Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Food Snobbery

Recently I've been following a web site for "foodies" called Chow. This is the sort of site which is heavy on recipes that include balsamic vinegar, edamame, pine nuts and goat cheese. If you read the boards, you will easily come away thinking that this is a site frequented by people who turn up their noses at "pedestrian" fare. I've read threads where they've taken the time to express their impressions of the latest set meal at KFC (hint: they're not fans) and spoken disdainfully of places like Applebee's (one wag said he wouldn't inflict it on Saddam Hussein).

This same group of people rub their hands together with glee because a Japanese department store is now offering green tea "soft cream" (that's soft serve ice cream) in their area (in a U.S. city) with optional azuki bean topping. This is the crap that you can buy in convenience stores all over Japan. The people who sell it take bags of pre-made (likely powdered) mix, pour it into a machine, add water and pump a little air into it then squeeze it out through a tube for you. It's essentially the same gloop you get at Dairy Queen in the U.S. but instead of it being topped off with canned crushed pineapple that has been boiled with sugar it's topped with canned soy beans that have been boiled with sugar.

I don't have a problem with people who like exotic or gourmet food and dislike food prepared with cheap, low quality, or commonly-used ingredients. I do have a problem with the hypocrisy of people who praise the pedestrian fare of one culture while putting their noses in the upright position for similar pedestrian fare from another culture (usually American). Soft serve ice cream from the U.S. is swill. The same thing from Japan in a different flavor is a culinary treat.

I've witnessed this sort of hypocrisy mainly in regards to Japanese food because I know it so well from having lived here. I know when cheap Japanese food is being lovingly embraced as if it were haute cuisine because I know what is commonly available. However, I've also seen glimpses of it on (sometimes chef, author, and full-time T.V. personality) Anthony Bourdain's food and travel programs for the Discovery channel. On the whole, I enjoy his shows but he really has a thing for taking every opportunity to speak derisively of America's popular food culture. He went out of his way to chase down the origin of nachos in Mexico not to teach us how this monstrously popular snack was created but how it was originally served to American wives of dignitaries when there was nothing better around to serve them. The ladies had the low taste to enjoy this off the cuff concoction and it somehow (supposedly) spread to the U.S. from this one experience. The notion that this one instance where a Mexican served stale chips with cheese and peppers set off a trend is pretty absurd. At the same time, I've seen Bourdain praise relatively mundane fare in Europe. The most memorable one was a crepe spread with Nutella (a mass-produced chocolate hazelnut spread full of fat and sugar which you can buy in a jar at most markets which is also extremely yummy) and a few bananas. Qualitatively speaking, this is little better cuisine than a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

The problem with food snobs isn't that they have a taste for food which is unique in flavor and texture. The problem is that they dislike food simply because it is popular with a lot of people or available to the masses. These are the sorts of people who would view meatloaf dismissively but get excited about an order of tsukune when they're both little more than ground meat and regionally-determined seasonings mixed up, pressed together and cooked.

Sometimes I wonder what it is about human nature that compels people to deride what others embrace while talking about what they love. Is it really so hard to simply love what you love and let others enjoy what they like without subjecting them to your disdain? I guess it is if your ego is structured such that you can only elevate yourself by putting down something.


Roy said...

Culinary Posers, is what they are.

Good post. I laughed out loud.

Miko said...

Ha ha, oh, what a great post! I have to deal with a bunch of big ol' food snobs (Japanese, in my case) right here in Kobe, and I feel exactly the same way that you do. I can't stand the way that certain people jump on a bandwagon and insist that something is superior and refined just because it's Japanese/French/whatever.

Did you know that there is even a school of Cordon Bleu in this city?

BTW I really love American food. I think it is the most diverse cuisine in the world. (Although, I'm kind of glad I don't get to eat it too often, otherwise I'd be the size of a house by now - that's how much I like it.)

Shari said...

Roy: I like "culinary posers." That made me laugh out loud. :-)

Miko: Have you ever noticed that the Japanese, French, and Italians always get the benefit of the doubt as to whether or not their food is good whereas British, German and American food always gets the snub?

I didn't know there was a Cordon Bleu school in Japan, let alone in Kobe. ;-) I guess that may be one reason you encounter more food snobs in person than I since those sorts are likely attracted to such places. Most of the Japanese people I know are pretty open-minded though they all believe all American food is either loaded with sugar or loaded with fat (which is true of some dishes but not all by a long shot).

I can't say I love American or any other type of food since I'm an incredibly fussy eater. I like a little bit of many types of food but not much of anything. However, I'd say that Indian food probably pleases me more than any other cuisine on the whole...that's likely because they don't use pork or beef and the food is spicy.

Many thanks to both of your for your kind comments!

Androo said...

As an active "Chowhound," I can only say your frustration would be exponentially increased if you attempted to explain an opinion that conflicts with theirs (I have). I don't think I ever became so jaded with the population of a forum before. I do enjoy it for the restaurant recommendations, though, since LA is so big that it's impossible to try everything on your own.

Snobbery of any kind is pretty much intolerable, and I've run into people on either side of me. As someone who rarely cooks (and when I do, it's never as good as I hope), I find myself less inclined to criticize food unless it's been insanely hyped by someone or something.

Another entertaining post, and one that hits home with me.

BTW, on Chow, there's just as many people who rave about tacos and polish dogs as those who rave about duck confit and prix fixe meals. It's why I stick around :)

CMUwriter said...

Regardless of where you are from, it is all people food. I have actually been eating a lot of MRE that my brother snagged me from the United States Army. An MRE (meal ready to eat) supposedly has enough calories to count as a day's worth of food for a soldier, and some of the food in them is surprisingly good.

There is even a little chemically activated heating pad included in every MRE to heat the food, which comes in sealed plastic bags. Once the food it hot, you eat it with a spoon. I would have to say the best ones that i have had are the beef stew and the mexican style rice, which was better than the stuff I can make.

Shari said...

Androo: I think it's great that you try to explain your point of view. There's a reason I wrote my post here rather than make a comment there. I wouldn't say I'm chicken but I know when I'm outnumbered. ;-)

I realize there are some posts about "lower" types of food like chili dogs (but they have cilantro in the sauce, right? ;-) ) and such but I've yet to see someone post a thread about how a particular dish at some place like Dairy Queen is wonderful and describe the experience of consuming it in terms that make it appear to be a sublime pleasure (as was the case with the green tea soft cream one).

Chow is a good site even if the forum community can be a bit much at times. I go there mainly for the kitchen tips, advice, and the recipes though I haven't made anything written about there yet. I did think the camping pancakes looked appealing and may give them a go some time (minus pine nuts for my husband but with them for me).

cmuwriter: The MREs you speak of are so much like the type of "future food" that you see on the Jetsons (or in movies set in the not too distant future) that it feels a bit odd. The concept though sounds very appealing except for the part about enough calories to take care of you the whole day. I can imagine such things in the hands of non-soldier types could result in in more overweight people since consumption is related to portion rather than caloric totals.

Thanks very much to both of you for the excellent and interesting comments!

Leo said...

Great post. Brought back memories when I worked at "ultra-premium" winery. I was fortunate enough to eat at a number of "high-end" restaurants. I had some great meals at a few places but most weren't that impressive, the same with the food. I always preferred the Mom n Pop Mexican joint down the street or a local hole in the wall place.

And I like Applebees and pretty much any type of food styles/"cuisine" across the board. In the end, if it tastes good, I'll eat it. And eat it. And eat it, etc. *sigh* Time to go exercise

CMUwriter said...

Shari: There is a lot of food in them, I mean I am a big guy and I can't sit down and eat a whole one if I tried. So I don't think that there is just more calories packed into the regular portions of food, I think that there are just calories in the thing because there is so much food in the pack. The only thing that is future about it I would say is the heating pack, that is pretty neat, other than that the food pretty much taste like normal food. Also all the food (believe it or not) is pretty much not salty at all, and the pack comes with a huge salt packet, way more than the average person would need for one meal, because a lot of it is added for taste.

Shari said...

Leo: Hi there and thanks for your comment. :-)

I have actually never been to Applebee's (nor ever seen one) but from what I've read and what Sean P. Aune has told me, they're sort of a Denny's type of place. I think a lot of people make assumptions about places based on decor and price range which may not be accurate. I believe that all restaurants use frozen food on occasion and that many serve leftovers from the day before. I've read that Sunday is the worst day to go to a restaurant because even the expensive ones will not have had any fresh food delivery since Friday and will be using frozen or old vegetables and fruit.

cmuwriter: I think the self-heating part is incredibly neat. :-) It does seem odd that the portions are so huge because a soldier would have to scarf it all down at once or "save" it for later (which would seem to be impractical.

CMUwriter said...

Shari: Everything comes in individual packets with the air completely sucked out. So for example if there are eight crackers in their own packet, then peanut butter for them in a seprate packet. For the hamburger meal, the patty is in one packet, and the two slices of "break" have their own packet as well. So concieveably you could eat your crackers and peanut butter and save everything else. But I agree, the self heating element is amazing, although the gasses it expells are pretty nasty smelling.