Tomato-basil is the new vanilla, part 1

Speaking of Sheen, if you want to see rage out of proportion, refer to something bland or boring as “vanilla” in the presence of my coworker Scott Berinato. Scott in years past worked at the ice cream stand at a local dairy where, allegedly, vanilla was the most expensive flavor to manufacture. And in fact vanilla itself turns out to be quite fascinating. It’s actually harvested from a hermaphroditic orchid that can only be naturally pollinated by a bee that only grows in Mexico! I take back three-quarters of the mean things I’ve ever said about Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, vanilla has indeed come to mean bland or boring. And in that light it seems to be the direction our culture is headed in certain respects. You see this pervasive creeping-towards-vanilla effect in all kinds of places. One pernicious area is in pop music, where albums by Britney Spears and J-Lo (shouldn’t that be pronounced Jello?) for example demonstrate a curious production technique that filters and mutes and fuzzes out the performer’s voice, such that for all you know I could be the person singing. Could (pre-meltdown) Britney sing? I assume so but I have never heard her do so. The brilliance of this technique, of course, is that the producers can just find any attractive person and make him or her a star without requiring any particular musical ability.

A second avatar of Milla Vanilla is white bread. I originally (without research) attributed white bread to some evil food scientist in the 50s. In fact, according to at least one source, long ago white bread meant good bread because it was harder to put in cheap filler. Nevertheless, the white bread I grew up eating – because I insisted on it, I’m sure – is so utterly devoid of taste and nutrition that it’s a wonder they call it food. It’s more of an industrial product.

Vanilla food, vanilla music. Happily, there are other signs of hope in the cultural landscape – I hope. I’ll get to them (and explain the title) in a later post.


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