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That Sweet Enemy

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Is French food in general better than Irish food in general? Well, yes, and that's not really news to anyone. Some stereotypes are not without basis, even if they don't universally apply.
But that's a comparison that cannot be made without a consideration of the past. And when considered in light of historical and cultural factors, absolutely unfair to the Irish.

Yes indeed, it's unfair to the Irish (of which I am one, I must point out!) but it doesn't make it any less true. For the record, I'm one of those people who thinks that "Irish food" (whatever that might mean) is really good when done well, and I'm certainly not here to knock it, quite the opposite in fact.
Well, if an Irishman can't define "Irish food"...lack of an identifiable cuisine would be part of the problem, right? I haven't been to Ireland (yet) but it seems that there are a number of people determined to correct that, and that blanket statements about "Irish food" aren't taking into account that "Irish food" is still evolving. Of course most of the chefs attempting to accomplish this are using French cooking techniques, but that's a different discussion. :)

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Can we define "French food?"  Are we talking about the cuisine of Careme and Escoffier or provincial cooking that focuses on seasonality?

I have already abandoned the food of my parent's generation due in most part to better food education,  the availability of higher quality ingredients and exposure to wider variety of ethnic cuisines.  And I suspect that's true of many 30-40 somethings here in the USA.

I doubt if we *can* define French food, in a general sense, for everyone that reads this, Heather.

Probably each person draws their own picture in their minds, based on their own specific experiences with (or not with) it. Same with Brit food or the food of the US or anywhere else. . .

I mean we *could*, and could try to do so uh. . .objectively? :biggrin: but in this moment, that is not what interests me, or what my question to docsconz was focused on.

My curiosity was not about the external actual thing of the food (and whether it could be categorized as "better" or "worse" than other foods) in that post but rather the softer fluffier things of how one reacts to food and why they do. That, is always what piques my curiosity. :smile:

.............................................

Heh. Goodness knows I've abandoned the food of my parent's generation. Phew. :wink:

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Let me throw in one more thought.

How often does this happen to you?

You meet someone, they say something like "Hi, you're X aren't you? They tell me you're a real foodie..."

Now here comes the moronic conversational gambit - you're probably ahead of me here...

"...so what's your favourite kind of food?"

And, like me, your reaction is probably a silent scream, followed by an internal rant which goes something like....

"Oh you poor fucking idiot. What a question. How could I, even if I cared to waste any of my brief span on this earth doing so, explain to you the breadth of enjoyment in food? How can I communicate to somebody - who probably pierces the film on his ready meal with a fag butt before miking it - how much pleasure I gain from food of all types; how I can be carried away by simple flavours, complexity, culinary technique, surprising combinations, subtlety, strength, the love with which it was prepared or the rich history of its making?

How can I explain to you that my granny's unbearably dry seedcake is as important a part of the palette of my palate as my last pilgrimage to El Bulli? How can I tell you that, before I die I intend to have eaten bull testicles on the Pampas, fugu off a geisha and barbecue in a lamplit pit in a Tenessee hollow? How can I explain to you that the most expensive dish I've ever eaten might taste like ashes in your mouth while things you'd never allow to pass your lips would delight me?

You really don't have the faintest notion what it means to love food do you? I would feel pity for you - like a blind man in a library - were I not incensed by your suggestion that I could sum all this up in a word".

Could any foodie worthy of the name really answer ...

"...French".

:biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:

(edited to remove supernumerary apostrophe)


Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

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Can I say "pro-lager?"  Given the percentage of my too-brief time in England spent sitting at bars, I feel confident in suggesting many British pubs offer-- on tap, anyway -- a variety of fermented malt beverages as often as not differentiated by variety ( butters, lager, stout etc) as by brand.

Pro-lager sounds right. And it's true about variety - in good pubs, anyway. A real ale fan tends to value the smaller companies over the giants, naturally enough, but just as important in making a selection are the variety, its alcoholic strength, and the reputation of the pub for taking care of and serving the good stuff (affected by transportation, storage, and pumping, as explained by CAMRA again). It sounds esoteric, but you don't have to be much of an expert to differentiate the good from the bad. Compared to wine, it's a nice, unsnobbish, easygoing field, and real ale is one thing we Brits - no, hell, we ENGLISH - can be truly proud of.

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Tim, that's how I feel when someone says to me "Oh you like art? Who's your favorite artist?" I mean, are we talking about Mannerism? Abstract Expressionism? Folk Art? Magic Realism? Surrealism? Dada? Postmodernism? :wink:

That said, not every art movement appeals to everyone that identifies themselves as an art lover. I'd bet you a pound (that's about $1.95 US these days, right?) that a great many people can identify an artist, or style, that speaks to them more so than others. And so, not every cuisine will appeal to everyone that self-identifies as a "foodie" (try to control yourself, Charles). And then might it not be perfectly possible to say "French" in answer to your question, just as it's possible say "Picasso" to the art question?


Edited by hjshorter (log)

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Let me throw in one more thought.

Could any foodie worthy of the name really answer ...

"...French".

:biggrin:  :biggrin:  :biggrin:

heh

"Blunt language cannot hide a banal conception" James Wolcott

Apparently it can expose one, though.

Thanks for the engine starter. I think I'll pop some corn now and wait for the responses to this well reasoned post, Tim.

Edited to correct a typo. Have to mind my P's and Q's when posting among the brain trust.


Edited by annecros (log)

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All right, there’s no good TV on until the Daily show, so let’s start at the beginning.

Tim’s interesting and thought provoking article seems to trace the following logic:

1) That an article in an Arizona newspaper was “weak-minded, unthinking dreck” of the same type thrown up by self-flagellating British culino-scribblers, solely because the because the Arizonan bemoaned the abundance of “incurably crap food” in his world in comparison with what he (she?) found in France.

2) Any unfavorable comparison of one’s own food to the French is rooted in “blinkered, romanticized Francophilia,” which, in the case of the UK, is rooted fashion and in the U.S., is of indeterminate origin.

3) It is “important to understand [arts, including culinary] its historical and cultural context… but without an understanding of the web of national, cultural and class preconceptions behind it, the statement is pointless.”

4) Thus, writing nice things about French food in 2006 “displays a complete lack of objective [that word!] taste, zero knowledge of food history and an almost criminal ignorance of a wider world of food appreciation,” particularly if one compares it favorably to ones own food.

5) Criticism that renders normative judgments is illegitimate and pre-modern.

To which I would answer

1) It seems rather unsporting to throw up an anonymous straw man who is not even quoted at sufficient length (that is, at all) for a reader to draw any conclusion about the work itself.  The fact that the argument is boring (or that the prose is “florid”) has no bearing on whether or not it is true.

2) It simply possible that an appreciation for French Culinary culture in preference to one’s own is rooted in the fact that French culinary culture is better than one’s own, rather than the fact that one is a self-hating, social-climbing Anglo-Saxon.  Difficult as it is to quantify these things (especially, as Ptipois emphasizes, across very different cultures) there are any number of objective factors that can be looked at.  Does a country have a climate and an economy that produces and distributes high quality ingredients? Is cooking a respected vocation or avocation?  What’s up with the cheese?  Not every country cooks as good as every other one. 

Also, one can be pro-French without being anti-whatever. I’m pro-Burgundy myself, but I like Bordeax (in England: pro-bitters, but not anti-ale).

3) In an essay that rumbles from history to publishing to art to fashion, precious little ink is spent on the question whether the food was any good, on either side of the Channel (or the Atlantic) in any particular era.  You’d think you’d want to establish that at some point before going into the other bits.  We’re not eSocialHistorian here.  :wink:

 

4) See number 3.  It’s important for a historian to understand arts in a historic, cultural context.  For food wonks like us, it brings enjoyment to dining.  But a judgment on a contemporary food culture has to be rooted in the quality of the meals being served now.  You don’t look at a Ford and say “Ford introduced mass production and living wages to the United States,” and then at a Toyota and say “they helped lead through its post-war recovery (or made warplanes in WWII)”  and make decision based on history and culture. You take ’em for a test drive.   

5) The purpose of criticism is to both inform and guide, in either case one has to sometimes provide normative judgments: “this is good,” “this bad,” “this one is better than the other one.”  Not that everything can or should be ranked and compared.  But judgments have to be passed.  Otherwise we’ll be wandering aimlessly around, rewarding (or not) excellence and indifference equally, missing the new and unique, overlooking the small and beautiful. Good critics, in any discipline, help us help the deserving to succeed and goad the mediocre to improve.

(And yes, I believe I believe it’s entirely possible for one region, culture or nation to be objectively “better” than another for a variety of reasons, which probably nobody cares about right now.  And that America lags.)

Want to write that the French are overrated and the English are underrated, I’m willing to read.

Prefer to spend  energy illuminating overlooked aspects of a country’s food and wine rather than on pointless comparisons, (or vent because you’ve been forced to read essentially the same article for the 400th time)? I’m there.

Suggest that critics shouldn’t call them as they see them, because our visions are obscured by (or blind to) complex historic and cultural factors, or because “it’s all subjective” or “mean” or “disloyal?” I’m not buyin'. 

*****

PS: I would stand by 90% of the little (tongue-in-cheek) anti-Bobo bit, (applied broadly, not just to Heather, who burns my Replacements CDs for me) but because I think that there are huge social, educational and intellectual class issues tied to the relatively recent (broad) embrace of “authentic” ethnic cooking (outside of certain areas, so you New York guys can sit down, now).  But the fact that 95% of the non-Ethiopians in DC-area Ethiopian restaurants tonight are left-ish college-educated or –bound persons from a families with an above-average incomes, many of them in distressed leather clothing and sporting cool hair and glasses, does not mean that they are only there because it is now fashionable for a certain class of people to go to Ethiopian restaurants.  They are there because it’s good stuff.  Likewise, those 19th Century Francophilic Brits?  They might have had a real appreciation for the food, as well.  Call it supply-side fashion -- the quality of the desired object makes it fashionable.

Regarding point five I think the point was not to unduly poo poo (sp) other cuisines because they could never be compared favorably to the French.

Second, bitters are ales because they are made with top fermenting ale yeast.

Do you live in Adams Morgan? Because other areas of DC are not quite so hip or liberal.

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Tim, not to change the subject but I have been ruminating on your original analysis of Elizabeth David.

As much as I have benefited from her books, and they are among the most important steps on my personal cooking continuum, if anything ever nagged at me it was the lingering feeling that it was intended for a certain group of people, and them alone, and in such situations my knee-jerk reaction is always, always, what about everybody else. I guess young Jamie Oliver is making up for that in recent years, and it is interesting that at least some of the criticism aimed at him seems bothered by his inclusionary, teacherly, spreading-the-word orientation.

Your point about E. David's tremendous influence taking attention (and funds) away from British national cuisine in the immediate post-war period is a very good one, and deserves attention.

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I guess young Jamie Oliver is making up for that in recent years, and it is interesting that at least some of the criticism aimed at him seems bothered by his inclusionary, teacherly, spreading-the-word orientation.
Good point. I would add that its not just his spreading-the-word orientation, but spreading the word to those who might not be worthy of the knowledge, that gets under the skin.

Elizabeth David may have much to answer for in regards to British post-war cuisine but she'll get a pass from me. Reading "An Omelet and a Glass of Wine" in my 20s was crucial to my food conciousness.

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Elizabeth David may have much to answer for in regards to British post-war cuisine but she'll get a pass from me.  Reading "An Omelet and a Glass of Wine" in my 20s was crucial to my food conciousness.

As it was to mine. I idolised her and still consider the most important influence we've had.

It has become a personal and literary obsession of mine to prove, by both genealogical and genetic research, that ED once met Hunter S. Thompson and, under the influence of hallucinogens coupled to produce a bastard child who was handed over to the family of an ordinary Bristolian loss adjuster and grew up to be....

well...

...me.

We all have our dreams :biggrin:


Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

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I certainly thought I was the only person with a secret HST history. Apparently not.

Ever since learning (in one of his letters compilations) that he was sportswriting in Aruba while my Mother was living and working there, including THE VERY YEAR I WAS BORN, I have nurtured the hope.

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I agree that just about any culture (there may be exceptions) has its own culinary gems, marvels and strengths. I also agree that appreciation of these various cultures is subjective and individualistic. I also know that if facing a choice between various cuisines, there are some that I would have trouble choosing between and others with which I would have no difficulty at all. While one may not necessarily be better than any other in an absolute sense, some are clearly better than others to me.

Since appreciation of food is such a personal thing though. . .I wonder, if you had a choice (not among the "many" foods but among just a few that hit close to home) between Ferran Adria's food (I won't merely say Spanish or any other less specific term here); French food; or the food of your parent's generation Italian-American table, I wonder what the choice would be, if push came to shove (in an imaginary world, obviously), and the decision had to be made.

If for some reason, you would have to spend the rest of your life dining upon *only one* :biggrin: , I wonder where your heart would lead you.

And then, would you call that food that your heart led you to, "the best"?

You have found some that I would have trouble choosing between. :wink:

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Let me throw in one more thought.

How often does this happen to you?

You meet someone, they say something like "Hi, you're X aren't you? They tell me you're a real foodie..."

Now here comes the moronic conversational gambit - you're probably ahead of me here...

"...so what's your favourite kind of food?"

And, like me, your reaction is probably a silent scream, followed by an internal rant which goes something like....

"Oh you poor fucking idiot. What a question. How could I, even if I cared to waste any of my brief span on this earth doing so, explain to you the breadth of enjoyment in food? How can I communicate to somebody - who probably pierces the film on his ready meal with a fag butt before miking it - how much pleasure I gain from food of all types; how I can be carried away by simple flavours, complexity, culinary technique, surprising combinations, subtlety, strength, the love with which it was prepared or the rich history of its making?

How can I explain to you that my granny's unbearably dry seedcake is as important a part of the palette of my palate as my last pilgrimage to El Bulli? How can I tell you that, before I die I intend to have eaten bull testicles on the Pampas, fugu off a geisha and barbecue in a lamplit pit in a Tenessee hollow? How can I explain to you that the most expensive dish I've ever eaten might taste like ashes in your mouth while things you'd never allow to pass your lips would delight me?

You really don't have the faintest notion what it means to love food do you? I would feel pity for you - like a blind man in a library - were I not incensed by your suggestion that I could sum all this up in a word".

Could any foodie worthy of the name really answer ...

"...French".

:biggrin:  :biggrin:  :biggrin:

(edited to remove supernumerary apostrophe)

And if the person asking the mindless question was a physicist, who was dragged to the party by his trophy wife, and there was that uncomfortable pause while you had your internal rant, could you not respond, “So, how about that string theory?”

My point being: why so elitist? Not everyone has the time, wherewithal, proclivity, desire, means or access to be a foodie, or a computer geek, or a fashionista. Speaking of, god only knows what you were wearing to that party, as it could very well have sent the fashionistas into spasms of bitchiness.

A question: Does this sense of elitism contribute to your exhaustion with an author in Phoenix who had a French food revelation?

In no way did your article fail, look at the intriguing discussion that has ensued. Thank you.

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*****

PS: I would stand by 90% of the little (tongue-in-cheek) anti-Bobo bit, (applied broadly, not just to Heather, who burns my Replacements CDs for me) but because I think that there are huge social, educational and intellectual class issues tied to the relatively recent (broad) embrace of “authentic” ethnic cooking (outside of certain areas, so you New York guys can sit down, now).  But the fact that 95% of the non-Ethiopians in DC-area Ethiopian restaurants tonight are left-ish college-educated or –bound persons from a families with an above-average incomes, many of them in distressed leather clothing and sporting cool hair and glasses, does not mean that they are only there because it is now fashionable for a certain class of people to go to Ethiopian restaurants.  They are there because it’s good stuff.  Likewise, those 19th Century Francophilic Brits?  They might have had a real appreciation for the food, as well.  Call it supply-side fashion -- the quality of the desired object makes it fashionable.

Regarding point five I think the point was not to unduly poo poo (sp) other cuisines because they could never be compared favorably to the French.

Second, bitters are ales because they are made with top fermenting ale yeast.

Do you live in Adams Morgan? Because other areas of DC are not quite so hip or liberal.

Well, John Kerry polled 90% in 2004 and ward 3, which has a hell of a lot of rich white people running around and is our most conservative ward, went 78% for him, so almost everyone in DC is Liberal. And the realm of the hipster has spread well beyond Adams-Morgan and also includes key sections of the close-in suburbs. Of course, for these purposes the term "hispter" includes a bunch of people buying $400,000 condos in neighborhoods they would have been afraid to walk through ten years ago and aging Bobos like myself -- gentrification's shock troops, if you will -- whose hip glasses are actually bifocals but who stubbernly refuse to move to the suburbs for the schools. Maybe "trendsters" would be a better word.

The point, though, was that the trend toward a "hipper" lifestyle has a symbiotic relationship with the spread of Ethiopian and other downscale ethnic restaurants. But the fact that they benefit from this trend -- as French Cuisine benefitted from a trendy francophilia back in the day -- can't be taken as a demonstration that they have no innate value apart from their fashionableness. In other words no guilt by association.

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Sigh.

Tim has a genuine flair for cheeky writing that provokes a lot of passionate commentary from smart people.

Speaking as one of those D.C.-based liberals, might I suggest a story on world hunger for the author's next submission?

In the pages of feedback, I think we just might be able to stop famine for good.

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Sigh. 

Tim has a genuine flair for cheeky writing that provokes a lot of passionate commentary from smart people.

Speaking as one of those D.C.-based liberals, might I suggest a story on world hunger for the author's next submission?

In the pages of feedback, I think we just might be able to stop famine for good.

Yes, kudos to Tim for a provocative piece.

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Sigh. 

Tim has a genuine flair for cheeky writing that provokes a lot of passionate commentary from smart people.

Speaking as one of those D.C.-based liberals, might I suggest a story on world hunger for the author's next submission?

In the pages of feedback, I think we just might be able to stop famine for good.

Sigh? Why so sad?

This is the most interesting discussion I've seen on eGullet in months. Bravo to Tim for initiating it; you even got me posting again after months of lurking. Theres's room for PoMo critic critiques, cuisine comparison, cupcakes, and world hunger discussions on this site.

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Speaking as one of those D.C.-based liberals, might I suggest a story on world hunger for the author's next submission?

He did this one so well that I'm rather hoping to see the next one be on the US and how the food culture *here* has not grown as well as it could due to the massive group of incipient yet silently entrenched Anglophiles, always madly poking the Old Ways of Merrie England into our own (so youthful! so innocent!) foodculture here and there (but we never see it! never question it! gah!). . .and how we might just throw off those shackles left behind by memories of those darling British accents and self-deprecating ways in order to embrace our own. . .whatever it is that we are.

Maybe a round-the-world series is in order, actually. :smile: A to Z?


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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I'm probably late coming to this discussion, but having lived in SE Kent for a few years (that's the corner of the UK closest to France), I had the opportunity to sample rural British food (in 2002-2004), while the renaissance of traditional UK food was going on 70 km away in London (and, yes, I sampled that too, regularly) ... and went shopping for wine, cheese, fresh fish and veggies in Calais, Boulogne, and Lille every other weekend or so.

Modern British rural food is based on the same excellence as French: fresh local ingredients, prepared simply and served quickly. Yes, you can choose to order "tradional" food (bangers and mash, fish and chips), but you can also sample some incredible pub food (in France, you'd call it "bistro" cuisine), far better than what our American pubs (TGIF, Chili's, Hulihan's, Applebees) serve ... not to mention the beer is incredibly better. And, yes, there are now high-end British restaurants that serve incredible fresh fish/seafood dishes, with all the tradition that a seafaring island has for marine dishes...

There is a dark side ... while I was there, curry houses abounded, to the point where "curry" was declared a traditional British :shock: cuisine ... an outright theft, IMHO.

So why is French food so adored in the UK ... and the USA? Because it is associated with the customs and values of old money, and is generally not designed for formal banquet cuisine, not simple home cooking (unlike Italian, which is designed for nonna to do at home for everyone). As much as we are a democratic nation, we hanker unconsciously for a royalty (just go visit the mansions of Newport, RI or see the modern meritocracy in action in lots of places in the US and UK) ... in wealth and in cuisine. Most French food here isn't of the peasant variety or the simple bistro ... it's the complex formal cuisine based on L'Escoffier. Britain doesn't do that well ... but they do bistro very well. They simply have to recognize the quality of what they have, not denigrate it. ...

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And if the person asking the mindless question was a physicist, who was dragged to the party by his trophy wife, and there was that uncomfortable pause while you had your internal rant, could you not respond, “So, how about that string theory?”

My point being: why so elitist? Not everyone has the time, wherewithal, proclivity, desire, means or access to be a foodie, or a computer geek, or a fashionista.  Speaking of, god only knows what you were wearing to that party, as it could very well have sent the fashionistas into spasms of bitchiness.

A question: Does this sense of elitism contribute to your exhaustion with an author in Phoenix who had a French food revelation? 

In no way did your article fail, look at the intriguing discussion that has ensued. Thank you.

Why so elitist?

That's a really tough challenge. In fact I had to sleep on it :smile:

As an old school Leftie I'm obviously appalled at the accusation. I love elite bashing. In fact the original piece was largely about how a political and social elite with disproportionate representation in media have managed to warp a national attitude to food. I'm uncomfortable with that kind of foodyism which, even on sites like this, revolves around conspicuous consumption of exclusive restaurants or ingredients - hence a desire to bring an aspect of social history to food appreciation.

When I use the term 'elite' I mean a political or social group which defines itself by wealth, privilege or race and uses its position to control.

It's elitism when the country club won't admit certain races or religions, only invite those of a certain income and includes among its members a majority of local politicians.

But the accusation of 'elitism' has come to be applied - incorrectly, I believe - to groups who self define on knowledge. I'm sure physicists do get together, talk about string theory and bitch about people who think its something to do with Yoyos. I hope cellists get together, gossip about Bach and look with loathing on kids who pollute their earbuds with thrash metal.

Perhaps that feels like elitism to those who are excluded from the conversation but for me this is the defensive geek elitism of the math club. "We're not cute, we're not on the team, we're not popular and we smell odd but we can solve quadratic equations and you can't".

You could say that people who self-define as enthusiasts in a subject, gather to talk about it and occasionally pass comment on those who do not are elitist - but then you'd have to close down eGullet.

As a grown up liberal, I guess I have to admit that I like to choose my elites. I'm cool with the abolition of the ruling class and the borgeouisie, I just get a bit squirrelly when they start rounding up the intellectuals - actually that's far too seriously political a metaphor.

I don't like it when foodies online behave like the country club and I don't encounter many that do but I'm strangely comfortable with the notion of eG as a culinary math club.

I'm not an elitist, I'm a food geek.

:biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:

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Perhaps that feels like elitism to those who are excluded from the conversation but for me this is the defensive geek elitism of the math club. "We're not cute, we're not on the team, we're not popular and we smell odd but we can solve quadratic equations and you can't".

I don't like it when foodies online behave like the country club and I don't encounter many that do but I'm strangely comfortable with the notion of eG as a culinary math club.

But does "desire to eat fugu off a geisha" really = "solving quadratic equations?" Does intellectual superiority goes along with an appreciation of food?.

That seems to be an unspoken -and occasionally, spoken - subtext of some of the discussions here and elsewhere. The hoi polloi (like insipid food show presenters, eat at chain restaurant, scarf micro meals, don't like foie gras...) because of ignorance.

ETA: That's not even getting onto class issues - high farmer's market prices, the lack of decent gorceries in poor neighborhoods, the disposable income required for food adventuring, etc.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

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Perhaps that feels like elitism to those who are excluded from the conversation but for me this is the defensive geek elitism of the math club. "We're not cute, we're not on the team, we're not popular and we smell odd but we can solve quadratic equations and you can't".

I don't like it when foodies online behave like the country club and I don't encounter many that do but I'm strangely comfortable with the notion of eG as a culinary math club.

But does "desire to eat fugu off a geisha" really = "solving quadratic equations?" Does intellectual superiority goes along with an appreciation of food?.

That seems to be an unspoken -and occasionally, spoken - subtext of some of the discussions here and elsewhere. The hoi polloi (like insipid food show presenters, eat at chain restaurant, scarf micro meals, don't like foie gras...) because of ignorance.

ETA: That's not even getting onto class issues - high farmer's market prices, the lack of decent gorceries in poor neighborhoods, the disposable income required for food adventuring, etc.

Gosh I'm really not expressing myself well am I? :biggrin:

I never mentioned intellectual superiority.

I very often find myself in a pub with half a dozen blokes talking about sport. They exchange opinions on something that's as opaque to me as Sumerian or astrophysics and I am invariably roundly chaffed for my ignorance - that is, of course, my ignorance of sport.

My point was that any perceived 'elitism' of specialisation is not the same as the pernicious elitism of class or wealth.

You're right, of course, that class and wealth have far too much impact on food appreciation... part of the point I was trying to raise in the original piece i.e. French is considered the Ur cuisine because of the influence of a class elite.

...and at this point I believe I may have achieved complete circularity. If my head goes any further up my fundament I'll need a miner's lamp

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

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Perhaps that feels like elitism to those who are excluded from the conversation but for me this is the defensive geek elitism of the math club. "We're not cute, we're not on the team, we're not popular and we smell odd but we can solve quadratic equations and you can't".

I don't like it when foodies online behave like the country club and I don't encounter many that do but I'm strangely comfortable with the notion of eG as a culinary math club.

But does "desire to eat fugu off a geisha" really = "solving quadratic equations?" Does intellectual superiority goes along with an appreciation of food?.

That seems to be an unspoken -and occasionally, spoken - subtext of some of the discussions here and elsewhere. The hoi polloi (like insipid food show presenters, eat at chain restaurant, scarf micro meals, don't like foie gras...) because of ignorance.

ETA: That's not even getting onto class issues - high farmer's market prices, the lack of decent gorceries in poor neighborhoods, the disposable income required for food adventuring, etc.

It feels more like the "Rose Society" vs. "Future Farmer's of America"

While Dame Rose Society would not dream of inviting Joe Cotton Grower to her society tea, she will certainly purchase composted cow manure and consult with him concerning fungicides and pesticides. And Mrs. Cotton Grower probably has the biggest honking house eating climbing roses in the county, but she won't be nibbling cucumber sandwiches either, and wouldn't enjoy the company and the atmosphere anyway.

Fortunately for me, you can get by these days without mad math skilz, thanks mostly to the efforts of the math club geeks. But, everybody has to eat, every day.

I find the elitism mostly amusing when I do run across it here. If it makes people feel better about themselves I don't mind, unless it is done at another's expense, or it is phrased so that negative stereotypes are fostered. "America is xenophobic about food." "Food in the UK is always mushy grey matter piled on a plate." "The Olive Garden was conceived in a secret evil coupling between satan and Mario that occured in the very bowels of hell and all are cursed to damnation who darken the door there."

Some of the "inverted" elitism bothers me sometimes, as well. "I only eat organically grown gazillion dollar vegetables nutured by a not for profit commune that cultivates the field daily with a pair of tweezers and an eye dropper and those are the only vegetables anyone should cosider eating or they must be a prole who is too ignorant to get back to nature." Sort of like the eco stickers on the Humvee parked outside of Nordstroms.

To be fair, Tim did include a BBQ pit in Tennessee as an equal to the geisha's belly.

Personally, I would rather a different plating for my fugu, but the gourmand in me still wants it - and I "got" the concept.

:biggrin:

In the community that I live in, within 5 miles of the Aventura Mall - I have found that driving 5 miles in the other direction to the dramatically poorer neighborhoods nets me much higher quality and variety at a much lower price in small ethnic markets in run down strip malls than trying to shop from the Whole Foods in Aventura.

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1167783622/gallery_29805_1195_16164.jpg"  hspace="8" align="left">by Tim Hayward

I was recently shown a cutting from an Arizona newspaper by a food writer who, having returned from a trip to France, waxed poetic about the experience. Like many of us, he'd been blown away by the quality of food he'd encountered and told us so, in florid prose, for the first 800 words. He then wrapped up by explaining that hopeless, incurably crap food would always remain in his part of the world. It saddened me to see that sort of weak-minded, unthinking dreck coming from an American -- because I'm so used to reading it from English writers.

There are a lot of historical reasons why the English have problems with food. Some blame the industrial revolution, some blame a class system that puts the responsibility for cooking solely into the hands of servants -- these theories are well documented -- but there's something else. There's a powerful strand of middle- and upper-class worship of French cuisine at the expense of English, and it goes back a long way.

The French Cook, a translation of La Varenne's Le Cuisinier François. was a bit of a bestseller in the UK (insofar as a book which could be read by few and afforded by fewer could be considered a bestseller) back in 1653.

In 1747 Hannah Glasse averred that: "If Gentlemen will have French Cooks, they must pay for French Tricks. So much is the blind Folly of this Age, that they would rather be impos'd on by a French Booby, than give Encouragement to a good English Cook!”

Half a century later, Tallyrand was losing his chef -- Careme -- to the Prince Regent, and the British aristocracy were falling over themselves to worship at the feet of any Frenchman in a toque -- and they've never stopped. Things probably reached their most egregious after the war in Elizabeth David's early books, where her breathless worship of everything Mediterranean bordered on the lubricious.

Though St. David is often credited with the regeneration of food appreciation in the UK, the way that she redirected the moneyed classes towards France at the moment the privations of war were over means she could equally well be blamed for keeping English cookery in the dark ages for a further three decades. This is a shame, because by all accounts, by the time she was into her later books, Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen and English Bread and Yeast Cookery, she had matured enough to realize that perhaps all the sun, sea and shagging had turned her head in her early years. She acquired a little historical rigor and began to get really interested in English food. Much to her disgust, of course, it was too late to redirect her myrmidons, who were rushing off, lemming-like, to clog up Provence with their Volvos.

The French, obviously, think their food is the best in the world. It's a fair opinion, but I wonder if, at the peak of their international influence, had the English not agreed with them so very much, that the whole of the English-speaking world might not consider other cuisines just as worthy of attention.

But the idea that French is the ur-cuisine and the only one which matters is just one of the many tired tropes that food writers slide so easily into. It offends me that the French are so unquestioningly worshipped as the best, because the Brits are equally thoughtlessly singled out as the world's worst. Our national attitude towards food has been questionable, but -- for example -- the Dutch, who with a religious predisposition to regard enjoyment of food as actual sin and with almost no culture of dining out or entertaining, are benignly ignored by those who pontificate on culinary matters.

Similarly, though our nation could be characterized as half a dozen foodie hotspots interspersed with a moaning, crud-chewing herd of junk-fuelled semi-morons, one could argue the same for the US and Australia, both regularly praised for their exciting, cutting-edge attitude towards food. Ask any honest Frenchman and he'll tell you how French supermarkets are filling up with packaged rubbish, French farming is going to the dogs and burger bars are despoiling his city. In fact, he'll tell you, it's every bit as easy to eat crap in Paris as in London.

The authentic cuisine of the British Isles has solid, unbroken and documented history as old as the nation itself, and every bit as dignified as the French. If the middle classes hadn't been quite so distracted by the worship of French food, they might well have written about it, instead of allowing recipes to drop off the cultural radar. Now we're starting to rediscover the stews, pies, pasties, cawls, hotpots; the game, the smoked goods, the amazing fish recipes; the superb lamb dishes -- any of which would, in France, have a 'confrerie' founded in its honor, be declared a national treasure and get written up by panting international gourmands. With a bit of luck, our food culture might be extricating itself from generations of neglect and perceived inferiority -- but not unless we can wrestle our concentration back across the Channel and give it a fighting chance.

Now, lest you think I'm just indulging in the olde English sport of baiting the French, let’s drag ourselves back to Arizona. There are several reasons the article pressed my buttons.

First: I’d always assumed that blinkered, romanticized Francophilia was a disease of the English middle class (and, of course, the French), which is why it's shocking to see it trotted out in a country that has no reason, cultural or historical, to bother with it. Second: it's ill-mannered that anyone with a public platform and a desire to communicate about food should attack his own food culture for failing to be French.

But these are minor gripes  -- the real problem is much wider. I believe that unthinking reiteration of these tragic old prejudices damages the interests of anyone who loves food.

When I was at art college, I was probably over-influenced by critics like John Berger and Peter Fuller. They argued that what was regarded as "art" in the West fitted into a tradition shaped by imperialist expansion and that the acquisition and collecting habits of the wealthy -- basically, western art starts with the Greeks, and passes through the Italian renaissance and the Dutch masters because Victorian gentlemen nicked or looted so much of it to populate their museums and stately homes. This didn't mean, as some people have interpreted it, that everything from Fra Lippo Lippi to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was unmitigated crap, but it did mean that in order to understand art, it was important to understand its historical and cultural context. Articles that parrot the same old nonsense about French cooking without context show that appreciation of food and cooking today is as developed as art history was in about 1890 -- ill-informed and elitist, and a poor reflection of the intellect of its perpetrators.

Writing that French food is great, that English food is unremittingly awful -- or even that Phoenix lacks decent chefs -- is easy, but without an understanding of the web of national, cultural and class preconceptions behind it, the statement is pointless. Food -- to me -- is one of the most important creative outlets available to human beings. It will never be taken as seriously as it deserves -- as seriously as art, literature or music -- as long as our appreciation of it remains intellectually naive. Maybe the ability to write a pleasant thousand-word, adjective-laden piece on why French food is simply lovely is the very definition of a food writer. I believe firmly to the contrary. In 2006, it displays a complete lack of objective taste, zero knowledge of food history and an almost criminal ignorance of a wider world of food appreciation.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

Tim Hayward is a freelance writer living in London, and former host of the UK forum. He publishes the newsletter Fire & Knives. Photo by the author.

So much hatred, so much spite...or is it envy...I find that these feelings are often interconnected. You may not think that French cuisine deserves all the glory it has gotten, but you fail to, at least, recognize its historical and culinary influence.

The brits glorified french gastronomy not because it was the fashion of the day but because it was inventive and flavorful. British food has its merits -I can enjoy a good meat pie, sheperd's pie, even bangles and mash- but historically it is not the most flavorful of cuisine and even you can not deny that.

I am angered that you call yourself a lover of food but can not find anything better to do that bash french food. Our influence and our heritage is undeniable and I am sorry that you can not appreciate your "sweet enemy" and as a gentleman recognize a worthy opponent when you see one...

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I've noticed mention on some of the other boards, Japan and finding a decent pizza comes to mind, that American food culture seems to be rather diverse on the whole.

I wouldn't expect to find especially appealing Jamaican meat pies or a good jerk chicken in France, unless someone makes it at home. I don't think Mexico is particularly well known for its fine Chinese food either. I think this reflects market demand rather than Xenophobia.

However, in most parts of the United States I have traveled in - there is almost always reasonably good hispanic, mediterranean, asian and more recently middle eastern options readily available - if that's what you are hungry for and are looking.

Sure, the bagels are best in NY (I've always heard it was the water) - enchiladas are outstanding in the Southwest - Cuban in Miami, etc.

The hispanic market within walking distance of my house here was doing Peking Duck for the holidays. I kid you not. About a third of the market includes Asian specility items and ingredients, but the staff is entirely Spanish speaking.  Plenty of people shopping across the spectrum there as well, mostly because they offer a pretty good deal and interesting ingredients.

I would tend to agree that American food culture is diverse, but that not everyone participates in this diversity. In reference to Mr Hayward's piece British food is diverse as well, due to the influence of the colonial period, with many Brits seeking refuge in Indian, West Indian, and Chinese fare.

True, but the market is driven by people's experiences and dispositions concerning novelty.

The Cuban food in Miami is excellent, but I was a minority the cafeterias I visited.

I still contend that the consciousness and perception of eGulleteers is not that of many who walk among us. Perhaps a survey is in order. :smile:

Am I being to judgmental here?

The best food you'll get in England is Indian...That leaves me wondering aobut british food....

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