9 Feb 2008 10:03 am   //   Filed under: Food & drink, No right to be good

You have no right to be good!

What’s the difference between a guilty pleasure and something that has no right to be good?

A guilty pleasure is something you can’t enjoy without also feeling bad about. It could be something you like but that’s unhealthy, or that fills you with shame. Think meat loaf. Or Meat Loaf.

But something with no right to be good starts out no ambitions to be great, but achieves greatness by accident. Since it is genuinely good, it is no cause for guilt. It’s when low art crosses into high art, or when a corporate production machine somehow blunders into something sublime. Like Rufus Wainwright recording “Hallelujah” for the movie Shrek.

Campbell’s condensed tomato soup is a great example. Somebody once told me that the paper-mill-like odor in Tacoma, Washington, (the “aroma of Tacoma”) was actually the smell of the Campbell’s tomato soup factory. I don’t think that’s true, but it seems believable enough. Campbell’s tomato soup is a marvel of food science, a recipe for gelatinous red slime that probably hasn’t changed since the 1950s. But it is the absolute apex of tomato soup, and no one has ever improved upon it. Served with a grilled cheese sandwich on a winter day, it’s the prefect lunch. Why is this stuff so wonderful? It has no right to be good!