Food consumption now has higher entry barriers than does music consumption

Marco Bresba emails me:

I loved your post on how Food has displaced Music in pop culture (March 29)

I’ve been thinking about the topic for years, and I believe complacency is pertinent.

Musical taste (like one’s taste in wine, food, books, etc.) provides a measure of social currency. It’s a way into a clique you want to join but admittance requires work.

Music no longer provides much of an effort barrier. Mention the most obscure band and I can become an expert in a few hours.

This was not always the case. Rewind to 1985: a classmate mocks me with “I bet you never heard of The Smiths.” He’s right. How do I get up to speed and become cool?

None of my radio stations play the Smiths. One channel teases me with a 3-hour alternative block every Sunday. The cool indie store is a bus ride away. And their inventory is spotty. The good stuff is imported form the UK. A domestic compilation is rumored for next year. Until then, would I be interested in the latest Cure single? They have one copy left. Only $9.99. I pick up the NME instead.

I hit a bunch of used record stores. Every second day. Two weeks later, I find one of the Smiths’ less popular singles. At this rate, I’ll be a fan by the time I graduate high school.

In our age of convenience, food still requires long term planning. At least the stuff foodies value. Will anyone care if I order Massaman Curry on Uber Eats? No. In order to become an elite foodie, I have to leave the house. I must shed my complacency in various ways:

  • I accept a 90 mins line-up to nab a seat at a Celebrity Chef Pop Up.
  • I have to befriend an annoying waiter at a hipster party just to find out how to secretly order raw pork at a suburban joint 45 mins away.
  • I worry I don’t have enough referrals to get invited to the newest alternative supper club.
  • I depend on the cheesemonger that only works on Saturdays to point out the best seasonal stinky varieties.
  • I stay up till midnight that one night Pied de Cochon accepts resos for their Sugar Shack months away.
  • I scold myself for not planning my Italian trip a year in advance –  my bucket list meal at Osteria Francescana now in jeopardy.

In addition to the reasons you mentioned, food obsession will always hold currency because it still requires plenty of legwork. Music just needs an internet connection.


I see that the barrier to obnoxious pretentiousness is a low as ever.

Pretension will always hold currency because it still requires plenty of legwork, you see.

Pretension will overtake and surpass capitalism. You will see.

That's the point. Humans are pretentious animals.

Music no longer useful in that regard.

Brevity is the soul of wit and you do not have to "read the whole thing".

In the 80s, everyone I knew passed around mix-tapes of good new music.

And thus killed the music industry.

Besides, many of this web site's most loyal commenters are not the sort of people that were involved in sharing anything back then.

Would you need to be part of some cool in-group to receive these tapes?

Well, the idea that the friends sharing the tapes are part of a 'in-group to receive these tapes' just might show a certain perspective - one of the points of mix tapes was to share. At least among different several groups I was familiar with. But if it makes you feel better, there remained a certain snobbishness when it came to tape quality.

Oddly, in the case of shared mix tapes, welcome to the future, where we pretty much have the celestial jukebox, and global communities interested in sharing music. Unfortunately, this place is not interested in such things, nor how that works in terms of URLs. Here, it seems as if home taping and its successors are still killing the people who charge about the same for a CD of 1 hour of music compared to a DVD with 2 hours of video. (At least in Germany.)

Writers made money selling sheet music. Performers made money performing every day. The big names, performing day after day in new cities.

Sometime around 1980, performance ceased to be the job of performers. Labels thought they created the performance that printed money. Albums were released with one cut with a hook sung by some who never performed to live. And only rarely ever could.

CDs were invented that were much cheaper to manufacture than LPs or tapes, but they were "value priced" at $20 while vinyl sold for $5. Label MBAs put very little money into CDs compared to LPs in the 60s, but based on it being new tech, with no scratches etc, it deserved a higher price.

Note Mobile Fidelity CDs sold for only 10% more on the street for remastered recordings far superior to what the MBAs paid for.

The label MBAs screwed up the music industry. They failed to see the value in their artists actually performing. Necessity, really.

Music was something everyone did often. Just like preparing food to eat.

Since the 80s, both are shoveled in passively on a diet determined by corporate MBAs

Tyler seems to think the fix is to find others doing something different, instead of him actually doing it, because he's not complacent.

A notable trend I've observed among the affluent here in Europe is selectively growing their own food, ideally wine from their own "hobbyist" vineyard in Italy. But even growing your own garlic in a purpose-built greenhouse is a great signal that you can afford to spend money and time on the best possible food while others have to work.

Why waste your time on garlic when you can grow pot? Artisan pot.

A artisan pot holding artisan pot? And raw pork sausage, 'as seen in Germany'? The Smiths? Say what? How about the EchoSmiths? How about the EchoSmiths? (I wish that I could be like the cool kids ... cool song)

Because the goal is wasting time. Being able to see the world in an utilitarian way is good. But if you can't switch off your inner utilitarian at your will, it's an illness.

Growing vegetables is easy. Nature does most of the work, all you have to do is dig a small hole and add water.

Clearly you have never done much plant growing. Nature does lots of work, with most of it working against the goal of producing food.

Exactly, you can grow herbs and some veggies (e.g. celery and ginger) with virtually no effort or time. It'd be difficult to grow enough to feed those vegetables to an entire family consistently, especially in the winter. But you can spend very little time to get a significant portion of your vegetables for virtually free.

'But even growing your own garlic in a purpose-built greenhouse is a great signal that you can afford to spend money and time on the best possible food while others have to work.'

Recognizing this observation was made regarding the affluent, one can question whether, at least in this part of Germany, if the person growing herbs (think something along the lines of chives, as garlic is generally not considered something worthwhile to use in cooking) in a greenhouse is outweighed by 10 or 20 or 30 to 1 by those that simply keep a plant pot on the windowsill.

Reductionism is easy, but lots of people find it no problem to keep hardy plants like chives or basil or oregano around, particularly as fresh herbs in little pots with soil are generally sold, more or less year round, in every produce section, including discounters like Lidl and Aldi.

And to be honest, the amount of time it takes to keep something like chives alive is minimal, for those who prefer such seasoning fresh - water every couple of days, cut with scissors when needed.

Full disclosure - I hate chives with a passion, but find fresh garlic good. The first garlic I grew was a gift from a Russian neighbor in Arlington decades ago. He recommended drinking vodka with it, and seemed serious (making Prof. Cowen and I likely equal in this culinary area, as neither of us have probably tried that combination - ice cold pepper vodka. brought back in the mid-80s from Moscow by another friend, was interesting though),

Life imitates the onion from a few years ago:

Man On Internet Almost Falls Into World Of DIY Mustard Enthusiasts

DES MOINES, IA—When Steve Gibson first became casually involved with an online community of mustard makers, he had no idea his mild interest in the condiment would, within a few short months, spiral dangerously out of control.

But Gibson, unlike so many others, managed to get out before the hobby consumed his entire life.

"I don't know how I wound up at that point, but thank God I escaped when I did," Gibson, 41, said Friday. "There I was, a grown man, planning a trip to the Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, when suddenly I heard a voice deep within me say, 'This is not what you want your life to be about.'"

"It was like waking up from a bad dream," Gibson added. "A bad yellow and brown dream."

Really good post, but everything is easier in some ways and harder in others because of the internet, isn't it?

A few random thoughts:

- Technology has made it increasibly feasible (access to the past but also to live music streamed on line) and socially ok to listen to music on your own; the same has not happened with food.
- Either our preferences in music are more heterogeneous than in food or they are as a result of greater choice - as Tyler pointed out on BV you have often instant access to large swathes of the musical past while you cannot eat the past. Either way there is a lot more fragmentation in the music we listen to, OR we fall back on the lowest common denominator
- My point of view is heavily skewed by living in a large city (London, UK), but in food right now I think we look for the hyper-specific (what is the best north burmese restaurant? when I go to Burma, where will I find a dish that only a few non-Burmese will not have seen before?) while in music we want hyper-aggregators. Hyper-aggregators can be popstars who increasingly borrow from various sources (Drake being probably the clearest example), dj's who are great selectors (many examples: Theo Parrish, Floating Points, Motor City Drum Ensemble, etc. etc.), or events (the big festivals where you get a bit of many many genres). From this, two questions:
- Will food change so that we need more aggregation again? Maybe not because there is a limit to how many restaurants you can get in a city, how many meals you can prepare at home
- Are we more complacent because this musical aggregation has to be (to an extent, with exceptions) relatively 'generic'? I love MCDE, Floating Points etc., but maybe it's hard to appreciate the specificity of the cultural and social background to music when you play Brazilian bossa nova next to US house next to Turkish folk.

- The point that music is a less 'complacent' social activity/form of entertainment is instinctively appealing, but I wonder how much that is based on the sizeable but relatively small sample of lots of music in the 60s/70s (not only Europe and US, also South Africa for example!) and maybe a little in the late 80s/early 90s (e.g. Public Enemy)

There's pretty much always at least some small counter-cultural or even revolutionary movement which associates a certain genre of music with its cause: in addition to the examples that you give there's punk, goth, narco-corrido in Mexican music, and going back in history, blues, jazz, flamenco (originated by Gypsies/Romani in Spain), etc. etc.

Some of those sub-cultures had distinctive cuisines too, but not all. Was there ever a punk cuisine? Food is a social signifier, but not in the same way that music is.

My take on Mr. Bresba list is that this new US "food culture" is so young that it depends on status instead of revenue.

When the annoying waiter becomes 50 or the cheesemonger has to feed 3 kids, they'll be fighting for clients and status be damned.

Would be interesting to know at what point aging hipsters have to trade off status for income, and how they rationalize it to themselves.

After having kids. One kid seems to still allow hipsterism, but multiple kids will kill it except for the most resolute. (I often wonder how the single kid raised by Brooklyn hipster parents will turn out. Total db? Here it's the kids who are wearing the Smiths t-shirts--when they're four. Maybe they'll rebel against it? )

I'm used to local food/drink producers having open doors events once or twice a year. They also use mailing lists, email or the old mail, to say "please come to tasting event". This is people that have 20-30 yr on the job. Perhaps a rich kid having fun while posing as connoiseur can afford some years of loses, but then moves onto something else.

'is that this new US “food culture” is so young'

I remember reading an Amertican Heritage issue (hey, at least it wasn't Reader's Digest) maybe a decade ago that asked various historians/thinkers/commentators/etc. what was the greatest social change in America in the 20th century. One of the more interesting ones, looking at the more recent past, was how food changed from its high tech 50s aspect to something resembling the sort of food that most people, in most places and times of human history, would understand. Think Tang in contrast to the sort of fresh squeezed orange juice that is (was?) found all over the Netherlands, or fresh squeezed pomegranate juice in Istanbul, to cover two very different places, with somewhat different tastes, but the same appreciation of fresh juice from ripe fruit. Recognizing that in both cases, tourists are definitely playing a role - but then, that was undoubtedly true with the Tang packages for sale at the National Air and Space Museum too.

All this and more is found in Veblen, 1899. Much of Veblen is found in much earlier sources as well.

'Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.' - From some cranky old status signaller, unaware that average is over for the complacent.

I guess Robin Hanson is right. All is status, signalling, and country signalling.

Who really cares about all these psycho-dramas about status and whatnot? Like, music and food are pleasurable in and of themselves -- there's always been something lamentable about turning these things into a status game but I suppose it's unavoidable given human nature.

It's true. We are all probably listening to more and better music than ever (thanks to streaming services, one can listen to any artist anywhere one wants on a phone for $10/month) and it's very pleasurable.

But no one ever talks about what album you last streamed in your car. We talk about that new restaurant that opened up and the long lines to the new bbq place/food truck/ etc.

> I scold myself for not planning my Italian trip a year in advance – my bucket list meal at Osteria Francescana now in jeopardy.

If I ever get like this, y'all have permission to end me.

And yet foodies are generally repulsive people, their plump lips twitching as they salivate heavily at the thought of munching new delicacies, before passing the masticated morsels into their digestive systems. Gross. At least music and writing means something.


"Contact our attorneys, mother."

In this Japan has been as usual quite extreme. The music industry has collapsed completely, while TV has been 80% food programming for a decade.

Alas there has no been no study of this phenomenon. It's always American scholars figuring out stuff.

Reading once again the list of Mr. Bresba, this is not about food. It's unmentioned, but the implicit idea is "wisdom of the crowds": it must be great because lot's of people want it. Enjoying food is personal journey, fuck the crowds.

Also, food is old or well-heeled people stuff. In life there's a time for everything. Spending time and energy in well-heeled people hoobies when you're young is the recipe for a middle-life crisis. You can always go to that restaurant when you're 55, but you can't do the stupid and satisfying things in life you do when you're under 30......basically: extreme sports, drugs, debauchery =)

Right. As you get older, you will observe that the people you know (who tend to be around your age) don't care much about music these days while they do care about food ... just like you do!

The scientists say music imprints on you in a deep, emotional, immovable way from ages 12-20, the music you listen to after that will never connect with you as deeply as those years. By the time you are grown up, music just doesn't matter the same way.

Americans engage in status competition in a vain attempt to fill the void of their lives, lives of quiet despair. Sad.

No, I think almost nobody thinks of this as a status game where they lose if they don't know enough.

It almost all seems like tosh; but I'll give some credit for the desideratum of enjoying good cheese.

Hey, Brexit was good for something - Lidl sells mature 12 month aged cheddar (crystals included) for 1.99 euros these days, along with two other versions. Oddly, the two English varieties are more or less normal cheese color, while the Scottish one has the orange color that Americans associate with their mass market version of cheddar. (Cannot check now, but I believe the Scottish version notes fairly prominently on the label that the color is 'natural'.)

The post confuses the consumption function from the production function.

The consumption function has transaction, discovery, etc.

The production function is the same as always, and perhaps lower in cost of production because of equipment and techniques combined with new molecular ingredients.

It will always cost the same in the consumption function until Amazon delivers your daily meal, or unless you are in a nursing home.

Hark! What nose-shriveling rumblings escape from those august crania?

La Famiglia Giorgio's | Italian Restaurant | North End, Boston, MA.
When I travel to Boston I prefer lunch here. Beautiful place in a beautiful part of town. The meal is great, authentic Italian food. They typically have five lunch entree choices and the special is all five entrees. Make sure you are hungry.

"Make sure you are hungry."

Like, enough food for a week!

Agreed, wonderful vibe & experience.

"Taste" is discrimination achieved through experience. For instance, I listen to no less than four hours of lesser known/emerging music a day and as much as twelve: Undercurrents, Echoes, World Cafe and the YouTube channels of KEXP, WFUV, KCRN, NPR's TinyDeskConcerts, et alia.

I don't consider myself an audiophile, I don't listen to music for a job, I don't like everything I hear and the sources I use are not representative of all genres. I like what moves me emotionally but I have to spend time listening so I know what I like.

TV popularized food and distorted the need for culinary education; combining uncommon/unusual flavors and techniques is a requirement in the "foodie" culture to differentiate and attract business, a positive in the macro-environment, but posing significant and even unavoidable hazards at the micro level.

Taste is developed by exploring options and realizing preferences-collective appreciation is the opposite of taste.

Hum. Easier to find good music and good food in the digital age. But still harder to cultivate a discerning musical sensibility that yeilds social capital than it is to develop a passibly discerning palate.

Is it?

Anyone can subscribe to a streaming service and listen to the best music.

A much smaller amount have the time and money to taste the best new restaurants, trendy pop-ups, food trucks and out-of-the-way hole-in-the-walls.

When Tyler posts the best of the year music lists, I immediately listen to them. When he talks about food, I almost never have access to what he's eating.

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These kinds of scenes have been appearing in movies since at least the 1990s.

Getting into top restaurants on a Friday night with no reservations was always the preserve of billionaires, master spies and other such types, while back stage passes for the Rolling Stones were always just for some loser fan boys (or something like that) who get lucky and have a lovely time afterwards.

Anyways, the main point is most certainly correct, about the barriers to entry. This applies to both consumers and content creators, who can now produce pretty decent outputs with a few hundred dollars of equipment and laptop (assuming electronic drums because recording drums takes more time, money and expertise).

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