Is food the new music? (sentences to ponder)

by on August 23, 2015 at 12:58 am in Education, Food and Drink, History, Music | Permalink

Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it’s become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste. If you’ve eaten at Noma, you’ve had an experience a very tiny fraction of the world will be lucky enough to experience, whereas if you name any musical artist, I can likely find their music and be listening to it within a few mouse clicks. Legally, too, which removes even more of the caché that came with illicit downloading, the thrill of being a digital bootlegger.

Once, it felt like watching music videos on MTV was a form of rebellion in plain sight. Nowadays, the channel doesn’t play any music videos. Instead, we have dozens of food and cooking shows, even entire channels like The Food Network dedicated to the topic. Chefs have become elevated to the status of master craftsmen, with names that have risen above the status of their restaurants, and diners revere someone like Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame the way a previous generation worshipped the guitar sound of a rock god like Jimi Hendrix.

The food scene today offers a seemingly never-ending supply of scarce experiences, ingredients, and dishes. Cronuts you have to wait in line for a few hours to get your hands on. Pop-up restaurants that serve only on a few nights a week for a few weeks, then disappear forever. Restaurants that you have to sacrifice a goat to just to get a reservation, and then they’ll actually take that goat you killed and prepare your entire dinner from it, nose to tail. A white truffle add-on that tacks $80 on to a single piece of cured hamachi, and oh, the truffle is only available for four weeks a year and came over on a gondola from Alba, Italy, and the hamachi is one of the last of three members of its species so you know, you should probably try it before…oops, sorry, the chef says someone just ordered the last of it. Yep, it’s that couple at the corner table, and that’s the last plate that she’s Instagramming right now.

That is from Eugene Wei, with more of interest at the link, via Graham Rowe.

1 RJ August 23, 2015 at 1:16 am


Making music well requires talent that only a small fraction of people possess.

Lots of people can cook.

2 meets August 23, 2015 at 1:54 am

Really? I can find many talented artists on Google Play.

Same with restaurant cooks of course.

3 Vivian Darkbloom August 23, 2015 at 7:00 am

The quoted excerpt was about the experience of selecting and listening to music and not “making music”. This was then compared with experience of selecting a restaurant and eating food there and not “cooking”. In other words, it was about signalling via consumption and not the ability of individuals to create something. Consuming music is cheap, ubiquitous and easily accessible to everyone regardless of financial means or ability to travel. Eating at expensive restaurants with very limited seating is not.

Perhaps you didn’t read the excerpt? There may well be grounds to disagree with the author, but to do so you need to address what the author wrote.

4 er August 23, 2015 at 8:04 am

this is a lie many people tell themselves

5 prior_approval August 23, 2015 at 1:40 am

So, Record and Tape Exchange in a strip mall was the older version of the new mass culture of strip mall restaurants?

6 Steve Sailer August 23, 2015 at 2:01 am

Baby Boomers

7 Doug August 23, 2015 at 3:10 pm

I don’t think you’re wrong. Food is definitely much more accessible to boomers than music. But the trend of chefs as rock stars wouldn’t be possible unless millennials were also actively participating. If the phenomenon was solely boomer driven, then what constituted “trendy food” would be different. I have some perspective here, I’m 30 and my parents are 60. And while we’re all definitely “foodies”, there’s a lot about the new culinary culture which my folks just don’t get it.

Even at Noma, most of the clientele was young, while traditional across-town Kong Hans definitely attracts the older crowd. You’re not seeing Los Angelenos boomers raving about the latest taco truck they found on Twitter. You don’t see Chicagoan boomers scarfing down organ and game meat dishes (in fact they have a persistent bias driven by post-WWII abundance, that those “inferior meats” are for the poor). In Paris, French boomers are generally revolted by bistronomy’s challenge to haute cuisine. In Modena, boomers boycotted #2 world-ranked restaurant Osteria Franceska, because Bottura wasn’t adhering to traditional Italian recipes.

A lot of the reason food is so much cooler now, is because it really is a lot better than it was ten, fifteen years ago. And it’s improved a lot, because it changed a lot and shrugged off a lot of traditions. Willing foodie boomers definitely helped make this happen by opening their pocket-books. But they’re generally not the ones pushing the innovation, either on the supply or demand side. Boomers visit cool mixology bars and order flavored vodka martinis. That keeps margins high and pays the rent, while millennials are subsidized to experiment with infused amaro cocktails. Which in turn keeps the bar cool.

8 msgkings August 24, 2015 at 1:08 am

Y’all are missing the point of ‘cool’. Chefs are popular, with old fogies like Boomers, so they have nothing to do with ‘cool’. Popular/successful does not equal cool. That is always the exclusive purview of the young, and the hip.

The only people who think food is ‘cool’ are Boomers, who no longer have any bearing on what is or isn’t cool.

Hence the question from our decidedly Boomer host. Not that hard folks.

9 Hadur August 23, 2015 at 2:09 am

I’m increasingly seeing this argument made on the internet, often in the form of “as music is to boomers, food is to millennials”

10 Steve Sailer August 23, 2015 at 2:17 am

Or Baby Boomers are too old to care about music anymore, but they still like food.

Twenty years from now we’ll be reading about how food is passe, but napping and yelling at people to get off your lawn are the hot new trends.

11 msgkings August 23, 2015 at 2:29 am

No because Millenials are more numerous than Boomers. But you’re a Boomer so you don’t even see the next wave coming. I’m Gen X, I can relate to both.

12 Steve Sailer August 23, 2015 at 3:22 am

Thirty years from now, the hot trend will be poor young Post-Millenials being employed by rich nonagenarian Baby Boomers to go to Denny’s and chew the Early Bird Special for them.

13 msgkings August 23, 2015 at 3:27 am

Thread winner!

14 duxie August 23, 2015 at 2:47 am

Re: that’s the last plate that she’s Instagramming right now.

In Germany, the Chef’s creation is copyrighted.

A commenter asked is it still copyrighted after it has been digested. Well, derivative works are also copyrighted by the original creator.

15 Anon August 23, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Tell that to Richard Prince.

16 Melmoth August 23, 2015 at 3:06 am

I can’t get past the suspicion that the food obsession of the modern west is a sign of some cultural decadence and not a re-assuring development in how we spend our time, money, and attention (at the risk of sounding like some contemporary Gibbon aghast with moral indignation).

17 Millian August 23, 2015 at 5:30 am

The kind of people who worry about decadence should fight it out, Ultimate Warrior style.

I’d love to see Neoreaction versus Daesh.

18 Urso August 23, 2015 at 9:40 am

Prof. Cowen quoted a great CS Lewis line (Lewis was not talking about food per se but was analogizing it to sex:

“There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”

Actually on review Cowen cited a different quote:

19 Brent Wheeler August 23, 2015 at 4:16 am

I liked this figure of speech…. “never-ending supply of scarce experiences”. This is a new place on the supply curve for me at least.

20 dearieme August 23, 2015 at 6:28 am

Maybe because “music” gets ever more crappy while food becomes less so?

21 Moreno Klaus August 23, 2015 at 6:58 am

I dont agree with this post at all. The average millenial does not eat out at a restaurant everyday… The thing is music is becoming crappy (at least pop music), and music styles are becoming more and more and more fragmented (while strangely enough, it is increasingly difficult to find something Original!) that the likelihood that you like/love a band and your friends do not, is very high. So thats why music does not enter in the conversation in anymore. Not everybody likes norwegian black metal like me 😉 But the kind of dinner experiences mentioned in this post, are not accessible for most millenials…And i think most of them dont care.

22 Vivian Darkbloom August 23, 2015 at 10:44 am

“I don’t agree with this post at all. The average millenial does not eat out at a restaurant everyday…”

Does that put a limit on how much they can talk about their dining experiences? If you’ve dined at NOMA, do you think that you stop talking about that “cultural experience” once you’ve left the table? The topic was cultural conversation which does not need to correlate one-to-one with the cultural experience that engendered that discussion. In fact, the author of that post seems to think it is just the opposite (from the first sentence of that post):

“Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity…”.

23 Moreno Klaus August 23, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Like I said : ” But the kind of dinner experiences mentioned in this post, are not accessible for most millenials…And i think most of them dont care. “

24 Moreno Klaus August 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

But maybe i am just biased…. I dont think food is an interesting talking subject at all….

25 Dain August 23, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Me neither.

Tangentially, youth getting into the food “scene” is probably more evidence that they’re better behaved than previous generations. Youth is about energy and burning it off. Most of the out-all-night-drugs are an appetite suppresant. If kids are making eating the center of their world, that’d be kind of novel, at least when compared to recent generations. And probably a sign of their relative docility.

26 Dan in philly August 23, 2015 at 7:03 am

Hedonism, it’s so been done.

27 Chip August 23, 2015 at 7:10 am

I feel best when I eat least.

Obsessing over eating is not just decadent, it’s somnolent.

28 rayward August 23, 2015 at 7:39 am

Expensive (or exotic) food is affordable to most anyone, as is the hot new restaurant, the $5 cup of coffee, and latest smart phone. What the expensive food phenomenon represents (and the expensive coffee, smart phone, etc.) is a different method for determining status, a method that isn’t limited to the 1%. While I can dine at the same restaurant (or drink the same coffee, use the same smart phone, etc.) as the 1% (within certain limits), I can’t reside in the same house or drive the same car or fly in the same jet. It’s about status. The competition for status, as Cowen suggests, isn’t about the intellect (e.g., knowledge of music, literature, etc. and conversation about it among the intellectual elite), but about consumption of products in a competition in which almost all can participate. Certainly more than can compete in the intellectual competition to which Cowen alludes (and competes). It’s the new “consumption elite”. Of course, the 1% has its own competition: the size of the house, the size of the private jet, the size of the bank account. For the 1%, size matters; for everyone else, not so much.

29 William Woody August 23, 2015 at 8:34 am

I actually find myself in agreement with the excerpt, in the sense that for many people, their enjoyment of an experience is partially tied with the scarcity of that experience. That they can have an experience that most other people don’t have without the effort of having to devote large chunks of time learning something new seems to be a bonus.

30 John From August 23, 2015 at 8:37 am

Do teenagers spend a lot of time talking about food?

31 J. Bieber August 23, 2015 at 9:58 am


32 Patrick Stein August 23, 2015 at 5:44 pm

As a teenager, music is definitely the main form of cultural expression. Most young people aren’t in cultural circles where Noma and $80 truffles are common topics of conversation. To the extent that food television is popular, it’s usually “hybrid” shows that are more about competition (Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen) or travel (Anthony Bourdain).

33 Ray Lopez August 23, 2015 at 10:30 am

Baby boomers with money. Here in the Philippines, where they have youth, they have crappy “1970s style” food and they love it. You have to live here to know what I’m taking about, but it’s really bad. The only good food I’ve had (aside from home cooking which you cannot criticize)–and I hate sweets–was Crispy Creme doughnuts in Manila. I’m sure a doughnut connoisseur however would have issues with their doughnuts, but at least they were good tasting, unlike most of the restaurant food here. But this place rocks for other reasons… you can have your gourmet food, fugly American!

34 Fernando Tesón August 23, 2015 at 10:36 am

What’s wrong with just liking food? The world is divided among foodies and the rest. I know many soi disant high-cultured people who just don’t care about food. Also, someone who pretends to know about food for status reasons is easily unmasked.

35 James Hartwick August 23, 2015 at 11:47 am

So people are deriving a great part of their enjoyment of a meal from the fact that other people can’t have it? Terrible. How long will it be before the other people start resenting this to the extent that they too insist on having a scarce culinary experience, even if it means that someone who was already enjoying such an experience can no longer do so? Even worse.

I grew up in a non-religious family and for many years viewed religion as little better than superstition. But examples like this make me think that the Christian theologians were very psychologically astute when they made Envy one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

36 John From August 23, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Steve Sailer is more or less right here. Music was culturally important when youth culture was culturally important. If food is the new music, then old farts are the new hipsters.

37 M August 23, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I’d say I see a few strings to the food movement:

As an ethnic dynamic – Hispanic and South & East Asian people, traditionally, probably care about food, more than Anglo Saxon or European. It’s also a way for them to connect with heritage, and ethnic identity. Much of the wider cultural dynamic has some imitative quality. Partially there’s a sense in which you get Asian folk saying “White people food…. sucks” and the infiltration of high quality Asian foods and you get hipsters making amazingly perfect burgers or meatloaf or barbecue or whatever as sort of a face saving gesture, I think.

A producer driven phenomenon – you have more people who want to opt out of increasingly redundant office work and produce high quality food, and then the produce filters its way up the chain. You couldn’t really have this kind of “food movement” without this base.

Modern concerns for health – “Eat Clean” and fad diets are responses to the idea that we have this obesity and that the problem is in our food system. So people are thinking about food a lot, from the perspective of “we need to eat differently, and better”. People who do nutrition are seen as liberators from the prison of our society, ill health and obesity, in a way that probably the ’60s types saw the rock gods, as freeing them from the asexual Bourgeois conformity of the Midcentury era (a movement which modern Millennials sort of reject as an unbalanced and overreaching kind of decadence and pretension).

With I don’t really notice that people are less interested in performing music at the moment. Just check out Youtube – there are probably more Millennials performing for other Millennials than there ever were young Boomers performing for other young Boomers. But I do think agree with the article it has largely ceased to be seen as a rebellious and creative act of self expression. Music is seen as a competitive craft by the Millennial Generation – hence “Whiplash” as a movie and to a lesser extent TV talent contests, and that craft may be seen as at the extremes of either totally non-commercial or utterly commercial, as a reflection of the winner takes all dynamic of modern music. It’s more of a performer side difference, I think, where music has a goal of technical excellence and achievement and either bowing to the masses or totally rejecting them, rather than a project for mass communication and influence and ego, where the artist leads the masses.

The idea of music as a mass platform for creative expression I think basically peaked with early rap, which was pretty much the most upfront and direct form of just speaking to the masses, real and authentic, there has ever been, to the extent there was often minimal actual music going on there. I think modern musicians have retreated from that position. Similarly I feel like the idea of creating your own, totally unique sonic environment and signature peaked with the advent of cheap studios for the masses, with mass produced synths, mixers, sequencers, sampling, etc back in the early hip hop and electronic music revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s. There’s a retreat from that ideal of making your own sonic landscape, partially through the ruthless and I think soulless musical Darwinism of modern EDM. So there’s a lot less of a “Listen to *this*” factor, particularly as a medium for musical conversation with people outside your own little musical scene.

I agree about Baby Boomers lacking interest in modern music, and it thus being sort of invisible to them though. They are still the talking heads, and the conversation, outside of blogs and stuff, is in many ways theirs.

38 Faze August 23, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Games are the new music. Video games are a massive cultural phenomenon that is all but invisible to anyone over a certain age. Gamers have a complex code of status markers that are utterly unintelligible to the uninitiated, and generate deep emotional involvement. Games are a powerful generational differentiator, just as rock music was to us in the 1960s. Maybe even bigger.

39 Bernard Yomtov August 23, 2015 at 8:26 pm

So food has become a new basis for stupid snobbery?

I’ll buy that. It’s not altogether new, but certainly has become more prominent in recent years. It’s not restricted, though, to super-expensive high-end restaurants. The whole “best taco west of the Mississippi,” business is part of it too. Tyler take note.

40 Bros Before Coasse August 24, 2015 at 8:43 am

Somalia continues to offer “true scarcity” and “scarce experiences”.

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