« Eat carbs and starches last when hungry | Main | Quantify yourself »

Foodie = well fed hipster

It used to be that human ingenuity was valued in the kitchen. Now, what matters more is chefs' knowing the right producers and buying the right products. Culinary excellence can no longer be achieved simply by learning the right technique; it can be acquired only by knowing the right things to buy--and by, it needs hardly be said, shelling out however much money it takes to buy them. In this way, modern foodies' materialistic definition of refinement is more exclusive than that of yesteryear's dogmatic French cooking. What appears to be a celebration of the natural and the simple is in fact more constrictive and less attainable, because it depends not on talent but on means and access.

Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America by Alison Pearlman. University of Chicago Press.

The food movement ran into trouble when it began insisting that good taste was also capital-G good: Food that is good for the environment, for animals, for workers, for community-building, and for health will also taste the best. The argument is seductive but specious--what tastes good to one person won't taste good to another--and dangerous. In the final section of her book, Pearlman notes that food-focused publications have increasingly covered issues related to environmentalism, labor, and politics over the last decade--but only "as problems to be solved not by collective political action but by individual shopping choices--in other words, consumption." If consumption is virtuous, only those with the economic means to consume discriminately can have virtue. Which is how restaurant menus became infected with the elite farm brand-names and modernist amuse-bouches that proclaim how much less accessible they are than the food of the masses. The less accessible, the better.

That's an ungenerous characterization of foodie motivations. But even assuming the best of intentions, contemporary restaurant cuisine is exclusive for the sake of exclusivity and ironic for the sake of irony. Which brings us back to hipsters, that other supremely irksome taxonomic group of rich white people. Everyone has the good sense to deny being a hipster, knowing the shallowness that term conveys. Yet many people, proud of their own good taste and righteousness, happily self-describe as "foodies." Smart Casual shows why they shouldn't.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)