Saying goodbye to Parks and Recreation, one of the finest sitcoms that loved food.

Bacon-wrapped shrimp: Ron Swanson’s favorite food wrapped around his third-favorite food.

(Ed: I’m going to write about Parks and Recreation and make some references to events that unfolded in this most recent season, but there are are no spoilers about the actual finale here as I wrote this prior to it being aired.)

To thoroughly transpose a line from Shakespeare, I come not to bury Parks and Recreation, but to praise it. After all, It was truly the little sitcom that could–much like its spiritual predecessor, it started out with a shaky and short first season and then quickly found its footing with its second–but for whatever reason it never was able to break out to a huge audience despite being one of the smartest and funniest comedies on TV. To be an ardent fan meant knowing the show was constantly on the brink of cancellation year after year (with few exceptions), so while I’m annoyed that NBC has decided to burn off this final season by airing episodes back-to-back for seven weeks, I’m grateful that the series was able to make it to 125 episodes in the first place.

There are so many things to love about this show, but I think what may stay with me the most is that no other show, certainly in recent memory, used food to comedic effect better than Parks.* (30 Rock came close with its night cheese and a dogs taking steaks and Cheesy Blasters, though.) Whether it was grandiose set pieces like the Snake-Juice-fueled disaster from “The Fight” to the simple act of Tom Haverford singing “this is how you eat it” before diving into a hot pepper, food so often served as a springboard for fantastic comedic moments but also showed that it could forge bonds between even the most unlikeliest of people. In a recent interview Michael Schur noted that food (and specifically breakfast food) was a way for Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson specifically to come to an accord despite deeply different political viewpoints:

They are such different people, and we independently arrived at Leslie + waffles and Ron + bacon, so suddenly it seemed like a point of overlap. I always thought of it as hopeful. There is an old trick of diplomacy, where if you have two warring factions who agree to sit down at a table, you first choose something very simple and uncontroversial that they can agree on. You say, “What does everyone want to drink, water or motor oil?” When they all say water, you have begun the session with a point of mutual agreement. For Leslie and Ron, a 19th-century libertarian and a 21st-century progressive, that thing is breakfast food.

Leslie may have preferred her waffles and whipped cream while Ron stuck to his eggs and bacon, but that made all the more satisfying in that they found common ground but did so without sacrificing their senses of self. Authenticity and integrity were two traits that were essential to the show’s fabric and were often expressed through food: Ron hated vegan bacon and skim milk as the latter was lying about being milk, while Leslie once called for her own disciplinary committee after she was caught using rec center teachers to help her throw a massive dinner party. Tom Haverford was always yearning to become a baller mogul and had the wacky business ideas to prove it, but ultimately the idea that got him where he wanted to be wasn’t an over-the-top end of the world party but rather his classy-as-shit bistro. Even Ben Wyatt never gave up on his love of calzones despite near-universal opposition to them and managed to use a sweet version to help shut up some ridiculous men’s rights activists and get himself the IOW Woman Of The Year Award.

This becomes even more apparent if you consider some of the corporate foes that Leslie has had to fight over the years, from Sweetums and its disturbingly widespread influence over Pawnee to Paunch Burger looking to take over the lot that Leslie has long earmarked as the site of her park. Each company’s inherent cynicism is characterized by the types of food they peddle to the masses and include energy bars that are significantly less wholesome than most candy bars and child sodas the size of actual toddlers. They are far more interested in maintaining the status quo because that’s what has been making them money previously, and have few worries over what consequences they may incur as a result .

(If you’ve read this far and still have no idea what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and either stream the series–it’s complete on HuluPlus but also mostly available via Prime and Netfix–or borrow someone’s DVDs. You won’t be disappointed.)

Of all the characters on the show, though, none spoke to my own personal food preferences more than Ron Swanson, if only because I have more of a salt tooth than a sweet one and because I too enjoy recording the steaks I have consumed at well-known steakhouses over the years. I’ve linked to this (now updated!) video of Ron’s love of food as well as a simple recipe for bacon-wrapped shrimp back when the fourth season of the show was beginning, but it feels appropriate to revisit both as I made the latter for dinner last night to go alongside some porterhouse steaks. It’s not exactly turf and turf, but I have a feeling that Ron would still approve of this meal.

Thank you, Parks and Recreation, for a fantastic run, and for embodying greatness itself as the best revenge.

Also, steak. Culinarily speaking we’re more of the Ron Swanson type than the Leslie Knope type.

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

(because if you read all that you should still get a recipe, even if it barely counts as one)

  • 12 16-20 count shrimp, deveined, tails left on
  • 6 thin slices of bacon, sliced in half
  • Kosher salt and pepper (and light on the former)

First, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a half baking sheet with foil and top with a cooling rack, if available. (If not, you’ll have to turn the skewers halfway through.)

Lightly season the salt with salt and pepper (this is mainly to avoid the sin of combining a seasoned food with an unseasoned food) and set aside. Meanwhile, line a microwave-safe plate with paper towels, place the bacon on it, and then cover with more towels before microwaving on high for 2 1/2 minutes in order to render out some of the fat but keep the bacon pliable. Wrap each piece around a shrimp, place on a skewer or toothpick, and then place the shrimp on the cooling rack. Place in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes until the bacon is crispy and the shrimp is opaque; remove, let cool slightly, and then serve.

*OK, OK, I admit that I also wanted to find an angle that was at least marginally appropriate for a food blog.

  1. You’re gonna hate me but I’ve never watched this show….*wince
    I’m really really bad on staying tuned 😔

    • That’s OK–like I said, it was always really low-rated and benefited from being the least of NBC’s problems during most of its run. But if you’re in the mood for something upbeat and funny and smart, I highly recommend catching up via Netflix or Prime.

  2. Lily Lau said:

    Haven’t watched it either but I wanted to start… is it really too late? 😦

    • I mean, technically yes as the show is over, but now you can binge-watch it if you like online or get all of the DVDs. I can say with complete honesty that if you start it tomorrow, your patience will be rewarded–the finale closes the show on its own terms so it’s not some abrupt or clunky ending. Watch it!!!

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