Our friend La Skolnique had never seen "Mad Men" until this past Sunday. She enjoyed it, despite our breathless narrative ("See that woman? She married the white-haired guy when the red head couldn't even get a ring out of him. Oh wait, sorry, that's actually someone else.")
When it was over she turned to me and said, "What I wanna know is, what were they eating?"
"What were they...?"
"That's right. New York had so much great food then. The dairy restaurants. Little Italy. And this guy lives at Ossining. I've read Gourmet magazines from then. Was he having swell dinner parties with Beef Wellington? Was everyone eating TV dinners? What?"
And so, for the benefit of La Skolnique as well as the rest of you, we will review everything we know and/or have guessed about The Food of Mad Men.
1) Food is status.
Well, of course.
Peggy the newly-promoted copywriter (okay, not so new), may be going back to her secretarial roots and enjoying a burger with a boy in a Brooklyn tavern now, but pretty soon she'll be having a steak with a man at Manny Wolfe's, which is what Smith and Wollensky used to be.
When high-strung Accounts man Pete "Humps the Camel" Campbell throws his young wife's chicken out the window of their Upper East Side co-op, they both know perfectly well that they can get Le Pavillion to send something up; after all, Pete is Old School and his wife is New Money, and they've both been dining there since their teenage years.
Drunk, patrician Roger Sterling assumes that his top Creative, Don Draper, hasn't eaten oysters very often, because Draper's accent betrays a slightly rural twang; Don, who reads attitudes like we read the weather report, neatly turns the table on Roger and shows him up to be an over-indulgent slob by daring him to eat several dozen oysters, oceans of Scotch (not that that's anything new to Roger) and then walking up twenty flights of stairs. The outcome is not pretty but it certainly does make the point of who's the greenhorn and who's the slicker.
At home, Don's beautiful, sociopathic wife Peggy makes "'Round the World" dinner parties with Heinekken beer, Rijstaffel, and, yes Beef Wellington. And, at a children's birthday party, a single mom saves the day by bring in a frozen Sara Lee cake when the bakery birthday cake can't be used; the cake (and the lady) are ridiculed by the other mommies.
2) Food is love.
More about Betty's kitchen, resplendent in its walnut-and-plaid: Not that much good food comes out of it.
Betty herself, anguished at sacrificing her fashion-model figure to yet another pregnancy, treats herself to Melba toast, cottage cheese, cigarettes and Scotch; on a hot night, she has Swedish meatballs or chicken salad waiting at home for Don's late dinner. He's not very interested in food either (Scotch, cigarettes, women and power nourish him so much better), so he just sits down and digs into the bowl of something-or-other without a qualm. Our late Pops, and ad man himself back in the day, would call this the Gentile diet, but it certainly did keep Don and Betty trim. Of course, Betty's withholding food (and love) from herself, Don, and the baby; she also frets that daughter Sally will be plump as a grown woman, and unable to find a man. Certainly Sally needs someone to love her; Grandpa Gene and his chocolate ice cream helped a little, but what will she do when he's gone?
La Skol needs to go to dinner now (we are enjoying the waters in Calistoga, CA) so we'll stop here and continue on the next post.