This week’s discussion focuses on description. Sensory details, such as sight, sound, smell, feel, or taste, help the reader to “see” the object the writer is describing.
Week One Discussion requires responding to two questions. Write at least one paragraph (5- 7 sentences) for each of the questions and submit them in your initial post. Then respond to at least one of your peers, commenting on both parts of their response.
Post 1: Answer both sections A & B in your initial post.
- After reading “No Wonder they Call me a Bitch” beginning on p. 107 of The Norton Sampler, choose a physical description that Hodgman uses in her story. Analyze that description and tell us how the author’s words create a sensory effect (touch, smell, hearing, taste, or vision). Share your reaction to the description and whether you think it is effective and why.
- Write a descriptive paragraph comparing two foods categories such as snack foods (Doritos vs generic taco chips), fast food burgers (the Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s vs the Whopper from Burger King), candy bars, sports drinks, or any similar food groups. Using sensory details (taste, feel, smell, look/sight), describe them and convey your preference without directly saying “I like XXX best.”
“NO WONDER THEY CALL ME A BITCH”
Ann Hodgman is a food critic for Eating Well magazine. Besides playing goalie on a women’s
hockey team, she is the author of more than forty children’s books, including My Babysitter Is a
Vampire, and several cookbooks. For reasons soon to be apparent, however, the following “tasteless” essay did not appear in Hodgman’s food column, “Sweet and Sour,” but in the satiric magazine
Spy, for which Hodgman was a contributing editor. A spoof on taste testing, it takes a blue ribbon
for disgusting description that appeals to the grosser senses.
I’ve always wondered about dog food. Is a Gaines-burger really like a hamburger? Can you fry it?
Does dog food “cheese” taste like real cheese? Does Gravy Train actually make gravy in the dog’s
bowl, or is that brown liquid just dissolved crumbs? And exactly what are byproducts?
Having spent the better part of a week eating dog food, I’m sorry to say that I now know the
answers to these questions. While my dachshund, Shortie, watched in agonies of yearning, I gagged
my way through can after can of stinky, white-flecked mush and bag after bag of stinky, fatdrenched nuggets. And now I understand exactly why Shortie’s breath is so bad.
Of course, Gaines-burgers are neither mush nor nuggets. They are, rather, a miracle of beauty
and packaging—or at least that’s what I thought when I was little. I used to beg my mother to get
them for our dogs, but she always said they were too expensive. When I finally bought a box of
cheese-flavored Gaines-burgers—after twenty years of longing—I felt deliciously wicked.
“Dogs love real beef,” the back of the box proclaimed proudly. “That’s why Gaines-burgers is
the only beef burger for dogs with real beef and no meat byproducts!” The copy was accurate: meat
byproducts did not appear in the list of ingredients. Poultry by-products did, though—right there
next to preserved animal fat.
One Purina spokesman told me that poultry byproducts consist of necks, intestines,
undeveloped eggs and other “carcass remnants,” but not feathers, heads, or feet. When I told him
1’d been eating dog food, he said, “Oh, you’re kidding! Oh, no!” (I came to share his alarm when,
weeks later, a second Purina spokesman said that Gaines-burgers do contain poultry heads and feetbut not undeveloped eggs.)
Up close my Gaines-burger didn’t much resemble chopped beef. Rather, it looked—and felt—
like a single long, extruded piece of redness that had been chopped into segments and formed into a
patty. You could make one at home if you had a Play-Doh Fun Factory.
I turned on the skillet. While I waited for it to heat up I pulled out a shred of cheese-colored
material and palpated it. Again, like Play-Doh, it was quite malleable. I made a little cheese bird out
of it; then I counted to three and ate the bird.
There was a horrifying rush of cheddar taste, followed immediately by the dull tang of
soybean flour—the main ingredient in Gaines-burgers. Next I tried a piece of red extrusion. The
main difference between the meat-flavored and cheese-flavored extrusions is one of texture. The
“cheese” chews like fresh Play-Doh, whereas the “meat” chews like Play-Doh that’s been sitting out
on a rug for a couple of hours.
Frying only turned the Gaines-burger black. There was no melting, no sizzling, no warm meat
smells. A cherished childhood illusion was gone. I flipped the patty into the sink, where it
immediately began leaking rivulets of red dye.
As alarming as the Gaines-burgers were, their soy meal began to seem like an old friend when
the time came to try some canned dog foods. I decided to try the Cycle foods first. When I opened
them, I thought about how rarely I use can openers these days, and I was suddenly visited by a
long-forgotten sensation of can-opener distaste. This is the kind of unsavory place can openers
spend their time when you’re not watching! Every time you open a can of, say, Italian plum
tomatoes, you infect them with invisible particles of byproduct.
I had been expecting to see the usual homogeneous scrapple inside, but each can of Cycle was
packed with smooth, round, oily nuggets. As if someone at Gaines had been tipped off that a human
would be tasting the stuff, the four Cycles really were different from one another. Cycle-1, for
puppies, is wet and soyish. Cycle-2, for adults, glistens nastily with fat, but it’s passably edible—a
lot like some canned Swedish meatballs I once got in a Care package at college. Cycle-3, the “lite”
one, for fatties, had no specific flavor; it just tasted like dog food. But at least it didn’t make me fat.
Cycle-4, for senior dogs, had the smallest nuggets. Maybe old dogs can’t open their mouths as
wide. This kind was far sweeter than the other three Cycles—almost like baked beans. It was also
the only one to contain “dried beef digest,” a mysterious substance that the Purina spokesman
defined as “enzymes” and my dictionary defined as “the products of digestion.”
Next on the menu was a can of Kal Kan Pedigree with Chunky Chicken. Chunky chicken?
There were chunks in the can, certainly-big, purplish-brown chunks. I forked one chunk out (by
now I was becoming more callous) and found that while it had no discernible chicken flavor, it
wasn’t bad except for its texture—like meat loaf with ground-up chicken bones.
In the world of canned dog food, a smooth consistency is a sign of low quality-lots of cereal.
A lumpy, frightening, bloody, stringy horror is a sign of high quality-lots of meat. Nowhere in the
world of wet dog foods was this demonstrated better than in the fanciest I tried—Kal Kan’s
Pedigree Select Dinners. These came not in a can but in a tiny foil packet with a picture of an
imperious Yorkie. When I pulled open the container, juice spurted all over my hand, and the first
chunk I speared was trailing a long gray vein. I shrieked and went instead for a plain chunk, which I
was able to swallow only after taking a break to read some suddenly fascinating office equipment
catalogues. Once again, though, it tasted no more alarming than, say, canned hash.
Still, how pleasant it was to turn to dry dog food! Gravy Train was the first I tried, and I’m
happy to report that it really does make a “thick, rich, real beef gravy” when you mix it with water.
Thick and rich, anyway. Except for a lingering rancid-fat flavor, the gravy wasn’t beefy, but since it
tasted primarily like tap water, it wasn’t nauseating either.
My poor dachshund just gets plain old Purina Dog Chow, but Purina also makes a dry food
called Butcher’s Blend that comes in Beef, Bacon & Chicken flavor. Here we see dog food’s arcane
semiotics at its best: a red triangle with a T stamped into it is supposed to suggest beef; a tan curl,
chicken; and a brown S, a piece of bacon. Only dogs understand these messages. But Butcher’s
Blend does have an endearing slogan: “Great Meaty Tastes—without bothering the Butcher!” You
know, I wanted to buy some meat, but I just couldn’t bring myself to bother the butcher. . .
Purina O.N.E. (“Optimum Nutritional Effectiveness”) is targeted at people who are unlikely
ever to worry about bothering a tradesperson. “We chose chicken as a primary ingredient in Purina
O.N.E. for several reasonings,” the long, long essay on the back of the bag announces. Chief among
these reasonings, I’d guess, is the fact that chicken appeals to people who are—you know—like us.
Although our dogs do nothing but spend eighteen-hour days alone in the apartment, we still want
them to be premium dogs. We want them to cut down on red meat, too. We also want dog food that
comes in a bag with an attractive design, a subtle typeface, and no kitschy pictures of slobbering
Besides that, we want a list of the Nutritional Benefits of our dog food—and we get it on
O.N.E. One thing I especially like about this list is its constant references to a dog’s “hair coat,” as
in “Beef tallow is good for the dog’s skin and hair coat.” (On the other hand, beef tallow merely
provides palatability, while the dried beef digest in Cycle provides palatability enhancement.)
I hate to say it, but O.N.E. was pretty palatable. Maybe that’s because it has about 100 percent
more fat than, say, Butcher’s Blend. Or maybe I’d been duped by the packaging; that’s been known
to happen before.
As with people food, dog snacks taste much better than dog meals. They’re better looking too.
Take Milk-Bone Flavor Snacks. The loving-hands-at-home prose describing each flavor is colorful;
the writers practically choke on their own exuberance. Of bacon they say, “It’s so good, your dog
will think it’s hot off the frying pan.” Of liver: “The only taste your dog wants more than liver-is
even more liver!” Of poultry: “All those farm fresh flavors deliciously mixed in one biscuit. Your
dog will bark with delight!” And of vegetable: “Gardens of taste! Specially blended to give your
dog that vegetable flavor he wants-but can rarely get!”
Well, I may be a sucker, but advertising this emphatic just doesn’t convince me. I lined up all
seven flavors of Milk-Bone Flavor Snacks on the floor. Unless my dog’s palate is a lot more
sensitive than mine—and considering that she steals dirty diapers out of the trash and eats them, I’m
loath to think it is—she doesn’t detect any more difference in the seven flavors than I did when I
I much preferred Bonz, the hard-baked, bone-shaped snack stuffed with simulated marrow. I
liked the bone part, that is; it tasted almost exactly like the cornmeal it was made of. The mock
marrow inside was a bit more problematic: in addition to looking like the sludge that collects in the
treads of my running shoes, it was bursting with tiny hairs.
I’m sure you have a few dog food questions of your own. To save us time, I’ve answered them
Q. Are those little cans of Mighty Dog actually branded with the sizzling word BEEF,
the way they show in the commercials?
A. You should know by now that that kind of thing never happens.
Q. Does chicken-flavored dog food taste like chicken-flavored cat food?
A. To my surprise, chicken cat food was actually a little better—more chickeny. It tasted
like inferior canned pate.
Q. Was there any dog food that you just couldn’t bring yourself to try?
A. Alas, it was a can of Mighty Dog called Prime Entree with Bone Marrow. The meat
was dark, dark brown, and it was surrounded by gelatin that was almost black. I knew I would die if
I tasted it, so I put it outside for the raccoons.
Hodgman, Ann. “No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch.” The Norton Sampler, 6th Edition. Ed.
Thomas Cooley. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2003. 47-51.