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Assault on Slow Food: Too elite?


Devotay
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You're confusing "elite" with "elitist." I'm not saying (and I don't see Sterling saying) that people who spend $100/pound for jamon iberico are snobs: I know them, and they're not. But you're living in a fantasy world if you think that Americans from all walks of life are willing and able to spend that money on that product.

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You're confusing "elite" with "elitist."

I think you're splitting hairs there, considering you said "what else would you call people who...", but what the hell, I'll concede that point.

Just out of interest is $100 the minimum expenditure? I think it's relevant because most people I know don't buy the expensive ham by the pound unless they're laying it in for a party. It's certainly not the way I've ever bought it, either. There's a world of difference between putting down $10 or $20 and spending $100. Blowing just $10 - even on something frivolous and supposedly overpriced - doesn't have quite the same psychological impact, does it?

But you're living in a fantasy world if you think that Americans from all walks of life are willing and able to spend that money on that product.

Not what I what I said (it was more general than that), but anyway, moving on. Willing and able are two very different things. It would be boring to repeat myself too much, so I'll just remind you that I already covered this in the previous post. (It was specific to Britain and the attitudes that prevail there, because I know more about the place than I do about America. Also note that I clearly drew a distinction between "low income" and "destitute". While there are plenty of the former in Britain, there are very few of the latter, and setting our standards of affordability by them wouldn't be especially helpful anyway.)

Edited by Ohba (log)
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Oh, I definitely take your point that "willing" and "able" are two very different things! What I'm saying is that there are very few Americans who will spend $25 on a quarter-pound of ham. Those who have the means, the education, the desire, etc., to do so are a pretty small subset of the population. I think that subset is an elite; not the elite, but one of many sorts of elites. That might be an unfortunate word in some ways, since people react poorly to it, but I do think it's accurate- and I can't off-hand think of a more appropriate word.

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Er... I think what Ohba is trying to get at, that you seem to be ignoring, is that there are people willing to spend more on things that they are interested in. Are you saying the ghetto brother who buys $100 pair of air jordans is an elitist? Is the the Best Buy working for $9.00/hr who buys a $3000 gaming computer an elitist? Why is a person who enjoys good, maybe expensive, food an elitist? It's what we choose to spend our money on instead of the $100 air jordans. I know I'd rather buy $100 jamon ham instead.

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I think the net impression Sterling is trying to leave -- if he is being serious -- is that Slow Food is a bunch of effete gastronomical snobs who are actually making the world safe for well-off poseurs under the guise of protecting culinary and biological diversity.  Or something like that.  I'm all confused now.

I didn't see anything in the article that suggested that Slow Foodies are poseurs, or that they are dishonest about their motives. It's all out there in the open: they're using the global market to protect culinary diversity.

I do think that what has people upset is the word "elite." But Slow Food is, among other things, an elite movement. I mean, what else would you call people who pay $100 per pound for jamon iberico? I don't consider that an insult; it's just a fact.

Well, since you (and I, by way of the thread you linked) raised the subject:

I hit the half-century mark this coming October 22. I figure a quarter-pound of this would make a dandy birthday present, and if nobody buys me any, I'll buy myself some.

Which brings me to the post that IMO puts everything in perspective:

Er... I think what Ohba is trying to get at, that you seem to be ignoring, is that there are people willing to spend more on things that they are interested in. Are you saying the ghetto brother who buys $100 pair of air jordans is an elitist? Is the the Best Buy working for $9.00/hr who buys a $3000 gaming computer an elitist? Why is a person who enjoys good, maybe expensive, food an elitist? It's what we choose to spend our money on instead of the $100 air jordans. I know I'd rather buy $100 jamon ham instead.

Actually, she has a point -- and if I was correct in assessing Stirling's piece as a dart rather than a backhanded compliment (I will admit it could be read either way, which makes it even worse than the OP imagined, for it should at least be clear what the author's intent is in writing something: if this was satire, he didn't screw his tongue in his cheek firmly enough), then lots of people lack similar perspective.

There are food lovers on these boards who are of very modest means, including one who shares Slow Food's worldview and has posted to this discussion. I am sure that she would not hesitate to spend far more on some high-quality food product than she would on some other expensive item given the money to burn simply because that's something she cares about.

The snobs buy expensive things because they are expensive. The GOOD elitists buy them because they are superior in quality. There is a difference between the two. The good elitist would not hesitate to spend LESS for a superior product either; the snob would.

I posted on Phillyblog about "American Hyacinth Buckets." (My partner, I fear, has more than a little Hyacinth in him.) If you know this character, you should be able to understand the distinction now being made.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Oh, I definitely take your point that "willing" and "able" are two very different things!  What I'm saying is that there are very few Americans who will spend $25 on a quarter-pound of ham.

But they'll happily spend the $25 on something else. Perhaps in the majority of cases, that's going to be on something that you, and society, deems to be non-elite. And then the question of having the financial means to do it once again fades into irrelevance, because we know that nearly everyone has $25 to spend from time to time on non-essential items. And that's my point. The distinction here between what is elite and what isn't is superficial and irrational.

I think that subset is an elite; not the elite, but one of many sorts of elites.  That might be an unfortunate word in some ways, since people react poorly to it, but I do think it's accurate- and I can't off-hand think of a more appropriate word.

I'm not sure that any label at all is required.

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The snobs buy expensive things because they are expensive.  The GOOD elitists buy them because they are superior in quality.  There is a difference between the two.  The good elitist would not hesitate to spend LESS for a superior product either; the snob would.

Well said, Sandy. Perhaps we could be considered 'particular' rather than elitist?

"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)
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i think the issue here is one of discourse and ideology.

the rhetoric of slow food has elements of a neo-colonialist pastoralism that i don't think can be denied. look at the writing in "gourmet" or "saveur", where the ACTUAL socio-economic conditions of the far-flung places the well-to-do writers and their (vicarious) readers travel to for the "local" food is romanticised for the consumption of a global (northern) elite. as if the small, peasant, artisinal woman in a small town in italy desires to be poor (ooops...i mean "rustic") and doesn't want the same access to capitalism that we all on this board luxuriate in.

it's got nothing to do with "small family farms". jamon iberico is NOT available in most-non urbanized western settings. it takes extraordinarly (petro-based) resources to produce these "local" specialities and then go about selling them to the privileged.

pierre bourdieu has written extensively on how taste is a mark of distinction.

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I have heard of slow food as an idea of cooking.. But I never realized it was an actual organization that publishes books, has political beliefs, or organizes things.. "

As a nonprofit heritage organization, the Slow Food empire retains a mere 150 full-time employees with a modest budget of $37 million a year
I thought it was a concept that has been around since cooking that someone decided to "label"

In my mind slow food was people who wanted to cook local organic food from scratch.. Kind of like how cooking originated.. I didnt know it was some type of political movement..

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i think the issue here is one of discourse and ideology. 

the rhetoric of slow food has elements of a neo-colonialist pastoralism that i don't think can be denied.  look at the writing in "gourmet" or "saveur", where the ACTUAL socio-economic conditions of the far-flung places the well-to-do writers and their (vicarious) readers travel to for the "local" food is romanticised for the consumption of a global (northern) elite.  as if the small, peasant, artisinal woman in a small town in italy desires to be poor (ooops...i mean "rustic") and doesn't want the same access to capitalism that we all on this board luxuriate in. 

it's got nothing to do with "small family farms".  jamon iberico is NOT available in most-non urbanized western settings.  it takes extraordinarly (petro-based) resources to produce these "local" specialities and then go about selling them to the privileged. 

pierre bourdieu has written extensively on how taste is a mark of distinction.

Your point has merit in relation to Gourmet and Saveur, but not, if you actually read SLOW, the magazine of Slow Food, with Slow Food, the organization even though individuals involved with that organization, including myself, can be painted with the same brush you used on Gourmet and Saveur. Slow Food is about much more than selling a few specialties to the privileged, though that is a subset of what happens. That, however, is because the privileged tend to like good things and more importantly can afford them. The motto of Slow Food is "good, clean & fair." Good stands for good quality, clean for environmentally responsible and sustainable production and fair, for non-exploitive economies related to these products. The products involved are global in nature and not designed to keep anyone poor or "rustic."

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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i think the issue here is one of discourse and ideology. 

the rhetoric of slow food has elements of a neo-colonialist pastoralism that i don't think can be denied.  look at the writing in "gourmet" or "saveur", where the ACTUAL socio-economic conditions of the far-flung places the well-to-do writers and their (vicarious) readers travel to for the "local" food is romanticised for the consumption of a global (northern) elite.  as if the small, peasant, artisinal woman in a small town in italy desires to be poor (ooops...i mean "rustic") and doesn't want the same access to capitalism that we all on this board luxuriate in. 

it's got nothing to do with "small family farms".  jamon iberico is NOT available in most-non urbanized western settings.  it takes extraordinarly (petro-based) resources to produce these "local" specialities and then go about selling them to the privileged. 

pierre bourdieu has written extensively on how taste is a mark of distinction.

Discourse and ideology. Well, there are people who will put everything into those terms. I don't find it very persuasive, because it reeks of intellectualism for its own sake.

On this score, Wikipedia's entry seems to confirm my worst fears:

Bourdieu is best known for his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, in which he tried to connect aesthetic judgments to positions in social space. The most notable aspect of Bourdieu's theory is the development of methodologies, combining both theory and empirical data, that attempt to dissolve some of the most troublesome antagonisms in theory and research, trying to reconcile such difficulties as how to understand the subject within objective structures (in the process, trying to reconcile structure and agency).

Aspirin please.

The other problem I've got here is that you don't seem to have said anything without resorting to comfortably held assumptions of your own. And some of it's just confusing.

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Geez, I go away for a couple days and come back to find I got a real barnburner going here. How nice.

I know that organizations like our own Food Trust here in Philadelphia go to great lengths to bring local farmers and producers together with consumers in places like Kensington, Chester and Southwest Germantown; do Slow Food convivia contribute to these efforts?  How do we best address this apparent flaw in the model?

Slow Food does an awful lot of that. We are all about making sure markets are created and/or sustained for products that fit the good/clean/fair model.

And for the record, I'd much rather spend $12/pound on La Quercia Prosciutto (made right here in Iowa) than $100/pound on Iberico any day.

I'll have the Iberico if I ever get back to Spain. I'm passionate about good food, not silly about it.

Peace,

kmf

www.KurtFriese.com

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Discourse and ideology. Well, there are people who will put everything into those terms. I don't find it very persuasive, because it reeks of intellectualism for its own sake.

On this score, Wikipedia's entry seems to confirm my worst fears:

Bourdieu is best known for his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, in which he tried to connect aesthetic judgments to positions in social space. The most notable aspect of Bourdieu's theory is the development of methodologies, combining both theory and empirical data, that attempt to dissolve some of the most troublesome antagonisms in theory and research, trying to reconcile such difficulties as how to understand the subject within objective structures (in the process, trying to reconcile structure and agency).

Aspirin please.

The other problem I've got here is that you don't seem to have said anything without resorting to comfortably held assumptions of your own. And some of it's just confusing.

okay, so you're disregarding what i've said because YOU don't understand it? and then accusing me of "intellectualism for intellectualism's sake"???? it's so typical for people to fear what they don't understand/haven't learned/been exposed to.

what a reductionist perspective. at the very least, instead of clamping down out of ignorance and ego, why don't you try to read some bourdieu? instead of relying on second-hand information?

other than that, what do you ACTUALLY have to say about my points?

the true test of an intellectual is someone who doesn't fear what they don't know.

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I know that organizations like our own Food Trust here in Philadelphia go to great lengths to bring local farmers and producers together with consumers in places like Kensington, Chester and Southwest Germantown; do Slow Food convivia contribute to these efforts?  How do we best address this apparent flaw in the model?

Slow Food does an awful lot of that. We are all about making sure markets are created and/or sustained for products that fit the good/clean/fair model.

And for the record, I'd much rather spend $12/pound on La Quercia Prosciutto (made right here in Iowa) than $100/pound on Iberico any day.

I'll have the Iberico if I ever get back to Spain. I'm passionate about good food, not silly about it.

Thanks for answering my question.

However, once you factor in the cost of airfare and lodging, that $25 quarter pound of jamon iberico is probably a better buy for someone who is not planning to visit Spain for some other reason anyway.

Still, thanks also for confirming my second statement about good elitists not hesitating to spend less for something. Of course, this is not exactly what's going on here; instead, what you describe is a rational decision to settle for something that meets all your requirements even though it may not be the absolute best in its class because the absolute best simply costs too much. Sensible conoisseurs do this all the time, as do sensible non-conoisseurs.

Unfortunately for me, the jamon iberico is easy for me to buy, because someone here in Philadelphia decided it was worth importing, while no one here has yet decided that the Iowa prosciutto is worth importing to Pennsylvania. Now if someone in Lancaster County decides to make a specialty ham to match these or the cave aged Cheddar-style cheese from that same county that I happily plunk down $20 a pound for when I can afford it, I will in all likelihood buy it before I buy jamon iberico. But I only turn 50 once.

okay, so you're disregarding what i've said because YOU don't understand it?  and then accusing me of "intellectualism for intellectualism's sake"????  it's so typical for people to fear what they don't understand/haven't learned/been exposed to.

what a reductionist perspective.  at the very least, instead of clamping down out of ignorance and ego, why don't you try to read some bourdieu?  instead of relying on second-hand information?

other than that, what do you ACTUALLY have to say about my points? 

the true test of an intellectual is someone who doesn't fear what they don't know.

Your points about the romanticization of the rural poor and their customs as a form of entertainment for the well-to-do are well taken, and I could understand them because you stated them in reasonably clear English. But post-structuralist/deconstructionist/postmodernist theory and criticism have earned their rep among non-academics because the people who produce it often use language that is dense to the point of impenetrability; that snippet explaining Bourdieu from Wikipedia heads well into that territory. Agency I can understand. Ditto subjectivity and objectivity, and structure too, while I'm at it. Yet I can't shake the feeling as I read these terms juxtaposed as they are in the passage in question that I am reading a passage that is meant to obfuscate as much as it is to explain, or even worse, to cover up the fact that the author really doesn't have anything to say.

You are familiar with the tale of the physics professor who submitted a totally fake paper to a deconstructionist academic journal, and the journal published it? Things like that tend to confirm the skeptics' view of the subject.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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other than that, what do you ACTUALLY have to say about my points?

I found them confusing, and weighted with assumption. Which I've already said with commendable clarity, but I can be more specific.

Confusing because I couldn't really follow a logical thread. You touched on Italy, Spain (as in jamon iberico) and something about small family farms. I didn't understand what point you were making.

The assumptions seemed to center on the idea that "we" are wealthy while others, the people producing our food, are not.

You mention "the small, peasant, artisinal woman in a small town in italy". Questions come to mind. Is this intended as a type (a possibility suggested by your use of the definite article)? Do you feel it's a strongly representative type? (Does such a woman have a family; what is her actual source of income; does she own land etc). If she does indeed wish to "luxuriate" in capitalism like "us", how would she do it?

There is also a hint of contradiction if you say "peasant...in a small town", as it's generally accepted that peasants live on (and to a large extent from) the land. Perhaps a small amount of rationalizing can resolve that, and it's by no means impossible, but it did rather suggest that this figure is simply a convenient and rather contrived fantasy. She's poor, while we of the "northern elite" are rich, etc etc. Personally, I don't find the world that I've seen anything like that simple.

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Thanks for answering my question.

However, once you factor in the cost of airfare and lodging, that $25 quarter pound of  jamon iberico is probably a better buy for someone who is not planning to visit Spain for some other reason anyway.

Still, thanks also for confirming my second statement about good elitists not hesitating to spend less for something.  Of course, this is not exactly what's going on here; instead, what you describe is a rational decision to settle for something that meets all your requirements even though it may not be the absolute best in its class because the absolute best simply costs too much. Sensible conoisseurs do this all the time, as do sensible non-conoisseurs.

Unfortunately for me, the jamon iberico is easy for me to buy, because someone here in Philadelphia decided it was worth importing, while no one here has yet decided that the Iowa prosciutto is worth importing to Pennsylvania.  Now if someone in Lancaster County decides to make a specialty ham to match these or the cave aged Cheddar-style cheese from that same county that I happily plunk down $20 a pound for when I can afford it, I will in all likelihood buy it before I buy jamon iberico.  But I only turn 50 once.

Not sure it is a better buy - you should try the La Quercia

And I'm pretty sure you can find it there in Philly - at least if you have a Whole Foods or Dean & DeLuca - both carry their products. I know you can find it at the south street store

Peace,

kmf

www.KurtFriese.com

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Not sure it is a better buy - you should try the La Quercia

And I'm pretty sure you can find it there in Philly - at least if you have a Whole Foods or Dean & DeLuca - both carry their products.  I know you can find it at the south street store

Actually, I meant "a better buy than traveling to Spain for some," but no matter -- I see I have no excuse not to pick up some La Quercia prosciutto on a future shopping trip. That Whole Foods is right across the street from my primary supermarket, as chronicled in my first foodblog.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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O woe is me, to utter the word that shalt daren't be spoketh!

ELITIST? *gasp*

Takadi, you may find it petty, but the perpetuation of these accusations makes it harder to do the good work Slow Food is trying to do. And by this I mean the perpetuation by individual members and local convivia as well as my the MSM and the blogs.

My goal in getting this conversation going on this site and others is to combat causes and effects so that our work can go forward unimpeded.

Peace,

kmf

www.KurtFriese.com

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Sorry, just trying to deliver some irony.

It's hard not to get offended with this sort of stuff, but I personally see the slow food movement as an inevitable thing. The whole regression of human health attributed to fast food diets is a pretty universal concept now in the Western world. I honestly feel this guy was merely just trying to be an asshole for the purpose of entertainment.

As for elitism, you can't really deny that it happens to the best of us. The purpose of the article was to garner an elitist reaction from us, for the author to get what he wanted. Slow food is just a label for a facet of a general counter-movement against unhealthy, artificial, fast food. Getting defensive about such a label can be...well...elitist. It makes a simple direction to healthy habits into a cult, an ideology, a "revolution" of sorts. It can make it unpalatable to the regular joe who just wants his Big Mac right here and right now.

The perception of elitism comes from the sense of exclusion. Drinking 100 dollar Bordeaux or buying only grass fed hormone free beef in and of itself isn't elitist, but the notion that "you're with us or against us" and that those who are in disagreement or indifferent to a certain ideology is not "getting it". And especially as a food enthusiast and a newbie to cooking in general, it's easy to run into those who snub their nose at you for not knowing the difference between margarine and butter. So slow food inherently isn't an elitist way of life, it's just that elitism can really be applied to every facet of life if you wanted to. All it really is closed-mindedness.

Though I can understand the sentiments here, I personally think reacting to an article that is clearly nonsense and probably satirical will just push onlookers and newcomers to this new lifestyle away. I think counteracting humor with more humor is best. (think "Sideways")

Edited by takadi (log)
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I honestly feel this guy was merely just trying to be an asshole for the purpose of entertainment.

Ya think? Seriously, it's Bruce Sterling, a science fiction author (from what I've read of his work, an excessively snarky one) and well... as a sci-fi fan myself, I can tell you that it's a particularly obnoxious and anti-social demographic of society. Simply elitists of a different stripe.

At any rate, it's never wise to take culinary advice from beings that survive on Mountain Dew and Hot Pockets. :raz:

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As for elitism, you can't really deny that it happens to the best of us. The purpose of the article was to garner an elitist reaction from us, for the author to get what he wanted. Slow food is just a label for a facet of a general counter-movement against unhealthy, artificial, fast food. Getting defensive about such a label can be...well...elitist. It makes a simple direction to healthy habits into a cult, an ideology, a "revolution" of sorts. It can make it unpalatable to the regular joe who just wants his Big Mac right here and right now.

The perception of elitism comes from the sense of exclusion. Drinking 100 dollar Bordeaux or buying only grass fed hormone free beef in and of itself isn't elitist, but the notion that "you're with us or against us" and that those who are in disagreement or indifferent to a certain ideology is not "getting it". And especially as a food enthusiast and a newbie to cooking in general, it's easy to run into those who snub their nose at you for not knowing the difference between margarine and butter. So slow food inherently isn't an elitist way of life, it's just that elitism can really be applied to every facet of life if you wanted to.  All it really is closed-mindedness.

I think that while elitism requires exclusion, exclusion alone is not enough to warrant the charge that something is elitist. Any membership organization is by definition exclusive if there are qualifications for belonging, but if those qualifications are not arbitrary or difficult to meet, then the organization probably won't be perceived as elitist.

Usually, the distinction between exclusion and elitism hinges on superiority, or the perception of same. One could be talking about $5 pints of beer, but if the talk suggests that somehow a person that drinks this particular $5 pint of beer has better taste or judgement than the person who drinks some other brand, then the person passing that judgement could be pegged as elitist. The sentiment being criticized is very close to snobbery but differs from it in that the elitist judgement is usually founded in some value other than the monetary one, while snobs tend to focus on superficial things like price or brand name.

Preferring the artisanal to the industrial and the local to the distant are not in and of themselves elitist, but to the extent that such preferences mean spending more, it does leave those with those preferences open to the charge of elitism, or worse, snobbery. To the extent that the preference does not hinge on one of those superficial qualities but rather some more substantive values, like those Slow Food espouses, while it may still be elitist, at least it's the good and useful kind of elitism.

The piece may well have been tongue in cheek, but the guy got his tongue stuck in a most awkward position if so.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Dagnabbit it Sandy, I've been looking around your various blogs and cannot find your "Hyacinth Bucket" posts, what's the URL?

(I'm a very big Keeping Up Appearances Fan. :wub: )

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Dagnabbit it Sandy, I've been looking around your various blogs and cannot find your "Hyacinth Bucket" posts, what's the URL?

(I'm a very big Keeping Up Appearances Fan.  :wub: )

The Phillyblog discussion board host is down for maintenance right now (3:53 PM ET, 25 Apr 2008); it's been having some serious issues with connection resets and slow response.

When it's back up, try doing a search within Phillyblog for the phrase "American Hyacinth Bucket", or for posts by MarketStEl. I'm even more prolix and prolific there than here.

Agreed about "Keeping Up Appearances." Patricia Routledge's character is one of the greats of TV comedy, and the basic premise of the sitcom is inspired. Even though it works much better in the British context than in the American, I'm surprised that no one has attempted to transplant this show the way "Till Death Us Do Part" ("All in the Family"), "Steptoe and Son" ("Sanford and Son") and "The Office" (moved to Scranton, kept the name) have been.

ObFood: Note that the series never actually showed one of Hyacinth's Candlelight Suppers.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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The Phillyblog host is down for maintenance right now (3:53 PM ET, 25 Apr 2008); it's been having some serious issues with connection resets and slow response.

Thanks very much! I was wondering if that was the right blog!

Agreed about "Keeping Up Appearances." Patricia Routledge's character is one of the greats of TV comedy, and the basic premise of the sitcom is inspired.  Even though it works much better in the British context than in the American, I'm surprised that no one has attempted to transplant this show the way "Till Death Us Do Part" ("All in the Family"), "Steptoe and Son" ("Sanford and Son") and "The Office" (moved to Scranton, kept the name) have been.

I'm convinced we'd water it down too much, like "Cybil" (an American version of "Absolutely Fabulous") especially since pretending to be wealthy and cultured has become so mainstream in the US, it might confound or offend the viewers (or at least, clash terribly with the Lexus and Amex commercials shown during the program!)

Personally, I swear Mrs. Bucket has a publishing empire in the US, with two notable publications in our geographic area alone:

NJ Monthly and Philadelphia Magazine

These two mags make MSL look like Family Circle :raz:

Edited by LVic (log)
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