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Thursday, May 9, 2013

'Smart Casual,' another attack on foodie culture

I've kept a pretty vigilant eye on the way foodies are getting punched around everywhere these days. The critiques are usually about the morality of foodie snobbery in a culture where hunger continues to expand to shocking numbers - 16.7 million children alone.

The latest slam is Alison Pearlman's 145-page book, Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America. I haven't read the book, but there's a great essay about it on by L.V. Anderson.

Anderson writes that Pearlman particularly critiques exhibition-style kitchens. They are artsy stages for chefs, while the minimum-wage grunt-workers stay safely out of view behind closed doors - as the upper class always prefers. But she also goes after the cloying trend of "chefs creating gourmet versions of commonplace dishes," including fast food, the main diet of many poor people. How democratic!

She also goes on about how foodies now seem more interested in the "pedigrees" of ingredients than the cooking itself. I like Asha Gomez's take on this. I asked her a year ago if she was featuring organic, local ingredients at Cardamon Hill. She replied that every restaurant should be doing that and she felt no need to list ingredient sources on her menus.

There is much more to the essay. Here's one exemplary passage:

Pearlman notes that food-focused publications have increasingly covered issues related to environmentalism, labor, and politics over the last decade - but only "as problems to be solved not by collective political action but by individual shopping choices - in other words, consumption." If consumption is virtuous, only those with the economic means to consume discriminately can have virtue. Which is how restaurant menus became infected with the elite farm brand-names and modernist amuse-bouches that proclaim how much less accessible they are than the food of the masses. The less accessible, the better.

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