Food has replaced music as culturally central, at least for America’s professional class

by on March 29, 2017 at 12:36 am in Food and Drink, Music, Philosophy | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, and here is part of the discussion of food:

Restaurants are increasingly an organizing and revitalizing force in our cities, and eating out has continued to rise as a means of socializing. America’s educated professional class may be out of touch with sports and tired of discussing the weather, and so trading information about new or favorite restaurants, or recipes and ingredients, has become one of the new all-purpose topics of conversation. Food is a relatively gender-neutral topic, and furthermore immigrant newcomers can be immediately proud of what they know and have eaten.

…Music made us get up and dance, or occasionally throw a rock. Food, especially if combined with wine, encourages a state of satiety and repose. Most conversation about food is studiously nonpolitical and removed from controversial social issues. There is a layer of left-wing critique of food corporations, genetic modification and food-associated pollution, but its impact on broader American culture has been marginal. These days, it could be said that food is the opiate of the educated classes. Anecdotally, I observe that the contemporary preoccupation with a particular kind of food fanciness and diversity has penetrated black communities less, and those are also the groups where music might in some cases remain politically important.

Otherwise, the contemporary food world grants diners the ability to cite a multicultural allegiance without controversy. One can mention a taste for Senegalese food, and win credibility for sophistication and worldliness, as well as knowledge of Africa. At the same time, one isn’t pinned down to having to defend any other specific feature of Senegalese culture. Maffa — usually a meat in peanut and tomato sauce — isn’t that controversial or revolutionary as a concept.

The current culinary touchstone is the foodie or TV host who “eats everything,” from pig snouts to worms to scorpions. Cannibalism aside, the list of what has been consumed on television is now so long it’s hard to shock viewers (not only do some insects taste like potato chips, but in some dining circles consuming potato chips is arguably the more rebellious act). The more prosaic truth, however, is that eating everything is not much of a revolution. If anything, historical resonance has been achieved by people who refused to eat certain foods, whether the underlying doctrine was vegetarianism, Jainism, Judaism or Islam.

There is much more of interest, including the take on music, at the link.

1 S. Sailer March 29, 2017 at 12:58 am

As I wrote in 2013:

Not surprisingly, all this rampant heterosexuality at Harvard Business School drives lesbian Dean Frei into a frenzy of micromanaging future captains and captainesses of industry:

“As Halloween approached, some students planned to wear costumes to class, but at the last minute Ms. Frei, who wanted to set a serious tone and head off the potential for sexy pirate costumes, sent a note out prohibiting it.…”

This strong differentiation of gender affects in the 21st century is a striking change from the early 1980s’ more feminist and restrained yuppie culture. Slutty Halloween, for instance, was not a major occasion back then. My recollection of the essential 1982 yuppie experience was going to a restaurant for lunch with coworker MBAs, male and female, and talking about other restaurants. Discussing food was a polite compromise between the male desire to talk about sports and the female desire to talk about fashion.

http://takimag.com/article/thats_frances_with_an_e_steve_sailer/print#ixzz4cghZAyg9

Reply

2 connai ssere March 29, 2017 at 5:43 am

I’m not sure if I’m flippant or fucking serious, it seems to me that the obsession with haute cuisine and restaurants is the high tide of complacency and not trivial for economic cycles.

Reply

3 Rich Berger March 29, 2017 at 6:30 am

Pretty funny, Steve, although it did end rather abruptly. I do understand why you’re not welcome in all the nice places.

Reply

4 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 7:39 am

“Discussing food was a polite compromise between the male desire to talk about sports and the female desire to talk about fashion.”

Maybe people who have nothing to say to each other should just shut up.

Reply

5 GoneWithTheWind March 29, 2017 at 9:56 am

For a lot of people talking about music is like talking about religion. Some people have very strong feelings and are easily offended discussing religion. Food,,, not so much.

Reply

6 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 10:37 am

“For a lot of people talking about music is like talking about religion.”
But I do not want to talk to them! And I am not thrilled to hear them either! Why can’t the compromisse be sharing a calm, silent meal?

Reply

7 a6z March 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm

The machinery of society works because we oil it. We say “please” and “thank you,” which mean nothing. We discuss the weather, which does not interest us. People who have nothing to say do not merely shut up. You would not suggest it even in jest if you could imagine the horror it would entail.

Reply

8 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 2:01 pm

“The machinery of society works because we oil it”
That is, we ask people how they are even if we do not care and pay our taxes even if we do not feel like it. But why gather around a table a bunch of people which just do not have common ground or interests despite studying or working together and make them talk and talk and talk? It is not you pretemding to like the janitor or the vice president in charge of towels, the pleasantries have already been taken care of (Good evening, how are you, how is Jr, can you pass the salt, please). Why keep droning and droning and droning incessantly? I don’t hunt people to bother them talking anout the weather. Why does society profit by gathering a bunch of insipid bores and make them to talk and talk? Why can’t they eat at home, where their families have to stand them?

Reply

9 Josh M March 29, 2017 at 1:09 am

Gah,

This “Complacent Class” stuff seems like a fetishizing of that old TV trope of the cop who doesn’t play by the rules, but “Goddammit” gets things done. Reality, (and large swaths of real progress) are just often a lot more boring.

Food isn’t political? Clearly you haven’t engaged a vegan, vegetarian, sustainable seafood campaigner (or paleo aficionado for that matter) very deeply.

Is David Chang complacent? What about the folks behind Stone Barns. Or even Myhrvold?!

Music can be very bougie, too, depending on your taste. (Interesting,too, that much artistic appreciation is described by “taste”) But if listening to the Dead puts you to sleep, does that mean it’s a complacent art form? You’re going full Brooks, finding a cute story and stumbling upon a cultural phenomenon that threatens society.

I’ll leave with one thought, speaking as an engineer– Moore’s Law. Here’s a driver of much of the technological progress in the last 40 years or so, and it’s a fundamentally non-innovative form of progress. Intel even calls its approach towards miniaturization “tick-tock”. Constant, incremental improvements in process and yield, compounded year after year. These are the dividends of complacency.

Reply

10 dan1111 March 29, 2017 at 2:23 am

+1 Very good, thought-provoking comment. I would like to see Tyler engage these criticisms.

Reply

11 prior_test2 March 29, 2017 at 3:21 am

‘and it’s a fundamentally non-innovative form of progress’

Well apart from the materials science ( http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/copperchip/ for one example ) and manufacturing.

‘Constant, incremental improvements in process and yield, compounded year after year.’

Well, yes, that is what Intel does. However, they aren’t the only organization that makes chips – see above for another organization with a bit of history in this area.

‘These are the dividends of complacency.’

Well, apart from Intel’s seeming to pretty much have missed out on the smart phone market ‘ntel’s decision to pass on making chips for Apple’s iPhone back in 2007 now looks like a huge mistake.

Former CEO Paul Otellini admitted as much in a 2013 interview with The Atlantic. Intel has now bailed out of the smartphone chip market while Apple is flying high with its iPhones, based on its own A-series chips.

Intel has cancelled its upcoming Atom chip lines for smartphones, including Broxton and the Sofia 3GX, Sofia LTE and Sofia LTE2 commercial platforms. That decision ends close to a decade of futility with Intel trying to outmaneuver rivals like Qualcomm, Apple, and Samsung, which make mobile chips based technology licensed from ARM.’ http://www.pcworld.com/article/3065894/mobile/how-intel-knocked-itself-out-of-the-smartphone-chip-market.html

Reply

12 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 10:56 am

We should give credit to Tyler for choosing a really irritating word in “complacency.”

It probably isn’t the right word for everything from “frozen and defeated” to “idle and rich,” but it gets under the skin. “Complacency” gets quoted high and low.

As far as food .. 1970s America was a cultural wasteland. We are reverting to the mean. Real soup does not come in a can. Hamburger Helper was not an advance. Jello molds were not an achievement.

Treating food seriously is what sophisticated cultures do. That doesn’t take money. Many of the great foods of the world are people’s meals. It just takes attention. It takes the seriousness of real street tacos rather than the sloppiness of a thrown together, press photo, “taco bowl.”

Reply

13 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 11:02 am

I mentioned that I am watching Samurai Gourmet on Netflix. Each scene is a reminder that Japanese culture places a high value on small things done as perfectly as possible.

How odd would it be for anyone from a long, historic, food culture like Italy or Japan to hear that Americans worry that they are (finally) taking food too seriously?

No. Let’s try for small things done well, and let’s not call that complacency.

Reply

14 Erik March 29, 2017 at 1:18 am

Music stopped being culturally significant when we stopped listening together and instead had complete autonomy and privacy in our musical choices. I have access to all the music in the world on my phone, so a) there’s no need to conform to the prevalent tastes of my peers, and b) there’s no longer a desire for something unknown or unachievable.

The Talking Heads once wrote a song that sounded like Joy Division, or rather, sounded like what they imagined Joy Division might sound like, as they hadn’t heard any of Joy Division’s songs yet. These days, they would just listen to it online. On the other hand, we might still be inspired to try to approximate a dish we haven’t tasted.

Food is still somewhat aspirational – most of us can’t afford to eat at the best restaurants in the world, or to find authentic versions of traditional foods around the world, nor do we have the skill to perfectly recreate it. That makes food a challenge and makes it the stuff of legend and fantasy. It is also something we still tend to share with others.

Also, and of course, music becomes less significant the older we get.

That said, I don’t think it’s meaningful to judge music by literary allusions, nor do I think Alanis Morisette sounds at all current.

Reply

15 Melmoth March 29, 2017 at 10:15 am

Good comment.

Reply

16 Mark Thorson March 29, 2017 at 1:33 am

In the audiophile world, we see a cult of vinyl and vacuum tubes, supporting an artisan industry manufacturing new content on grooved disc and thermionic amplifiers as new equipment. In food, the organic dry-aged beef and artisinal breads at Whole Foods are pedestrian fare in comparison with the biodynamic vegetables that you won’t see in any store — the determined buyer must seek out the sellers. This is the future! Cultization vs. commodification. Anybody can grow a potato, but it takes magical powers to plant a potato at the precise phase of the Moon, in soil prepared with a cow horn filled with quartz crystals, fertilized by the urine of blonde virgins. Of course, that costs more, which is the whole point.

Reply

17 Will March 29, 2017 at 1:40 am

No, no it hasn’t. Bizarre bubble you live in, Tyler.

Reply

18 prior_test2 March 29, 2017 at 2:09 am

Well, he does consider himself a member of America’s professional class, though others would argue that tenured faculty belong to another class than one that can be described as professional.

Reply

19 Ricardo March 29, 2017 at 2:08 am

“Most conversation about food is studiously nonpolitical and removed from controversial social issues.”

I find it interesting that quips about food and one’s culinary preferences creep up often enough in right-wing rhetoric. David Brooks characterized the difference between red state and blue state culture as the “Meatloaf Line.” Mike Huckabee entitled one of his books “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” and Charles Murray devoted a section of “Coming Apart” to criticizing upper-class whites’ preferences for foreign cuisine and distaste for American fast food.

Food has always been an important marker of ethno-religious identity and in contemporary America, one’s culinary preferences are seen by some as being a marker of social class and political ideology. For confirmation, one can simply read the some of the resentful comments whenever Tyler posts about food.

Reply

20 Jasy March 29, 2017 at 3:16 am

I enjoy food that tastes good. Where does that put me on the political spectrum?

Reply

21 Rich Berger March 29, 2017 at 6:37 am

Tell me what a man signals, and I’ll tell you where he fits on the political spectrum. You could be a Trump voter or A larval Nassim Taleb.

Reply

22 So Much For Subtlety March 29, 2017 at 4:06 am

McDonald’s not only turns up as a frequent target of Leftist rioters, as well as a common Leftist criticism of America, it is used in all sorts of ways by the Left to attack things they do not like. What is interesting about this is that it is relatively well born Leftists attacking working class Americans for liking cheap nutritious food.

I do not accept that food is a uniquely Right wing subject of discussion. As amusing as Obama’s comments on Argula were.

However since “cultural appropriation” became a thing, it seems that it is no longer acceptable for Asian American women to cook Mexican food and so on. So there is that. The Left politicizes everything.

Reply

23 Peter Akuleyev March 29, 2017 at 4:47 am

I don’t hear as much leftist criticism of McDonald’s these days. Isn’t Starbucks now the enemy du jour?

Reply

24 prior_test2 March 29, 2017 at 5:43 am

‘for liking cheap nutritious food’

One of those words is out of place, unless high calorie is a synonym. Personally, I love their Hot Fudge Sundaes, with the cherry pie a fine substitute. The french fries are certainly worth the money in terms of reliability, and the hotcakes are pretty much the same way in terms of breakfast food. However, there is no way to call any of those choices nutritious. As noted in Fast Food Nation (at the time of publication), there is only one thing to buy to eat at McDonald’s that does not contain sugar – the french fries. (Not an argument about sugar, by the way – but most people do not think of sugar in connection with chicken nuggets.)

Reply

25 So Much For Subtlety March 29, 2017 at 6:19 am

Of course calories are a synonym for nutritious. How else would you define it? McD’s food is so good for you it is making everyone fat.

Even Ralph Nader has had to admit that their food is good value for money.

Reply

26 prior_test2 March 29, 2017 at 7:01 am

Well, here is one definition of nutritious – ‘containing many of the substances needed for life and growth.’ http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/nutritious

And regardless of how much I’ve enjoyed the hot fudge sundaes and hotcakes at McDonald’s, I have never kidded myself that they contain many of the substances needed for life and growth.

But then, unlike Ralph Nader apparently, I found Giant’s salad bar (in the later 80s/early 90s) cheaper and faster than McDonald’s, with the added benefit of being made precisely to my taste. And considering that I always included the turkey ham, cheese, croutons, and Italian dressing along with the spinach, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, it is reasonable to assume that even if the calorie count may have tilted in McDonald’s favor, the nutrition aspect was totally on the side of the Giant salad bar. (Not to mention the time factor – though the Pickett Giant is gone, I assume the one at University Mall is still there.)

27 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 7:42 am

“Of course calories are a synonym for nutritious”

This explains so much I’ve seen in America. I thought it was people going to a Winston Churchill/Oliver Hardy cosplay event.

28 Benny Lava March 29, 2017 at 9:14 am

“calories are a synonym for nutritious”

No wonder there are so many fat conservatives. Is this what Rush Limbaugh and Tony Blankley thought? I had no idea conservatives were ignorant of nutrition. Well sir, I hope you enjoy obesity.

29 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 9:57 am

“. As noted in Fast Food Nation (at the time of publication), there is only one thing to buy to eat at McDonald’s that does not contain sugar ”

That seems like a pretty dumb comment. McDonald’s has a selection of salads. I’m not a fan of the food, but it’s typical fast food and anyone with half a brain can pick decent items off of the menu.

Reply

30 Bob from Ohio March 29, 2017 at 10:01 am

Many of the same people who carp at McDonald’s go to Starbucks and get a high calorie and high fat drink.

31 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 11:27 am

Starbucks is pretty good coffee, McDonald’s is not a pretty good burger. Out here a Habit burger appeals to the Starbucks crowd.

(I try to watch calories at both.)

32 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 11:28 am

Maybe that’s a note to SoCal visitors. Habit has crushed In-n-Out.

33 Bob from Ohio March 29, 2017 at 12:12 pm

“Starbucks is pretty good coffee”

Not if you drink it black, McDonald’s has a much better coffee. Cheaper too.

“McDonald’s is not a pretty good burger.”

They have other things. The breakfast sandwiches are great.

34 RPLong March 29, 2017 at 12:21 pm

+1 on McDonald’s having better coffee than Starbucks.

35 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 12:26 pm

I do drink my coffee black. When I’m at Starbucks I ask for the dark roast of the day. When I make it myself I us a French Roast. It’s been a while since I’ve tried McDonalds, but if they are offering a milder roast I’d probably not prefer it on that basis.

36 prior_test2 March 29, 2017 at 2:00 pm

‘That seems like a pretty dumb comment. McDonald’s has a selection of salads.’

You seem to have missed that ‘(at the time of publication)’ – Fast Food Nation was first published in 2001. Though if anyone has a cite of McDonald’s offering salads before 2001, then my mistake – or perhaps Schlosser’s.

37 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm

“You seem to have missed that ‘(at the time of publication)’ – Fast Food Nation was first published in 2001. Though if anyone has a cite of McDonald’s offering salads before 2001, then my mistake – or perhaps Schlosser’s.”

Per a 30 second search:

“McDonald’s introduced salads to its menu in 1985.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_McDonald%27s_products

38 prior_test2 March 29, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Does the salad come with a dressing or croutons? Nonetheless, no need to trust a more than a 15 year old remembered factiod, so searching with ‘schosser mcdonald’s sugar’ led to this -‘Only seven items on the McDonald’s menu contain no sugar.’ https://www.factretriever.com/mcdonalds-food-facts

Which still leaves this a bit open – coffee, for example, has been on McDonald’s menu for a while, but does not contain sugar. So, let us assume one pure garden salad, containing nothing but actual plants, the french fries, and coffee – anyone have an idea about the other four items, ca 2001? And I would rather not include water, though it is certainly possible to consider it a menu item.

39 TMC March 29, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Fast Food Nation was idiotic. Go into any restaurant and order that much food and you’ll get fat. All he had to do is order a normal meal and there would be no movie.

40 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 3:36 pm

“there is only one thing to buy to eat at McDonald’s that does not contain sugar – the french fries.”

“So, let us assume one pure garden salad, containing nothing but actual plants, the french fries, and coffee – anyone have an idea about the other four items, ca 2001?”

There comes a point in any thread where an intelligent and thoughtful poster will just admit that their original post was mistaken.

41 prior_test2 March 30, 2017 at 1:16 pm

I thought this was a pretty clear admission of being mistaken – ‘Nonetheless, no need to trust a more than a 15 year old remembered factiod,’ butz if it helps, my 15 year old memory was mistaken.

And sadly, no one had any interest in detailing any other item on McDonald’s menu that does not contain sugar. Which would also seem to be a clear admission that instead of my mistaken belief that only french fries contained no sugar, there were 6 other items on the McDonald’s menu without sugar.

So to make this as clear as possible – I was mistaken, six other items on McDonald’s menu as of 2001 did not contain sugar. I thought that presenting the facts would be a clear enough admission of being mistaken, but I seem to have forgotten we now live in a new world.

42 Ricardo March 29, 2017 at 8:15 am

I didn’t say “uniquely.” As I said, food is an important part of cultural identity in much of the world and, to the extent that politics in the U.S. is really about identity and cultural affinity, it is no surprise to see food being politicized and being drawn into culture wars.

Reply

43 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 8:33 am

For example, I know eggs must be broken on the smaller end, but some heretics think they should be broken on the larger end instead. Bolshevism! Sheer Bolshevism! A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half breaking the eggs on the smaler end and half breaking the eggs on the larger end.

Reply

44 Hazel Meade March 29, 2017 at 10:14 am

I break them in the middle.

45 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 11:10 am

Appeaser, compromisser, coward, revisionist!

46 Hazel Meade March 29, 2017 at 10:13 am

Absolutely the left talks about food FAR, FAR, FAR more than the right. Progressives leftists’ lives practically revolve around it. First of all, you ought to be a vegetarian, for moral reasons, and if not, you definitely need to be against factory farming, in which case, you may only eat free range chicken and grass-fed beef. Eggs must be cage-free, at the least. Fish must be wild-caught and sustainable catch. In the case of vegetables, your food must be Organic, and non-GMO, because everything else is polluted by capitalism and is evil. Ideally it should be locally grown because this supposedly reduces the carbon emissions per calorie of your diet. It is of the utmost importance that you minimize your carbon footprint. Read the labels on everything to make sure there are no artificial ingredients. Also sugar is evil, so none of that. You must use Stevia, because it is natural. Coffee must be fair trade organic, purchased from a Guatemalan peasant cooperative. Same with chocolate. Everything in your cupboard must signal your ethical commitment to the environment and social justice.

McDonalds, of course is the symbol of ultimate evil – factory farmed meat grown in deforested Amazonian jungle, transported thousands of miles, potatoes fried in oils produced from GMO corn, grown with pesticides, loaded with sugar and salt and artificial flavorings, and sold to people with advertising.

Reply

47 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Even Guy Fieri eats vegetarian Ethiopian food.

http://www.dinersdriveinsdiveslocations.com/azla-california.html

When you’ve lost Guy …

Reply

48 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 1:25 pm

From the link:
“MARTIN’S BBQ JOINT

Like the name of the place clearly points out, this place is made for one thing which is BBQ! And trust us when we tell you that they do it remarkably well. Just like in Hawaii, they roast an entire pig and make it special with their secret signature sauces. Enjoy Ribs, Pulled Pork and more!

Address / Location:

7238 Nolensville Rd.
Nolensville, TN 37135”

And Martin’s is indeed excellent BBQ.

49 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Are you looking at the paid link inserted into the “Azla California” review? For me the paid link is currently “On Site Taco Catering”.

50 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 2:21 pm

If you are just saying Guy likes barbecue, sure. Even Bourdain likes barbecue.

51 The Other Jim March 29, 2017 at 12:36 pm

+several million to Hazel

Reply

52 Pipsterate March 29, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Definitely. I don’t see how food is apolitical at all, it seems very political to me.

Some new food rules have shown up in the last few years also, mostly from the right. Eating gluten free is now considered a sign that someone is a politically correct snowflake who probably doesn’t support Trumpism. Eating steak medium rare is now also apparently a sign of anti-Trump beliefs, since the POTUS likes his steak well done.

If someone happens to prefer steak medium rare, eats gluten free on the advice of their doctor, avoids carcinogenic or otherwise unhealthy foods, and knows how to pronounce a few of the words on an ethnic menu, it’s likely to offend a Trump voter.

I don’t really get Tyler’s idea with this post. Now that food has become culturally central, I don’t see how it could possibly avoid being political also. Even eating Kellog cereal has become a political statement.

Reply

53 TMC March 29, 2017 at 3:19 pm

“If someone happens to prefer steak medium rare, eats ….. it’s likely to offend a Trump voter.”

A sign of a Trump voter is that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass what you eat.

54 Yeah, but March 29, 2017 at 4:02 pm

New food rules from the right such as trans-fat bans, soda size laws, school lunch micro-management by the federal government?

55 Anon7 March 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm

The person who eats gluten free as a result of a bona fide medical diagnosis is very rare and the rest of the people who insist loudly on eating gluten free because they think it confers some major health benefit are idiots, but evil capitalism does cater to their idiocy. Likewise, there are unhealthy diets but few foods are inherently unhealthy. What food is completely “carcinogenic free” (I’m waiting for the next fad)? This is one area where the left–which constantly laments the alleged continuing influence of the Puritans–has become puritanical.

56 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 11:12 am

Good catch. Many on the right disagree on many things, but they can agree to be anti-left. If the left seeks out tasty immigrant food, there is a double reason to oppose. As we saw, “a taco truck on every corner” becomes a wedge issue.

Reply

57 Danny March 29, 2017 at 2:20 am

Isn’t it mostly a matter of age? A 55 year old pundit in 2017 shouldn’t compare itself with his 25 year old self in 1987, but with a 55 year pundit in 1987. I’m sure those pundits born in 1932 weren’t into pop music much, and probably preferred restaurants.

Reply

58 Thanatos Savehn March 29, 2017 at 3:21 am

Bland food produced Newton and Hume. Solve for the equilibrium.

Reply

59 dearieme March 29, 2017 at 6:54 am

Newton was famous for his love of English mustard, and horseradish sauce. Hume guzzled Haggis. Both enjoyed smoked fish. Nothing bland about those diets.

Must be true: I read it in the NYT.

Reply

60 Thiago Ribeiro March 29, 2017 at 7:43 am

Kim Philby liked Worcestershire sauce .

Reply

61 mkt42 March 29, 2017 at 4:01 am

I’m reminded of the quote from _When Harry Met Sally_:

“Restaurants are to people in the 80s what theater was to people in the 60s.”

The rest of the dialog in the scene is quoted here:
http://www.moviequotedb.com/movies/when-harry-met-sally/quote_26038.html

Reply

62 Peter Akuleyev March 29, 2017 at 4:45 am

This is not good news for professor Cowen, who tends to write quite perceptively about music, but apparently is undiscerning when it comes to food. Of course, as one ages one’s taste buds and olfactory senses decline faster than one’s ability to appreciate music.

Reply

63 Axa March 29, 2017 at 6:16 am

As an expat, music is a very important conversation topic. It’s one of those topics that opens the door to closed cultures where people is more than happy to exclude outsiders. Food is complicate topic because anywhere around the world you’ll find people that either loves big-chain fast food, or frozen food. One example of this shitty trend is the Oreo Frappuccino.

I agree with the general opinion of this WSJ article, being a metal fan it’s easy to travel around the world and talk to unknown people about rock. It’s a better icebreaker than talking about the weather and you can make great new friends. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-weird-global-appeal-of-heavy-metal-1455819419

Ps. I was in Berlin a month ago and I made a social faux pas by asking my host to visit a “local food restaurant”. He was an expert on “authentic” Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican or whatever restaurant specialized on foreign food. I had to find myself a place to enjoy a folkloric pork knuckle with black beer low on hops.

Reply

64 rayward March 29, 2017 at 8:09 am

My (chemical) engineer friend wants to buy or open a restaurant. Why? Notwithstanding all the hoopla about STEM, jobs in engineering aren’t that great: the pay is only so so, the job security marginal (with so much consolidation), and the opportunities for advancement not great (guys in finance get the big promotions to the executive positions). At another thread I commented that the best scientists (quants) are being hired as stock pickers. Restaurant operator, stock picker, maybe we need to reconsider what it means to be a scientist. Food is the new science.

Reply

65 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 10:01 am

“Notwithstanding all the hoopla about STEM, jobs in engineering aren’t that great: the pay is only so so, …”

Mean average salary for engineers is between $90-100K. Chalk this up as another item that you don’t seen to know anything about and can’t be bothered to spend 30 seconds Googling.

http://www.mtu.edu/engineering/outreach/welcome/salary/

Reply

66 fwiw March 29, 2017 at 10:50 am

Ex engineer, currently a professional investor. He’s absolutely right.

90-100K is only so-so, when my business minded (and relatively unintelligent, with all due respect) friends were doubling that.

Reply

67 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 1:31 pm

The average American wage income in 2014 was $44.5 K. $90K puts you in the top quintile for household income. It’s not so-so.

Reply

68 Ex-engineer March 30, 2017 at 12:14 am

STEM jobs are great til you are 40-45. After that, you have to either move to the business side, try to scrape together a living as a consultant, or switch to something else.

69 Interguru March 29, 2017 at 8:13 am

When I was a kid in the 50’s clothing was the social signifier. If you saw someone out dressed informally, you knew the were lower class. Men went to the ball game in jackets, ties and hats.

Now you can’t tell by clothing, billionaires wear hoodies. Food is the signifier. If you see someone eating a twinkie, you know they are lower class.

The most extreme sign of this is behind the bakery counter of my local Whole Foods there are two bread slicing machines — conventional and organic. I guess if Pierpontella eats one crumb of non-organic bread he won’t get into Harvard. This is like the laws of kosher food.

Reply

70 David H March 29, 2017 at 8:16 am

I think in the next 20 years we might “musicize” food. Here’s how I picture it: Gigantic automated kitchens will be able to reproduce Michelin-star quality meals, or get close enough to be indistinguishable. The manipulation of pans, spatulas, knives, propane torches and all the other kitchen implements is relatively mechanizable. Recipes can be operationalized as programs. If the improvements there are parallel with improvements in automated delivery systems, there will come a point when it makes sense to stop buying groceries. We’ll just buy meals: excellent meals that we’d have no chance of making in a home kitchen. Customization will also be easy. In cities, only hipsters will cook – while playing vinyl records, for the “tactile experience” – but only the dumbest of them will pretend that the resulting food and music are higher in quality. Food stamps will be replaced by two daily meal coupons. When you visit another city, your favorite meals can be instantiated in their megakitchen just as easily as in your hometown’s.

I hope it’s clear why I call this the “musicalization” of food. Once upon a time when you’d have to be in Vienna to hear certain music, just like now, you have to be in Hong Kong to eat certain foods. These differences might not last.

Reply

71 RPLong March 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

With regard to food authenticity, often times the binding constraint isn’t cooking technique, but rather the availability of the ingredients. How many North Americans can easily buy laal shaak, a variety of Bengali “spinach,” for example? The specific varieties of bay leaves, and cilantro, and cumin that you find in one area of the world aren’t often the same ones common in another part of the world. Some of these problems can be easily solved (it’s not hard to ship spices around the world), but the market for laal shaak will probably never be large enough to support widespread North American distribution.

So there’s that, I guess.

Reply

72 Boott Spur March 29, 2017 at 9:17 am
73 Hazel Meade March 29, 2017 at 9:55 am

I have no idea what you are talking about. All my colleagues still talk about sports and movies.
Nobody talks about food, unless they are talking about the paleo diet. Nobody talks about music either.

Reply

74 Andrew Alexander March 29, 2017 at 9:57 am

I just think you are really out of touch with culture, haha.

maybe for you and the elite class, it is true.

Reply

75 Albigensian March 29, 2017 at 9:57 am

music is food for the soul, food merely fuel for the body:
compared with music, What Passion Can Food Raise and Quell?

THE TRUMPET’S LOUD CLANGOR
The trumpet’s loud clangour excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger and mortal alarms,
The double-double-double beat,
Of the thund’ring drum,
Cries hark! Hark! Cries hark the foes come!
Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!
‘Tis too late, ’tis too late to retreat!
Charge ’tis too late, too late to retreat!]\

THE SOFT COMPLAINING FLUTE
The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whispered by the warbling lute.

SHARP VIOLINS PROCLAIM
Sharp violins proclaim,
Their jealous pangs,
And desperation!
Fury, frantic indignation!
Depth of pains, and height of passion,
For the fair disdainful dame!

BUT OH! WHAT ART CAN TEACH
But oh! what art can teach,
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To join the choirs above.

(Source: Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day)

Reply

76 Bob from Ohio March 29, 2017 at 10:05 am

Is this column peak Tyler Cowen?

Reply

77 joe March 29, 2017 at 11:02 am

I always thought it was interesting that for none of the 9 Greek muses is their domain at all related to food or drinking. It’s as if it is a subject not worthy of the sort of inspirations guided by the Muses.

Reply

78 CMOT March 29, 2017 at 11:32 am

Music is made by skinny people for skinny people. Food is made by any sort of people for any sort of people, but fatties rule. And what type of people, skinny or fat, are there more and more of in the West?

Reply

79 asdf March 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm

“These days, it could be said that food is the opiate of the educated classes.”

“The more prosaic truth, however, is that eating everything is not much of a revolution. ”

What more needs to be said.

Reply

80 Tarrou March 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm

What is interesting to me is the assumption that all cultural things must be “revolutionary” in orientation in order to be valid. This is a stupid, cretinous and marxist framing.

Reply

81 M March 31, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Anecdotally, I observe that the contemporary preoccupation with a particular kind of food fanciness and diversity has penetrated black communities less

Hmm… Actually from my Black friends and acquaintances, adjusted for income, I’m not so sure if that’s the case. Though they’re not African American.

I’d think rural-city would divide here in a way it doesn’t for music so much. Just as a function of how the constant nature of your supply chain for raw materials vs how hard it is to transport the end products.

I do wonder how much of this has to do with a freakout against obesity. Back in the old days, people often just tended to eat as much highly flavoured, rich food as they could, and there was less a niche for fancy prep. It seems to me like much of the interest in food is driven by trying to find things that taste good but are less fattening.

That broadens out into a general interest in food, as well as the refining of fast food; that kind of “perfect hamburger” thing where people seek to use to maximise the amount of flavour for calories tradeoff. In a way you could view it as people trying to reimpose artificial scarcity on themselves (it used to be healthy to eat McDonalds once a month, but when it’s cheap enough you can eat it every day, you need to find reasons not to eat it every day – like having such a refined taste in hamburgers you only eat at burger joints you can afford for a trip once a month.

Reply

82 Dave K April 5, 2017 at 9:34 am

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: