HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Recombinant Cuisine

I'm reading Neal Stephenson's recent book, REAMDE, and ran across the following passage that I just had to share with fellow Hounds:

"Having now lived for a few decades in parts of the United States and Canada where cooking was treated quite seriously, and having actually employed professional chefs, he was fascinated by the mid-western/middle American phenomenon of recombinant cuisine. Rice Krispie Treats being a prototypical example in that they were made by repurposing other foods *that had already been prepared* (to wit, breakfast cereal and marshmallows). And of course any recipe that called for a can of mushroom soup fell into the same category. The unifying principle behind all recombinant cuisine seemed to be indifference, if not outright hostility, to the use of anything that a coastal foodie would define as an ingredient."

* (I used asterisks to set off a phrase that was italicized in the original).

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This recombinant cuisine is what many find to be "good cooking" an while enjoy Pinterest on the whole, I find the majority of the foodstuffs to be this Sandra Lee style. I have limited much of this cooking in recent years.

    9 Replies
    1. re: melpy

      Melpy, just follow people on pinterest that your cooking style matches and you won't get the general sugary cupcakes and general "junk food" pins. I am following so many interesting and amazingly creative cooks now, my food and drink screens are all healthy... No junk shows up at all anymore.

      1. re: sedimental

        Trying to find those folks on the foray of food and drink category can be a little tough. Not to say they aren't there. Will try searching for boards instead of pins and see what I get.

        1. re: melpy

          Well, what I did was go to the food category (general) and put in search terms like: low carb, primal, healthy, low sugar, steak salads, green appetizers, clean eating, vegetarian dinners, low calorie desserts, homemade chutney, well...whatever, etc. then when I found a recipe I really liked, I checked out the board (and "pinner") it came from. They often have many other recipes/tastes that were similar, so I followed them- but just the board it came from. If you follow *enough* people with your tastes, all you get showing up on your screen from then on- are all within your own personal preferences. If you don't follow enough good food boards, then you get what the general public posts and that is a whole lot of cupcakes apparently. :)

          1. re: sedimental

            Indeed the cupcake reigns strong on Pinterest although obviously passé from the hounds' points of view.

            1. re: melpy

              If by "passé" you mean outmoded, out of date and old fashioned, then bakeries would not be carrying them. They are no longer trendy. They are déclassé. Consumers who are consciously fashionable don't buy them and wouldn't be caught dead serving them (though they did a few years ago!)
              Poor little cupcake.

              1. re: ItalianNana

                PLEASE tell me that my fellow ChowHounds DO NOT eat or not eat foods simply based on what is "in" or "trendy"! I was sure that the people here had more class and style than to base their meal plans on what the snobs in NYC or L.A. are eating this week.

                1. re: ItalianNana

                  If cupcakes are out of style then I don't want to be in style. I love them.

        2. re: melpy

          I'm a Pinterest freak but I have the same problem. I don't peruse the Food & Drink section too much anymore. A number of the blogs I read maintain Pinterest pages, and they pin recipes from all over (not just their blogs), so I just follow those. Generally if I like reading their blogs it's because I like their style of food, and they tend to pin other recipes that are that style as well.

          I've also learned that if the picture is low quality, chances are the recipe is not going to be what I want either. The higher quality photos tend to yield higher quality recipes. I peruse foodgawker.com as well, and I find better recipes on there.

          1. re: juliejulez

            Food gawker, tastespotting, Pinterest on occasion all yield decent results for my recipe collecting habit. I wish I could force myself to centralize my collection better. Pinterest has helped a little but I haven't completely switched over yet.

        3. Hostility to ingredients? I rather doubt that. And recombinant or not, Rice Crispies are an ingredient.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            I agree that Rice Krispies are a poor example of this. The soups casseroles and "dump" recipes seem to better exemplify the POV of the OP.

            1. re: melpy

              As the OP, let me clarify - I would not say that I completely agree with the quoted passage, but it amused me and I knew it would draw comments from multiple angles out here, so I posted it. It is, by the way, a single paragraph excerpted from a fascinating 1000+ page novel that has nothing whatsoever to do with food.

              1. re: BobB

                Sorry, in my head I thought part you had written and part was quote and I didn't bother scroll up. The dangers of posting from the smart phone.

          2. I think "recombinant" foods should be labelled as such. We have a right to know what we eat! (joking)

            1. What about a Banana Split?

              Bananas and ice cream are, standing alone, foods that had already been "prepared" and could be eaten as is and would not count as an ingredient, per se.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                A banana is an ingredient, as woul be nuts. Whipped cream can be made from scratch easily although the can is iconic. Also you can made ice cream at home as well.

              2. Oh good. Another lovely generalization of us folks here in the flyover zone.

                When my east coast mom started making "soup casseroles," I'm pretty sure it came from a place of "How the hell do I get something that remotely looks like a dinner on the table for four kids while I'm working two jobs?" not from a hostility toward ingredients. Not from indifference. Are there tastier ways to do that? Yup. And she found them eventually. But the ease of the can of soup was a pretty strong lure for a while.

                This approach to cooking is neither exclusive to "mid-western/middle America" nor all that "mid-western/middle America" has to offer.

                4 Replies
                1. re: debbiel

                  Definitely not exclusive to middle America. I have never lived outside of NYC and LI and I have had more than my share of "recombinant cuisine" (who comes up with these terms???). I have to admit I have not read the article yet. But, as a woman who does most of my cooking using fresh ingredients, I find the premise of the article ignorant and disrespectful. Hostility? Yes. I am sure that anyone who has ever prepared a dish using condensed soup has a deeply seething hatred of the stuff. Maybe there should be a course for those studying Psychology that covers this issue.

                  This is the stuff that makes people who prefer local and fresh ingredients look like snobby arses - when most of us aren't! Do we really need something else to make our society more divisive? When it comes to food, I stand by, "Different Strokes for Different Folks". There are so many other things to judge and turn our noses up at (<- sarcasm). Food should be fun, conveneient for those who need it to be, a taste good - and taste is about as subjective as something can be. I had a French teacer in ninth grade, who everyone once in a while would say, "Don't yuck someone else's yum". Twenty-five years later, that is one of the thgings from French class that I remember the most. Probably because it is the most practical thing (for my life) that I learned in that class.

                  1. re: Justpaula

                    I also want to add that my comment was not directed to the OP. I realize s/he was posting something written by another writer.

                    1. re: Justpaula

                      Good clarification Justpaula. Ditto for me.

                  2. y'know, I really should read this kind of stuff, because it just triggers rants about arrogant, self-involved blowhards who have to denigrate someone -- anyone -- just to feel better about themselves.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Good lord.

                      I really should NOT read this kind of stuff.

                      I should, however, have another cup of coffee before embarking on my morning curmudge.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I would have hoped it would have been apparent, but just to make sure everyone is clear -- my rant was aimed at the author, not the OP.

                        (have we gotten that fragile?)

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I think the quote is from a novel and represents the thoughts of a fictional character. I hope we haven't reached a point where authors incur wrath for creating characters we find offensive.

                          1. re: small h

                            If so, that makes a lot of difference. If it is the view of the book's author, then he is open to criticism, just as any of us are for our views.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              The character's name is Richard. The book is fiction. Whether Stephenson shares Richard's views or not, I cannot say. But here's the page of the novel that contains the quote:


                            2. re: small h

                              " I hope we haven't reached a point where authors incur wrath for creating characters we find offensive."

                              If so, most people should never read the Serge Storms series by Tim Dorsey, although I love the character and the books.

                            3. re: sunshine842

                              "(have we gotten that fragile?)"

                              You know what...we have. And it's a damn shame. I am not by nature an obsequious person, but a couple of nasty online comments about my lack of sensitivity has made me all mealy mouthed. I'm going to start consciously stating my opinions without malice OR butt-kissing and let the chips fall where they may. Thanks for the reminder sunshine.

                        2. Oh, hurray, yet another thread denigrating those of us who don't churn our own butter, slaughter our own beef, bake our own bread, etc. Just what this board needs!

                          Please. What in god's name is wrong with making food items from other prepared foods? Not everyone has hours to slave away at preparing everything from scratch. I'm making pasta for dinner tonight. I'm using boxed, dried pennoni and a simple sauce using a jar of passata (Italian tomatoes that have been run through a food mill). Am I to be crucified for this?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ttoommyy

                            I should not have directed my post at the OP; he was just bringing our attention to the matter and not necessarily agreeing with it. I apologize.

                          2. OMG I laughed out loud for about 10 seconds then realized it wasn't a joke! Then I really laughed.!

                            I wondered if I ought to go through the pantry and toss everything with more than one ingredient...hahahahaha!

                            I think sometimes the poor people on the left and right coasts are just so exhausted from trying to grow organic quinoa in window boxes and raise cage free poultry on the rooftops, all the while attending trendy resto openings AND being politically correct...they just want company in their misery. Flyover country seems an easy target. Tsk tsk.

                            ps This is not a comment aimed at the OP, but rather to those who think that good cooking is something other than preparing wholesome food that people enjoy.

                            Edited to add: It's also NOT a remark for folks like Justpaula who are obviously seeking to be healthy good cooks with a conscience and not pretentious twits who are not helping the cause.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ItalianNana

                              Letting chickens run around on rooftops often results in being called a shit head ;)

                              1. re: sedimental

                                Heehee, that's a colorful riff on having one's chickens come home to roost!

                              2. Hmmmm.... would be a great cookbook title Recombinant Cuisine. I actually expected something about genetically modified fish. I love to really cook good stuff, but sometimes recombinant is the way to go. And it tastes yummy! Some of my favorite recombinant recipes - mac and cheese with chopped up hot dogs; egg salad, chopped pickles, and potted meat; Spam and scrambled eggs; Chex mix; using potato chips as a casserole topper. It's also a budget saver when I'm broke. My philosophy is that a little of the unhealthy won't kill me if I eat healthy most of the time. :)

                                1 Reply
                                1. at first in my can't-find-my-glasses state right now - i thought this was about "recumbant" cuisine - in which case, soup doesn't work - or long noodles - or food that requires cutting

                                  then there's the whole other discussion about crackers in bed - those crumbs hurt! (cheetos hurt too and leave an orange tell-tale mark on white linens)

                                  1. Having been a fan of Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk sci fi in the past, and his weird, sometimes even bizarre characters and plots, I gave up after his first 4-5 books. Statements from his characters like the one you quote above started to annoy me. I can't remember which book, but halfway through I actually started bitching out loud and threw the book across the room. Never finished it. But he is very good at creating weird alternative realities and futures.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: JMF

                                      The Baroque Cycle is fantastic stuff.