Food Songs

September 23, 2012

When I was on leave last year I took a little trip up Tacoma way to hang out with a bunch of my friends. Erin McKenna, who teaches at Pacific Lutheran University, had organized a day-long food and philosophy festival, and part of her idea was to have Doug Anderson, who teaches at Southern Illinois University, lead us in a few food songs. The obviously ideological bias placed in evidence by a bunch of philosophers proposing to sing food songs set to the side (or maybe it was something else entirely), Doug was kind of stumped. After Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” he was reduced to lots of songs about beer and whiskey, which are not (last time I checked) actual foods.

Now readers with a long memory may recall that I have praised beer as more nutritious than many manufactured items purporting to be food, but that is neither here nor there in the present moment. When it comes to song, a beer lyric is as foreign to the spirit of a proper food lyric as can be. Doug was quite right to classify the beer song and whiskey song as closely related. What I wanted to talk about this week, if I can get beyond the obligatory tangential thread, is the fact that there actually are enough high quality food songs to fully occupy an evening’s musical entertainment. Since “song lyrics” is one of the thematic links you can use to sort entries in the Thornapple Blog, you would expect that I have written about some of them.

And I have. There was indeed a cheeseburger entry that showed up in connection with my Hawaii trip last year. Note that I gave the kudos for “best cheeseburger song” not to Buffet but to the Steve Miller Band for “Living in the USA”–which is actually not really a food song, the maestro’s plaintive call for “Somebody give me a cheeseburger!” to the contrary. In fact, lots of the songs that will pop up under the song lyrics tab don’t even mention food. The Beatles‘ “Birthday” is not about birthday cake. There are also songs that clearly refer to food, even when it seems pretty undeniable that the lyricist had something altogether different on the brain. Witness “Chili or Jelly?” But there is a handful of very notable food songs that I have gotten around to during the three years that the Thornapple Blog has been under construction.

Aside from some entries earlier this month, I found two. Both of them are about tomatoes. Not that this should surprise anyone.

First, back in August of 2010 I brought up Guy Clark’s “Home Grown Tomatoes”. Not exactly a hit, and possibly not even one of Clark’s better songs, but still and all a perfectly respectable food song. Some of you may remember John Denver’s recording from the Higher Ground album.

If I’s to change this life I lead
I’d be Johnny Tomato Seed
`Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cemetary
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes

While that one is well worth a look on You Tube, I think the other one from the curiously obscure Texas duo Trout Fishing in America is truly one of the great food songs: “Pico de Gallo.” We hit that one back on Cinco de Mayo in 2011 in one of the few Thornapple blogs to mention not one but two songs (the other was, I confess, a beer song–but it was about how great a beer can taste).

It’s got jalapenos, I reckon y’all have seen those.
They’re kinda hot for gringos and probably flamingos.
Just add some tomatillos, onions and cilantro,
Lime juice and tomato, you got pico de gallo!

So tune up that guitar Doug. We’re waiting.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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5 thoughts on “Food Songs

  1. This is a song about a girl from the beautiful country of polar bears and pickled herring just above Denmark and how she fell in love with a beer geek at Mikkeller Bar. Yes, the song is in Danish but the music is still great.

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