Your Bagel Is but a Sad Simulacrum

There’s no such thing as a decent bagel in California:  My East Coast best friend never tires of schooling me about America’s woeful delusions regarding this much-beloved breakfast staple. Apparently, what most of us are eating is in fact not a bagel, but a sad simulacrum.

A bread-baking method originally brought to the US by European-Jewish immigrants, the bagel’s dense, chewy interior and browned, crispy exterior are a gustatory landmark. What distinguishes bagels from other breads is that the dough rings are first boiled in water, and then baked. (Most chain bagel shops just steam the dough—cheaper, easier, LAMER!)  Another quality that legitimates a bagel is its bigness. Without these two features, you don’t really have a bagel at all. SORRY!

Fortunately, Jason is wrong about California’s failure to produce the real deal. Every morning, San Francisco’s House of Bagels opens its doors and a warm, heart-stirring waft of yeasty, whole-wheat air gushes forth. Prepared in the bonafide New York fashion, this shit’s freaking good; and located a stone’s throw from the Pacific coastline, the experience is enhanced by salty, tangy sea air. It comes close to full-on, fairy-in-the-forest, dancing-unicorn magic—if you dig gluten. (There are lots of good gluten-free things, like quinoa crackers and cornbread muffins, but bagels are definitely not one of them.)

I took home a half-dozen poppyseeds, upon which I heaped Canyon Market-sourced organic avocado, tomato, deli-made sun-dried tomato, and artisanal, hand-crafted Gina Marie Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese.

It’s fashionable among vegans to decry any food derived from animals, and given the shameful living conditions of dairy cattle in factory farms, I agree with them. Even USDA organic-certified farms are only a small step-up from the miserable exploitation and abuse these cows never asked to be born into. That said, mainstream vegan orthodoxy poses a host of troubling, unquestioned assumptions, and I’m SO OVER IT. My bent these days is whole-earth ecology.

It’s a radical, vital act to support humane, sustainable dairy farms. They are models for synergistic, mutual relationships with animals—the cows give milk and the farmers give food, shelter, protection from predators, and the high quality of life that all animals deserve.

As for bagels:  Californians, take heart! The West Coast might be bereft of legit bagels, but we’ve totally got a premium on organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, shop-roasted boutique coffee….all you can find in New York is Starbucks. BORING!

PS: Speaking of ethical dairy…you can win a gift certificate for Straus Family Creamery products! Wanna win? ‘Like’ the Eating with Abs Facebook page; leave a message on the wall stating why you heart fresh, whole food. Fun and cool. Four winners will be selected using an online, automated randomizer.

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6 thoughts on “Your Bagel Is but a Sad Simulacrum

  1. You’re bagel looks scrumptuous, but just as you can travel to find the one shop that has a decent bagel in SF, we from the E Coast can travel a bit to find a non-Starbucks ethical cup of coffee. And these days, that trip is, thankfully, getting shorter and shorter. Or we can buy the grounds and more easily make a cup at home than we can a bagel. But, all my e. coast pride aside, great post.

    1. My radical radish! My beauty queen! You’re right. I missed the boat on this one. For purposes of stark lines and easy comparisons, I eschewed nuance in favor of a scandalizing thesis! East Coast v. West Coast. Biggie Smalls v. Tupac. Etc, etc. MISS YOU!

  2. I cant help mentioning that this was the last stop in a long quest to find a satisfying NY style bagel, and while it was a step ahead of the rest, my benchmark order (an everything and a plain, both toasted and buttered) was underwhelming.

    So I learned to make my own. Not terribly hard, and you can always guarantee eating your bagel in the best possible state: twenty minutes out of the oven, so the crumb is fully set, but they are still just steaming when you cut them.

    1. You are a food-writing natural. And much more adventurous, inventive culinary artist, it seems. Invite me to your house to make bagels sometime when I get back from Berlin. I have no idea how it’s done. I do miss you so, my favorite intellectual creative companion. x

  3. Sadly, bagels are no longer a part of my gluten/free life. But in older days, I thoroughly enjoyed Rock Star Bagels, homemade here in Austin, TX. It is the real deal.

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