Chris Schonberger, Nick Schonberger, and Foster Kamer wrote this endlessly compelling if somewhat NY-centric list of “20 Things Everyone Thinks About the Food World (But Nobody Will Say).” It’s so much more spot-on that something like that seems like it could be, without being gratuitously contrarian. It’s refreshingly not yet another revelation that your food was prepared in less sanitary conditions than you might have hoped – thank goodness, because we know, and choose not to think about it. (Even when, as happened yesterday, one’s preferred Philadelphia Vietnamese restaurant serves up a spoon with a startlingly fresh noodle already on it, and plates that look clean on top but are coated with grease on the bottom.)
My take on the list, item by item…
#1: “Refusing to spend money on non-Western restaurants is racist.” Meaning, “Why is it that people are willing to spend $20 on a bowl of pasta with sauce that they might actually be able to replicate pretty faithfully at home, yet they balk at the notion of a white-table cloth Thai restaurant, or a tacos that cost more than $3 each?” An excellent point, although some counterarguments spring to mind. As commenters point out, Japanese food isn’t ‘white-people’ cuisine (see: Masa).* Also relevant: once you take any cuisine past a certain fanciness threshold, it starts to taste generically upscale, probably something to do with cream sauces. This can work for French or Italian, but any cuisine known for intense flavors is going to suffer. So it’s not necessarily that customers wouldn’t pay more for higher-quality Thai or Mexican food – it could be that past experience has shown that as the price goes up, the taste gets worse. But yeah, caveats aside, point taken.
#3: Yes, there is a conspiracy to make us think Scandinavian food is something to be consumed on a regular basis outside Scandinavia. Which also gets #16 – “Not every country’s cuisine is worth celebrating” – out of the way. Exception: gravlax. And to be clear, I say this as someone whose own ancestral culinary heritage is, what, a kosher version of Polish cooking? Also not a cuisine anyone who didn’t grow up with it is going to want to eat terribly often.
#5: Someone in the comments protested that this should be “undocumented” not “illegal,” which, fair enough, but semantics aside, yup.
#6: A fine critique of the food movement: “Locavorism has become the newest outlet for yuppie guilt, providing a feeling of living ethically and supporting a cause, but too often the onslaught of kale and artisanal pickles blinds us from looking at the deeper problems affecting America’s food system.”
#7: Get rid of tipping, pay restaurant workers properly,
#10: “All wine mostly tastes the same.” Afraid so. See the
#12: “Foie gras is not worth fighting for (or against.)” Wow, could not have put that more elegantly. Probably because I’d have felt compelled to equivocate about how these things aren’t zero-sum, but that really, there are more pressing food-industry issues relating to humans, but even if your main concern is animal welfare (and someone’s should be), a food eaten on rare occasions and only by the very rich is an odd place to start. And yeah, anyone fighting for the right to use foie gras, eh. Side note: a friend from college, Joe Hanson,
this issue a while back, from the comedic perspective.
#20: “Brooklyn’s hyped food scene will turn the borough into Manhahattan [sic], part deux.” Typo aside, a flawless sentence. Because it really is food that seems to drive the new Brooklyn.
#11: “Most sushi restaurants in America stay in business by serving mislabeled fish and ridiculous rolls that have never actually existed in Japan.” While this may be true,
is a problem, but inauthenticity is not. As the authors themselves should see, considering #18: “Tex-Mex is often better than authentic Mexican.” Different audiences have different preferences, and sometimes preexisting cuisines fuse to create a superior product. Why would U.S.-ness ruin Japanese food but not Mexican?
#13: “The food world is the only place where Asians get respect as celebrities in America.” What about fashion (Vera Wang, Alexander Wang, Philip Lim…)?
#8: Yes, nostalgia bolstered by heritage-chic does lead to some terrible food. Also some wonderful food, and yes, Doughnut Plant vanilla-bean doughnuts and cinnamon buns, hamburgers from Diner in Williamsburg…
#2: re: NYT restaurant reviews, #9 re: Anthony Bourdain, #14 re: molecular gastronomy, #15 re: anonymous critics, and #17 re: sexual harassment in kitchens.
Beg to differ:
Re: #4, New York bagels are just fine, and moving elsewhere even within the same region, it becomes immediately obvious how tough it is to get a good bagel. Not all bagels in New York are good, some are rolls shaped like bagels, but that’s not even the issue when people claim a problem with New York bagels. No, it’s this whole thing about how bagels these days are too doughy, and it sounds sophisticated and adult to prefer the version that sounds old-timey and less like toddler-food. But this is, at least from my born-in-1983 perspective, an overhyped concern. As long as you go to a place that’s an actual bagel shop, you will get an actual bagel. Some of the best (Ess, Absolute) are doughy and excellent. Murray’s is maybe too dry, and Bagel Bob’s, well, you have provided more $2 grad-school lunches than you know. The Montreal bagels are good, but when outside Montreal, a novelty item.**
Re: # 19, I already have a post addressing why I don’t think it’s the same when fancy food-professionals celebrate grease as when people who actually influence what people who don’t merely pick at a meal at high-end establishment consume.
*I was once wasting time on the internet and on the Yelp (?) page for Masa, a restaurant I’ve never been to and probably will never go to on account of it’s the most expensive food establishment ever. And there was this one review from someone who said something along the lines of, ‘My girlfriend and I were near Columbus Circle and really hungry, so we went to grab a bite at this nearby Japanese place,’ and you see where this is going.
**Philadelphia has Montreal-style bagels, which I, as someone who has also had the original, and who’s of partial Montreal-Jewish heritage, let it be known, for authenticity’s sake, can confirm are close enough. New York apparently has some as well, now that Mile End has decided to stop importing bagels from Canada. How was that consistent with the locavore, new-Brooklyn ethos?
Someone was right on the Internet