If you’re here, you live, breathe, and dream food. You talk about where you ate last night while at lunch; you plan menus while daydreaming. Reading the Eater HeatMap for your city forms your bucket list. You’re drowning–no, marinating–in a food-saturated world. This is a world of romanticism, of flashy chefs serving abundant quantities of cakes who tell you to “live a little.” Glamor aside, the food world has some facts you’d rather not face, but can’t stop thinking about. This list on First We Feast delves into some notions I can’t help but feel from food-saturated media.
It really packed the punch in me, and I’d like to opine on some of the points on the list, like how economically aligned the sustainability movement is. That may be on my mind the most, especially when I see mason jars (for “simple” aesthetics) at the Pottery Barn as glassware. How about every time you’ve forked over $14 for a plate of sliced beets? Something tastes a little sour.
Doesn’t it make more sense that as food travels less, it probably should also cost less? What happens when folks live at a distance from the trends? They don’t get seasonal produce, and they certainly don’t “get” why this is so trendy. Instead of fighting over foie gras, how about getting the same food quality for everybody? Spreading these concepts have a humanitarian bent, but so often they come across as holier-than-thou.
How about immigrants that work in your favorite restaurants? It might be a celebrity holding down the hamlet as executive chef, but immigrants cook the food and wash the dishes you’re eating off of. Immigrants, whether authorized or not, comprise almost 50 percent of the labor force in the New York City metropolitan area, with multiple people working in each household. They build the backbone of a restaurant’s nuts and bolts, as the secret guiding hand that’s keeping many restaurants afloat in tough economic times.
Who wants to discuss that they’re underpaid and unrecognized? Nobody. Even though they’re busting their hump nightly, often harder than anyone else, they’re relegated to the dishwashing and prep work. Where are they in Yelp reviews? While working in a kitchen this summer, I met some amazing and inspiring hard working people that diners never saw. Several came to New York with little and now work in some spectacular places. They didn’t have attitudes, they didn’t care about food celebrity, and they were a lot of fun. Going to the doctor for back pain or injuries didn’t work easily for them, so they sucked it up and came to work all the same.
One guy said “True New Yorkers weren’t born here, they came to the city with nothing and built this place.” When you think about Ellis Island and what a melting pot means, it’s not far from the truth. Restaurants in New Orleans owe their rebuilding after Katrina to Latino cooks and staff. What do I think is the most underrrated in the food world? The staff.
The food community and the alternative community have been splitting hairs over trends for quite some time. An interview with Billy Corgan, a red dwarf icon in the alternative community, points out the amount of hypocrisy and narcissism in the business he works in. While I haven’t listened to anything he’s recorded since 1994, he’s got so many great points. Unless we actually delve into the issues and goals supposedly behind our trends, we can’t expect to benefit anyone.
Joseph Fattorini wrote that the aesthetic, the intrinsic qualities of the food were more important than the financial realities. This evaluation, made almost 10 years ago, is so much stronger now, from the “presentation” category on Chopped to the tricks of molecular cooking. We love to expedite and critique, but we don’t want to talk about what happens behind the scenes. Think about it: that’s what really makes up the food that makes up your conversation. There’s a whole year to eat more responsibly, whether it’s going meatless on Mondays or saying thanks to the people that really make a restaurant. Eating doesn’t have to be exclusive.
(Cartoons courtesy of Condé Nast and Royston Robertson)