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A defense of "extravagant" dining


sara
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And, let me say this again, slowly.

I don't have a problem with extravagant restaurants per se (ha ha ha). I go to them, when I can. I don't think everyone has a "right" to foie gras.

I have a problem with three things. One is the growing divide between extraordinarily priviliged people and the plurality, if not the majority of Americans. Extravagant dining is a potent symbol of this growing divide, and denying it is sheer, well, denial. Grimes' statement ""income disparity may be immoral, but that's not my issue to discuss," is simple avaoidance of an issue that he doesn't care to discuss.

Second, is the failure of the people priviliged who enjoy these restaurants to acknowledge that they may be indicative of a larger problem, or dismiss them as ignorant or morally inferior:

The average person doesn't care about a place like Masa or ADNY. The average person is mostly content with The Cheesecake Factory or Olive Garden.
However, I also think we've seemed to change our expectations so that now even the poorest member of society is supposed to be able to drive the car of their dreams and eat out a couple of times a week.-

Third, I dislike that the "extravagent" places are pulling the average tab at moderate places to ridiculous heights (the $100 was DC prices, in between NY and Arkansas, I suppose.)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Are you familiar with the economist Juliet B. Schor? She discusses this concept in the her book The Overspent American which was published in '98.

Bloviatrix, I haven't read this book, but I do remember the discussion around it when it was published. And, just looking around me, AND looking at myself and my own expectations compared to my parents, I agree with her conclusions 100%.

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wouldn't you at least expect him to do a little more examination to find out what the problem is?

i would only make a diagnosis if i were a doctor and i'd only expect additional discussion and thought if i came to egullet to discuss or think about medicine. :wink:

Grimes' statement ""income disparity may be immoral, but that's not my issue to discuss," is simple avaoidance of an issue that he doesn't care to discuss.

you think he *should* discuss it? i think that would make for a pretty lame article on dining. and i sure don't care what a food writer has to say about these very deep and heeeeavy issues.

Edited by tommy (log)
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You were the one talking about doctors washing their hands the other day -- I didn't start this medical stuff. :blink:

Grimes raises several potential philosophical objections to "extravagant dining."

The only one that's difficult for him to dismiss, he dodges. It was a cheap out.

But that's the advantage -- if not the point -- of eGullet, right? We can take an issue and explore it more deeply than a newspaper article can.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Grimes' statement ""income disparity may be immoral, but that's not my issue to discuss," is simple avaoidance of an issue that he doesn't care to discuss.

Ok, I'll discuss it. Income disparity is not immoral. Any society offering free choice is bound to have both winners and losers, as well as every gradation in between. Can you think of very many counter-examples? Well, perhaps you'll think of something, but in general the societies without income disparity are the societies without income.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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High-End restaurants are just like any other luxury, almost anyone can afford to touch it at least once or twice in their lifetime, maybe even annually. However, people have different interests, and they will choose to prioritize their spending towards those interests.

I am somewhat of a home-theatre nut as well as getting into this gourmet scene, but I'm also an avid Raiders fan, and I lust over nice cars like practically every other guy. I have a basic entry level salary at the moment, nothing worth shouting about, but enough for me to make a car payment, split rent with a roomate, and get out from time to time. I have enough extra income (besides what I am squirrelling away for grad school) that I can endulge some of my hobbies to a certain extent, but certainly not all of them all the time, and none of them all the way.

I know people who have comitted to a single hobby, and they can afford immense theatres on a modest salary, or a great car that costs more than what they make in a year, or a beautiful house, or whatever else, but all of their money goes into that, a rather one dimensional life. The immensely wealthy have the luxury of endulging multple luxuries, not having to choose.

So, I see absolutely nothing morally wrong with endulging at a fine restaurant if that is how you want to spend your money. After all, you worked for it, you earned it, you did something in your life up to that point to be able to make that choice to go to Per Se, so enjoy it.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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High-End restaurants are just like any other luxury, almost anyone can afford to touch it at least once or twice in their lifetime, maybe even annually.  However, people have different interests, and they will choose to prioritize their spending towards those interests.

bingo. dinner at most upscale NYC restaurants might be about 300 bucks a couple, if one doesn't go nuts ordering wine. and that's the high end. do that twice a year and that's 600. not even a month's rent for most middle class people around NYC, for example, and certainly an amount that could be saved over the course of a year to fuel a passion/hobby. my neighbor wouldn't dream of spending that kind of money on such a luxury, but he's got an awfully nice 52 inch flat screen TV, which has the life span of about 4 years, and cost him around 9 grand. i think *he's* freakin nuts. :biggrin: i've got another friend who lives in a trailer in florida and has several thousand dollars in guns. i think *he's* freakin nuts. immoral? i'll not judge morality. nuts? definitely.

Edited by tommy (log)
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Grimes' statement ""income disparity may be immoral, but that's not my issue to discuss," is simple avaoidance of an issue that he doesn't care to discuss.

Ok, I'll discuss it. Income disparity is not immoral. Any society offering free choice is bound to have both winners and losers, as well as every gradation in between. Can you think of very many counter-examples? Well, perhaps you'll think of something, but in general the societies without income disparity are the societies without income.

Income disparity is not only not immoral, but inevitable. If proof were needed that Grimes should stick to food, this is it.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I actually think this *is* sticking to food-- or at least sticking up for food. I'm interested why Grimes did this piece--I suppose he's not on Egullet huh? It went nicely in the theme issue, so maybe he was asked to contribute; however, I'm wondering if it's something he'd been jonesing to write for awhile. That's what inspired my strong reaction to it--damn straight, it's about time something like this was published in a big paper! I'm curious about his reader mail on this piece and whether they'll publish any of it. Or if Ms. Hesser will have a rejoinder? I sense she has a different take on this issue...no real basis for that sense, just a feeling.

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

-- William Grimes

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High-End restaurants are just like any other luxury, almost anyone can afford to touch it at least once or twice in their lifetime, maybe even annually. However, people have different interests, and they will choose to prioritize their spending towards those interests.

This reminds me of a great story I heard about a grad student in my former department. He graduated before I got there but I'm sure we would have been great friends. A math grad student at that time would have made about $12,000 per annum, maximum. This guy apparently brought sandwiches to lunch and lived very frugally all month, and would then take the pile of money he'd saved up and have lunch or dinner at Le Bec Fin or Susanna Foo's or whatever. An inspiration to us all.

Me, I'm not so good with discipline, but even on a grad student income I managed to have some very nice meals, and quite regularly. I agree, it really is about one's priorities.

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Grimes' statement ""income disparity may be immoral, but that's not my issue to discuss," is simple avaoidance of an issue that he doesn't care to discuss.

Ok, I'll discuss it. Income disparity is not immoral. Any society offering free choice is bound to have both winners and losers, as well as every gradation in between. Can you think of very many counter-examples? Well, perhaps you'll think of something, but in general the societies without income disparity are the societies without income.

Income disparity is not only not immoral, but inevitable. If proof were needed that Grimes should stick to food, this is it.

That, my friend, is simplistic crap.

First, There are a number of nations in which not only is income disparity less than the United States, but they eat better at restaurants (on the whole). Look at the G-8 meeting this weekend and think to yourself that the U.S. has the greatest income disparity of any of the nations there, save, perhaps, Russia. Gosh, I wish we could be more like them.

Second, the problem isn't just the income disparity. It's not exactly news that some families bring home more than others; presenting that fact as though you're revealing a profound economic truth is more than a little condescending. Aside from the fact that our disparity is unusually large by non third-world standards, the really troublesome thing is that it's growing larger.

Finally, as much as you'd like to believe otherwise, this growing disparity is exacerbated by a chattering class that backs policies that ship good-paying job overseas; suppress unions; tax capital gains at a lower rate than wages and salaries; have shrunk the social safety net until it is tiny by European and Asian standards; and pressures developing nations to lower labor and wage standards through multilateral organizations.

Let's not start on schools, networks, racism and classism...

Sure, any free society is "bound to have winners and losers," (another revelation there, thanks) but rigging the game against the losers is wrong and, ultimately stupid.

Hey, we all like to eat well. But the creation of an emerging cosseted class that travels to and from four-star restaurants in black sedans and forgets that the waiters, busboys and line cooks that serve them have less chance than they hav had in 80 years to go from server to diner is wrong.

At least Grimes was intellectually honest to admit that the issue exists. I'd like to see a little of that honesty here.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I'm interested why Grimes did this piece--I suppose he's not on Egullet huh?

I've spoken to Grimes about checking out eGullet and offered a Q&A to him. He's about as interested in eGullet you and I would be in going for extensive reconstructive dental surgery.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I'm interested why Grimes did this piece--I suppose he's not on Egullet huh?

I've spoken to Grimes about checking out eGullet and offered a Q&A to him. He's about as interested in eGullet you and I would be in going for extensive reconstructive dental surgery.

:sad:

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You were the one talking about doctors washing their hands the other day -- I didn't start this medical stuff. :blink:

but that was a valid point. :wink: and one, i might add, that agreed with the post that i quoted, which i believe was yours. :biggrin:

Actually, I took it as a shot against my point, and a good one, damn you. :wink:

I'll also maintain than mine was relevant, as well -- if there's a symptom, it's a good idea to find the cause, even if the people who bring the symptom to your attention have made an initial misdiagnosis.

Thus, the rise in "extravagent dining" against a backdrop of declining affluence for vast gorups of Americans is a symptom. Not of immoral self-indulgence, but of a systemic economic problem and a willfull ignorance of this problem among the "extravagent diners" of the world.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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This reminds me of a great story I heard about a grad student in my former department. He graduated before I got there but I'm sure we would have been great friends. A math grad student at that time would have made about $12,000 per annum, maximum. This guy apparently brought sandwiches to lunch and lived very frugally all month, and would then take the pile of money he'd saved up and have lunch or dinner at Le Bec Fin or Susanna Foo's or whatever. An inspiration to us all.

Me, I'm not so good with discipline, but even on a grad student income I managed to have some very nice meals, and quite regularly. I agree, it really is about one's priorities.

I was a grad student for the last 5 years --the entire time I've been on Egullet and then some (Thank god that's over). I've never made more than $30K annually, and usually more like between $15-20K. Yet I've dined at at least 30-40 restaurants a year where the entrees were over $15, usually in places like NYC or San Francisco (you can see my postings on those boards). It can be done--you just skip the nice shoes/clothes/car/apartment/etc. Gotta have your priorities in order, even when slaving away for higher ed. :smile:

ps. I was at Penn for grad school. Would never have spent my money at Le Bec (overpriced snobby sexist old-school French) or Susanna Foo (overpriced Chinese) but certainly loved Morimoto.

Edited by sara (log)

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

-- William Grimes

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ps. I was at Penn for grad school. Would never have spent my money at Le Bec (overpriced snobby sexist old-school French) or Susanna Foo (overpriced Chinese) but certainly loved Morimoto.

I thought you looked familiar...

Me, I went for the nice dinner-party sized apartment and Dimitry's. And semi-regular White Dog happy hours :wink:

Edited to say, congrats, by the way!

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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If I recall my history right, much of what we associate with upscale restaurants (and restaurants generally) originated with the French revolution, when cooks formerly employed by the aristocracy suddenly found themselves out of work.

Many started establishments which offered, for the first time, food prepared with skill and good ingredients, to anyone who could pay the price.

Interesting that fine dining establishments should now be viewed, by some, as symbols of entrenched, uncaring privilege.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Grimes' statement ""income disparity may be immoral, but that's not my issue to discuss," is simple avaoidance of an issue that he doesn't care to discuss.

Ok, I'll discuss it. Income disparity is not immoral. Any society offering free choice is bound to have both winners and losers, as well as every gradation in between. Can you think of very many counter-examples?

By comparison with the U.S.? Yes, almost every other highly advanced economy, starting with much of Europe and Canada. But of course, that's only in a comparative sense. Clearly, even in a country as highly influenced by democratic socialism as Sweden, there are richer and poorer people, and I think that's fine, as long as the general welfare is taken care of adequately.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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But the creation of an emerging cosseted class that travels to and from four-star restaurants in black sedans and forgets that the waiters, busboys and line cooks that serve them have less chance than they have had in 80 years to go from server to diner is wrong.

This, as they say in the law, is assuming facts not in evidence. No wonder Grimes ducked the issue! Funny how this cosseted class is emerging all around me, and somehow I missed it.

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I've spoken to Grimes about checking out eGullet and offered a Q&A to him. He's about as interested in eGullet you and I would be in going for extensive reconstructive dental surgery.

So what you're saying is that he recognizes that eGullet would be a way for him to fix any number of his unsightly and unhealthy flaws?

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But the creation of an emerging cosseted class that travels to and from four-star restaurants in black sedans and forgets that the waiters, busboys and line cooks that serve them have less chance than they hav had in 80 years to go from server to diner is wrong.

depending on the year and other factors, i'm thinking a good amount of servers at top NYC restaurants make more money than a pretty good percentage of us on egullet. and those town cars? don't get too bent out of shape: they're usually paid for by the company.

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That, my friend, is simplistic crap.

First, There are a number of nations in which not only is income disparity less than the United States, but they eat better at restaurants (on the whole). Look at the G-8 meeting this weekend and think to yourself that the U.S. has the greatest income disparity of any of the nations there, save, perhaps, Russia. Gosh, I wish we could be more like them.

Second, the problem isn't just the income disparity. It's not exactly news that some families bring home more than others; presenting that fact as though you're revealing a profound economic truth is more than a little condescending. Aside from the fact that our disparity is unusually large by non third-world standards, the really troublesome thing is that it's growing larger.

Finally, as much as you'd like to believe otherwise, this growing disparity is exacerbated by a chattering class that backs policies that ship good-paying job overseas; suppress unions; tax capital gains at a lower rate than wages and salaries; have shrunk the social safety net until it is tiny by European and Asian standards; and pressures developing nations to lower labor and wage standards through multilateral organizations.

Let's not start on schools, networks, racism and classism...

Sure, any free society is "bound to have winners and losers," (another revelation there, thanks) but rigging the game against the losers is wrong and, ultimately stupid.

Hey, we all like to eat well. But the creation of an emerging cosseted class that travels to and from four-star restaurants in black sedans and forgets that the waiters, busboys and line cooks that serve them have less chance than they hav had in 80 years to go from server to diner is wrong.

At least Grimes was intellectually honest to admit that the issue exists. I'd like to see a little of that honesty here.

I fail to see what the inherent problem is with this income disparity.

Everyone in the U.S. has the opportunity for a free public education up to the high school diploma level. Every person in the U.S. has the opportunity for higher education for free or near free through scholarships obtained through hard work during that K-12 stint, through athletic or artistic merit, or through service to the U.S. military. Anyone who wants to make something of their life has the opportunity to make something of their life. If a person is living life as a bum, it is because they have made poor choices.

The teenage mother who dropped out of school to care for her children, the man addicted to heroin and thus too sick to get to work, the teens who can't get into college because they spent too much time cutting class and goofing off, all have made bad choices in life, and later in life will pay the price for those choices. If you live life like the rules do not apply to you while your peers are working hard establishing the foundation for their future, you deserve what you get when your life suddenly crumbles around you.

Sure there are a very minor number of true tragedies out there and people who are put out of a life they deserve due to circumstances beyond their control, but those are so few and far between as to be statistically irrelevant. What it comes down to is that if you are able to dine at these fine establishments it s because you worked hard in life to get where you are, and you deserve every bit of it. If you can't, well, hope you had fun while you were off doing things other than what you should have been, but it's time to pay the piper.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Everyone in the U.S. has the opportunity for a free public education up to the high school diploma level. Every person in the U.S. has the opportunity for higher education for free or near free through scholarships obtained through hard work during that K-12 stint, through athletic or artistic merit, or through service to the U.S. military. Anyone who wants to make something of their life has the opportunity to make something of their life. If a person is living life as a bum, it is because they have made poor choices.

The teenage mother who dropped out of school to care for her children, the man addicted to heroin and thus too sick to get to work, the teens who can't get into college because they spent too much time cutting class and goofing off, all have made bad choices in life, and later in life will pay the price for those choices. If you live life like the rules do not apply to you while your peers are working hard establishing the foundation for their future, you deserve what you get when your life suddenly crumbles around you.

Sure there are a very minor number of true tragedies out there and people who are put out of a life they deserve due to circumstances beyond their control, but those are so few and far between as to be statistically irrelevant. What it comes down to is that if you are able to dine at these fine establishments it s because you worked hard in life to get where you are, and you deserve every bit of it. If you can't, well, hope you had fun while you were off doing things other than what you should have been, but it's time to pay the piper.

This isn't at all true in my experience. Inner city high schools are grossly underfunded, classes are overcrowded and most single mothers I've met work very hard indeed, and have too little time to spend with their kids -- all these factors make it very difficult for all but the most talented children to get anywhere near even a 2-year junior college, no matter how motivated they are. And sure, some of these people take advantage of the system, that is always going to happen. But a) I don't think it's as pervasive as people make it out to be and b) if the children are paying for the sins of their parents, that's not okay, either.

Also I don't think the military should be an option forced upon someone for financial reasons -- especially now that it is almost guaranteed they would be putting their life in danger.

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But the creation of an emerging cosseted class that travels to and from four-star restaurants in black sedans and forgets that the waiters, busboys and line cooks that serve them have less chance than they have had in 80 years to go from server to diner is wrong.

This, as they say in the law, is assuming facts not in evidence. No wonder Grimes ducked the issue! Funny how this cosseted class is emerging all around me, and somehow I missed it.

This is the point at which your argument collapses into self-parody.

As the datagathered by the good left-wing brothers at the Office for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of St. Paul underscore, during approximatley the last 20 years, after tax income for the top 1% of families has tripled, for the next 4% of families it has risen 53%, and for middle income families it has risen a paltry 15%. The top fifth of families now control half of all household income. Disturbingly, these are both reversals of trends that held during the boom years between 1945 and, roughly, 1972.

The trend, of course, is being exacerbated by recent tax cuts, an astonishing 52% of which, as we see here will flow to the top 1% of families, while the other 99% pick over the leftovers.

Finally, if you're in the mood to play with a calculator, check out the Census Buruea's mean income charts, for 1966 -2002. Use the bottom chart for constant dollars to get a better feel for how real income has changed, and the top chart for current dollars and marvel at inflation. By either chart, however, you can see that the difference between between economic classes is growing more pronounced. And this chart doesn't account for changes in the tax code that disproportionately (and sometimes, justifiably) benefitted wealthy taxpayers.

If you can't see the cosseted class emerging, you ain't looking.

Tommy

and those town cars? don't get too bent out of shape: they're usually paid for by the company.

The fact that, once you reach a certain level, corporate tradition and the U.S. tax code kick in to double-cosset the gilded class is not reassuring.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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