Right? RIGHT?! SRIRACHA. SRIRACHA. SRIRACHA.
Look. I get the market demands of the newsstand. You can’t just recycle the same stuff year after year. Nor do I mean to advocate a slavish adherence to tradition. In my family’s case, that would mean cleaning the dining room table off in a panic at the last minute, barring entrance to the rooms where we’ve stuck all the mess, then watching my mother stand in front of the digital meat thermometer with tears rolling down her cheeks.
My own practices are less ambitious. I like order, I like guaranteed results, and I like perfection.
Is this lonely? Yes. Tyranny is lonely. But I cannot risk a guest—a Ruskin, if you will—succumbing to the lures of something “fun” and playing merry havoc with the priggish constraints of my menu. I was not always thus; life has made me harsh. Life and a particular batch of mashed potatoes made with Benecol butter substitute (because that’s what someone’s grandma had in the fridge), Bac-Os, and a garnish of coffee grounds.
In the upcoming Turner biopic, I have no doubt Mike Leigh will paint me and my kind as the villains. And this is how it should be: we are standing in the way of innovation. So be it. Let the others innovate and inspire. For every genius, there will be a thousand pie crusts made without a recipe, and the worse for it. While we beat on, boats against the current, lonely despots filled with butter.
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