News: I’ll be blogging from the Merrie Monarch hula competition for the Star-Advertiser this year. It’s just a month away; I’ll be there from Tuesday to Sunday (April 10-14) and can hardly wait. You’ll be able to read about my daily activities on the S-A web site but I’ll do some food reports on this site, too. Hilo is one of my favorite eating towns.

Visiting my mom recently, I joined her in watching her favorite morning talk show with Kelly Ripa. I never watch these at home but it’s easy to get hooked; Ripa is actually quite charming in a slightly ditzy way. But I was appalled at the food advertising that is paired with the show. Most of the time, I live in a rather rarified world of locally grown or harvested, fresh, organic, sustainable, mostly healthy, unprocessed or less processed foods. These advertisers are so far from that it was like receiving communications from a distant planet, one I’d forgotten existed.

I’m no food snob; there is cream of mushroom soup in my pantry. I like SPAM. I like Japanese-style curry gravy made from the box (Vermont brand, or, as a Japanese waiter pronounced it recently, “Ber-MONT-u”). I think that new concentrated stock  in little plastic cups is the bomb. I use frozen prepared products (Bertolli’s pasta; we had Safeway Select butternut-stuffed ravioli last night and it was easily as good, with homemade browned butter-nutmeg sauce, as anything I could make myself). But . . .

After a few minutes of watching the show and not muting the commercials as I usually do, I began to take notes. These were some advertisers: McDonald’s (touting its fillet of fish sandwich; sorry, burgerfied fish is not a fillet); Campbell’s Tomato Soup (okay, I do eat that; comforting when I’m sick or cold; Grandma only let me have it as a treat), Hamburger Helper, Green Giant, Zippy’s, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup (“stir it, stir it up, stir it up, stir it”).

The ones that put me over the top, however, were:

1) the suggestion that you pour a can of undiluted Campbell’s beef soup on rice and call it dinner. I can think of few things nastier — that odd smell, gelatinous texture, overcooked vegetables, too much salt. Soup is NOT gravy.

2) the truly inspired partnership between Kraft and Hormel that would have you stir SPAM chunks into the blue box macaroni and cheese! By the time that one came on, I was pretty much laughing so I wouldn’t cry. I can’t count high enough to add up the fat calories, the sodium, the sugar. I really loathe Kraft Macaroni and Cheese; it’s much too sweet and has some kind of caramel off flavor. (If you have to use a box, Annie’s isn’t bad.)

I almost retch when I see the commercial for Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni where the mom character asks how her son likes his cheesy glop and he is so moved he can’t speak; he just leans into her with a seraphic smile. That’s what a whole lot of fat, salt and sugar at once will do to you; put you into a mindless food coma.

The other thing that got me was the assumption behind these commercials that women are so busy they have no time to cook but are still charged with doing whatever food provision gets done (accurate) and that these products are there to help Busy Mom, leaving her smiling, carefree and adored by her family (oh, please!). It’s as though they’re layering a seemingly up-to-date viewpoint (Mom works) with an outdated and even reprehensible one (that technology-driven shortcuts will save us all).

In just a little more time than it takes to use the box, Mom could wilt chopped in a little onion oil, throw in lower-fat hamburger (ground turkey or buffalo for and even lower fat protein), pour off the fat, boil some good-quality Italian pasta, snip some parsley from the windowsill or pull some dried herbs out of the cupboard and grate good, aged cheese into the thing at the end. She’d know exactly what was in the dish, she’d have had some time to decompress from work while cooking, she’d have a sense of accomplishment and she’d still get hugs. She might even have, oh, I don’t know, involved the family in food preparation, teaching them something about cooking, caring for oneself, taking responsibility, teamwork.

And you know what else? Dad could have done that. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a man cooking who was not a) in a white coat on a cooking show, or b) wearing a silly apron and wielding a grilling tool?