Monthly Archives: August 2011

“One always looks neat in a hat made of meat.”

Mark Twain may have had a point but it’s not just hats they’re making out of meat nowadays.  And as for vegetables -

Fashion has always gone to extremes. Lady Gaga may be the latest exponent of edible fashion, but she’s not unique. She has plenty of competition, some from fellow musicians. The cover of the Beatles Yesterday and Today album featured raw meat as well as baby dolls with decapitated heads. The Fab Four weren’t actually wearing the flesh but there are plenty who are, and loads of Internet sites to prove it.

Among the garments on offer are the bacon bra and the bacon bikini. Lie in the sun a while     and there’s no need to cook breakfast. The ‘Hats of Meat’ website has a section devoted entirely to pictures sent in by aficionados. Among them an American Indian headdress composed of sausages and bacon, hamburger earmuffs, kebab dreadlocks – even an entire cooked turkey.

Carnivores haven’t got it all their own way.  You’ll find clothes made from lettuce, artichokes, chilies, fruit, licorice and, would you believe it, skimmed milk! Designer Casey Larkin even found a way to do that – with a Prom dress! If you can eat it, or drink it, someone’s bound to have made a dress from it.  Or a hat, a handbag, a belt or shoes. PETA, the animal rights organization, have used greens in their vegetarian media campaigns. As an alternative to the bacon bra, the lettuce bikini doubles as a salad provided you stay out of the sun, which rather defeats its purpose.  Let it wilt, however, and you might end up a tad embarrassed.  Unless you’re a naturist as well as a vegetarian

For chocoholics, there’s a veritable feast. One site even has models dressed in Bond-girl style holding chocolate machine guns.  Decorative, perhaps, but about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. The Lindor dress, on the other hand, has the advantage. The chocolates are wrapped which will at least prevent them sticking to your skin.  The disadvantage? The dress contains over 79,000 calories. Get too carried away and it might not fit you for very long.

Of course you’ll want to accessorize. Fancy a Louis Vuitton bag?  Or one of Gucci’s creations? An American bakery is making copies – in cake.  Unfortunately they don’t come cheap. At around $6,000 for the Vuitton you might be better off buying the original. Even designer Nancy Wu’s Chanel bag, composed of 100% beef jerky, will set you back a bit. There’s plenty of footwear to choose from too. Like Olle Hemmerdorff’s hamburger shoe for Nike? Or just use your loaf.  A Lithuanian designer team has come up with edible, wearable shoes created from bread. Every pair is unique and comes with a handpicked cardboard box.

When Parisian chef Valentyn Shtefano popped the question, he showed his love in a special way – he baked the wedding dress. No, not a meringue – a cream puff. 1500 cream puffs to be exact and even the necklace and crown were edible. It’s not every groom who can tell his bride she looks good enough to eat.  And mean it.  Literally.

© Clodagh Phelan  – 19/09/10

This article first appeared on the Eat Me Magazine website


Posted in Food | Leave a comment

One Man’s Meat

Moose nose jelly anyone?

If you really are what you eat, there must be some very strange people walking about out there.

Discovering the world’s weird and wonderful foods is like opening a can of worms.  Literally. They range from the slightly odd to the ‘oh my God!’ with just about everything in between. Yak butter may not be everyone’s cup of tea, tripe may turn your stomach unless you are a cow and reindeer pâté may seem a trifle exotic. But they’re nothing compared to some of the things on offer. Moose nose jelly anyone?

Some foods are positively anti-social.  Take durian, for instance.  Or perhaps don’t.  Certainly not in confined spaces or on public transport – you’ll get arrested. This Asian ‘king of fruit’ is adored by orangutangs and by a surprising number of people. Smelling of sewers and decaying carrion it’s said to taste like custard, almonds, sherry and ice cream rolled into one. It’s an extreme marmite sort of fruit.  But even durian has its rivals. Among them chou dofu or ‘stinky tofu’. Its sharp scent, reminiscent of baby pooh, is so pungent street hawkers have been fined for breaking the air pollution laws. Another contender is hákarl. Not content to simply eat the shark, Icelanders bury it for months until it’s good and rotten.  Then they eat it.  Yum!

If smelly doesn’t do it for you, try some street food. In Indonesia they serve rat on a stick. If you’re squeamish, go for bat instead. Beijing traders put fried starfish on their sticks. Mexico offers the tequila lollipop complete with worm. Insects and bugs abound. Scorpions, grasshoppers, tarantula, whichetty grubs, crickets, silk worms – roasted, fried, marinated and even alive.

To quench your thirst there’s some treats in store. Kopi luwak is made from coffee berries eaten by the Asian palm civet and its friends and relations. The big cats gobble up the beans, nature takes its course and voilà – you have the makings of the most aromatic and most expensive coffee in the world!  After all the beans are washed thoroughly, several times, and dried in the sun before being roasted. In India they love cola and revere cows. The logical extension is gau jal, a cola made of from cow’s urine. Sounds unhygienic but this cola has no toxins – more than can that be said of some Western carbonated drinks!

In the USA, not content with McDonalds, they’ve come up with tinned cheeseburger as well as tinned creamed armadillo, Cajun style alligator, buzzard gizzards in cream sauce and elk au jus! A company called ‘Road Weary’ sells potted possum – one can’t help wondering if it’s road weary or just road kill.

While we shudder at the thought of cocks combs or camel tendons and get all smug, perhaps it’s as well to think of some of the things we eat. Which is better for your health, a starfish on a stick or chocolate covered bacon? Roast pigeon brains or an American pizza? The toppings include two cheeseburgers, a six-piece box of McNuggets and medium fries.  All covered with gloopy, fatty cheese. Now who’s weird!

© Clodagh Phelan 12/9/10     This article first appeared in Eat Me Magazine online

Posted in Food | Leave a comment

German Coastguard


This is one of my very favourite commercials – and a great advocate for clear communication.

Posted in Blog, Language, Words | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A bid for world domination – or are they just homesick?

From Ansbach to Yokota wherever you find a US military base, you’ll find a McDonalds.

US Military bases dot the globe – army, navy and air force.  Spreading the Stars and Stripes the way Britain’s Empire once coloured the map red.  And where you’ll find the Stars and Stripes you’ll also find McDonalds and Burger King, Wendy’s and a host of others. Some in the most unlikely places.

McDonalds have been at Guantanamo Bay since 1986. The first and only one in Cuba.  Other franchises followed. Subway, KFC, A&W, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Starbucks.  It’s said that if prisoners co-operate they’re rewarded with Happy Meals. If that’s true, then they have a privilege not accorded to the Cubans. For these eateries are all off-limits to the indigenous population. A minefield and the ‘cactus curtain’ stand between the base and Cuban soil.  OK, it’s not a curtain as such but it is a cactus barrier planted with the express purpose of keeping the Cubans out, akin to the Berlin Wall or the West Bank barrier.

The base at Guantanamo is not unique.  From Afghanistan to Guam, Iraq to Kazakhstan you’ll find little pieces of downtown USA, close to romantic cities such as Heidelberg, on remote Pacific islands and plonked in the middle of deserts.  Bagram Air base is a typical example with its multiple bus routes, more than 30,000 inhabitants, PXes, Internet cafes, fast food outlets – and let’s not forget the barracks and the trappings of war.

Leaving aside the vast and complex question of the US military presence, why this need to replicate their culture and specifically their food culture? Granted local produce isn’t always available or desirable in a war zone, given the current paranoia that sees a terrorist behind every crate of carrots. Nevertheless, even in Iraq steaks, squash and fresh romaine lettuce are brought miles across the dangerous desert so that the troops can eat hearty, healthy food. So what’s with the fast food? Especially since the first warning US troops often get in Baghdad isn’t about being blown up by IEDs but ending up with PCPs: “pervasive combat paunches”.

Is this yet another example of the McDonaldization of the world? It may look like it at first. Go a little deeper and the argument doesn’t stand up. The bases are off limits to locals unless of course they are part of the workforce.  That’s no way to spread the word – or the stomach. Then again, not all US operated bases are filled with fast food franchises. Some, like Afghan-run ones, are more basic; in some cases consisting of no more than a cluster of mud and stone buildings.

Gastronomic outposts are nothing new. It all started long before Ronald McDonald flipped his first burger. In the Second World War, the Americans flew cakes and cookies to the troops and during the Viet Nam war huge recreational facilities were set up on the beaches. At one time the US operated its own autobahn rest stops in Germany, where GIs could get gas and a burger. Once more, these were off limits to locals.

Many Americans enjoy European, Asian and other ethnic foods. Besides, throughout the world, McDonalds has adapted its ‘burgers’ to other cultures. Almost certainly driven by commercial imperatives, and giving the lie to any imperial ambitions. In India, in deference to the Hindu religion, the chicken based Maharaja Mac replaces the Big Mac.  In parts of Canada there’s the McLobster roll.  Japan has totally reinvented McDonalds with its shrimp burgers and mashed potato and cabbage burgers. In Chile you can substitute avocado paste for ketchup. In Greece pita bread replaces the bun, in Israel it’s kosher, in the Middle East halal.

What’s really going on? As long ago as 1987, in testimony before a House Subcommittee, Admiral Rodney Squibb told congress that on-base fast-food restaurants not only generate millions of dollars in ‘recreational’ funds for servicemen but also boost morale among the troops. It seems Congress agreed with him and for nearly thirty years the presence of fast food franchises on US bases has just grown and grown.  In war zones, in particular, fast food such as McDonalds act as “comfort” foods in what is often a very frightening environment. Studies are now finding a rising number of cases of new-onset depression in combat-deployed troops; the availability of such familiar fare back at the base may help soldiers adapt and provide an antidote to feelings of gloom and dejection.

There’s no doubt that morale is crucial, but there is another equally compelling argument.  Recruitment. Today’s US military is not a conscription army; it’s a volunteer army. In the past, standards were low and pay was poor. The generation who served in Vietnam and Korea had to clean toilets, polish brass and peel spuds. There was nothing they could do about it except get on with the job. It’s all very different nowadays.

Today’s young recruits were raised in a world of iPods and the Internet. They’re the Xbox and Wal-Mart generation.   They expect, and get, creature comforts and that includes Big-Mac’s and pizzas. If they don’t get them, there’s nothing to stop them walking when their term is up.  In a four-year period the US government spends an average of $100,000 on training a soldier (and the figures are similar for the other services). It’s in its interest to keep the troops happy.  Should a recruit not re-enlist, not only is that money down the drain but it will cost another $100,000 to train a replacement. So what if it costs $6,000, $8,000 or even $15,000 more– do the math!

Nevertheless, according to Sgt. Major Michael Hall, General McChrystal’s top enlisted advisor, that’s all about to change – in Afghanistan, at least. ‘This is a war zone’ he wrote in his blog earlier this year ‘not an amusement park.’ His reasons have nothing to do with diet or morale or even recruitment. It’s about the resources involved in getting those burgers, fries, pizzas and nuggets to the bases. Mothballing Burger King and the rest will free up prime storage space, more essential than ever with nearly 40,000 additional coalition forces heading for Afghanistan. Equally important, it will make it easier to get essential supplies to the front line.

Judging by the furious reaction on the Internet, they’ll have a job pushing this policy through.   The consensus being that the troops need and deserve their treats. I’m cynical enough to believe that ordinary people’s opinion counts for very little with the powers that be.  However, in seeking to shut down these concessions, the US military may find it has a different fight on its hands. One some say it can’t win. For it’s up against an opponent mightier than the Pentagon, mightier than the White House – the almighty US dollar.  Who constructed the bases? Who manages them?  Who decides what goes on there? Not the military and not Ronald McDonald.   Not even Uncle Sam.  Powerful corporations built, maintain and provision US overseas bases. It will take more than a General to shut them up.


Footnote: In March 2010, in spite of the furious reaction on the Internet and elsewhere, General McChrystal imposed a ban on the franchises. It didn’t last long; nor did he. When he resigned in June last year for being rude about the Administration, his successor Gen. David Petraeus wasted little time in reversing the ban.

©  Clodagh Phelan  2/9/10 – this article first appeared on Eat Me Magazine’s blog.



Posted in Fast food, Food, Guantanamo Bay, McDonalds, Restaurants, US Bases | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eat Me!

Alice would be at quite at home in these whacky restaurants!


In Lewis Carroll’s famous tale, Alice sipped from the bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’ and grew smaller and smaller. ‘Eat Me’, enticed the cake – one bite and she grew bigger and bigger. But that was fantasy right? Well, maybe, but I tell you, there are some weird and wonderful things happening out there in restaurant land. They’d challenge anything that Alice found down the rabbit hole.

In true ‘Wonderland’ style, the owner of the Spirite in Montreal is, by all accounts, more than a little loopy. Don’t bother to ask for a menu – chef cooks only one dish and that’s vegetarian. Portions come in two sizes and with one proviso. You have to eat up; if you don’t clean your plate, you won’t get any pudding. Yes, really! And if you don’t eat all your pudding – then you’re barred for life. Crazy? Perhaps. But people still flock there! Maybe they like the restaurant’s mission – to draw attention to world hunger and food waste. Or happen they’re just masochists.

Chew Chew in Sydney adds a whole new meaning to the expression ‘doggy bag’. Here the rule is ‘dogs only’, though cats are allowed in after 2pm. Humans are welcome to eat with their pets but must get their food from the café next door. At Zauo, a fish restaurant in Fukuoka, you’re offered a rod, so you can catch your own meal. The pool’s well stocked so, even if you’re no fisherman, you won’t go hungry. At the Taj Banjara in Hyderabad you can choose your dishes according to your blood group. Great for vampires, although they may prefer to fly to Japan to dine at Nyotaimori. Named after the tradition of eating sushi and sashimi off a naked woman, it’s a vampire’s paradise. The ‘body’ is offered on a hospital trolley, the hostess makes the first cut in the dough skin with in the scalpel, then the patrons join in. There’s plenty of ‘blood’ and the organs are edible.

Did you know that there’s a McDonalds, a Subway and a Starbucks at Guantanamo Bay! How’s that for surreal? Admittedly they serve the military personnel on the base but, apparently, if the internees behave themselves they are sometimes treated to a Big Mac. They don’t say if they’re allowed fries!

At the Ostfriesland Hotel in Norden, Germany you have to get on the scales before they’ll let you in. The Black Frog in Maine offers a free sandwich if you’re prepared to strip off and skinny dip. There’s a restaurant in Japan where you’re served by real monkeys and a pub in Britain where they confiscate your shoes. Toilet themed restaurants, birth control restaurants, dining in the dark or suspended in the sky – think of something crazy, you’ll find someone’s got there first. And yes, there is an Alice themed venue. More than one, in fact. You’ll find them in Tokyo and Manhattan. The former comes complete with a Glass World and Fantasy Forest. As far as I know, no one’s has disappeared down a rabbit hole. Yet!

© Clodagh Phelan 8/2010 This article first appeared on the Eat Me Magazine blog

Posted in Food, Guantanamo Bay, Lewis Carroll, McDonalds, Restaurants | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In Ireland, being petrified has nothing to do with being scared

When the Cute Hoor party finally drives you to drink, there are plenty of ways to describe the state you’re in. It’s hardly surprising that a country renowned for its great drinkers as well as for the richness of its language should have a wealth of expressions for drinking and being drunk.

Mangled, rat-arsed, cabbaged, hammered, ruined, scorched or trolleyed – and the rest. The list is pretty long.  Different counties have their own expressions. In Waterford, where I was born, you’re in the horrors, in Kerry you’re flaming, in Donegal steaming and in Limerick, you’re said to be out of your tree. There are, of course, degrees of drunkenness with corresponding attitudes to match. Someone who’s rubbered or flutered may be quite a jolly drunk although talking utter shite.  If you’re slaughtered you’ll be pretty much in bits, but still more or less coherent. On the other hand, if you’re ossified you’re likely to pick a fight.  Twisted is when you’re off your head and need help getting home. Poteen, home made potato spirit, will make you first polluted, then petrified and finally paralytic.

Many of these expressions have crept, or maybe I should say staggered, into everyday use in England and America.  Others are still found mostly among the Irish.  Locked is one of my favourites. Stocious is another great word, which I heard a lot when I was a kid though I’ve been unable to trace its origins. Perhaps the best of all is  ‘circling over Shannon’, derived from the visit of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president, to Ireland when he was apparently too drunk to get off the plane.  As his aides desperately tried to sober him up, the plane circled six times over Shannon airport before landing briefly, though Yeltsin never made it off the plane.  Ultimately pleading ill health, he might well have admitted to being ‘melted’ – in other words very tired.  Which is what you get when you have, as they say, ‘had the drink taken.’

Posted in Blog, Drink, Ireland, Irish Language, Language | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Amadán than Leprechaun

One of my favourite words in the whole wide world is the Irish word amadán, often written as omadhan and pronounced as it looks – om-a-th-aan. It means fool or idiot (eejit in the vernacular!). Someone who steps straight in front of a bus, while texting – that’s an amadán. The cretin who drives at a steady 70 down the middle lane on the motorway, when there’s absolutely nothing in the slow lane. That’s an amadán. Anyone who does something daft or foolish qualifies. But somehow examples and translations fail to convey the real essence of the word. Maybe you just have to be Irish.

My mother had a desperate amount of great expressions and sayings. Desperate being Irish for terrible which could also mean great. Sometimes it could mean both, as in ‘he had a desperate thirst on him, sure he had.’ If someone messed up she’d say ‘he’s made a hames of it’. For a long time I thought this was something she’d invented – perhaps there’d been some friend of the family called Hames who was always screwing up. But no, I have recently discovered that it’s a genuine Irish expression, sadly falling out of use, with origins that are thought to date back to the days of working horses. A hames, it seems is a support for a part of the harness and if you put the wrong bits in the wrong places you end up in a mess.

‘Chancer’ was another favourite and could apply as equally to that eejit in the middle lane as to someone jaywalking, sailing close to the wind financially or just generally taking risks. Get me behind the wheel of a car and you’ll hear me mutter, or yell, ‘chancer’ whenever some fecker cuts in or overtakes stupidly. There are plenty of other possible examples – all those MPs who fiddled their expenses. They were chancers.

They were also ‘cute hoors’. I’ve only come across this one lately, and I love it. It’s a joy – beautifully illustrating the creativity and wit, as well as the scepticism, of my fellow countrymen and women. The description ‘cute hoors’ is usually applied to politicians. It implies deviousness and crookedness. In Ireland the word ‘cute’ means clever and hoor – well it means what it says on the tin, except with a different spelling.

A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. It’s no surprise that the phrase is used to describe cowboy builders, corrupt politicians, tax evaders, bankers, senior civil servants and the like. Indeed, currently, the whole lot of them are lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party. The excellent blog, Crooked Timber, has a fascinating article about the sorry lot of them.

Posted in Blog, Irish Language, Words | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment