This new normal, which I’m reluctantly acknowledging may be with us for another year or longer, is really getting to me. I have been living like a hermit (albeit, an electronically connected one) for two months and I am not loving it. I miss the old normal, the one I used to take for granted. I fondly recall greeting my friends with hugs, not suspicion and hand sanitizer. I want to throw my big summer bash. I long to host a dinner party and meet friends for happy hour at a crowded bar. I need to go to the movies, and to a play and to hear live music. Restaurants have never been so appealing.
Instead, I’m at home, watching too much TV and getting crankier by the minute. Fortunately (or not), there is no shortage of things to be cranky about. Thanks to all that TV, my target this week is drug companies and their commercials.
In the old days, I could ignore commercials, as I hardly ever watched TV live: I recorded most shows so I could fast-forward through the ads. But I’ve been tuning in to a lot more news lately, which tends to happen in real time, and thus have found myself exposed to all those ads I used to bypass.
It would appear that about 90 percent of them are for drugs. (Unfortunately, none of them are vaccines or cures for Covid-19, which are the only drugs that really interest me at the moment.) They usually have crazy names, the kind of words you would make up and try to get away with in a cut-throat Scrabble game when all you have are high-value tiles and no other options. (Xeljanz — you could really clean up placing that on a triple word score.)
They treat conditions I pray I never get, mostly because the possible side effects of the drugs that the announcer rushes through sound even worse than the diseases.
The commercials are ubiquitous, no matter what channel I tune in to. Pharmaceutical companies are spending mega-millions on them, despite the fact that the drugs they are touting require a prescription so the TV-viewing public can’t even go out and buy them. What a waste of money! No wonder prescriptions cost so much.
However expensive and illogical it seems, though, it appears the ad brainwashing actually. Google assures me that after hearing about the drugs over and over, enough people ask their doctor for a prescription to make the advertising pay off.
I’m not likely to be one of them. I have too hard a time remembering what the oddly named drugs are for (and a harder time spelling them). Also, I try not to take medical advice from ad hucksters. Plus, I’m fortunate in not suffering from psoriasis, diabetes or opioid-induced constipation. So I have mostly been studying the commercials as a weird and annoying artifact of our brand-name culture.
One ad really had me stumped. Even brand awareness couldn’t explain the perplexing commercials for a little-known condition called “non-24,” that apparently can leave some totally blind people with a skewed internal clock. I couldn’t make sense of the economics of buying expensive air time to advertise a drug for such a very rare condition — until I looked it up online and discovered it’s only made by one company (no generic) and costs users about $150,000 a year. I guess they don’t need to hook very many desperately off-schedule patients to make a profit at that price. Yet another reason to hate big pharma. For all the money spent on that commercial, they could have just slashed the price and still wound up ahead.
It’s a questionable marketing decision in another way, too. Given that it’s for people who have trouble telling night from day, why are they paying for prime time? Wouldn’t it be just as effective to place the ads in a less expensive time period, say at 4 a.m., to reach their target demographic?
Wow, I really do have too little to do these days, if I have time to ponder this.
And I just remembered this is supposed to be a food column.
I guess it’s time to turn off the TV, get up off the couch and go cook something.
Black Pepper Tofu with Bok Choy
Another thing I’m more than a bit cranky about this week is the idea of forcing workers back into unsafe conditions in meatpacking plants without adequate protection or testing.
I get the importance of keeping the economy and food system operational, but I can’t stomach the cavalier attitude toward worker safety. I don’t want to be complicit, so in a personal form of protest, I have sworn off all meat and meat products unless they come from known local sources. I urge you to join me. Perhaps together we can have a measurable impact.
Please skip meat one night this week and instead try this stir-fry. The meat packing overseers may or may not get the message, but in any case, you will have added a tasty new meatless recipe to your repertoire.
Serves 2 generously
1 lb. firm or extra firm tofu
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
Corn flour (masa harina) or corn starch
5-6 Tbsp. oil (grapeseed, avocado or canola), divided
3/4 lb. bok choy
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp. grated ginger
6 scallions, cut in 1-inch lengths
2-3 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
3 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. dry sherry
1-2 finely diced Thai chilis (optional)
1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes. Toss them with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and let marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
Cut the bok choy into whatever size pieces you prefer. Baby bok choy likely only needs to be halved or quartered, but you might want to coarsely chop larger varieties.
Make the sauce by stirring together the soy sauce, water, sherry, brown sugar and hot pepper, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
When you are ready to cook, drain the tofu. Heat a wok or large frying pan on medium high heat. Add 3-4 tablespoons of oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Dust the tofu pieces lightly with corn flour then fry them in batches in the oil, turning them with tongs, until they are golden brown all over. Remove them to a paper towel to drain while you cook the next batch.
Once the tofu is cooked, carefully wipe out the wok to remove any remaining bits of corn flour.
Place the wok back on medium-low heat. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil, then stir in the shallots, garlic and grated ginger. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two until the shallots soften, then add the bok choy.
Stir-fry until the bok choy is wilted, then stir in the sauce, followed by the ground pepper. Continue cooking until the bok choy is tender-crisp (or however you prefer it). Add in the fried tofu and the scallions. Stir until everything is coated with the sauce and heated through.
Serve with white rice.
Betty Teller is desperate for human contact and promises not to take her crankiness out on you when you email her at email@example.com.
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