Monday, July 2, 2007

Goetta: Corpus Christi Cincinnatarum?

Before my situation develops into a hostage crisis, i.e. that The Summer fails to show proof of (my) life to receive its princely demands for attention, I thought I should issue some existential proof of my own. That proof relates to an old theological tussle known as the Reformation, one particularly contentious aspect of which had to do with whether in the Sacrament the wine and bread truly were the blood and body of Christ, or mere representations. In this case (and I do not shy from blasphemy), the question is to what extent goetta, whose character I shall explain soon, is truly Catholicism in Cincinnati, or merely its representation.

Goetta , shown above, is, like Greek-immigrant chili, one of the hallmarks of Cincinnati culture and cuisine. It is a robust blend of ground pork, steel-cut oats, Old World Gemütlichkeit, and a studied indifference to one's cardiopulmonary infrastructure. I personally think it is delicious, and excellent as part of a hard-core, balls-to-the-wall breakfast.

Goetta's natural habitats include breakfast plates and lists contracting what practices and beliefs indicate how "you know you're from Cincinnati when..." It is served at Great American Ballpark as surely as hamburgers; and I wouldn't doubt that somewhere it is dyed orange and given black stripes to further glorify the criminally-inclined Bengals ("Better to play in Cincinnati than to serve in Heaven"). There are not one, but two "fests" dedicated to the advancement of goetta. (One of them, the original, held on the MAINSTRAßE in Covington, KY, which this author attended, is a dismal and tiny affair. Half of it consists of a saddening Renaissance Fair, and the other half a row of stalls selling Goetta in a surprisingly limited range of forms.)

But this pervasiveness has been, in my experience, far subtler than the thorough (and sometimes spectacular) infiltration of Skyline (chili), Graeter's (ice cream), and the Bengals (warrior-felon cult). After all, I have never seen entire RVs painted in goetta colors, nor goetta tubes displayed as decals on other vehicles, much less as hats or fluffy tiger-tails attached to the bumpers of beat-up Chevys. Goetta, that is, cannot seem to rise above class the way that other of Cincinnati's institutions can.

The reason, I have found, is because goetta is utterly tied up with German Catholicism, historically the single greatest cultural influence on pre-war Cincinnati. It is an import, like the breweries and sausage production that used to flourish here; but it has the universal appeal of neither. Goetta occupies the peripheral refrigerated shelves at Kroger, sitting high up in tight enclaves near the southern-style sausage, the lard, and other slightly disreputable meats; it is a culinary subculture, and is even viewed by some to be a questionable lifestyle choice. But metts (bigger, fatter, juicier, redder hot dogs) and beer, while more conspicuously representing the German-Catholic immigrant heritage that seems surprisingly faded here, do not stand in for a unique culture the way that goetta's humble, unrefined greasiness does. Lager and sausages are as American, as accepted, as anything else. But goetta, as The Queen of Eyes has so astutely noted, is peasant food. It is swine and grain, cut into slabs and fried. It reeks of Swabia. There is nothing industrious or Protestant about it; it does not sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" or nail manifestos to cathedral doors. It IS superstitious; it DOES believe in saints; it IS nutrition for performing Good Works. It is, as I have known it, the very Host of Catholicism in Cincinnati.