The real thing

(Listening notes: Dr. John, The Clash, The Neutral Milk Hotel, Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” performed by Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, The Saints, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Over the Rainbow”)

I had a friend over this evening, and he said something that hit me. He asked what I had to drink. Needless to say I had beer, but that wasn’t the thing for him, so I offered Diet Coke, which he initially accepted. Upon spying a Sprite he said, “I’ll take a Sprite instead.” I remarked about his love of Caffeine and he said, utterly devoid of irony:

Diet Coke? Without the rich full taste of real Coke it just isn’t the same.

Is it any wonder I love this man? Now I love Coke, and it occurred to me that Coke is unappreciated. Obviously people love Coke, possibly the single most successful consumer product of all time. I mean something different though. Usually mass produced, consumed and popular products are considered bad, or possibly just OK. I would contend that Coke is not only good, if it were not in existence and someone invented it and served it a restaurant, charged a lot for it as a unique item it would be considered a standard bearer of excellence. It has a rich, complex taste. Unlike many soft drinks it is not cloyingly sweet.

They have this drink, they call it Cola! It is amazing, and they even use it cocktails. Just add Rum or some Bourbon, you have to try it.

Put a snobby European accent on it and I can see the crowds of trendy foodies storming the place. Not only that, but it is not only the best selling soft drink, it is the best, the standard bearer, inspiring a loyalty only approached by that small hardy group of Dr. Pepper fanatics. The best of its kind and the biggest selling, a rare thing.

So I need your help, my friend and I are looking for examples of other products that are massively popular, but also are fine things in and of themselves. The arts are the easiest, see the Beatles and many other bands that were not only tremendously successful but exemplars of their genre. Food seems tougher. Let me know.

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13 Responses to “The real thing”

  1. on 24 Jul 2006 at 8:23 pm PogueMahone

    “So I need your help, my friend and I are looking for examples of other products that are massively popular, but also are fine things in and of themselves.”

    Lance, I can find beauty in all sorts of foodstuffs. I remember recently pondering over a bowl of grits. Who would have thought that ground hominy would be so satisfying?
    And I love Coca-Cola, so much so that I rarely buy it. I can purchase a six pack and it would be gone the next day, and since I’m getting older and I do not have the metabolism that I once had, I must be cautious.

    You know what’s truly beautiful though, and so popular worldwide that people no longer give it the attention that it deserves,


    Honey is the sweet nectar of the gods, and is brought to us by a fascinating, complex social insect, the honeybee. Each teaspoon of honey contains the work of thousands of bees visiting tens of thousands of floral sources. Honey is not only sweet, it contains anti-bodies and particles of bee pollen. It’s good for you.
    The only thing more popular than honey is bread. It is used by almost every society. It improves the taste of just about everything.

    The next time you dip your spoon into a jar of honey and watch it as the sticky, golden liquid oozes all over your biscuit, and as you take a bite of what will no doubt be a tasty beginning to your day, think about what brought it to you. Think about the thousands of bees, the thousands of flowers, and the delicate, beautiful ecosystem that allows such a grand, delicious start.

    Do that for me, will ya’?

  2. on 24 Jul 2006 at 8:38 pm Lance


    On board with the grits. In fact, in honor of that comment I am having them for breakfast tomorrow morning.

    As for Biscuits and honey, I am there, but my wife my leave me for someone posting a comment like that. Her favorite food is the humble biscuit, and she is a foodie. How does she eat her biscuits? With honey of course, though she also adores them with gravy.

    Of course what my friend and I are looking for are brands rather than categories. The kinds of things that popular culture throws up and so are taken for granted as just popular and not wonderful in their own right.

    So since you went off topic I have a sneaking suspicion. You wouldn’t happen to be sitting in some small Texas town taking a break from your beekeeping job would you?

    Probably not, but somehow that seems right Pogue. I don’t know why, and I am sure any mental picture of you and your life is hopelessly wrong, but somehow that seems right.

  3. on 24 Jul 2006 at 9:29 pm PogueMahone

    “So since you went off topic I have a sneaking suspicion. You wouldn’t happen to be sitting in some small Texas town taking a break from your beekeeping job would you?”

    Aren’t you the keen observer? ;)

    Buy American Honey!
    (you’ll do that for me, I suspect)

    And remember, honey is not just for breakfast anymore!

  4. on 24 Jul 2006 at 9:38 pm Lance

    I have got a deal for you Pogue. Tell me how to order it and I’ll order some of yours.

    It wasn’t the fact that you extolled the virtues of honey that gave you away. As someone who has lived fifteen of the last 18 years of my life in Texas, everything you have said over the time I have read your comments just fit the image in my mind of a beekeeper in Texas. That independent cussedness that I so like in you. Your descriptions of your neighbors, etc. I am serious, I want some honey!

  5. on 24 Jul 2006 at 10:14 pm PogueMahone


    You ARE the keen observer. A thousand salutations to you, Lance.

    You are correct. I’ve been a commercial beekeeper for over fifteen years. Most of the keepers that I know are just that… independent and stubborn.
    And though beekeepers are in the agriculture business, most of the keepers that I know are – politically speaking – a brand of their own. We are economically conservative, and socially liberal. However, when it comes to foreign trade, much like the bees, we are defensive. We do not like cheap imported honey from China and Venezuela, and we wish to impose tariffs on importers – mainly due to their unfair trade practices. (Well, at least we think they’re unfair.)

    And I would be honored to sell you some honey. It just so happens that this is harvest time, and the only reason I’m not harvesting today is because of the rain. I will have a fresh batch of honey on the market shortly. All you have to do is tell me what your preference is, 1lb liquid, 2lb liquid, 12oz comb, or 1lb creamed.

    I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

    And again,
    One thousand salutations. Very observant, indeed.

  6. on 24 Jul 2006 at 10:33 pm Lance

    I can’t wait. My wife will be back from England (she has been studying WWI and its impact on British literature under an NEH grant for the month of July) on the 29th and I’ll ask her what she would like. It all sounds good to me, but she is likely to have definite preferences.

    We were in Seattle a few weeks back at the Pike Street Market and we spent at least an hour trying the different honeys to find exactly what she wanted.

  7. on 25 Jul 2006 at 12:11 am Peter Jackson

    You are correct. I’ve been a commercial beekeeper for over fifteen years.

    Oh no way…

    Lance, that’s just weird. I’ve read a bunch of Pogue’s comments, but I would have pegged him as a pissed-off Irish poet. But a beekeeper? Crazy, man, crazy.


  8. on 19 Aug 2006 at 9:53 pm The Poet Omar

    Peter, yeah although I’ve known about the honey thing for awhile, I also equated Pogue more with James Joyce than beekeeping. Or maybe Tom Robbins.

  9. on 19 Aug 2006 at 10:02 pm Lance

    Tom Robbins! Tom Robbins! There is popcorn all over my screen.

  10. on 18 Sep 2006 at 6:41 pm A Second Hand Conjecture » Isikoffed

    [...] Bastards. You know how I feel on this, or if you don’t read here, and don’t forget to leave your input. I still want to know. [...]

  11. on 19 Sep 2006 at 1:17 am Gil

    Huh. Well the three most important foods I can think of in american cuisine that get zero respect but are still absolutely the most vital, versatile, tasty inventions nature ever offered us are: The egg, the potato (idaho russet, not those washington travesties), and salt.

    However, since you’re looking for examples of mass marketing perfection that is completely underappreciated, I’ll throw these out there:

    Coors, original, banquet beer in a bottle. Yes, you’ve got your insanely hopped microbrews and you’ve got your regional specialties (for a truly transcendental regional specialty, try blue moon’s belgian white), and heck, these days you can even get a real irish stout in your refrigerated case, but pint for pint, if I’m in a fix and I want a beer that actually has some life to it from a major manufacturer, I go with Coors. It is a completely underappreciated, superior american lager easily an order of magnitude beyond beers considered its peer. (But don’t you dare drink the Light)

    Folgers coffee. Prepared properly, according to the simple instructions on the canister, this is one of the very few mass market coffees that merits drinking without additives. A fine rich Arabica bean, perfectly roasted, greatly misunderstood. But check the dates on the can – fresher is a lot more flavorful.

    Libby’s Cooked Pumpkin. In a can. Unless you have southern roots and know the tricks and techniques of sweet potato, there’s just no better, quicker, easier way to make a slice of heaven.

    And of course, in the noncomestibles category, what discussion along these lines is complete without mention of the ubiquitous Scotch tape?

    Those are my votes, anyway.


  12. on 11 Dec 2006 at 12:22 am A Second Hand Conjecture » Blogging Under the Influence or “BUI”

    [...] So my general level of consumption of beer would probably leave many people drunk. In general however, I don’t like being actually drunk (and thus I am no fan of drinking games) so I am pretty happy that my love of beer doesn’t lead to me being drunk. If drinking a six pack left me drunk I would have to cut back on my (tied with Coke) favorite beverage. I definitely would suffer a significant loss of utility should that occur. [...]

  13. on 09 Dec 2009 at 2:26 am Vital Statistics Wv

    I can’t believe that I missed your point, I will have to do some research on this.

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