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.”