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Food Snobbery


stellabella
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Every one of us, I suspect, when we're not anxiously worrying about the principle of the thing, believes that some ways of eating, and some food and beverage combinations, are right and proper, while others are not.  

Of course. Most people posting here will agree on many matters of taste. However, you have admitted that these judgments are historically and culturally contingent. I think you must also accept that taste must be physiologically contingent since it is evident that there is a continuum of sensitivities to different tastes. It does seem likely to me that there will be some tastes (e.g., those suggestive of putrefaction*) that no one will ever like unless they’re Komodo dragons.

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However, we’re generally not talking about eating rotting flesh or, for that matter, curry and custard. We’re talking about steak and salad dressing. And on those topics there are no absolute judgments and reasonable people (i.e., everyone other than Plotters) can disagree.

*FYI, two of the chemicals produced during putrefaction are putrescine and cadaverine.

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However, you have admitted that these judgments are historically and culturally contingent.

Oh, I insist they're historically and culturally contingent. And I'm glad Steve P. seems to have come around to that point of view. Critical or aesthetic judgments are contingent (as, I suspect, are ethical judgments). I am only arguing with people who imply that such judgments cannot be made.

Perhaps you would adopt a literary analogy, and say - we're not arguing about whether Pam Ayres is a better poet than Wordsworth, because that would be silly, but two intelligent people can disagree about whether Wordsworth is a better poet than Blake; the latter is a matter of opinion.

I think that's fair. Some of us feel that steak and prune juice falls into the silly category, whereas which red to drink with steak falls into the matter of opinion category. Steak and beer is perhaps between the two. My only dispute is with the suggestion that any beverage is as good an accompaniment to steak as any other, and that there is no basis for challenging that.

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Perhaps you would adopt a literary analogy, and say - we're not arguing about whether Pam Ayres is a better poet than Wordsworth, because that would be silly, but two intelligent people can disagree about whether Wordsworth is a better poet than Blake; the latter is a matter of opinion.

I would add the proviso that critical opinion can change very rapidly. The metaphysical poets were thought second rate before Eliot caused a reevaluation. Anyone saying that Dylan was America’s greatest living poet in the 60s would have been ridiculed, but that is the position of serious, conservative academics like Christopher Ricks*. Although I doubt the same will happen with Pam Ayres, other “obviously correct” judgments are certain to look stupid in the future.

As an afterthought on putrescence, I wonder if there are any flavors for which one cannot develop a taste with sufficient training. Think durian.

And I hear that Blumenthal is working on his curry and custard dish as we speak.

* Famous for complaining that there is a prejudice against English people in English Departments.

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And I hear that Blumenthal is working on his curry and custard dish as we speak.
I thought I'd already mentioned my chocolate, coconut and curry dessert at El Bulli. It was in fact, one of the least challenging and most easily appreciated dishes of the evening and would have been a welcome and fitting dessert at Blue Hill, Cafe Boulud, GramercyTaven or any number of satisfying restaurants in NYC. Admittedly the curry flavor was minimal.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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ANd we have all surely (surely) eaten fish custards in Japanese restaurants.

Yes, I've been arguing for months on this site that even quite strongly held views are subject to change. The recognition of Moby Dick as a masterpiece has been my favorite example. I might observe that some fundamental principles of science get revised from time to time. None of which means that, within a certain timebound critical context, judgments of taste, aesthetics, ethics, as well as judgments in the hard sciences, are not possible.

Oh, forget it Glyn, I just remembered you're a Feyerabend admirer. I am wasting my time. :rolleyes:

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And I can't resist expressing amazement at Deacon's challenge.  I would guess I have about 1% of Steve's wine knowledge, but all things being equal I would expect to identify the main varietals in a blind tasting, and to be able to guess country of origin more than half the time.  What's supposed to be so difficult?

Before this thread is permanently archived, let me just add this. I didn't mean my comments to Plotnicki to be personally directed at him. I was sniping if anything at the idea in general of ANYBODY being able to casually and repeatedly pin down wines by specific year and vintner. Wine is so broad and complex a field with so many variables--I do believe that only if your name is Robert Parker or Hugh Johnson could you be so consistently specific in a series of blind tastings.

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dear yvonne,

i balanced my chakras this weekend and found myself afterwards with a craving for meat so overwhelming that i stopped at wendy's and ate TWO grilled chicken sandwiches. they tasted really good to me. in fact, they tasted like the best grilled chicken sandwiches in the universe.

i say, eat what you like, like what you eat, be nice. a courageous heart and mind are far more impressive than a refined palate.

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I was sniping if anything at the idea in general of ANYBODY [Robert Parker and Hugh Johnson are excepted] being able to casually and repeatedly pin down wines by specific year and vintner.

I seem to recall that it was by area and cepage/variety. Here's what's been said so far.

and then we'll see if he knows good from bad without the label on. (d)

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But for the average talented mortal with no superpowers, yes I will say he'll get either white or red correctly blindfolded. But Plotnicki, I predict, will be doing well to get the country of origin, let alone the region, let alone the vineyard. But I may be wrong. We shall see.

No prize for getting color. Credit for getting country of origin. Beyond that--fuggeddabouddit. No chance. (d)

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Not only will you see me get the countries of origin right, I will differentiate between regions and varietals, and pick out which producer made the wine providing I have experience with the producer. (sp)

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I'm sure varietal will not be any challenge either. And varietal puts you part of the way toward country of origin. But I advise you not to boast unless you can back up your claims. Country of origin is enough of a challenge. If you get region, let alone the vintner, I will be surprised and impressed. (d)

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Fisrt of all, I am not going to get 100% of them right. But I will get a good percentage of them right. And yes there are a number of vintners I will be able to know just based on how the wine smells. Of course, if you have been reading the memory of taste thread, the conditions have to be perfect. With less then perfect conditions I can get 100% of them wrong. But if the conditions are right and the trace characterstics are showing, I should be able to get at least half right just based on smelling the wines. (sp)

Plotnicki said he could identify producer, but not necessarily vineyard, if he was familiar with the producer's style. My guess is that may limit the tasting to the better Burgundy and Rhone producers once the country of origin test is completed. I would not expect him to be able to distinguish between two sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, but he might if he had tasted them and they were distinguished. He also didn't claim to be able to identify the year, but I'd guess that if you stuck to the producers he knows, he'd do fairly well on that too. I think that can be tricky although years have styles to some extent. I really don't know what he can taste, but considering his interest and the money he spends on wine, and how well he can describe a meal, it wouldn't surprise me if he did better than he claims.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 6 months later...
By that standard I don't consider very many people on this site to be food snobs. Certainly there are a few, but to describe most of us we need a better word.

what would that word be?! I have no idea.

Connoisseurship. Connoiseurs have a delectation for something and develope a knowledgeable and discriminating taste in it because of that. They may be snobs, may be teachers, turning their friends on to things they've enjoyed, or may be a little of both, but the bottom line to me is that they - and most of us (certainly the regulars) are connoiseurs of food, in some way.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 4 months later...

I’d like to think of myself more as a connoisseur than a snob. The difference is my mind is that: a Snob is a Connoisseur that relishes his superiority over those of lesser knowledge.

i like this take on the subject of snobbery. the moment you care about what you put in your mouth, on your back, where you park your behind--is that when you become a "snob" or "discerning"? if "snobbish" means sticking to certain standards you choose for yourself, then be it. i find that the more i explore food & drink, the more exclusive (for lack of a better word) my taste becomes. e.g. once i tried earl grey from mariage freres, i stopped buying earl grey from any other company. i still drink other teas, but when i have a choice, i always go with my favorite. do i feel superior to those who drink lipton? no, i feel lucky i discovered mariage freres!

that said, i'm annoyed at ppl who go to certain restaurants because it's the thing to do. they never look beyond what's socially acceptable for them to do, considered "the best" by their circle. i wonder if they truly enjoy the food or merely believe they do because they are supposed to. same with the new york times food section--why do so many ppl follow it so slavishly? and if it's not in the paper it may just as well not exist? i will never understand ppl who do not choose to acquire the knowledge on their own, develop their own taste but instead are content with accepting a digest, somebody else's opinions--whether it's food, film or anything else. critics and journalists are not gods, people, and the reviews and articles are not gospel. they are selling the newspaper. but that's a whole different rant.

Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.

P.G. Wodehouse

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what I have a problem with is when a restaurant will come off like it's the bee's knees (with prices to match) and the food is so pedestrian it's jaywalking...

that's when I am a snob...but as was alluded to in another thread I love Burger King, so.....

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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  • 7 years later...

I had a discussion on another board that touched upon food snobbery. We were discussing a restaurant that the others had proclaimed was "authentic" Mexican food, and one guy mentioned that he really liked their pupusas. I replied that pupusas were not Mexican, but were El Salvadoran, and then asked if they were just using "pupusa" to provide a familiar name for a similar Mexican dish, or if they were really serving pupusas.

To make a long story short, someone said I was being a food snob for being a stickler about the origin of a particular dish. I say it's not snobbery, especially since I'd have eaten it, anyway, it's just being respectful to other cultures.

But I will admit, this is not the first time I've been called a food snob. Thing is, I eat Cheetohs, and I don't think McDonald's is the scourge of the world. But I won't say something is delicious if it's not, and I won't let you put ketchup in my pad Thai.

So what makes a food snob? Am I being a food snob when I insist that pupusas aren't Mexican? Or because I don't like ketchup in my pad Thai?

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Food snobbery is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of times it has more to do with feelings (of superiority on the part of the snob, inferiority for accuser of the snob) not what's true or not. Your example doesn't sound like snobbery to me, but then again I've been called a snob before. People who know me know I'm not, but its hard to shake those preconceived notions.

Someone once called me a snob and said everything doesn't have to be "gourmet." I don't know what gourmet is, but I do want things to be good. McDonald's fries are good. If you try to sell me two pieces of fried chicken for $16 and its not better than Popeye's, it's not good. This person would never go to McD's for political reasons and derides it. Who's the snob then?

nunc est bibendum...

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There's an ugly strain of reverse elitism going around in Western culture at the moment and this sort of accusation is part of it.

If someone comes at you with this I say you should mock the hell out of them, and do it in your best Redneck/Chav/Area-appropriate dialect for bonus points.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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