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A defense of "extravagant" dining


sara
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I have a cousin like this-- he faults me for taking time out of my day to eat, which he views as a complete waste of time. He lives on energy shakes, made in a blender. He won't even allow his girlfriend to keep a dining room table in their home because that encourages sitting down to eat--a waste of time. Needless to say, traveling with him in New Orleans last year was MISERABLE. Every time I slurped an oyster or ate some gumbo he stared me down. :sad:

How have you managed to not beat him to death with a champagne bottle? :wacko:

I thought I had it bad because I knew so many people that are "health nazis", vegetarians or kosher that like to "pick apart" my dining pleasure. You got me beat my a mile.

"Give me 8 hours, 3 people, wine, conversation and natural ingredients and I'll give you one of the best nights in your life. Outside of this forum - there would be no takers."- Wine_Dad, egullet.org

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I have a cousin like this-- he faults me for taking time out of my day to eat, which he views as a complete waste of time. He lives on energy shakes, made in a blender. He won't even allow his girlfriend to keep a dining room table in their home because that encourages sitting down to eat--a waste of time. Needless to say, traveling with him in New Orleans last year was MISERABLE. Every time I slurped an oyster or ate some gumbo he stared me down.  :sad:

How have you managed to not beat him to death with a champagne bottle? :wacko:

I thought I had it bad because I knew so many people that are "health nazis", vegetarians or kosher that like to "pick apart" my dining pleasure. You got me beat my a mile.

I think there are laws against it. :biggrin:

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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If I couldn't occasionally eat at a fabulous restauant, or read amazing recipes and gaze at photos from a renowned chef's cookbook, or hear about someone elses' recent memorable dining experience that makes my mouth water, and occasionally try to cook something myself that vaguely mimics the masters, then I might as well be dead. :cool:

Surely, you're being hyperbolic. You must have had ancestors who fought in wars or were otherwise in constant thread of being killed. And you surely know about people who survived attempts to wipe out their people and were so thankful for being able to survive on potato skins, rainwater, and so forth. Frankly, the very great majority of the human race does without expensive meals, and many of them are able to experience joy and appreciate life. So let's not get too carried away. I'm sure you wouldn't actually want to kill yourself if you could never eat an expensive meal again. :laugh::smile:

Pan, I didn't say anything about suicide nor did I use the word expensive.

I do believe, however, that if I would lose some of my zest for life if good food didn't play a part in it.

I've had fabulous food in some tiny out of the way inexpensive places, some of the most luxurious places, and in my own kitchen.

As a matter of fact I was picking weeds in my yard the other day and decided to make a salad with dandelion greens, mint, and a sweet orange vinegrette that I'm sure my ancestors would have appreciated since they had passed this info down to my mom's mom, then to my mom, and then to me.

It was yummy! :smile:

JANE

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I think maybe the trouble for me could be that I tend to prefer simpler food, except in cases where the food is truly staggeringly good. And so when I eat out and find it merely very good, and it's also expensive, I do feel guilty. I think, oh, for so much less money I could have enjoyed myself just as much (if differently). And that makes me feel guilty, or sad, or something, in a way that going to a sub-par play or some such other expensive activity would not.

I never feel guilty about spending whatever I spend on food or drink. And that goes for whenever I'm out and about (a glass of King Louis XVIII or at Parker's for an incredible dinner orchestrated by Parker Bosley) or purchasing saffron or a bottle of Opus One for home consumption.

I'll even base a travel decision on a restaurant destination.

Why be guilty? Everyone makes their choices.

Edited by beans (log)
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Pan, I didn't say anything about suicide nor did I use the word expensive.

I do believe, however, that if I would lose some of my zest for life if good food didn't play a part in it.

I'm sure all of us would say the same thing; otherwise, we wouldn't be eGulleteers.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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We had a tasting menu, with accompanying wines. It was good! Very good, even. But it didn't blow my mind, and when the bill came, I was just depressed. I didn't feel ripped off, but it felt like a waste somehow, and I wished I'd just eaten at home.

[...]when I eat out and find it merely very good, and it's also expensive, I do feel guilty. I think, oh, for so much less money I could have enjoyed myself just as much (if differently). And that makes me feel guilty, or sad, or something, in a way that going to a sub-par play or some such other expensive activity would not.

Funny, when I see a play that sucks, I feel angry that I've been cheated of my time, regardless of what I paid. Similarly, if I splurge on food and it's not that good, I don't feel guilty; I feel let down, maybe even cheated.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I'll even base a travel decision on a restaurant destination.

So will I. (But presumably you enjoy other things about the travel, too.)

And that goes for whenever I'm out and about (a glass of King Louis XVIII or at Parker's for an incredible dinner orchestrated by Parker Bosley) or purchasing saffron or a bottle of Opus One for home consumption.

But what if it isn't an incredible dinner, after all? I think the problem is what happens when I spend a lot of money on food that then turns out to be insufficiently incredible/sublime/elevating. That makes me feel really crummy. And the food doesn't have to be bad for that to happen, just not commensurate with the high price.

I guess I feel guilty because I know I don't have much money, and that when I spend a lot on any one thing, it does feel like an extravagance. So when I do it and then feel I might have liked my own cooking better, I kick myself. That still doesn't explain why it seems to be especially so for food, though...

"went together easy, but I did not like the taste of the bacon and orange tang together"

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I'll even base a travel decision on a restaurant destination.

Oh I've done that MANY times--I make restaurant reservations prior to booking flights; even choice vacation destinations based on where I want to eat. At the most extreme, I once cancelled my attendance at a conference in Dallas because the Mansion at Turtle Creek and York Street, the only places I really wanted to go, were closed on the nights I'd be in town (Sun/Mon)--so I couldn't see the point of going!! :raz:

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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And that goes for whenever I'm out and about (a glass of King Louis XVIII or at Parker's for an incredible dinner orchestrated by Parker Bosley) or purchasing saffron or a bottle of Opus One for home consumption.

But what if it isn't an incredible dinner, after all? I think the problem is what happens when I spend a lot of money on food that then turns out to be insufficiently incredible/sublime/elevating. That makes me feel really crummy. And the food doesn't have to be bad for that to happen, just not commensurate with the high price.

I guess I feel guilty because I know I don't have much money, and that when I spend a lot on any one thing, it does feel like an extravagance. So when I do it and then feel I might have liked my own cooking better, I kick myself. That still doesn't explain why it seems to be especially so for food, though...

Ah, but that all goes back to choices.

Parker Bosley is a master and acclaimed chef. The food is always sublime.

As for food at a restaurant -- I ate it, disappointed or not, I pay for it. Then I make the choice of whether I will return. Or I re-examine my communication skills and express to the service that something needs to be corrected.

Maybe I feel differently because I work in the biz?

Nah.

Extravagences, by anyone's perception, feel good. Why waste time feeling guilty or caring what others think about your choices?

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I sent out Grimes's piece to several non-Egullet friends, and got an interesting response from a libertarian friend in North Carolina, who wrote (in part):

"The unanswered question in Grimes' piece, however, is whether

there exist any circumstances in which fine dining is, in fact,

immoral. I argue that there are two:

1. If one treated fine dining as the highest good, superceding all

else (i.e., if one worshiped fine dining as a god) -- Theologically,

this would be sacrilege. However, even if one were not religious,

the absolute adoration of fine dining would be silly. Should good

food replace friendship? Compassion? Love?

2. If one's fine dining prevented other, more "moral" actions. If

one literally spent all of his/her disposible income and time on

cuisine at the expense of donating to charity, volunteering, etc.,

then that person could be faulted for having skewed priorities. As

Grimes would note, fine dining is not bad in and of itself; however,

if it completely superceded other goods (see # 1), then it could be

problematic."

The worship of great food--that sounds like a religion that could get me to church on time!

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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2. If one's fine dining prevented other, more "moral" actions.  If

one literally spent all of his/her disposible income and time on

cuisine at the expense of donating to charity, volunteering, etc.,

then that person could be faulted for having skewed priorities.  As

Grimes would note, fine dining is not bad in and of itself; however,

if it completely superceded other goods (see # 1), then it could be

problematic."

so if you're not a good person then you're not a good person. i can get behind that one. :biggrin:

insert anything you'd like into the argument in the place of "fine dining".

Edited by tommy (log)
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One thing to be said for dining, fine or otherwise, is that it often does encourage people to be more social, pleasant and altogether better human beings than they might otherwise be inclined to be.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I've been curious to see if anyone on this board would come out against extravagent dining and unsurprised that anyone has. Heck, I wouldn't.

Just for fun, though, let's look at dining not as intrinsically wrong, but as emblematic of a a society where income and wealth are increasingly concentrated, and the idea of fine dining is increasingly the province of a relatively priviliged handful.

Income has been rising at dranatically uneven rates for decades now. At the same time, the cost of fine dining has been rising significantly faster than the rate of inflation. The end result is that top-end restaurants are even more unimaginable for most Americans than ever, and even "mid-price" places are unaffordable to most.

Just for fun I went to the Sette Osteria website. Sette is located near my office and has a reputation for reasonable food at reasonable prices. By my calculations, it is impossible to eat a decent three-course meal and have a bottle of wine ther for less than $100.

That's a significant dent for most American families -- imagine if you wanted to bring the family -- and Sette neither accepts reservations nor provides tablecloths!

Now make the jump to Masa, or Per Se, or Charlie Trotter, and its pretty easy to make an argument that the creation of a gilded cadre of dining rooms patronized by an equally elite group of diners may be a symptom of something gone very wrong, and that this disparity, rather than the act of fine dining itself, is the true cause of resentment.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I've been curious to see if anyone on this board would come out against extravagent dining and unsurprised that anyone has.  Heck, I wouldn't.

Just for fun, though, let's look at dining not as intrinsically wrong, but as emblematic of a a society where income and wealth are increasingly concentrated, and the idea of fine dining is increasingly the province of a relatively priviliged handful. 

Income has been rising at dranatically uneven rates for decades now.  At the same time, the cost of fine dining has been rising significantly faster than the rate of inflation.  The end result is that top-end restaurants are even more unimaginable for most Americans than ever, and even "mid-price" places are unaffordable to most. 

Just for fun I went to the Sette Osteria website.  Sette is located near my office and has a reputation for reasonable food at reasonable prices.  By my calculations, it is impossible to eat a decent three-course meal and have a bottle of wine ther for less than $100. 

That's a significant dent for most American families -- imagine if you wanted to bring the family -- and Sette neither accepts reservations nor provides tablecloths!

Now make the jump to Masa, or Per Se, or Charlie Trotter, and its pretty easy to make an argument that the creation of a gilded cadre of dining rooms patronized by an equally elite group of diners may be a symptom of something gone very wrong, and that this disparity, rather than the act of fine dining itself, is the true cause of resentment.

That sounds an awful lot like, "There's something wrong with this country when only the rich can afford a Mercedes" or a yacht, or whatever.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I have a cousin like this-- he faults me for taking time out of my day to eat, which he views as a complete waste of time. He lives on energy shakes, made in a blender. He won't even allow his girlfriend to keep a dining room table in their home because that encourages sitting down to eat--a waste of time. Needless to say, traveling with him in New Orleans last year was MISERABLE. Every time I slurped an oyster or ate some gumbo he stared me down.  :sad:

How have you managed to not beat him to death with a champagne bottle? :wacko:

I think there are laws against it. :biggrin:

In New Orleans?

I suspect you'd have gotten a crowd of people happy to help!

Kind of goes with the "He needed killin'" rule.

Chad

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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That sounds an awful lot like, "There's something wrong with this country when only the rich can afford a Mercedes" or a yacht, or whatever.

Nope. The point is not that only the rich can afford extravagent dining. That's something of a tautology, and even I can spot those. The problem is a trend reflected towards wildly uneven income growth which pushes even "fine (less-extravagent) dining" out of reach of the middle class.

The Time-Warner building food court is a perfect emblem of a new gilded age, there's something galling about seeing it open even as one hears calls for further tax reductions for the large corporations and wealthy individuals, and the outsourcing of of blue-collar jobs and even middle class careers continues.

And the fact that a $100 dinner for two is consided quite moderate is a measure of how out of touch many people are with the lives of middle class Americans.

I'm not saying that any of this is wrong, I'm just saying that people who are angered by it may have a point, even if it's not exactly the one they are articulating.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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One thing to be said for dining, fine or otherwise, is that it often does encourage people to be more social, pleasant and altogether better human beings than they might otherwise be inclined to be.

Within their circle, but that doesn't necessarily say anything about their attitudes toward people outside of their circle.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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It is true though, that food, and even good food, has probably never before in history been as affordable for so many as it is in the United States and Canada. If that weren't the case, I'd be prepared to be a lot more indignant.

And while not defending wretched excess, it is true that what incites one person to anger and resentment inspires another to aspire towards acquiring the means to acquire or enjoy that object or experience.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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One thing to be said for dining, fine or otherwise, is that it often does encourage people to be more social, pleasant and altogether better human beings than they might otherwise be inclined to be.

Within their circle, but that doesn't necessarily say anything about their attitudes toward people outside of their circle.

Decent behaviour some of the time is certainly a start.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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One thing to be said for dining, fine or otherwise, is that it often does encourage people to be more social, pleasant and altogether better human beings than they might otherwise be inclined to be.

Within their circle, but that doesn't necessarily say anything about their attitudes toward people outside of their circle.

Decent behaviour some of the time is certainly a start.

I don't think so. People who are perfectly charming to their dining partners can be involved in horrendous crimes against other people. History teaches us that.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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It is true though, that food, and even good food, has probably never before in history been as affordable for so many as it is in the United States and Canada. If that weren't the case, I'd be prepared to be a lot more indignant.

And while not defending wretched excess, it is true that what incites one person to anger and resentment inspires another to aspire towards acquiring the means to acquire or enjoy that object or experience.

What I found amusing about the thread was the way so many people acted as though their own personal sacred cow was ebing stalked by food Puritans -- utter defensiveness ("people don't say this about concert tickets") and a little vehemence. No one willing to even entertain the idea that the critcs might be anything more than uptight killjoys.

As to whether people are being unjustly "resentful" or justly angered, and to whether the people "aspiring to acquire the means to acquire that experience" increasingly find the game rigged against them, we can argue that off line, over a decent meal.

For the record, I have reservations at Per Se, so count me among the leftists, but not the killjoys.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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One thing to be said for dining, fine or otherwise, is that it often does encourage people to be more social, pleasant and altogether better human beings than they might otherwise be inclined to be.

Within their circle, but that doesn't necessarily say anything about their attitudes toward people outside of their circle.

Decent behaviour some of the time is certainly a start.

I don't think so. People who are perfectly charming to their dining partners can be involved in horrendous crimes against other people. History teaches us that.

Michael, I will be sure to examine anyone with especially good manners very closely, lest they harbour genocidal tendencies. :smile:

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I'm not arguing that most fine diners have genocidal tendencies. It's just that when people claim that love of fine wine, fine dining, fine art, or fine music makes people moral, I remember the Nazis, who stole loads of fine art, supported some fine music, and enjoyed big banquets while planning their assembly line of death. I was really hoping not to go into this kind of disgusting detail, and merely hint at what I was thinking. But frankly, ethical behavior is something that has to come from the core of a person's being, not from whether they can use the right fork and be polite to their friends over an extravagant French dinner. So please, let's not rationalize the delight of the senses and good relations within a person's social circle as inherently ennobling. That may be good per se, but certainly can't be counted upon to make someone evil into someone good, someone opportunistic into a person of integrity, or someone selfish into a person who cares about anyone outside his/her social circle.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I'm not arguing that most fine diners have genocidal tendencies. It's just that when people claim that love of fine wine, fine dining, fine art, or fine music makes people moral, I remember the Nazis, who stole loads of fine art, supported some fine music, and enjoyed big banquets while planning their assembly line of death. I was really hoping not to go into this kind of disgusting detail, and merely hint at what I was thinking. But frankly, ethical behavior is something that has to come from the core of a person's being, not from whether they can use the right fork and be polite to their friends over an extravagant French dinner. So please, let's not rationalize the delight of the senses and good relations within a person's social circle as inherently ennobling. That may be good per se, but certainly can't be counted upon to make someone evil into someone good, someone opportunistic into a person of integrity, or someone selfish into a person who cares about anyone outside his/her social circle.

yeah, but breaking bread and dining are often social experiences, not solitary experiences. at least for a good portion of the population. at least i *think* that's how this tangent began.

Edited by tommy (log)
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