In 1872, the letters page of the New York Times was the stage for a heated debate which, in form and content, seems eerily familiar to modern netizens. The subject that caused so much controversy? Scrapple:
It all started with one reader’s paean to his favorite breakfast food. Calling himself “EPICURE,” he pronounced the dish—a Spam-like slab of cornmeal and pig parts—both delicious and inexpensive. If anyone was interested, he continued, he’d be delighted to share his good lady’s recipe.
Two days later, at the urging of several readers, the recipe ran.
Over the next two weeks, The Times published more than two dozen letters on the subject of scrapple, which, taken together, form a sort of steampunk prototype for online food discussion. It’s all there: the pseudonymous “usernames,” the off-topic ranting, the preoccupation with pork fat. In short, it’s a modern-day food thread in very slow motion.
[...]As always, the haters far outnumbered the fans: One reader declared that he’d just as soon fry bread in lard and eat it than partake in what others called an “abominable mess,” a “culinary fraud upon the stomach” and a great way to contract trichinosis.
Participants in the discussion didn’t just object to scrapple, of course. They also objected to each other. In what may be the earliest recorded example of a “flame,” H.G. punned on A GOOD LIVER’s pen-name, suggesting that he be “boiled and chopped up” for his ignorance.