For the Love of Food
Posted by Roobs on January 13, 2014
When I was a child, I found the making of food to be fascinating. My mom first let me enter the foray of cooking when I was probably around six or seven years of age. She let me crack and scramble my own eggs in a plastic bowl and then let me put it in the microwave. I remember watching as the eggs puffed up with great interest. That pretty much cemented my love of cooking and food in general (I have since moved to cooking my eggs stovetop). Now, one of my favorite activities to do outside my apartment is to try the new and trendy restaurants that are popping up over any of the cities I have lived in, now Los Angeles. The result is a wide-ranging pallet of tastes but also some populist scorn at what others believe to be a type of food snobbery.
Most people who call me a “food snob” are often surprised when I tell them one of my favorite places to eat, like on the planet, is Panda Express. That’s right. Panda Express. I mean, who doesn’t love fake Chinese food that shimmers in bright florescent lighting? People who hate babies and puppies and Christmas, that’s who.
My love of Panda Express is an example of the dichotomous nature I find in the label of “food snob”: it is both true and not true. As I’ve said, I do love a great meal at a trendy restaurant that usually costs more than I should really pay. But this “food snob” label really misses the overall reason why I enjoy these luxuries: I just love great, delicious food in all its form.
Is your food organic? How was the cow treated before it was killed? Did you use a high-school chemistry set to construct this airy puff of salt over a dry aged porterhouse? Ultimately, I don’t give a shit. Is what you are preparing and presenting on my plate delicious? That’s really all that matters to me in the end.
Ok. That might be a little of an overstatement. As a foodie in general, I appreciate a well presented plate and I have no qualms with small portions. A month-long reservation wait? Fine. Unique technologies used to prepare the meal? Sure. But all that is proverbial icing on the cake (I’m using food puns on purpose, obviously). I want to experience a delicious meal in a nice restaurant and do it preferably with someone I care about, like family, friends, or my partner, and I am unashamed at throwing down some serious cash for a great meal. But what I, and others like me, value is not the price tag, but a great experience and a delicious taste. To people like me, context is everything. The more I pay, the more I expect. And I’m not talking quantity.
Last year, I went out to dinner with my mother to a restaurant in West Hollywood called Eveliegh. The restaurant specializes a kind of farm-to-table fare (think meats, poultry, seafood, veggies, cheeses, etc.). Only infinitely better. We both wanted steaks and the waitress told us about the porterhouse that was not on the menu but available. We decided, sure why not? It wasn’t until later that it dawned upon us that she never gave a price to this special porterhouse. We also ordered a couple mini-bottles of wine (they were adorable) along with some vegetable sides and plate of charcuterie. In the end, we were a little sticker shocked when we got the bill. Over $350 was spent between the two of us. But in the end, we just laughed and paid. Why?
Everything about our time at Eveliegh was on spec for the price we paid. The wine was unusually pricy for the mini bottles but delicious and the perfect pairing for our porterhouse. Speaking of, the porterhouse was probably one of the best, if not the best, piece of steak I have ever had. On top of that, the service was excellent: friendly, prompt, unpretentious. The restaurant itself is casual, yet confident in its servings. In short, for our personal tastes and preferences, that entire meal and experience was well worth $175 per person. (It was also partly a celebratory dinner for my new job, so paying extra was something we accepted beforehand).
Let’s go back to Panda Express (mmm… Panda). Is the food authentic Chinese food? Of course it isn’t. But is it totally great and delicious? Yes! And its dirt cheap for what you get. Everything about Panda Express is contextually perfect. It’s good food for the price you pay. No one goes to Panda Express expecting a great culinary experience. You go there for cheap, fake, shiny Chinese food. And to expect more from it is to expect disappointment. Again, context is everything for me when it comes to food.
Now, some of you may think trendy is simply too expensive. And that’s fine. I don’t judge nor should anyone negatively judge those who simply and objectionably cannot afford to spend a lot of money on food (which speaks to a larger economic disparity problem but I won’t get into that here). I don’t care if you love a great burger, pizza, or $175 porterhouse. The question is whether or not that food tastes great to you. If it does, then go nuts. It’s like wine.
Some people like Two-Buck Chuck. Some like $350 Marcassin. Either one is perfectly good wine. The only difference between them is the fact that the enjoyer of Two-Buck Chuck is probably enjoying his far more than the person drinking the $350 Marcassin. (Actually, the primary difference in price in wine is largely due to the supply produced by the winery, but I digress.) But while I assert my own view on food to be more, dare I say libertarian, too many people are jumping onto a type of food elitism that takes away from the absolute pleasure that is eating well; instead turning food into a type of fetish.
I began this post by suggesting I’m ok with people calling me a “food snob” because it is both correct and incorrect. But in that lies the rub. My own phiolsophy on food is there for you to see and judge for yourself. But the prompt or genisis of my cumpulsion to explain my philosophy is, in part, a defensive response to what I agree with when people call me a food snob. There are those that I find distasteful (food pun!) in the food-lover world, and that is those I would call the “food fetishizing elite”. These elitists are often found in wealthy enclaves of hipsterdom around this country touting the benefits of many of the latest food trends. This elitism comes in multiple forms, such as those who only eat sustainable, vegan, organic, picked it yourself type of fare and (emphasis) negatively judge those who don’t. These are those who have taken an almost moral imperative and high-ground to their literal consumption habits. To be clear, I don’t really give three shits if you chose to eat vegan or organic, or if you chose to travel outside the city to pick berries, on an individual level. I do, however, find it annoying when these food fetishizers feel compelled to make everyone else share their view of moral food consumption because it creates a divisive issue on something as benign as food!
The biggest problem from this type of food elitism is that it begins to separate people based on a completely un-related value. Like, what do “normal” people eat vs. “food elitists”. And that’s just dumb. Yet you see it happening. Like with the Tea Party seeming to value ignorance while belittling intelligence, food elitism is creating a group of people who respond to otherwise benign trendy restaurants as something to disdain and disassociate from – something the “other” does. But it shouldn’t be and they shouldn’t purposely ignore the wonders of such great food. Yet it is a real and visible consequence of the food fetishizing elite trying to impose their own view of what people should and should not eat; what is or is not “quality” food.
Again, there are the obvious financial limitations, but no one should say they dislike or refuse to eat a type of food because they think it’s “foo foo”, “trendy”, “rich people” food. Or, on the reverse, the food fetishizing elite shouldn’t imply that “normal people” only eat at chain restaurants and fast food joints, while the better of us eat higher end, better quality organic food. Such a view is really a reflection of their own shortcomings and insecurities, rather than of those who like an Applebees salad.
I am aware there is an argument to be made regarding cheap food, which is health. It is true that lower-income families are more likely to be forced to eat lower-quality fast food due to financial constraints. And this is a legitimate problem in the food world, as well as an obvious larger socio-economic issue. However, this is separate from the question of whether or not places like McDonalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Wendy’s and Carls Jr. are intrinsically bad. I, for one, think the Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich and the Carl’s Jr. Superstar burger are delicious.
In my own cooking and dining, I have since graduated from microwave scrambled eggs, but I have not forgotten them. I don’t care if it’s only on special occasions or it’s your weekly date night, everyone should go and enjoy the marvelous creations being thought up by some of America’s great and up-and-coming chefs. No arrogant food fetishizing elitist should make anyone feel as if they don’t understand or are incapable of appreciating food, nor should the same group feel attacked or defensive for enjoying the greasy goodness of a fast food burger. Everyone should feel comfortable to eat what they enjoy. I mean, honestly, no matter how much you think you appreciate great food, it still just turns into shit the next day.