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That Sweet Enemy

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.  But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

So, anything that can't be easily be quantified is subjective? Truth, beauty (beauty, truth), Shakespeare's talent relative to John Grisham, the dinner you had last night versus the one you'll have tomorrow; justice, culture and "progress?"

Um, yeah. After reading it three times, I think those are all subjective judgements. Unless you can give me an objective measure for them, such as distance - I think you are absolutely correct.

Distance is a humanly created and perceived construct.

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.   But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

All rely on argument and evidence. I would argue that although things may be subjective, they are not merely subjective. Also, does the mere presence of a number denote objectivity. If ten people in a room pick the cassoulet over the bangers and mash then the subjective truth in that sphere lies with the cassoulet, but the same might not be the same in another circumstance. Foucault might suggest that these perceptions have significance only in historically created matrices of power. :smile:

Foucault also said "language is oppression." Merely asserting that French cuisine is better than British, or American, is not an argument, nor is the presence of a number "evidence."

I would argue that there is no objectivity in matters of taste. Impossible. And if that makes me a relativist hippie :wink: then so be it.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.  But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

All rely on argument and evidence. I would argue that although things may be subjective, they are not merely subjective. Also, does the mere presence of a number denote objectivity. If ten people in a room pick the cassoulet over the bangers and mash then the subjective truth in that sphere lies with the cassoulet, but the same might not be the same in another circumstance. Foucault might suggest that these perceptions have significance only in historically created matrices of power. :smile:

Foucault also said "language is oppression." Merely asserting that French cuisine is better than British, or American, is not an argument, nor is the presence of a number "evidence." I would argue that there is no objectivity in matters of taste. Impossible. And if that makes me a relativist hippie ;) then so be it.

Sartre said something to the effect that to name something is to tie it in a knot. Arguments could include freshness and quality of ingredients, terroir, complexity of preparation, etc. Evidence could include consensus. I am simply suggesting that some subjective arguments are better than others based on things like the aforementioned. James said that thrust "happens to an idea." Back to Mr Haywards piece, truth has happened to French food because of their cultural preoccupation with all things culinary and because of who promoted its ascendancy elsewhere. These both rest on subjective foundations, but are given a ring of truth by the power behind them. The point I would like to render relative is the notion that French food is preeminent, or that other cuisines are innately inferior. I have heard that there is much great food in Phoenix, for instance.

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The point I would like to render relative is the notion that French food is preeminent, or that other cuisines are innately inferior.
Oh, absolutely.
I have heard that there is much great food in Phoenix, for instance.

I am reasonably positive that there is better Southwestern/Mexican food available in Phoenix than anywhere in France - setting aside the relative merits of Mexican vs. French cuisine.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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There are some people that travel well. They travel more easily than some others might be able to, are capable of fitting with some facility into different circumstances, places, cultures, environments.

Could there be "food cultures" that travel more easily than others?

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The point I would like to render relative is the notion that French food is preeminent, or that other cuisines are innately inferior.
Oh, absolutely.
I have heard that there is much great food in Phoenix, for instance.

I am reasonably positive that there is better Southwestern/Mexican food available in Phoenix than anywhere in France - setting aside the relative merits of Mexican vs. French cuisine.

My girlfriend is French and I am slowly introducing her to the wonders of Southwestern cuisine with all of its spicy goodness. :wink:

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.  But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

So, anything that can't be easily be quantified is subjective? Truth, beauty (beauty, truth), Shakespeare's talent relative to John Grisham, the dinner you had last night versus the one you'll have tomorrow; justice, culture and "progress?"

Um, yeah. After reading it three times, I think those are all subjective judgements. Unless you can give me an objective measure for them, such as distance - I think you are absolutely correct.

Distance is a humanly created and perceived construct.

But it is concrete, and can be measured in a consistent manner. Do you have a better way of defining the distance between London and Paris?

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/objectivity

"judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices"

Talent, truth, beauty and how good dinner was or is are all judgment calls. Colored by your perspective at the moment.

Now quit being silly. You already knew that!

:biggrin:

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There are some people that travel well. They travel more easily than some others might be able to, are capable of fitting with some facility into different circumstances, places, cultures, environments.

Could there be "food cultures" that travel more easily than others?

Or, alternatively, is the audience more accepting of food cultures from other places.

The UK and the Curry, for instance.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

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The point I would like to render relative is the notion that French food is preeminent, or that other cuisines are innately inferior.
Oh, absolutely.
I have heard that there is much great food in Phoenix, for instance.

I am reasonably positive that there is better Southwestern/Mexican food available in Phoenix than anywhere in France - setting aside the relative merits of Mexican vs. French cuisine.

My girlfriend is French and I am slowly introducing her to the wonders of Southwestern cuisine with all of its spicy goodness. :wink:

I would almost feel jealous of your girlfriends adventure in authenic Southwestern Cusine, but I just realized that, objectively speaking, the local Chili's just as worthy and good.

See y'all at the strip mall!


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I would almost feel jealous of your girlfriends adventure in authenic Southwestern Cusine, but I just realized that, objectively speaking, the local Chili's just as worthy and good.
Relativist PoMo hippies don't eat at chain restaurants. Besides, in my subjective opinion, Chili's tastes like crap.

Tim sez:

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.
"Romaticized Francophilia" in the USA, specifically in regards to dining, goes at least all the way back to Jefferson, does it not?
Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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The point I would like to render relative is the notion that French food is preeminent, or that other cuisines are innately inferior.
Oh, absolutely.
I have heard that there is much great food in Phoenix, for instance.

I am reasonably positive that there is better Southwestern/Mexican food available in Phoenix than anywhere in France - setting aside the relative merits of Mexican vs. French cuisine.

My girlfriend is French and I am slowly introducing her to the wonders of Southwestern cuisine with all of its spicy goodness. :wink:

I would almost feel jealous of your girlfriends adventure in authenic Southwestern Cusine, but I just realized that, objectively speaking, the local Chili's just as worthy and good.

See y'all at the strip mall!

That comparison makes me sad. :sad:

Actually, I am with you Busboy. I am a qualified relativist in that I think there is room for viable argument that strip mall cuisine is vastly different from more deliberately prepared fare -- an argument that I have made in the past. Sorry to say that I will not see you at the strip mall, but perhaps at Lauriol Plaza or El Tamarindo. :wink:

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I would almost feel jealous of your girlfriends adventure in authenic Southwestern Cusine, but I just realized that, objectively speaking, the local Chili's just as worthy and good.
Relativist PoMo hippies don't eat at chain restaurants. Besides, in my subjective opinion, Chili's tastes like crap.

Tim sez:

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.
"Romaticized Francophilia" in the USA, specifically in regards to dining, goes at least all the way back to Jefferson, does it not?

Certainly Jefferson, but at least he traveled to France. There was a profound French influence on bourgeois British food in the 18th century. Some of this was embraced by the gentry of Virginia and elsewhere.

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I would almost feel jealous of your girlfriends adventure in authenic Southwestern Cusine, but I just realized that, objectively speaking, the local Chili's just as worthy and good.
Relativist PoMo hippies don't eat at chain restaurants. Besides, in my subjective opinion, Chili's tastes like crap.

A subjectivity, my friend, informed by fashionable embrace by the bourgeois of "authenticity"and "ethnicity" in post-Kerouak era that led to a fascination with indiginous cooking, Rolling Rock beer and decible-heavy three-chord pop-music played by semi-literate proles. It's likely that you live in a zip code that votes heavily Democratic, that you own at least one Replacements album, that many of your posessions are hand-glazed. :wink: (cf "Bobos in Paradise). Rejection of strip-mall food (except in Riverdale and certain quarters of Queens, Northern Virginia and Orange County) is merely another way for the elite to differentiate and lift themselves above the hoi polloi by asserting superior taste, intellect, and tolerance -- the culinary equivalent of an expensively distressed leather jacket or that twenty-dollar-a-pound fair trade coffee.

Or maybe Chili's does suck in a relatively certain fashion and maybe, though it lies not in the fields of La Belle France, culinary Valhalla is even further from the air-conditioned high-rises and gallerias of Phoenix.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I would almost feel jealous of your girlfriends adventure in authenic Southwestern Cusine, but I just realized that, objectively speaking, the local Chili's just as worthy and good.
Relativist PoMo hippies don't eat at chain restaurants. Besides, in my subjective opinion, Chili's tastes like crap.

A subjectivity, my friend, informed by fashionable embrace by the bourgeois of "authenticity"and "ethnicity" in post-Kerouak era that led to a fascination with indiginous cooking, Rolling Rock beer and decible-heavy three-chord pop-music played by semi-literate proles. It's likely that you live in a zip code that votes heavily Democratic, that you own at least one Replacements album, that many of your posessions are hand-glazed. :wink: (cf "Bobos in Paradise). Rejection of strip-mall food (except in Riverdale and certain quarters of Queens, Northern Virginia and Orange County) is merely another way for the elite to differentiate and lift themselves above the hoi polloi by asserting superior taste, intellect, and tolerance -- the culinary equivalent of an expensively distresses leather jacket.

Or maybe Chili's does suck in a relatively certain fashion and maybe, though it lies not in the fields of La Belle France, culinary Valhalla is even further from the air-conditioned high-rises and gallerias of Phoenix.

Wow. First I would say that bands like the Dead Kennedys, the Replacements, Husker Du, etc. were highly literate folks. Second, could it be that the rejection of chain restaurants is not simply about the educated upper middle class separating themselves but rather a reaction to homogeneity - the human individual seeking difference, authenticity, novelty, and quality. Third I would argue that the distressed leather jacket is more indicative of an affluent culture mimicking the authentic earned paucity of the bohemian without having to actually experience that paucity. Also, I suspect that the wearing of pre-distressed clothing is not partisan and that many Dems don't seek authenticity in their cuisine. I see plenty of blue dot stickers in the parking lots of the local strip malls.

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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.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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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.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I can understand Tim's desire to see his country's "cookery" taken more seriously both there and elsewhere, but I would like to see more actual evidence that it really deserves to be taken more seriously. Of course that is not to say that good cooking and good food products have not come from the British tradition, but I would like to see them specifically named and compared to others before blindly stating that it should be considered on a par with French or other cuisines. Take the world of cheese. England produces some excellent cheeses, amongst them stellar Stiltons and choice cheddars.  I have had examples from some of the finest purveyors of some of their finest cheeses and though they were indeed excellent, the best haven't ever approached the sublimity of the finest French or Italian cheeses (I would also include Spanish). In other words, before sanctifying the "cookery", I would like to know, "Where's the beef?"

There's some excellent British cheese, but you may well be right, and you're spot on that British food probably doesn't deserve too much praise. Actually, the only two things I can think of where we bow to absolutely no one are beer and whisky. Otherwise though, when I hear people talking up our wonderful and varied regional specialities, I have to admit I cringe.

The food renaissance that some speak of looks to me like little more than a mild revival, and in some fairly limited areas. The general food situation in Britain is really not that good, either in restaurants or the home. And a handful of world-class British chefs, for all their advocacy of good food, is no substitute for a decent food culture that everyone can be a part of - the type of thing you can find in many parts of Europe or Asia.

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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).

In Britain that comment would have most people scratching their heads, not least at CAMRA. Ale is simply an another word for beer, of which bitter is one of the types. Oh, and to be pedantic, if you were pro-bitters....(click)

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

Yep. Only a couple of deadlines overhanging so I'm looking for displacement activity too :)

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.

Fair point. Early versions attempted a blow-by-blow analysis of the piece with full links but I ended up feeling that ...

1) It wasn't that interesting

2) Though the rant was triggered by the article, it ended up less about his writing than my feelings about food writing in general

3) It was probably actionable

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).

All absolutely true, but when the public discourse about food has been so heavily middle-class and Francophile for so long, it's hard to imagine how today's foodies can get a clear run at making judgment. I felt it was important to provoke discussion of exactly how pervasive, influential and corrupting that influence has been.

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:

Did I rumble or ramble? :biggrin:

When eating food rather than writing about it, it's hard to imagine how one can judge if the food of one nation is better. It's like asking if the air is better in England or France. I live in London, cook well, buy excellent ingredients and eat out (at other's expense) in restaurants that are regarded as world class - my experience of eating is practically indistinguishable from a person of similar background and interest in Paris or NY.

If I sat you in front of a coq au vin, a steak and ale pie (and, for variety, a plate of chili) all made by local experts with the best available ingredients you might express a preference but you'd be unable to pin it on any national characteristic.

I have to fall back to the position that the culinary superiority of a nation is, at best, a 'widely held belief' and like most WHBs is largely propped up by unthinking media and can invariably be undermined by individual and personal experience

 

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.   

See number 3. If people were taking food for a test drive (metaphor clash warning) none of this debate would be taking place.

There has been, for example, mention in this thread of grey meat, ale and bitter, none of which feature in my diet or that of any of my friends or family. The last time I ate the sort of 'curry' that's been mentioned so often was when I was a student and too blind drunk to stand. The last time I made custard was for iles flottant. It's shorthand, it's preconception - it can even be funny, I love that people think we're all either sexually inept Hugh Grants or dentally challenged Austin Powers. I even laugh at jokes about our plumbing and poor personal hygeine.

They are, though, jokes. The Phoenix article, like too much food writing, took itself far too seriously to be considered amusing.

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 poor critics trot out unthinking cliche

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

the French are overrated and the English are underrated

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.

...and right welcome

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'. 

Completely agreed - and if my piece came across that way, I failed


Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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It strikes me that part of the issue at hand here is the difficulty in moving from the specific to the general and vice versa. As busboy pointed out, if one is trying to choose a car between a Ford and Toyota, one does the test drives and chooses the "better" car. Leaving aside the obvious fact that even this decision is subjective, we cannot extend our findings on these two cars to Ford and Toyota in general, nor make a decision on which is the "better" car manufacturer.

While I agree with large tracts of Tim's piece, for my money some of the arguments don't quite stand up. For example (from a later post):

If I sat you in front of a coq au vin, a steak and ale pie (and, for variety, a plate of chili) all made by local experts with the best available ingredients you might express a preference but you'd be unable to pin it on any national characteristic.

This is all true. Of course it's true. I imagine there are few culinary regions or traditions that can't put up at least one decent dish. But so what? It doesn't tell us anything about the culinary habits of the population at large, it doesn't tell us anything about the breadth of ingredients, styles and traditions of the region as a whole, it doesn't tell us anything about the culinary goals of the average "man-in-the-street" or "woman-in-the-fields" or whatever.

As a Dubliner, I can eat very well (albeit expensively) in restaurants in this city, and can source excellent ingredients with relative ease. The fact that very few of my fellow Dubliners are bothered with such considerations, and many think I'm crazy to be bothered at all, does not point to a lavish culinary culture simmering away under the surface here. 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.

Of course, I think French food is frequently overrated and British food underrated. I do, quite definitely.

Great article, Tim. It's been very thought-provoking.

Si

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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"?

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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!”

It's likely that you live in a zip code that votes heavily Democratic, that you own at least one Replacements album, that many of your posessions are hand-glazed. :wink: (cf "Bobos in Paradise). 

From Boobys to Bobos, as we wing across the continents.

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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
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.

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.
Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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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).

In Britain that comment would have most people scratching their heads, not least at CAMRA. Ale is simply an another word for beer, of which bitter is one of the types. Oh, and to be pedantic, if you were pro-bitters....(click)

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.

Of course, given the percentage of my too-brief time in England spent sitting at bars...

(BTW, not trying to be so much pro-French or anti-british (props to British cheesemakers, btw, to whomever mentioned them. I don't think they get the credit they deserve) as pro aggressive, realistic commentary.)


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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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. It would be ridiculous to expect the Irish culinary tradition to be the equal of the French for many historical reasons, but as far as I'm concerned that's a separate question. If we're merely asking "Where has the best food?", Ireland would be an unlikely answer. I think it's silly to suggest (as has been suggested upthread) that you can't make such objective judgments as it is all a question of taste. Sometimes it isn't.

The point I am making is that some stereotypes are not without basis. The stereotype of stodgy grey English food is one such example. It may be outdated, it may be applied far more universally than is appropriate, it may have had a legitimate historical context, but from what I can tell, a lot of people ate such food for quite a while. While we must always question the "conventional wisdom", and while I greatly admire Tim's article for doing exactly that in a well-reasoned fashion, I personally have not yet been convinced that the conventional wisdom on French vs. British food is incorrect.

Of course, how you define "British food" or "French food" could change this view drastically. A reductio ad absurdum is easy if we want to play that game. If the best thing you ever tasted happened to be at, say, the Fat Duck, on some level that means British food is the best in the world...

For me, it comes down to something different, but perhaps equally tenuous: The probability of getting what I consider a good meal seems to be higher in France than anywhere else I've been. To rigorously defend such a statement is difficult, nigh-on impossible, but it doesn't seem too unreasonable either.

Of course, none of this is to contradict the view in Tim's article that if it wasn't for such unswerving adherence to French cooking other traditions may have been the equal of or better than the French. I think he might be right.

Si

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