It's Adam's Birthday Edition
Plus speed (not the methamphetamine) + a no-recipe recipe for Frito Pie!
Happy Friday and welcome back to The Crunchwrap. It’s been a minute — I promise there’s a good reason for that — but I’m happy to be back talking about Frito Pies, the venture capitalist dream of breaking land-speed delivery records for no real reason, and more.
But first, it’s my birthday! And since only a few people in my cohort spend time on Facebook these days and we’re still relatively isolated these days, I’m foisting my birthday upon all of you.
The lore goes that my mom (a recent arrival from the northeast to 1980s Texas) had her first-ever chicken fried steak for lunch on June 3rd and then went into labor with me shortly thereafter. I wasn’t due until the 4th. I don’t know if that has anything to do with why I ended up writing a lot about obesogenic foodstuffs, but sometimes, in the timeless words of Moana, the ocean chooses you.
And, speaking of fate and mortality, this birthday gift in the form of a New York Times alert just came across the transom:
A study claiming that coffee drinkers have a lower mortality risk than non-coffee drinkers seems weird because (1) isn’t the mortality risk for humans 100 percent? and (2) can drinking coffee really be isolated from all other health factors?
As someone who toes the line between moderate and excessive coffee-drinking (the jittery threshold is apparently three cups), this is still welcome “news.” As an aging sage, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is to never look a habit-affirming scientific study in the mouth.
This week for The Atlantic, I wrote about the rise of 15-minute grocery delivery apps and how they fit into a broader, long-standing American obsession with time and efficiency.
In the piece, I tried:
very hard to be funny
to also connect this trend to others before it — like the Pony Express and the infamous Domino’s ‘30 Minutes Or It’s Free’ delivery guarantee from the 1980s and 1990s
to put the labor and specifically American consumer thinking behind it into perspective.
Before the transcontinental telegraph put it out of business in 1861, the Pony Express pledged that a letter from Missouri could reach California in 10 days or fewer. Prior to that, correspondence sent cross-country could take weeks or even months by ship or stagecoach. But like the couriers on e-bikes gunning to make deliveries in 15-minute windows, a lesser-noted part of the Pony Express mythology were the riders deployed to achieve these feats in just 10 days. As one foreboding Pony Express recruitment poster revealed, the company sought out “young, skinny, wiry fellows” who were under 18, preferably orphans, and willing to risk death.
Part of what fascinates me here is how the people who tend to do the hustling are often absent from the mythology. Ultimately, when speed is a byword for innovation, the labor tends to be invisible.
As I noted in the story, we remember the Domino’s 30-minute guarantee from all the bits about it in movies, but maybe not the reason the guarantee ended: There were several lawsuits after delivery drivers got into serious accidents, possibly while rushing to get pizzas to houses quickly.
One quote I loved that didn’t make it into the final draft was from an advertising psychologist who told The Los Angeles Times this after the Domino’s pledge was dropped in 1993: “Immediate gratification is a major need in our culture. That need is only being exacerbated by the use of computers and faxes.” God.
Another bit of the story that didn’t make it through the edits was from my source Professor Ashwani Monga, who studies consumer psychology at Rutgers. Here’s some of what he said about the very American tendency to not think about the consequences of something like two-day delivery and how that connects to why we often have trouble saving for retirement, dieting, or otherwise delaying gratification:
“The U.S. is an overworked society. We work harder than most countries…And humans are already more concrete thinkers by nature; we are always in the here and now, not in the there and then. We are always in the trees, we're not in the forest.”
Look, tough couple of weeks out there, so here’s a new entry in one of my favorite genres: Baseball parents making impressive catches while holding their children:
By the way, I sent this to two of my friends who are baseball fans with young children who responded “no beer?” and “6/10 at best.”
Snack of the Week
As I mentioned a little while back, when I was in Texas in March, I stopped a roadside country store in Hallettsville called Janak’s, which promised sausage and baked goods and more. I got their Frito Pie, which came (as many things still do in America) in a styrofoam clamshell.
I don’t need to tell you that this was a superlative culinary experience. What I DO need to tell you is that it’s very easy to replicate at home with minimal fuss. Over here at The Crunchwrap HQ, I put this together last week in about 20 minutes when I wanted to pair some NBA playoffs with a perfect dinner of minimal nutritional value.
There are no real rules to the Frito Pie, other than never to have beans in it, so here’s how I did it: Season a pound of beef (15/20 percent fat) with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder and throw it in a pan with some vegetable oil, a diced bell pepper, and some chopped onions. Cook and drain the beef mixture and then place it atop a pile of Fritos in a bowl, platter, trough, or bag. Top with shredded cheese (cheddar or jack), pickled jalapeños, and diced onions. I added sour cream and green onions to my at-home version because I’m an aging aristocrat. It’s an excellent way to go.
Nu, What Else?
Going along with our speed theme, I came across this fascinating piece by Henry Grabar, who writes a lot and well about car culture, about the many political and cultural battles around the speed limit in America. You’ll never think about it the same.
Jessica Winter on the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial/spectacle is excellent and gutting.
E. Alex Jung’s profile of/adventures with Joel Kim Booster, who wrote and stars in the new comedy/Jane Austen-homage “Fire Island” is completely nuts and full of life and wisdom. I recommend.
That’s it for this week’s Crunchwrap! Thanks as always for reading and all your birthday wishes (send them now plz)!
With love, Adam