Are cultural omnivores actually stuck-up sticky bits?

by on June 18, 2016 at 2:11 pm in Film, Food and Drink, Music, Television, The Arts | Permalink

Poking big holes in long-held assertions, Goldberg and his colleagues at Stanford and Yale universities analyzed millions of Yelp and Netflix reviews to reveal that people considered the most culturally adventurous are actually the most resistant to experiences perceived as “crossing the line.”

That is, those dubbed “cultural omnivores” — because they eat Thai for lunch, play bocce ball after work, and stream a French film that night — are the very ones opposed to mixing it up. No hummus on their hot dogs, forget about spaghetti Westerns, and do not mention Switched-On Bach. Those offerings are not considered culturally authentic. They are a hodgepodge to which these folks would likely wrinkle their collective noses — as they did in 1968 when Wendy (nee’ Walter) Carlos electrified J.S. Bach. Today’s cultural elites approve only if the experience is authentic, which means eating pigs’ feet at a Texas barbecue passes the test and slathering a taco with tahini does not.

“We find these people hate the most atypical offerings,” says Goldberg, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “They can pretend to be the most open, but it turns out they are not. By being multicultural, they are the most conservative and the most resistant to changes to the status quo.”

Or should we just call it good taste?

Here is the Katherine Conrad article, via the excellent Dan Wang.

1 JasonL June 18, 2016 at 2:24 pm

I value exposure to a variety of cultures because I can access more experiences I would not have considered previously. I find the obsession with authenticity tiresome because it limits access to experiences I would not have considered previously. If you are telling me a korean taco is wrong, we aren’t going to have much to talk about.

2 Ray Lopez June 18, 2016 at 2:31 pm

My friend, you would not do well in Brussels, where TC is staying, since the EU enforced “geographically culturally distinct foods”, here is a list. Yes, the penalty for violation, in the extreme, is imprisonment. (It’s not easy, being cheesy) (I thought Greece had just “FETA” protected, but they have 21 cheeses, some of which I’ve never heard of, protected)

List of geographical designations for spirit drinks in the European Union
List of European cheeses with protected geographical status
List of Italian products with protected designation of origin
List of Portugal food and drink products with protected status
List of Republic of Ireland food and drink products with protected status *
List of United Kingdom food and drink products with protected status

* go Green! For little Ireland (what is “Blaa”, a food or a reaction to food? –RL)
Clare Island Salmon (PGI)
Connemara Hill Lamb Uain Sléibhe Chonamara (PGI)
Imokilly Regato (PDO)
Timoleague Brown Pudding (PGI)
Waterford Blaa (PGI)

Applied for designation:
Irish Salmon (applied for PGI in August 2013)
Oriel Sea Minerals (applied for PGI in February 2015) <–gotta protect those sea minerals, can't be NaCl can it?-RL
Oriel Sea Salt(applied for PGI in February 2015)

3 Cliff June 18, 2016 at 7:42 pm

So call it Feta-style

4 prior_test2 June 19, 2016 at 1:12 am

Or, as in Germany, the cow milk based cheese that was formerly called feta is now called ‘shepherd/Hirte’ or ‘Balkan’ cheese.

Much the same way that wine produced using the same method as Champagne is called Sekt in Germany, prosecco in Italy, etc.

The geographic designation is only that – no one is forbidden from producing an item, they are merely forbidden from naming it as being from that area – to use a classic German example, only Stollen made in Dresden, and approved by the baker’s group as meeting various quality standards, can be called ‘Dresdner Stollen.’ Everybody else has to call it Stollen, or Christstollen, Weihnachtsstollen, etc.

As with so many things concerning Europe written in English, the point seems to obscure what is going on, not to explain it.

Or to put it a bit differently – Vermont cheddar cheese could be considered a geographic designation, but there is likely no real legal framework in the U.S. preventing a Wisconsin manufacturer from labelling its cheddar cheese production as being ‘Vermont cheddar cheese.’ Trivial or not, the idea remains that labels should be accurate – for example, feta is not the name for a cheese made with cow’s milk, in the same way that gouda is not the name for a cheese made with goat’s milk.

5 Urso June 20, 2016 at 10:58 am

The Lanham Act specifically states that you may not use a mark that is “primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive.” Horrific phrasing aside, that would prevent a company from selling “Vermont Cheddar Cheese” that was made in Wisconsin. The Vermont AG also apparently enforces a similar state statute.

6 Careless June 18, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Ooohhhh Ray called you his friend. You gonna sit there and take that?

7 Dean June 18, 2016 at 2:32 pm

Lard sandwiches are a traditional and authentic American meal. They were eaten routinely by a large number of people for a large amount of time throughout the country because they are cheap and provide the necessary nutrition to keep working.

Authenticity has no direct correlation with quality. Typically speaking, all it means is that a group of people together decided that this is the best way to solve a problem, and they did it consistently over a lot of time. In some circumstances, that means they have perfected an art. In others, that means they have become stagnate and are ripe for innovation, particularly with access to new raw materials/ingredients.

8 Bill June 18, 2016 at 2:38 pm

Perhaps we even have faux authenticity when we believe that what we have is authentic.

US recipes of Asian food, for example, often exclude vegetables or spices that are difficult to obtain in US grocery stores. So, recipe ingredient substitutions are made. So, when you think you are making something authentic, it isn’t.

Recipes lost in translation.

9 bellisaurius June 18, 2016 at 3:27 pm

I’m imagining the bragging rights if you do manage to get your hands on the ‘right’ stuff.

10 Bill June 18, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Even better is the secret recipe handed to you by the aboriginal with the secret ingredients.

You can tell your friends about it, make them envious, and say you lost the recipe.

11 Adrian Ratnapala June 18, 2016 at 4:14 pm

I usually prefer the apparently authentic to the apparently creative — mostly because the former tends to tastes better. I can explain that tendency in terms of the evolultion of memes by unnatural selection. But substite spices and vegies are a bad example of inauthenicity.

I’m a migrant. Migrants adapt to their environments; in their bones, they undersand the principles that made cooking good in the old environment. In their heads and kitchens, they figure out how to make those principles work in the new one.

Some of results are disapointing, others are serendipitously good. And so cooking evolves.

12 Cyrus June 18, 2016 at 10:13 pm

This is one of the factors in (for example) Thai restaurants being abundant while Javanese restaurants are rare in the U.S. Midwest. You can make reasonable facsimiles of Thai-style dishes with while substituting many of vegetables. But for other cuisines, the ingredients are the dish.

13 prior_test2 June 18, 2016 at 2:42 pm

‘forget about spaghetti Westerns’

Wait, Clint Eastwood is not ‘authentic’? Is his Dirty Harry ouevre OK?

Or are we talking about 25 year olds at this point?

14 anomdebus June 18, 2016 at 9:06 pm

Maybe TC is talking about Cincinnati chili…

15 Ed June 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm

That’s what you get when you let people choose what they like to eat/watch/wear etc.

16 Thiago Ribeiro June 18, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Playing bocce after work is great, eating Thai food for lunch and streaming French movies at night… not so much. And maybe, just maybe, hummus doesn’t belong in a hotdog.

17 Slugger June 18, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I think I had hummus on a hot dog once. It was in Chicago, and there were 999 toppings on the hot dog including what I took to be hummus.
BTW, spaghetti westerns are real to me.

18 Adrian Ratnapala June 18, 2016 at 4:18 pm

I agree about the hummus in a hotdog — but I don’t care very much because hot dogs aren’t very nice.

But mustard and friend onion on a Brastwurstsemmel is a *very* good idea. But I only found it once here in Bavaria.

19 Adrian Ratnapala June 18, 2016 at 4:19 pm

I meant “fried” onion.

Though I admit to no error in my previous comment . Fried onions are friends. And fried friends are often onions.

20 dont_think_twice June 18, 2016 at 11:47 pm

Best comment of the thread so far.

21 rayward June 18, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Of course, the Mad Men at Google and Facebook will eat this up. Everyone is an elitist, whether at the low end of purchasing a $4 cup of coffee at Starbuck’s or at the high end of taking delivery of a Rolls Royce at the purchaser’s front door in an unmarked enclosed white trailer.

22 bellisaurius June 18, 2016 at 3:29 pm

So, it’s a labeling issue. Well, hipsters gonna hipster.

23 bellisaurius June 18, 2016 at 3:31 pm

And to be completely honest here, it’s not like I don’t like hipstery things. I’m as bad as the next urban guy living in a walkable neighborhood.

24 John June 18, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Yes, for sure good taste is exactly a taste for what has been around a few decades or longer.

25 Bill June 18, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Sounds like this site supports monocultural awareness month.

Scratch that.

Monoculture awareness lifetime.

26 The Original D June 18, 2016 at 4:02 pm

It’s not that hummus on hotdogs is bad. What’s bad is crappy store-bought hummus on mediocre hotdogs.

27 Zeitgeisty June 18, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Why does anyone care at all what cuisine someone else eats or what style of music someone else listens too?

28 Harun June 18, 2016 at 7:21 pm
29 Mark Thorson June 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm

My theory is that the reason we use pesto on ravioli and not soy sauce is that these ingredients arose as part of an ecosystem. Soy sauce occupies an ecological niche within Japanese and Chinese cuisine that doesn’t exist in any European cuisine. Putting pesto in sushi is like releasing a non-native species into a new habitat. It’s right to condemn this — in the same way we would condemn releasing American coyotes in Siberia.

30 Harun June 18, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Except there is a long history of new ingredients being brought into cuisines.

I was just at a pretty authentic dim sum place on the West Coast. I’d say the customers were 90% elderly Chinese from China. They had slices of jalapeno on the chicken feet.

Jalapenos are not part of ‘authentic’ Chinese cooking, but this is like the 2nd or 3rd dim sum place in California that has done this, because it tastes awesome.

BTW, the columbian exchange changed Italian food a lot. Its probably a bad example.

31 Mark Thorson June 18, 2016 at 9:19 pm

But jalapenos are a raw ingredient. They didn’t arise as a development within the context of a cuisine. I have no objection to incorporating raw ingredients like jalapenos or avocados in any Old World cuisine. My objection is taking a refined ingredient from one cuisine and putting it in another cuisine, like putting curry in a scone or mint jelly on tonkatsu. Horrors! Must be suppressed by the most extreme means, if necessary!

32 M June 19, 2016 at 7:17 am

Tonkatsu and curry are neither something out of a pristine food ecosystem!

33 Cyrus June 18, 2016 at 10:18 pm

While a traditional Italian kitchen doesn’t stock soy sauce, you may rest assured that many restaurant chefs are putting soy sauce or a similar umami bomb into their Italian red sauces. In small quantities, it enhances the flavor of nearly anything that’s supposed to taste savory without giving itself away.

34 ChrisA June 19, 2016 at 2:36 am

Yes I do this, I often use soy instead of salt in savoury dishes. It works very well.

35 Troll me June 19, 2016 at 11:23 am

Years ago, I abolished salt from my kitchen and only add it via soy sauce, or cheese (and anyways most non-produce comes with lots of added salt anyways).

36 anon June 18, 2016 at 11:22 pm

Non-native species can irreversibly displace native species and destroy ecosystems. It’s not an aesthetic concern as you seem to think; mixing species that should not be together harms the environment.

37 static June 18, 2016 at 4:35 pm

This largely gets it right, the search for the culturally authentic is a misguided attempt to like what you are supposed to like more than trusting your own tastes.

38 dearieme June 18, 2016 at 4:37 pm

In the early sixties The Swingle Singers sang jazzy versions of Bach favourites. They were rather good.

Many classical piano pieces tend to sound harsh if not played on a Broadwood.

Just a matter of taste, innit?

39 S June 18, 2016 at 4:55 pm

unreadable bullshit

40 Jan June 18, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Ingliz tilini bilasizmi?

41 carlolspln June 18, 2016 at 5:02 pm

In the sixties US college students thought they were being ‘authentic’ by listening to acoustic blues music, e.g. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. No electric instruments allowed.

Whereas the REAL folk music of the decade was being made by Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys.

42 dearieme June 19, 2016 at 7:10 am

But Terry and McGhee were rather good; who cared whether they were, or had been, authentic? Dear God, some sixties people were dim enough to talk about the Rolling Stones as authentic. College students do tend to be silly buggers.

43 LR June 18, 2016 at 5:14 pm

“Authenticity” means you do it when no one can observe – ie its not about signalling. That’s real. People who consume culture in public and comment widely about are generally (not always) in authentic.

44 LR June 18, 2016 at 5:16 pm

To be “onnivorous” does imply a lack of grounding in ones tastes. It doesn’t necessarily imply faux, signalling behaviors. But it surely could.

45 Urstoff June 18, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Is the Olive Garden considered authentic?

46 middle aged vet June 18, 2016 at 5:51 pm

It would be much easier to write a really good novel about an Olive Garden than about Chez Panisse, but the chefs at Chez Panisse are more likely to write a really good memoir than the microwaveists at Olive Garden. Who to invite to a Super Bowl Party? Olive Garden workers or Chez Panisse workers? A peaceful bourgeois existence is the authentic longing of the human heart (Don Colacho).

47 Donald Pretari June 18, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Long ago, I was madly in love with a Chez Panisse waitress named Shelley. She found me a bit off, I suppose. Good times.

48 Donald Pretari June 18, 2016 at 5:35 pm

I’m pretty sure that reading millions of Yelp and Neflix reviews rendered the researchers incapable of analyzing a limerick.

49 Jan June 18, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Guess what percent of Yelp reviews are written in dirty iambic pentameter.

50 Adrian Turcu June 18, 2016 at 6:27 pm

This reminds me of a Lonely Panet travel doc where a woman was complaining that on a Amazon trip where she was supposed to see an authentic Amazonian wild tribe one of the children had a Western produced t-shirt on his back.

51 Foobarista June 18, 2016 at 6:50 pm

I had the same experience traveling near Tibet – a UK tourist was complaining that a Tibetan kid was wearing a Stephen Curry T-shirt. And was playing basketball – apparently, he was supposed to be milking his yak.

52 Harun June 18, 2016 at 7:39 pm

I was working in China about 7 years ago, and told a co-worker who was into the NBA that he should root for the Golden State Warriors because they suck, but eventually they’d be better and you could have real cred as a true fan.

His reaction was “I’ve never heard of the Golden State Warriors.”

Now kids in the hinterlands wear their jerseys.

53 Jan June 18, 2016 at 8:11 pm

At that point there was no basis to believe the Warriors would eventually be good, ha.

54 Foobarista June 18, 2016 at 6:48 pm

I guess I’m good then – had a “Punjabi burrito” for lunch yesterday, and had a burger with kimchi on it for lunch today….

55 anon June 18, 2016 at 10:42 pm


Octopus poke yesterday. Ordering it spicy might not be original, but it was really really really good.

56 ibaien June 18, 2016 at 6:57 pm

it’s “STUCK UP STICKY BEAKS” jesus. you’ll never be in charge of the sheep dip at this rate, Tyler.

57 Harun June 18, 2016 at 7:35 pm

I can see a few reasons why I might want to find “authentic” cuisine:

1) Its good to have a baseline for comparison.

2) Its good to challenge your cultural priors – red beans as sweetener, spicy fruit, whatever.

3) Potential window into what normal people would eat in a country. (experiential)

4) “Authentic” food will have passed through possibly centuries of minor innovations and tweaks to become a kind of standard. This will usually be much better than newly invented versions or fusions, just based on survivor bias.

58 Jan June 18, 2016 at 8:13 pm

4 is the best answer.

59 anon June 18, 2016 at 10:48 pm

I like all 4

60 anon June 18, 2016 at 10:59 pm

As an aside, I haven’t been served a great Korean taco yet, but when I get marinated chicken leg at the Korean market and grill it, it makes a really good burrito.

61 prognostication June 19, 2016 at 12:39 am

I think these are all good reasons, but I’ve also had plenty of fusion dishes that I liked. One of the best parts of getting out of a milieu where I was surrounded by hipsters several years ago was the gradual realization that it’s okay to just like what you like. I mean, I will push people to expand their palates (food and otherwise) beyond their comfort zones, but policing authenticity gets silly after awhile.

62 Steve Sailer June 18, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical “Hamilton” with rapping Founding Fathers?

A simpler explanation is that sophisticated white people don’t to be accused of “cultural appropriation” of People of Color for, say, saying out loud that Led Zeppelin’s version of the blues was better than Robert Johnson’s.

On the other hand, People of Color appropriating from whites is A-OK. And in fact it’s easy to see in Hamilton Mania, for example, a lot of wealthy white people hoping (pretty implausibly) that the coming People of Color majority will somehow learn (from a stupendously expensive show) to appreciate the value of white innovations like responsible finance, central banking, and stock exchanges.

63 M June 19, 2016 at 11:44 am

Test: If you find these same people having issues with things that do not cross the White-nonWhite cultural boundary – either they cross two categories on the nonWhite side, like your miso bulgogi, or your moroccan spiced pork tacos, your tandoori chicken ramen and what have you, or two categories on the White side, like Scandinavian influenced tapas – then it’s probably not about cultural appropriation.

64 poorlando June 19, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Central banking is not something white people should be proud of.

65 Cyrus June 18, 2016 at 10:23 pm

The cultural omnivore is willing to experience anything their peers have talked about, or perhaps anything they suspect their peers might talk about. The underlying drive is to avoid missing out on any experience that’s “a thing,” or put more cynically, for kiasu does not end at the borders of Singapore, a fear of being seen as not having experienced the thing their peer is talking about.

But the infinite combinations of things that are not “things,” unless adopts the Edisonian approach of trial and error in finding pleasure or happiness, is mostly a waste of one’s limited time among the living.

66 John L. June 18, 2016 at 11:26 pm

Oh, those “faggots”, right? I really love how creative and original racists are getting with the name calling. They are almost beyond 2nd grade level now– as opposed to their reading level.

67 Brute June 19, 2016 at 3:28 am

How far do you think you’re getting calling people racists these days? Just wondering. At this point I half expect my grandma or my dog to be deplored as racists for all the meaning that word has anymore.

68 Alistair June 19, 2016 at 4:22 am

Keep using the wascist term! Soon it will be completely devalued and we wascists can get back to our lynching and cross burnings without fear of being called a bad name.

69 mkt June 19, 2016 at 5:23 am

I’m reminded of Ricardo’s extensive and intensive margins. I think “resistant to change” is an overly simplistic way to describe the cultural omnivore, who is seeking innovation at a sort of cultural extensive margin. Whereas the fusionist or inventor of new dishes is seeking innovation at the intensive margin. Tyler likely seeks innovation at both margins.

70 M June 19, 2016 at 7:22 am

Anyway, my feeling on this is basically that there’s an “upper limit of choice” issue.

You get some people who are happy expending their choice and the instability in their lifestyle by consuming lots of fairly standardised but diverse cultural products from totally different traditions and some people who are more likely to enjoy a bit of variation in what is a pretty typical product – wasabi hot dogs for instance.

Most people probably would find it a strain to have their consumption focused around literally any product on the planet combined with literally any other product on the planet. There’s an upper limit to the median human neophilia and cultural categorisation schema, and it’s already full for some.

(However, I understand that in modern parlance, it is inevitable that people who are uncomfortable with an increasingly dizzyingly large array of products and fashions and who are rubbing up against their personal limit of diversity in taste would have to be labeled as deficient in some manner).

71 Mark B June 20, 2016 at 12:25 am

Great comment!
Seems to be about the same as my own view: I only have so much time/money/access to different foods. So why not take ones that are super-well-developed refined products of a culture? I can’t experience all of it and I’m guessing/predicting that the “authentic” cultural products will give me a more rapid understanding of the world’s diversity – and often will be awesome.

72 Richard Harper June 19, 2016 at 10:17 am

Traditional French onion soup derived from the problem of how to use up stale bread at the end of the week before market day on Saturday. But without the stale bread problem why not nibble on a side of cheese toast with simple onion soup (still made with thyme and so on)? #OhTheHorror .. Similarly for corned beef and St. Patrick’s Day feasts — using up meat stored using primitive preservative methods before the onset of winter many months ago. Refrigeration, preservatives, and currently very low energy costs making long distance transportation of crops even more affordable — perhaps most ‘traditional’ recipes just provide nostalgia for old people and (wait for it..) traditionalists.

73 Troll me June 19, 2016 at 11:29 am

It’s not about authentic. If your culinary experience extends beyond burgers, pizza and roast beef & veggies, then you’re more likely to know that hummous just won’t be good on hot dogs.

I imagine a lot of these people are very open to the “atypical offerings”. But a lot of time they will look at it, use their noggins, and think “not worth it. That’s just not going to be good”.

74 Ivy June 19, 2016 at 12:27 pm

I eat, watch, listen to and otherwise consume what I want. If you don’t like it, shove it.

75 HL June 19, 2016 at 4:44 pm

a hamburger with hummus with a huff of hashish would be pgood i think

76 Asher June 20, 2016 at 3:08 am

I did not get the reference to “sticky bits”. As I recall it has something to do with Unix, or maybe it is VMS. Maybe TC means “sticky wickets?”

77 IVV June 20, 2016 at 10:35 am

Chopped weisswurst simmering in coconut milk on a bed of basmati rice.

Culturally authentic? Hell yeah. It’s my culture now, biatch.

78 Brickbats and Adiabats June 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Late to this party, but as someone who has a strongly ethnically omnivorous flavor in his eating (being biracial, growing up in some of the more cosmopolitan bits of the world, etc.), I also avoid fusion food. This isn’t because I dislike the concept of fusion food per se; some of the absolute best things I’ve eaten are fusion food, including some stuff from my own household growing up. It’s just that fusion food just doesn’t tend to be good and tends to blend things for the sake of blending, without any real emphasis on flavor or compatibility.

Take, for example, fish sauce. Fish sauce is showing up in all of the hipster foodie cuisine these days. Problem is, I know something about where fish sauce should fit into a dish, i.e. in roughly the same function as soy sauce or kecap manis. But when I see both of these things turning up in a “chinese-inspired” noodle dish, it’s a sign that someone is doing something very wrong. Similarly, when the noodle dish recommends boiling ground pork in the soup for half an hour (a surefire way to make it tasteless) it shows that the people involved just don’t understand why cooking techniques are the way that they are. Point is that “fusion” is often a byword for “throwing the trendy exotic spice of the day at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

That being said, when it works, it really works.

79 Kent Guida June 20, 2016 at 5:16 pm

And so the struggle for status via conspicuous consumption continues.

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