Johns Hopkins Magazine - June 1995 Issue

The Vindictive Gourmet

By "Guido Veloce"

In recent decades virtually every medical condition, region of the world, and ethnic group has had its cookbook. We've had ones for the Mediterranean, vegetarians, frugal gourmets, and people with bad hearts and worse love lives. We've had Japanese, Italian, French, and Californian. We've had provinces of China even the Chinese haven't heard of, and cookbooks for fast food, junk food, and road food. There is, however, a notable exception - - a culinary silence - - that requires redressing. It's time Americans of Passive Aggressive descent came out of the pantry and stood up for their rights and traditions.

We are Passo-Aggresso Americans and proud of it. In our first cookbook, excerpts from which follow, we assert the dignity and integrity of our heritage and of the cuisine for which it stands. Its three essential food groups are revenge, control, and artificial sweeteners.

Naturally, we are not going to give you any more than a few tantalizing glimpses of our cookbook, because you probably wouldn't go out and buy it if we did. We're also not like those ditzy New York Times food writers who tell you all about themselves and then give you a few recipes no one can cook. If you really cared about us, you'd at least call once in a while to find out how we are doing, and any average American capable of throwing a food product into boiling water can cook Passo-Aggresso style. Most do.

Cooking utensils:

The most essential cooking tools are a can opener and a thumb strong enough to push in the little perforated side tabs on macaroni and cheese boxes...

Favorite recipes:

Blackened food remains fashionable. That, however, is not reason enough to avoid serving it. Toast is particularly amenable to such treatment.

Starch and grain products should be either "instant" or, if the meal is a formal one, "minute." Acceptable condiments are any pre-made gravy capable of iridescence and crunchy onion-flavored things that come in a can....

Selecting ingredients:

Fresh vegetables may be substituted for canned ones in an emergency, but should be cooked 48 hours in advance. Continuously.

The word "imitation" is a guarantee of quality. "Lo-calorie" and "non-fat," on the other hand, are less predictable indicators. Products bearing such names occasionally have discernible, almost natural, flavor. Use them with caution.

Herbs and spices stimulate the senses and give pleasure. In that respect, they resemble sex and should likewise be avoided, unless your guests have allergies. Salt and pepper are acceptable, as is cinnamon on holidays. Proper storage is essential. Pepper and cinnamon require extensive aging in plastic. Salt should be exposed to moisture to achieve the correct consistency.


Desserts are to Passo-Aggresso Cuisine what bean sprouts are to California cuisine. But where traditional Passo-Aggresso desserts could, in a pinch, be fired at enemies, the best modern ones come from small rectangular boxes, cans (try fruit cocktail packed in heavy syrup), round plastic tubs located in the frozen food section, or aerosol cans that look like shaving cream. Avoid either of the latter unless clearly marked "no dairy products." For that matter, when it comes to fruit cocktail or tuna, be wary of terms like "water pack."

Cleaning up after a Passo-Aggresso meal:

Among the most important phrases in Passo-Aggresso, and one that should conclude every meal, is, "Well, I cooked, so I guess I should clean up," followed by a long pause. A sigh is optional, but effective in difficult cases.

Making guests feel uncomfortable:

When planning a party, avoid cluttering your mind with trivial and distracting details. Never, for example, ask if a guest is vegetarian until the roast is on the table....

Dining out:

We are occasionally invited to dine out and partake of other cuisines, although of course never by our children on our birthdays or other appropriate occasions. On these evenings, certain adjustments need to be made, lest the food, cook, or guest of honor receive undue attention. Cuisine is, after all, control.

Beverages pose a special problem when dining out. Consider what the cook or restaurant is least likely to have. Unfortunately, this now requires imagination, thanks to the shameless self-promotion of Italy, California, and Seattle, which means that espresso, cappuccino, or coffees flavored with nuts and spices are everywhere - - and they're decaffeinated. The best Passo-Aggresso solution is to insist on a complete inventory of beverages before ordering nothing.

The history and philosophy of Passo-Aggresso Cuisine:

Some scholars trace Passo-Aggresso Cuisine to our frontier heritage, when our sturdy pioneer forebears, confronted with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, learned how to boil them into oblivion and season them with parts of pigs. A few feminist scholars locate its origins in the folk wisdom of ancient mother-earth goddesses who understood that the way to clog a man's heart was through his stomach. Whatever its origins, Passo-Aggresso Cuisine is a wholesome antidote to the namby-pamby philosophy that "living well is the best revenge." Revenge is the best revenge and we have the food to prove it.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

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