The Gallery of Regrettable Food  
James Lileks    



"Nourishing Meat: A Square Meal from a Square Can" proclaimed the advertisement over the stove. A nuclear pink-mottled brick o' spam sat complacently on a leaf of lettuce, surrounded by chains of blood red hot dogs. Obscene even to the most devoted of meat eaters, yet hilarious to our postmodern sense of the ridiculous. With gleeful irony, my college housemates and I razor-bladed it out of Life magazine and tacked it up. The kitchen had a number of other retro ads--a 7-Up "you like it, it likes you" family watching their son bowl with a smug "shove it, Dad!" smirk on his face, for example--but none captured our fancy like that lurid slab of fake meat.

We thought we were pretty funny. Then I found out about James Lileks.

A Minnesota-based journalist whose pen regularly satirizes everything from Star Wars to Dubya to interior decoration, Lileks also maintains an eponymous web site, the centerpiece of which is The Institute of Official Cheer. A sardonic survey of American pop culture, the Institute cocks an eyebrow at vintage advertising gimmicks, fashions, interior decorating, mascots, motels, and, most spectacularly, food. With Lileks providing pointed commentary on garish photographs culled from old cookbooks and magazines, The Gallery of Regrettable Food pulls the rug out from under the glossily cheery visions of postwar America. Forget Happy Days, was that Ketchup-Pistachio Cake and 7-Up Cheese-Filled Pancakes that the Cunninghams were eating?

In this issue of Bold Type, James Lileks discusses the painful and often nauseating history of America's postwar diet and offers a glimpse at "foreign" foods from his new book, The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

-- Kelley Kawano

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