Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Comical food for health.

Today, January 17th …

On this day in 1929, the character “Popeye” first appeared in Elzie Seagar’s comic strip “The Thimble Theatre”. The temporary character was so popular that he became the lead player in his own saga, and the rest, as they say in the industry - is spinach history.

From 1931 to 1936 there was a 33% increase in spinach consumption in the USA, and spinach growers gave the entire credit to the little man who was “strong to the finish ‘cos I eats my spinich”. So grateful were they in “the spinach capital of the world” that they honoured Popeye and his creator with a statue. That’s Crystal City, Texas, in case you want to pay homage.

Other cartoon characters have had an impact on the food industry, but none with such impressive economic benefits. Dagwood Bumstead, the supreme and sneaky raider of the refrigerator, has given his name to a multi-layered sandwich; Popeye’s buddy Wimpy, the hamburger lover, gave his to a whole hamburger chain. The nouveau-riche Irish immigrant Jiggs, in “Bringing up Father” escaped the extravagant social functions of his social-climbing wife Maggie to eat his personal comfort food of corned beef and cabbage. In Newfoundland, where this dish is a specialty, it is referred to as a “Jiggs Dinner”.

Nutrition watchdogs are currently calling for a crackdown on the use of children’s cartoon characters to market food products, which seems strange in the light of this culinary comic history. The sad truth is that nowadays there is only merchandising profit in marketing brand names, and it is unlikely that a generic avocado grower could afford to purchase the “Shrek” brand, no matter how close his colour match to their product.

Popeye popped his spinach straight from the magically appearing can, but this recipe from an elegant little English book, “The Gentle Art of Cookery” published in 1925 seems appropriate for a well-travelled sailor man.

An Italian Way of Cooking Spinach.
Spinach, sultanas, raisins, anchovy butter, fried bread.
Cook 2 lbs. of spinach, drain it, chop it very fine, and put it into a casserole with a teaspoonful of anchovy butter, and three ounces of mixed sultanas and seeded raisins. Make it very hot, and serve with fried croutons of bread.

Now what the world needs is a loveable character to promote organic low cholesterol low sugar high fibre anti-oxidant rich low allergy low GI genetically unmodified food.

Tomorrow: The tin that takes the biscuit.

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