Entitlement and Food: Part Three of an 87 Part Series

Ah, you thought I was done didn’t you? You thought there’d be no more about Entitlement and Food? You thought wrong!

The last few posts concerned economics, sociology and politics. This post concerns snobbery.

Entitlement works in many ways. One such way is: “I am rich and you are poor and I deserve to eat better food than you.” Another way, though–the one that concerns us now–is: “I am rich and you are poor and the food you eat is beneath me.”

This form of entitlement–culinary elitism–has manifested itself rather comically in the pages of Gourmet magazine.

The cover of the January 2004 edition of Gourmet featured a stack of technicolor cupcakes. [I just spent 8 minutes trying to find a .jpg of that cover but alas, can’t seem to find it.] The background was bright green and the cupcakes were blue, green and pink all resting upon a large white polka-dotted cake. All in all, pretty eye-catching albeit kitschy.

The letters to the editor in the May 2004 issue (I guess it takes a while for these letters to process) featured these words from Beverly Loder of Walnut Creek, CA:

“I simply can’t let any more time slip by without mentioning your January cover, which I found most distasteful. Frankly, just looking at it makes my teeth ache. I find it totally unimaginative and gross. This is a new low for your magazine. I had to hide it under all my other magazines when it arrived. And I can assure you that if I didn’t have a subscription, I certainly wouldn’t be purchasing it at the stands. Colorful, yes. Inspiring, no.”

I think “unimaginative” is fair. I think “distasteful,” “gross” and “a new low for your magazine” are words of snobbery and pretension. Since when are cupcakes distasteful? Did she even taste the cupcakes before she dis-tasted them?

Then in this month’s issue is a letter from Ann McCann of Groveland, Massachusetts who writes:

“I canceled my subscription to Gourmet because of that polka dot cake on the January cover. The frosting recipe associated with the cover was for a mostly-butter buttercream. Besides being nasty, the frosting would have been yellow. Fake, fake, fake, and not relevant to someone who loves to cook.”


Look it’s one thing to cancel your subscription because the cover features a recipe for swastika cookies, it’s another to cancel for yellow buttercream. I think too many people take the food game too seriously. It’s all subjective. There’s no “right” food to put on the cover, there’s just food–and if it sells it sells, if it doesn’t it doesn’t, but that’s about all you can say. I think it’s distasteful to call a cupcake cover “distasteful.”

Let’s stop judging one another for the food we eat, that’s not helpful. The spirit should be one of sharing, not one of harboring. If the food you eat is “better” than the food I’m eating, don’t throw it in my face, but give me a spoonful and see how I react. If my face tightens in disgust, am I not as enlightened as you? Or am I constipated? (See bran muffin post).

In conclusion, elitism has its place—there are books written about how elitists serve society in their elitism (at least according to my friend Travis who read a book that said that)—and I’m sure that’s true enough. If Daniel Boulud and Thomas Kellar weren’t elitists there’d be no Daniel or French Laundry. They’d say: “Eh, a radish is a radish, let’s buy ’em in bulk from the black market” and throw them carelessly on to your salad plate. You wouldn’t want that, would you? At least not for what they charge.

Yet even though elitism has its place, that shouldn’t invalidate humbler forms of culinary pleasure. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the Janet Jackson breast cupcake. I do get into arguments with my friend Lisa where I knock the Olive Garden, defend the pleasures of crustier bread and spread the gospel of olives—but this is all in the spirit of sharing (except for the knocking the Olive Garden part). And actually, on reconsideration, I DO like the Olive Garden. All you can eat bread and salad? Come on. To quote a great man, “Don’t judge the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the breadstick in your own.”

Vanilla is NOT “Vanilla”

Negligence and duty of care are not matters that should concern the average reader of a food blog. After all, we’re here to talk about food right? At least we pretend to. Although, I’ll concede, bunny sock puppets making cupcakes adds little to the discourse.

But I digress.

Today, during our BarBri Torts lecture, the professor—a very funny guy who everyone loved—used a phrase to describe the average duty of care owed to the average person. He said (and I quote) (hence the quotation marks): “He is owed the plain old vanilla prudent person standard of care.”

The law itself does not concern us: please drop your textbooks. What does concern us, though, is this hateful use of the word “vanilla.” When did vanilla become a pejorative? Or at least a minimizer? Why does “‘vanilla” automatically mean “plain”?

For anyone who has experienced the pleasure of a vanilla bean, you are well aware that vanilla is anything but plain. Its flavor is intense and comforting and yet broader, too; timeless—to quote the Bangles, an “eternal flame.”

This picture may not seem like much…


…but to me it represents one of the greatest smells that’s ever perfumed my kitchen. It comes from my homemade vanilla bean ice cream, so much more delicious than the chocolate gunk I made to appease Lauren’s sophomoric tastes:


Oh you chocolate people are probably scratching your screens right now hoping for a whiff. How pathetic you are!

Vanilla people are a closeted bunch, ashamed of their apparently “conventional” “plain” and “ordinary” tastes. I contend that vanilla people are nothing near ordinary. We are a select breed, more finely attuned to the subleties in life. We spot ALL the differences in the back of Highlights magazine. We’re that sharp.

But there’s no need for binaries when it comes to chocolate and vanilla. They both have their merits. Chocolate is good to lure children into your oven and to hide razors in at Halloween. Vanilla can accomplish that too, but vanilla is sexier, vanilla is sultrier, vanilla is Laura Linney and chocolate is Catherine Zeta Jones. Sure, CZJ was in “Chicago” but at least Laura Linney doesn’t do cell phone commercials. [Although Laura Linney DID do “The Mothman Prophecies.”]

Vanilla is always a pleasant surprise, even in savory dishes. I’ll never forget the vanilla that accompanied the crab cake I stole from my mom at Bacchanalia. Or check out this line from Frank Bruni’s Bouley review: “I had black sea bass that had been slow-roasted to moist perfection and served in a bouillabaisse that was seasoned, surprisingly and deliciously, with vanilla.” See that? Vanilla can be surprising and delicious. Suck on that, chocolate.

In conclusion, recall the tag-line of the 199? Oscar-winning-scared-my-grandparents-movie, “American Beauty”: “Look closer.”

Sure, from a distance vanilla seems plain Jane, but up close it has more pizazz than Esther on a party night. To think otherwise is foodie negligence.

Coming To Terms with Cold Stone Creamery

Look, Cold Stone, we need to have a talk. We got off to a bad start, now, didn’t we?

Do you remember when we met?

It was a few years ago. Went to see a movie with Lauren, Hetal and Andrew and afterwards we stopped by your counter at the Phipps location. Hetal said you were all the rage. That we could choose any topping we wanted and that your people would chop it up into the ice cream on a marble slab. Never before have so many people uttered the words “marble slab.” You’ve improved our vocabulary, Cold Stone.

But I was too blind to see that then. I was focused on my needs and my needs only. And my needs, that night, involved an order so grotesque that little children screamed when I announced it.

“Adam don’t!” pleaded Hetal, Lauren and Andrew. “It’s not worth it!”

“No,” I insisted, “It will be delicious! Give me vanilla ice cream with Twix and strawberries.”

The hush that overwhelmed your station in the mall, Cold Stone, was palpable. Everyone stared as the counterman gulped and began assembling my creation. I must have been mad! And yet I was sincere. It did sound delicious to me at the time. You can understand that, can’t you Cold Stone? And after all: you offer both toppings to the consumer, don’t you? Might you accept some small share of responsibility?

Well suffice it to say that the first spoonful went down rough. I feigned delight but I was really–like the ice cream–melting on the inside. It was awful. I vowed never to see you again. Rash? Yes. But necessary. Who knows what I would attempt if I didn’t cut myself off? Pickles in chocolate? Cabbage in Coffee? I was in a very bad place back then.

Tonight, though, Lauren and I gazed upon you at your midtown location while we studied for the bar. Your shiny new surface beckoned to me. “Come,” you seemed to be whispering, “Come again, Adam, allay your fears. I am your friend! Won’t you embrace my marble slab?”

I echoed your words: “Won’t you embrace my marble slab?”

“Excuse me?” snapped Lauren.

“Let’s go to Cold Stone!” I said, and before I knew it we were inside.

Here, now, free from the memory of the Twix-Strawberry Disaster of 2001, I was like a kid in a candy story. So was Lauren:


We skipped around in diapers and yelled “Mommy mommy I wanna a lollipop!” until the manager came out and asked if he could help us.

I let Lauren go first. I listened carefully as she placed her order. One small misstep and our connection would be forever severed.

“Mudpie,” said Lauren choosing from a list of already assembled toppings and ice cream flavors. Hers would contain coffee ice cream, chocolate syrup and brownies. A noble choice, don’t you think? You’re so enigmatic, Cold Stone. It’s like your heart is a…cold…stone.

And now I was up to bat. What would I choose? How to pick? There were so many choices.

“Ahem,” said the counter person.

“Coconut cream pie!” I said, choosing a choice that seemed promising.

Lauren shook her head. “You always pick the weird ones,” she said.

But I caught a glimmer in your eye, Cold Stone. I knew I stumbled upon something great. I watched carefully as your men got to work on their marble slab:


Vanilla ice cream, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and whipped cream. You’re the devil, you are, Cold Stone.

I was handed my cup. I gazed nervoulsy inside:


Would we make it? Will the old wounds heal?

Oh and how, Cold Stone! It was delicious. All the flavors melding like the cast of Kate and Alley. A perfect assemblage by an ice cream genius. That’s right, Cold Stone, I’m calling you a genius. Well played, my friend. I’m back on board.

From Abstraction to Reality: A Half-Baked Essay on Food with a Generous Contest Offer in the Last Paragraph

Picture a cake.

Let’s say a yellow cake with vanilla icing. The cheap kind that comes in a box; the kind you would sell at the Chess Club bake sale. Picture it strewn with rainbow sprinkles; the large rectangle carved into equitable squares.

Now taste it. Do you have the flavor in your mind? The cake with its chemical richness–you can almost taste the yellow; the icing overly sweet, glopped on way too generously. And the crunch of the rainbow sprinkles in your teeth. What do rainbow sprinkles taste like anyway? Mini-sugar apostrophes that get caught in the teeth…

Now stay with me here.

We are going to reform our cake. We are going to make our cake from scratch. It’s still a “yellow” cake only now we’re using flour, baking soda, a pinch of salt. And buttermilk for that tangy richness. Eggs. Sugar. The batter gloppy and aromatic. We pour it gently into a round 9-inch cake pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean. Can you see the tester? Can you smell the cake?

Only there are three cakes. Four cakes. Five cakes. All the same. Well, not all the same. In one we put orange zest. Another lemon zest. One has bananas in it. The fourth is chocolate. We are going to slice the cakes in half and make-mismatched sandwiches.

No. We’re going to make a 5-layer yellow cake, our original plan. Let’s make a whipped cream frosting. Pour the heavy cream into your mixer, and beat on high until peaks form–add sugar. Vanilla. Rum. No rum. Which is it?

And now let’s layer our cake. Bottom layer. Whipped cream. Raspberries? Blackberries? Both? Another layer. More whipped cream. Strawberries? Blueberries? Kumquats?

Can you taste these things in your mind?

Let me cut you a slice. This is my half orange cake, half lemon cake mis-matched combo with a whipped cream raspberry interior and a whipped cream blackberry topping. Can you taste it? You can’t? Good!

I have a point here, you know.

I am not delirious or on drugs. I am not a monkey jabbing randomly at the keys.

I am trying to explain to you why cooking is wonderful, why food is wonderful.

It is the journey from abstraction to reality.

This is a journey many take. I am taking it right now. This essay was a soapy bubble in my brain, now I’m puffing air into it watching it expand. Will it pop? Will it grow?

It is in that space between an idea–a recipe, for example–and the realization of that idea (the food) that the magic lies. At some point Melville said: “A book about a whale!” He said down in the ether and grabbed oars and fishhooks and blubber and spun these disparate elements into a classic work of literature. We all sit in that ether at times. In the morning, when we plan our day. We lay in bed. “I will go to breakfast then go drag racing.” That’s the idea. Then there’s the reality. The breakfast you pictured doesn’t taste like you thought it would. You pictured fluffy pancakes. These are mushy. And the syrup tastes funny.

I’m losing you.

My best point of evidence is chicken. The journey from a raw chicken, pasty pale and rubbery to a cooked chicken–golden, crisp, and perfuming the air with its rich chickeniness is the journey of which I speak. You can’t know the magic I speak of until you roast a chicken. Stuff the cavity with thyme, garlic and lemon and feel the anticipation on your skin, in your mouth, in the pit of your stomach. Watch it in the oven as it browns and bubbles; the hot juices dripping down the roasting pan. Remove it in all its glory.

Writing instructors talk about the poloroid picture. When you start writing your story, everything is gray and misty and unclear. And slowly everything comes into focus. Soon you know what your story’s about, who your character’s are.

Food is like that. I frequently sit with my cookbooks flipping through them, picturing the recipes in my mind and in my mind’s mouth. I can taste them, I think. And then I make them. Sometimes they disappoint (Chez Panisse saffron risotto, for example) and sometimes they fly far beyond my wildest expectations (Chez Panisse wild mushroom risotto). And almost always–almost every single time–the taste that I pictured in my mouth flipping through the books tastes nothing like what the end product tastes like. This is especially true of the recipes I’ve never tried. Hence my opening paragraphs: all those cake variations. My point is that you really can’t anticipate what any of that will taste like. You have to take a leap. And it’s in that space between not knowing and knowing that captures us at our most alive. It emulates the human condition: we are here on earth between not knowing and knowing. And it can be wonderful.

And this isn’t even just a call to cook. Many people hate cooking, and that’s fine. You can’t make people love a process that involves great attention to detail and tiny maneuevers that might severely affect the outcome of a dish. I’m not asking you to do that.

I am asking you to take chances. Take chances with what you eat every day. Remember this quote: “Habit is the great deadener.” That’s the truest quote I’ve ever heard. If you eat the same sandwich every day, stop. If you eat with the same people, don’t. Don’t drive through the same drive-throughs in endless patterns of deathliness. I think Aimee Mann coined the term “deathly” on her Magnolia album. That’s deathly living. That’s not embracing life and all it’s wonder.

Do me a favor this weekend. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Order something you’ve never ordered. Eat frog’s legs. Eat liver wrapped in bacon. Make a souffle.

This website is not marginal. It is not just a diversion. I have a point with all of this madness. I’m trying to show you in every way I can that food is not nourishment, food is not sustinence—food is life. How you eat is how you live. And the greater your abstractions are; the farther you let your imagination roam the greater your realities will be.

I took a chance earlier tonight myself…

I said to myself: “These chocolate chip cookies are delicious. My caramel pecan milk chocolate ice cream is delicious too! I’ll make an ice cream sandwich!”

I took the ice cream out of the fridge:


I put a cookie on a plate:


I scooped some ice cream on to the cookie:


[The ice cream melted very quickly…]

And topped with another cookie:


And you know what? It didn’t taste as great as I thought it would. The ice cream was so runny, it basically lacked any presence. Its organs–the nuts and the milk chocolate–added a new element to the cookies; another layer of flavor. Texturally, it was a bit of a marvel: the ice cream soaked interior and the dry yet soft exterior. I wouldn’t make this sandwich again, oh no. But the flavor in my head now is very different from the flavor I anticipated. And the process of it–the magic moment before I bit in–made it all worth while.

If you’re still reading this, I would like to point out that no one entered my carbohydrate cooking contest. So I extend this offer to you. Eat adventurously this weekend. Do something daring, something zany. Bake a wedding cake. Drink absinthe. Throw a luau. And then e-mail me an account of what you did–pictures would be great, if possible. And at the bottom of your e-mail include the name of a cookbook you want, any cookbook (even the French Laundry cookbook). The entry with the most outrageous, most creative account will win. Go crazy! Have fun! Live life! [Send me your acccount by Sunday, 11 pm.] And you can thank me later…

The Carbohydrate Manifesto

How did we come to this?

Yesterday, I was pumping gas at the QT and in the little plastic picture frame above the gas meter was an ad: “We Now Offer Low Carb Lunches!” At the Atlanta Bread Company, where I went for lunch today, a large banner hung overhead: “Check out our low carb options!” On TV, just now, I saw an ad for an Atkins supplement bar: “To get you the vitamins and nutrients you need on your low carb diet!”

According to a February report from market researcher ACNielsen, more than 17% of those polled reported that someone in the household was on a low-carbohydrate diet.

America is choking down this anti-carbohydrate propoganda and the food community is in an uproar. At least this member is!

Look, I understand how hard it is to lose weight. I have a mother and grandmother who dieted my whole childhood–everything from weight watchers to Suzanne Summers to Oprah to Donahue and back–and I know that the process can be devastatingly slow and results can be slim. But I can’t help but believe that this no-carb diet is a bad thing. Anything in excess is a bad thing. Cutting a food group completely out of your life is a bad thing.

Not only that, the impact is significant. Carbohydrate-based companies like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Panera Bread are losing money. Carb consumption is becoming taboo. Bread sits uneaten on the table. Pasta and pizza joints are firing waiters. Lauren and I went to Osteria tonight and the waiters outnumbered the customers.

I went to Osteria tonight, actually, to prove a point. The point is this: I want carbs. I like carbs. Carbs are good.

Here is the pasta I ordered:


Do you know what it’s made of? Carbs. And do you know what it tasted like? Delicious.

People, we are in a Carb Crisis, and I want to do something about it. Together, we can make a difference. I even made this motivational video:

Download The SAVE THE CARBS Movie.

That’s right, kids. Tonight we launch the SAVE THE CARBS! campaign. If I could make a button for the site I would do that but I don’t know how. Do you? You should! And then give it to me! Only with eachother’s help can we SAVE THE CARBS!

But here’s an actual constructive idea that I would like to implement immediately. I am going to do so in bold.


That’s right. Spread the word. This Thursday everyone–including you–will eat a gratuitous carbohydrate. No, not your daily dose of granola; we’re talking a mega-cupcake, or a big black and white cookie. Thursday, we’re going start a revolution and start it right. And if you have a website, please spread the word. The more people who know about it, the greater the impact we can make. Plus what else do you have to do? It’s not like you have a vibrant social life. I’m just saying.

So, in conclusion, don’t do it for your country. Don’t do it for your God, or your mother, or your accountant. Do it for the organ that matters most. No, not that one. Do it for your stomach. Only you can save the carbs, America. Won’t you?

Entitlement and Food: Part Two of an 87 Part Series

I really enjoyed the first part of this 87 part thread, namely because of the vibrant debate that went on. Keep in mind that you really can’t offend me with a dissenting opinion, as long as you stick to the issue and don’t make it personal. (Unless of course you’re William Shatner in which case it will ALWAYS be personal. I’ll get you Captain Kirk!)

For a really well crafted dissenting opinion, check out Trey Given’s “The Glorious Luxury of Food” in which he picks my piece apart. I wish I understood political and economic discourse better, because it seems the terms of that debate are beyond my ken. (I better get the ken back, though, before my Corporations final Thursday!)

Suffice it to say that I am that cliched breed of privileged liberal satarized so well in John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” I decry the corruption of corporate America while reaping it’s benefits. I’m like Meadow Soprano: fighting the good fight for the disenfranchized while daddy kills people. It’s all very ironic.

What I don’t like about my original post is that it’s very paternalistic. “I, the wealthy white male, know what’s good for you, you downtrodden minorities. Here, let me tell you what to eat.”

It’s a rather smug proposition. But I don’t mean it that way.

I feel like discovering food is like discovering sex or music or art for the first time. It’s this wonderful thing that’s always existed but that you never really noticed. The transition from “eating to live” to “living to eat” is an exciting one. It is to truly appreciate what it means to be alive.

And that’s why I find America’s food situation so discouraging. You get the illusion of freshness without actual freshness (Subway: “Eat Fresh.”) You get the illusion of authenticity without the authenticity (The Olive Garden). You get carbon copies of food culture without actually having a food culture. Which is why so many food critics, when they’re asked what they eat when they don’t want to spend a lot of money will tell you “ethnic food.” That’s because it’s the only “real food” that’s left that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Ethnic food is the one place in American culture where the excitement and beauty of food preparation (check out John Kessler’s James Beard nominated piece on the Dekalb Farmer’s Market) is a thriving enterprise. The trouble is that its merit is precisely due to the fact that it’s NOT American.

And I should point out that I’m not so concerned with health as I am a quality food culture. And by that I mean a food culture like you’d find in Italy or Spain or France, that’s indiginous to the land and a huge part of the experience of living in those places. Italians PRIDE themselves on their food. Do you pride yourself on Appleby’s? I rest my case.

I’ll leave you with lyrics to a new Ben Folds song that’s right on point. (Well it’s on point from the first thread, but not so much this one which moved in a new direction, but I still like the lyrics). Let’s keep the discussion going!

All You Can Eat

So I’m lookin’ at all the people in this restaurant

What do you think they weigh?

Look out the window to the parking lot

at their SUVs taking all of the space

They give no fuck

they talk as loud as they want

They give no fuck

just as long as there’s enough for them

Gonna get on the microphone down at Wal-Mart

Talk about some shit that’s been on my mind

Talk about the state of this great nation of ours

People, look to you left, yeah, look to your right

They give no fuck

they buy as much as they want

They give no fuck

just as long as there’s enough for them

(piano solo)

So I look at the people lining up for plastic

I’d like to see ’em in the National Geographic

Squatting bare-assed in the dirt eating rice from a bowl

With a towel on their head or maybe a bone in their nose

See that asshole with the peace sign on his license plate

Giving me the finger and running me out of his lane

God made us number one cause he loves us the best

Well maybe he should go bless someone else for a while, give us a rest

Just so everyone can see

We’ve eaten all that we can eat.

Entitlement and Food: Part One of an 87 Part Series

For a long time now I’ve been meaning to write about something that troubles me in the food community: namely, that sense of entitlement that goes along with fine dining.

I don’t like the fact that when I go out to a nice restaurant and I look around the room everyone looks the same.

I don’t like the fact that poor people in this country eat poorer food and that rich people eat richer food.

I don’t like Rachel Ray. (But that has nothing to do with this essay).

When Jimmy Carter spoke at the law school several months ago, he asked and answered an interesting question. The question was: what about our society, 100 years from now, will seem as repugnant to Americans as slavery does to us today? And he answered: “I think it’s the divide between rich and poor; how rich people keep getting richer while poor people keep getting poorer. It’s a serious problem.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in our food culture.

Think about where and what you eat every day and then think of some place worse. That’s what more people eat every day. Now think of something better. That’s what fewer people eat every day.

What is it that a four star restaurant puts on your plate that a crap restaurant doesn’t?

1) Fresh ingredients;

2) Expertly prepared.

That’s about it. Ambience aside, that’s what you pay for.

So how come we can’t get fresher ingredients to more Americans? That’s half the battle. The expert preparation, that’s a limited resource—only so many people are trained as chefs. But even the worst chef can make a fresh, juicy tomato delicious. Even the most ramshackle kitchen can do wonders with a freshly caught fish. It’s freshness that’s lacking in American cuisine: that’s why the landscape—the McDonalds, the Dairy Queens, the Subways—are so depressing. Everything’s processed, packaged and shipped from God knows where. And what the majority of us are putting in our bodies is a very subtle form of poison—it’s the opposite of God’s bounty. It’s the anti-Eden. It’s corporate America.

What bothers me, you see, is that rich people eat better: plain and simple. They eat better and therefore they live better. I think there’s a connection between what you eat and how you live. Maybe the boon our economy needs is a reinvigoration of the National diet. Maybe I’ll use my internet prowess to start a revolution!

But there’s so much more I want to talk about and it’s already 2:43 am. (I’ve been up all night writing–and finishing!–my 30 page paper). Luckily this is an 87 part series, so I’ll have plenty more opportunity. Just some food for thought. Hopefully it’s fresh.


We here at The Amateur Gourmet pride ourselves on our journalistic integrity, our bravado, and our contacts at Starbucks. It was one such contact, today, that provided me with the keys to the kingdom of behind-the-scenes Starbucks knowledge that we, the average Starbucks consumer, can only dream about. I share with you now the things I learned on my journey–a journey into the dark underbelly of America’s corporate coffee giant–my journey: BEHIND THE GREEN APRON.

[Cue theme music.]

My source immediately made it clear that Starbucks has a firm policy regarding disclosures to outside media sources. I assured her that my website is hardly a media source: my readers are all heavily medicated former alcoholics who live in a school bus on the outskirts of Maine. This seemed to win her over, and she allowed me to take a picture of her from the neck down to provide a graphic for the title of my expose: BEHIND THE GREEN APRON.

[Replay theme music.]


My source, who we will call HARPER, has worked at Starbucks for the last four years. And as much as I wanted her to be a disgruntled employee, eager to dish the dirt, she was surprisingly gruntled.

“It’s actually a great place to work,” she said, “you get great benefits: health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance. Plus stock and 401k.”

401k? Was this some kind of designer jean?

“Sure,” she responded.

Unfatigued by her enthusiasm, I attempted to chip away at her cheery facade.

“But surely you find the corporate structure disturbing,” I pressed. “A huge coffee giant, stomping in and taking over the world?”

“See I don’t agree,” she said, “People try to compare this place to Walmart and I’m like: no, it’s different from Walmart. Starbucks takes care of the people in the communities where they get their coffee. They’re a really good company.”

I began turning red with impatience.

(“Look,” I whispered, “Can’t you sensationalize this a bit? See, my readership is flagging and I’d like to create another internet phenomenon, like my Janet Jackson cupcake shpiel. Can’t you do it up a bit?” Harper nodded. “OK?” I asked. “Oh, sorry, were you talking to me? I was on my cell phone.”)

One thing Harper did wax negative about was how empty and automatic her job had become. Formerly, Starbucks employees actually made the drinks from scratch: grinding the beans, brewing the espresso, heating the foam. Now it’s all done by machine.

“I really thought they were going to fire us when they brought this thing in,” she said. She was referring to the giant chrome automaton the workers stand behind throughout the day. Bringing great risk to her and her future career, I had Harper snap a photo of the machine–a big corporate no-no–which I will post for you now. Click to enlarge:


Basically, then, the system works like this:

You give your order, and the counterperson shouts the order over to the person behind the automaton.

If you order a White Chocolate Mocha, the procedure is simple: a squirt of white chocolate syrup, and then over to the machine where shots of espresso shoot down. You heat up the milk in the machine to the appropriate temperature and mix it all up. Top with whipped cream and you’re done.

“The machine is so exact,” said Harper, “that it knows when the milk is at the perfect temperature. It doesn’t even let you make that decision!”

What is the perfect temperature, out of curiosity?

“Between 140 and 160 degrees.”

Moving on, I next asked about the baked goods. This seemed an area potentially rife with grotesqueries. I imagined week-old crumbcake, saturated with mold, being sold to unsuspecting little old ladies.

“Not quite,” explained Harper. “They bring the baked goods fresh every day from a local bakery. And at the end of the day they give it to a local charity.”


“But I will say,” she continued, “that I do think the baked goods are one place where the company’s lost its focus. They’ve spread themselves too thin with all the stuff they sell. They should have two cookies, two muffins and that’s it.”

What are some strange customer requests?

“Let’s see,” she said, “there’s the guy who likes half soy and half organic milk. Or the people who want extra shots of vanilla in their white chocolate mocha. How can they take all that sugar?!”

I began snorting some sugar out of frustration. “Can’t you dish me any dirt?”

“Ah!” she said. “Well, there is the story of our old assistant manager.”

I rubbed my hands together with excitement.

“Our old assistant manager was on crack. LITERALLY. Like she would have these cups of tea and they’d be almost all empty and if someone threw them out she’d get really upset. And then we realized it was because she was putting her drugs in them. She’d say things like: ‘This is the most expensive cup of tea you’ll ever see in your life.”

“Anyway,” Harper continued, “she eventually quit and started working right across the way at the jewellery store where the ice cream place is now. And apparently she ran off with all these people’s jewellery. We would have people coming in here asking for her and we’d tell them she’s gone and they’d get really pissed.”

That was pretty juicy! “Keep going,” I encouraged.

“Hmm. Sometimes people have sex in the bathroom here.”


Oh wait. That was me.

“Sorry,” I apologized.

Any other bad things she could say about Starbucks?

“Well,” Harper pondered, “I think white males move up through the ranks quicker than anyone else. Not at this particular Starbucks, necessarily, but I think on a national level that’s true.”


“And sometimes customers treat you like shit. They think that since you work at Starbucks you have to be an idiot, so that sucks.”

Anything else?

“One time we were almost robbed. Well, at least I think we were. It was early Sunday morning and I was here at the registers and I saw this guy standing by the door eyeying the place up and down, counting the people. So I made a big show of getting my manager and my manager went and stood by the door. The guy ran away.”

So you saved Starbucks?


And now you shall bring it down, enabling me and my poison pen!


In conclusion, Starbucks is a greedy, seedy corporate monster, cruel to its employees and tolerant of sex in the bathroom. Leaving the kingdom of Starbucks awareness, one is staggered by the sheer mass of heathenism that goes on behind closed doors, behind velvet ropes, behind

“Aren’t you being a little dramatic?”


[Play theme music.]