People disagree with me about those points, sure. But nothing compares to the fury I endure when people find out I don’t like meatloaf.
“What?” they sputter, spittle and anger flying in equal measure. “How can you not like meatloaf???”
“Well, for starters, it’s awful,” I say.
I can set my watch by what happens next—it’s like the five stages of grief:
- The eye roll: An overwrought sign of derision that would make Tina Fey jealous.
- The bewilderment: “What’s not to like?”
- The rant: a finger-pointing diatribe about how good meatloaf is because of its rustic Midwestern simplicity, its budget-friendly nature, its longevity in the fridge.
- The personal interjection: “Well, you’ve never had my meatloaf.”
- The finale: a dismissive “I’m done here” as they storm off.
Even my thoughtful, kind-hearted wife got irate the first time I spoke The Truth. “What are you trying to prove? You’re a monster!” she huffed, as if I was out to show the world that I’m an unconquerable rebel by taking my stand against meatloaf.
Which is not the case—I’m just acknowledging the obvious facts about this culinary abomination. Meanwhile, the rest of the world lumbers along in dull-eyed stupidity, gazing at their meatloaf-loaded plates with lobotomized happiness like Lennie from Of Mice And Men delightedly petting a kitten.
The name alone should make you step away from the table and… I don’t know… make a tuna salad sandwich. Order Domino’s. Eat a shoe. Anything.
It’s called meatloaf. Meat. Loaf. A loaf of meat. It just sounds foul—let alone conjures the image of a sweaty, Rubenesque man singing about sloppily deflowering his girlfriend in his car while a Yankees game plays on the radio.
But meatloaf, the food, has connotations as well. And they’re all bad.
As a born-and-bred Chicagoan whose parents are from the heart of Indiana, I know me some Midwest. And I’m well aware of the stereotype: The middle of the country is the bastion of doughy-faced simpletons who settle into their Barcaloungers to stare lovingly at Fox News, then drift off to sleep on QVC-purchased sheets.
And what’s their favorite food? Solidified brown mush. That is the culinary embodiment of how the rest of the country sees the Midwest. Uncreative. Boring. Predictable.
“Ooooh, look—I took ground beef and added bread crumbs… then I put it into a mold and made it a brick! How can you not adore this magnificent creation?”
Even the recipes are slavishly uninspired. “This recipe says use herbed bread crumbs instead of regular bread crumbs! Take that, Thomas Keller!”
And what do you serve with meatloaf, anyway? I’m guessing canned peas and peaches in heavy syrup—then, for the special dessert, the piece de resistance: green Jell-O with marshmallows topped with iceberg lettuce.
I have some personal skin in the game here, too: For years, I didn’t eat red meat. I wasn’t sanctimonious about it, and I often heard lines like, “Oh, but I see you’re wearing leather shoes!” Whatever, it was just something I did.
Then finally, when I was living in Missoula, Montana, I decided to get back on the beef train (coincidentally, my stage name in college). My Nebraska-bred roommate said, “Hey, I know the perfect surprise meal to celebrate!” You can see where this is going: I came home to find not a perfectly grilled, grass-fed Montana ribeye, nor a sizzling plate of steak fajitas… but a fucking meatloaf. “It’s even better with ketchup!” he said. Thus my four-year sabbatical from red meat ended with a dry, rectangular slab of pressed ground beef, drenched in tomatoes mixed with corn syrup. (Still, it was a lovely gesture. Thanks, Dan.)
Here’s the thing: If we thought about it for 30 seconds, we’d all be vegetarians—the ethics, the cruelty, the environmental damage all point to the undeniable conclusion that the world would be better off if we didn’t eat the meat of the cow. But it’s delicious, so here we are.
So if we’re going to do something that we clearly shouldn’t, the end product should at least be tender and luscious, like the aforementioned grilled ribeye. Or something that’s both portable and pleasing (and can be covered with cheese and bacon), like a hamburger. Or if you want to save money and have something that lasts in the fridge, look up one of the myriad beef casserole recipes out there.
Instead, we insult the food gods by serving compressed dog food, oft smothered in gravy. They are undoubtedly offended, because they know The Truth: meatloaf is disgusting. And you should know it, too.