In Defense of Pretentious Hipster Douchebaggery, Culinary Edition


“No, I do not want a beer. I just got back home to San Francisco after a week in the South and the Midwest. I want a ridiculous, pretentious, overpriced cocktail with a lot of stupid crap in it.”
-Greta Christina

Yes. When it comes to food and booze, I am one of those pretentious hipster douchebags. I’m one of those people who creams in her jeans when she sees the word “local” on a menu. I’m one of those people who pisses themselves over artisanal everything: artisanal bread, artisanal donuts, artisanal ice cream, artisanal coffee, artisanal chopped liver. I’m one of those people who gets all excited about weird flavor combinations that seem like they were randomly grabbed out of a hat: donuts with chocolate and rosemary, ice cream with bourbon and corn flakes, salted lavender shortbread, gazpacho with strawberries, raspberry and red pepper sorbet. I’m one of those people who will happily pay twelve bucks for a cocktail if it’s made with basil and cardamom bitters and a single-barrel whiskey I’ve never heard of. I’m one of those people who will happily pay eight bucks for a chocolate bar if it has smoked salt and was produced by a worker-owned collective. I’m one of those people who will walk an extra ten blocks to Rainbow Grocery for coffee, because they have decaf French roast that’s fair trade. I’m one of those people who wants the bartender — excuse me, the mixologist — to invent a cocktail for me on the spot, based on my suggestions of base liquor and flavor profile. (Typically “bourbon” and “spicy.”) I’m one of those people who grills the waitstaff (politely, of course) on the exact provenance of the meat, and whether it was raised and killed in a manner that befits my ethical standards. I’m one of those people for whom “Portlandia” is a documentary.

And yes, I will grant you just about every criticism you care to make, trivial or serious, about this pretentious hipster douchebag culinary culture. Yes, it’s pretentious (obviously). Yes, it’s smug and full of itself. Yes, it’s relentlessly trend-hopping. Yes, it often takes itself way too seriously (although to be fair, most of the pretentious culinary hipsters I know have a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing). Yes, it has more than a whiff of classism and snobbery about it. Yes, the hipsterization of food contributes to gentrification, and thus to pricing poor and working-class people out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for years. (I once read a definition of a hipster that was so scarily accurate it made me cringe: “You complain about gentrification even though you’re one of the people responsible for it.”) Yes, in a blind taste-test, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

I will grant you all of that, and more, with no argument. I will simply ask you to grant me this, or at least to consider it:

Pretentious culinary hipsterism is one of the few forces pushing back against the relentless corporate monoculture that’s demolishing local food.

I spend a lot of time traveling around the country doing public speaking. When my hosts ask, “What kind of food do you like?”, I typically answer, “If there’s a local specialty, I’d like to try it. If there’s a great local barbecue joint, a local diner that’s been here for decades, something along those lines… I’d love to go there.”

And all too often, they look at me blankly, and take me to a chain restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for their hospitality, and the company is the main point anyway. And I don’t blame them for taking me to a chain. Because in much of the country, that’s all there is. In much of the country, there is no local diner anymore. In much of the country, when you go out to eat, your options are Chain Restaurant A, Chain Restaurant B, Chain Restaurant C, or Chain Restaurant D. In much of the country — especially (and tragically) in the South and the Midwest — local food culture is being crushed into the ground by the gargantuan Godzilla foot of corporate monoculture.

And in much of the country, when there is an alternative to corporate monoculture restaurants, it’s the pretentious hipster place.

These are the places that are supporting small local farmers. These are the places that are networking with other small businesses. These are the places that are reviving and perpetuating local specialties. These are the places that care about tradition, and ritual, and the ways that food connects us to our homes and our ancestors. These are the places where the waitstaff doesn’t turn over every three months; where the waitstaff sticks around long enough to get to know your name, and for you to get to know theirs. These are the places where the waitstaff are often the owners. These are the places that are building neighborhoods. These are the places run by people who give a damn about serving their customers a fresh, delicious, nutritious, high-quality product. These are the places run by people who think food should be prepared, and eaten, with love.

It’s funny. These used to be classic American values. Old-fashioned, conservative, Norman Rockwell values, even. I’m not sure when they turned into the hallmarks of pretentious urban hipster douchebaggery. Probably around the time that sucking the dick of multinational corporations became the hallmark of American patriotism.

And that’s exactly my point. Somewhere along the way, “American patriotism” mutated into “abandoning everything that actually makes America special and kind of cool.” Somewhere along the way, “American patriotism” started to mean “handing everything over to our corporate overlords, so they can grind it into a mass of indistinguishable mincemeat and sell it back to us at three times the price.” And pretentious as it is, smug as it is, self-conscious as it is, artisanal locavore hipster food culture is pushing back against all that.

If the choice were between the artisanal hipster place serving locally sourced cheese plates with spelt bread and pepper jam, or the unpretentious family-owned diner that’s been serving the same pancakes and fried chicken for three generations… this would be a different conversation. But increasingly, that’s not the choice. Increasingly, the choice is between the artisanal hipster place, and Applebee’s. Bennigan’s. Boston Market. T.G.I. Friday’s. Increasingly, the choice is between homogenized, manufactured hominess… and the unique flavor of a place, self-conscious though it may be, that actually turns a location into a home.

I’m not going to pretend that eating lavender shortbread is a revolutionary act. I’m just saying: I’m happy that this choice exists. I’m happy there are people making this choice available. And I want to give them their props.

Preferably with a rosemary garnish.

Comments

  1. says

    Ooh! Ooh! You’d love Solomons, Maryland! We’ve got a whole buncha local gourmet seafood restaurants, at least ten within walking distance of my house, including one only three doors up the street! (They’re all ridiculously overpriced, though.)

  2. says

    Yep. Except about booze. An old barfly, I realized years ago that fine wines, beers, and spirits are wasted on my undiscriminating palate.
    “What’ll you have?” “Bar whiskey on the rocks, please.”

  3. coryat says

    Very interesting. One of things that’s put me off visiting the US (I’m British) are the frequent complaints I hear from others about the homogenized food which focuses upon quantity over quality. Are my associates just missing the good stuff? I’m sure they must be, but is it easy to eat well in America? I’d be especially interested to hear the views of people with experience of both European and American cuisine.

  4. Oxeador says

    Come to Spain, Greta. I will take you to a different place every day, and every day it will be your new favourite spot.

  5. says

    You should seriously consider a holiday in La Palma (a Spanish island, off the coast of Morocco.) The local stuff isn’t pretentious here, it’s normal.

    The island’s only about 30 miles long, but it’s full of different micro-climates and soils, so we have about 40 different wines, including a sweet dessert wine that’s been wining medals all around Europe.

    The cheese is made from goat’s milk usually by an old lady whose adult grandkids look after the herd of about 20-100 goats. You can get it fresh (a bit like Mozarella) or smoked (over a smoky little bonfire of almond shells) or cured. Even our tiny village shop stocks two varieties.

    The goats meat needs a long, slow cook to make it tender, because the goats have been galloping around the mountainside instead of trapped in a tiny cage, but it tastes great.

    Sadly, a lot of the meat is imported, but the local meat’s great. When I first got to know Carmen, she was worried because the pig was off its food. They’d run out of surplus avocados and bananas, and it didn’t like pears. You think this is going to taste the same as a pig that’s fed on reprocessed cardboard boxes?

    The fish was usually swimming last night.

    And seeing as we have all those microclimates, the variety of local fruit and veg is amazing and it’s usually very fresh.

    Oh, and we also have spectacular scenery crisscrossed by hiking trails and the starriest skies in Europe.

    OK, I’ll stop ranting, but I love the place and I think you would too. I originally came here with a 6 month contract to work at the astronomical observatory. That was 20 years ago, and I’m still here. Can you guess why?

  6. Dunc says

    All of this is true, and I heartily agree with you. However, there is another point: I don’t need to justify my aesthetic preferences to anybody. It’s my money, and I’ll spend it how I damn well please. If anybody thinks that makes me a pretentious hipster, they’re entirely welcome to mind their own damn business.

  7. Siobhan says

    You totally need to visit Vermont for a week. Preferably in the late summer or early fall. :) We’ve got a huge localvore food movement that’s a delightful combination of artisan and old Vermont “ayup”ness. It’s also pretty big, and there’s not many places in the state that you can’t find a new local restaurant cooking up exciting foods with things grown very near by. There’s old family farms being revitalized by the CSA movement, and there’s a CSA for anything you might want for local produce. I think one farm even features a sort of “meat and potatoes” CSA. :)

    You could totally stay at our house (no, I’m not a stalker) and meet our kitties and dog and tromp in our woods. :)

    Plus, EVERYONE can get married in Vermont. :) And Maple Syrup. And Maple Syrup Creemees. Oh and cheese.

  8. says

    Absolutely right! In the UK we pay through the nose for good, original food and even then some of it is crap (they think if something’s smoked, it’s automatically hip and justifies whacking the price up) but if that’s the only way to eat well, so be it. Grateful I can just about afford it most of the time.

  9. machintelligence says

    It’s funny. These used to be classic American values. Old-fashioned, conservative, Norman Rockwell values, even.

    OK. When you are here in the Denver area for the American Atheist convention, you will have to try White Fence Farm. The ambiance is almost painfully Norman Rockwell, but they serve spectacularly good fried chicken and have been doing it for decades. The farm animal petting zoo is kind of cute, too.

  10. Warren says

    If you or anyone else reading this post ever have a reason to come to Iowa City (maybe speaking at the university). You should check out http://www.devotay.net/. One of my favorite restaurants I’ve ever been to.

  11. says

    The only time hipster behavior bothers me is when hipsters treat their personal tastes or willingless to sacrifice other things to fulfill those tastes as something that makes them better than other people. Being told you’re a bad person for not having the money or time to be as picky about food is what makes some foodie hipsters insufferable, which you seem not to be engaging in, so it’s less troubling.

  12. wmjprice says

    “….but they serve spectacularly good fried chicken and have been doing it for decades. The farm animal petting zoo is kind of cute, too.”

    That made my head hurt. Do you get to pick your own chicken?

    If you’re ever in Savannah we’ve got a pretty good local food scene here. And plenty of pretentious hipster douchebags.

  13. Bryan says

    *sigh*

    I wish I had the money to buy all organic, all local stuff. Unfortunately, a visit to the local food co-op here in Chicago usually runs me about $40 for a some potatoes, apples, and a spot of grain. Crap is cheap, cheap is what I am, and my stomach is not happy about it.

  14. steveinmi says

    Expressed with Greta’s usual brilliant flair. Thank you for writing this piece!

  15. ScottK says

    There’s an awesome rant on the creeping monoculture in Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan:

    Spider Jerusalem: That’s what a monoculture is. It’s everywhere, and it’s all the same. And it takes up alien cultures and digests them and shits them out in a homogenous building-block shape that fits seamlessly into the vast blank wall of the monoculture. This is the future. This is what we built. This is what we wanted. It must have been. Because we all had the fucking choice, didn’t we? It is only our money that allows commercial culture to flower. If we didn’t want to live like this, we could have changed it any time, by not fucking paying for it. So let’s celebrate by all going out and buying the same burger.

    I’m don’t personally care about organics but I like to buy as local as I can- luckily there are a bunch of small places here in the Boston suburbs where that’s possible. And then there’s a huge Whole Foods just down the road if I want both “crunchy-granola” and “corporate-monstrosity” all in the same reusable-recyled bag. :)

  16. Zengaze says

    Great piece of socio political justification at the tail Greta! Corporatism destroys communities because it destroys economies.

    I still have to explain this out a lot to people who thing “big store anything” is good for local job production……. One big store always results in the closure of a number of small stores. Those jobs in the small stores don’t get transferred to the big store, there is always a net loss of employment, therefore less money into the local economy which generates a domino effect, compounding this is the reality the small stores are generally locally owned, and their owners generally spend a large part of their profits in other local businesses, that disappears overnight, “big stores” suck the money out of local economies as its profits go to Timbuktu or wherever, plus they have absolutely zero community interest other than bleeding it.

    Shop local, shop specialist!

  17. vel says

    so, then by saying that the desire for people to follow an essentially Epicurean philsophy can be and is good and beneficial, I would argue that this means that liking intricate drinks and food is *not* pretentious e.g. expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature or making usually unjustified or excessive claims.

    If something it tasty to me, then it’s *is* tasty and I find it important, worthwhile and having entirely justified claims about it. It’s just someone else’s view that it isn’t so cool, and we have enough douchebags that just like to hate something because someone else might be passionate about it. That’s how I define what “hipster” seems to be, wannabee goths with the fashion sense of my dear color blind friend.

    I enjoy the macaroni and milk my husband grew up on being dirt poor as well as the cardamom scented shortbread and grape liqueur I can make. I like Iron City as well as Delireum Nocturm ale, and I like Old Crow better than some single 23 Evan Williams bourbon.

  18. pablo says

    Allow me to put in a plug for Cleveland. There are a lot of really good restaurants that use locally grown vegetables/fruits and farm raised meats from the nearby Amish. The food is fantastic, fresh, and unpretentious, even the local wine isn’t bad.

  19. says

    Another thing these restaurants frequently do, which doesn’t get enough attention, is support local artists with their decor choices. This is no small thing, either for the artists or for the patrons who are exposed to them.

  20. Siobhan says

    My husband made this following observation:

    Here’s an attempt at wording it in such a way that it might be suitable to post there. If this seems crystal clear to you, go ahead.

    The Mom-And-Pops that sell the same pancakes and fried chicken they have for three generations -aren’t- completely gone; they’re just very, very hard to find. They’re harder to find than Chez Arugula, to about the same proportion that Chez Arugula is harder to find than Applebees.

    If it’s worth it to rebel against the overpriced ridiculousness of very-widely-available Applebees by going to the extra cost and effort of finding Chez Arugulas, thus voting with your feet (and dollars) for them, and hoping to change the world so that there’s fewer Applebees and more Chez Arugulas in our future… why then isn’t it also worth it to (following the same reasoning) rebel against the overpriced ridiculousness of fairly-widely-available Chez Arugulas by going to the extra extra cost and effort of finding Mom-And-Pops, thus voting with your feet (and dollars) for them, and hoping to change the world so that there’s fewer Chez Arugulas and more Mom-And-Pops in our future?

  21. says

    Very interesting. One of things that’s put me off visiting the US (I’m British) are the frequent complaints I hear from others about the homogenized food which focuses upon quantity over quality. Are my associates just missing the good stuff? I’m sure they must be, but is it easy to eat well in America? I’d be especially interested to hear the views of people with experience of both European and American cuisine.

    for a tourist, it’s extremely difficult to find good food in the US. you need a local to guide you to the places that are actually worth eating at. They’re usually neither in the tourist guides nor do they advertise sufficiently.

    but if you can find a local guide like that, the food will be fantastic (caveat for what Greta said about many areas losing these places). American culinary traditions are as awesome as they are diverse.

    and I say that as a complete food-snob who pays more for food than she does for rent.

  22. rork says

    Come to my place. See a kind of hipsterism where you grow stuff in dirt and eat it, and butcher chickens and deer, and 10 species of fish, and eat them. We will pick wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries by the gallon. We will pick morels, chanterelles, procini, Hydenum repandum and 10 other kinds of shrooms. We will never go to a restaurant. We will never buy meat. We will trade deer muscles to the neighbors and help them butcher ducks, sheep, and turkeys for a share of their bodies and blood. We will make our own sausages. There will not be any mango chutney on the salmon.

  23. says

    It’s pretentious foodie hipsterism that’s destroying “local food” just as much as the big corporate machines. If you start demanding free-range organically raised hand squeezed bullshit in a region where the food ‘normally’ wasn’t prepared that way, you’re going to raise prices so that the “locals” probably will change their eating habits. What if, prior to an influx of hipster pretentious snothead foodies, “local” food was just plain ingredients, not certified politically correct all-volunteer meats and morally unambiguous poultry?

    Case in point – we have a perfectly great BBQ up the road from where I live, that got gentrified and became a way-stop for city folks cruising out in their big air-conditioned cars to have a real honest-to-shit country BBQ. After long lines on sunday mornings, expansion, and price increases for the city foodies the place is too expensive and busy for any of the locals who are sick of all the punters from out of town asking “was this pig morally raised with internet access?” and now the locals eat someplace else.

  24. says

    Stephanie, that’s a great point! I have definitely seen photography collections by local artists at a lot of local restaurants.

    coryat, I think that what’s available is going to vary widely by geography. I’m in California. I grew up in a very suburban area with a ton of chain restaurants. Then I went to university in a college town that adamantly refused chains. (Of any kind. It was a HUGE deal when a Target went in.) Now for grad school, I’m back in my original city, but a much hipper part of town with way more local joints. I can take you to the pretentious hipster place with awesome cocktails, the place with the giant local tap list, or any one of the 24-hour taco shops because, dude, you have to try carne asade fries while you’re down here. Heck, we can check out some of the local microbreweries. (Not all, unless you’re making this trip a beer tour and you have several days to commit.) We can go to the fancy local bakery up the street or the little donut shop around the corner that knows my usual order. I can take you to the farmer’s markets, the cheese shop, the tea shop, the Jewish deli that’s a local institution, the entirely local hipster place, or whatever else your heart desires.

    Or, upon refreshing, what Jadehawk said. With a local guide, in the right city, you can eat very well indeed.

  25. phiknight says

    I suggest Athens, Georgia as a wonderful hipster place with real soul food as well.

    I personally am not very hip, but I appreciate local, seasonal, and tasty food as much as anyone.

    But I’ll take that beer instead.

  26. says

    I’m vacationing in Austin right now, and ate just last night at this gourmet BBQ place that was insanely expensive and quite delicious (although not quite as delicious as the BBQ place several miles out of town that Matt and Beth kindly drove us to.) I don’t remember whether they were touting local and ethically-raised products, but the cafe next door to our hotel has that covered. So this post is very topical to my life right now, and I appreciate the balanced perspective.

    It made me wonder, though, what about all the food trailers, many of which serve delicious, delicious stuff (best tacos and nearly the best fried chicken I’ve ever had)? I’m sure most of them aren’t ethically-sourced, but where do they fit economically, between the chains and the Chez Arugulas and the genuine Mom & Pops? They’re becoming my favorite genre of local Austin cuisine, wherever they fit in. I’m going to check out the crepe trailer this morning!

  27. says

    I just got back from San Fran — great eats there. But what is it with the lamb shanks? They’re on the menu everywhere.

    My traveling companion had the lamb shank special at Scala’s Bistro just above Union Square. It tried it. Wow.

    And then I noticed that every other restaurant we went into, there was a lamb shank special. Are you guys overrun with lamb out there?

  28. valleycat1 says

    For good recommendations on local fare when traveling, we try to chat up a local who’s lived there forever – the grocery store where locals shop is a good starting point. If we have the time, we’ve been known to check out local restaurant parking lots for crowds of people with local license plates (not all local restaurants are decent places to eat, after all). Hotel desk clerks occasionally will be helpful, but too often recommend the nearest or most familiar chain. We also check restaurant listings for the more under-represented ethnic places in town, which often are mom-and-pop places.

  29. says

    Great article Greta. That is one reason my wife and I love living in Duluth, MN. There are tons of great local restaurants that feature locally grown food products in really neat combinations. You could argue that half of the restaurants in town are of the non-chain variety. I highly recommend it as a place to visit for a weekend.

  30. says

    Totally agree with you. Having grown up in the Midwest I know how it’s dotted with chain after chain restaurant. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family with good cooks who kept their own gardens so I actually got to eat the local specialties (which you would never find in a restaurant).

    I too am a pretentious foodie douchebag and kinda proud of it. Here’s to pushing the envelope a little further against the corporate behemoths!

  31. Anri says

    Greta:

    If you find yourself in the St. Louis area of the Midwest again, (like, say, a side trip from Skepticon… just sayin’), my spouse and I will be very happy to clue you in to some of the terrific places available. Iron Barley, Harvest, Sanctuaria tapas, Vin de Set, and the Brasserie/Taste/Niche series…

    I’m sure we’re behind the curve in terms of latest foodie trends, but there are plenty of places that are both good and sporting some locavore cred.

  32. says

    Sigh. Here in Northern Virginia, we don’t have much in the way of local cuisine. The old mom & pop places are mostly gone.

    What we do have in a big way is ethnic! They’re mom & pop places too, only mom & pop moved here from elsewhere and brought their wonderful food along. The two best restaurants near my office are Indian, the supermarket closest to my house is Korean. You want Kebabs, Peruvian Chicken, Tapas, Dim Sum, Pho? Whatever cuisine you are in the mood for, we’ve usually got it in spades. (Except for German, for some reason. Go figure.)

  33. movablebooklady says

    And, of course, there’s Asheville NC (my home), also called the “San Francisco of the East” heh). I’ve been to both and it can go vice versa, too. Anyhow, there’s a very strong local food incentive, tons of farmers’ markets, and an exploding craft and micro brewery scene (Sierra Nevada just chose us for its east coast location). Yes, we have the chains but eateries using local food only are everywhere and they’re not all insanely expensive. And the food trucks are burgeoning, too. Come in spring and we’ll go to the Ramp Festival! Yum.

  34. Jordo says

    No, I will not grant you Food Inc. That is such an awful, factually incorrect “documentary”. It made some good points but was so intellectually dishonest. Just a smidge of critical thinking and research puts it up there with “the corporation” for being awful. I agree with some of the overall points that Food Inc made, but it does it very dishonestly.

  35. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    I’m still not clear on what a hipster is, but a lot of this stuff sounds good.

  36. Predator Handshake says

    moveablebooklady: I’m just on the other side of the mountains from you in Tennessee. We (a few friends and I) come to Asheville regularly to empty our wallets at your superior bars and delicious restaurants- we eat at Zambra every time we’re in town, even if we aren’t particularly hungry.

  37. says

    I think we need to eschew any place that even looks as if it might be a franchise from a chain. Get downtown! Go to a bar and ask the barflies where good eatin’ is. Make some effort; it’ll certainly be better than a Big Mac.

  38. alwaysanswerb says

    “No, I do not want a beer. I just got back home to San Francisco after a week in the South and the Midwest. I want a ridiculous, pretentious, overpriced cocktail with a lot of stupid crap in it.”
    -Greta Christina

    What about artisanal beer??? I say you’re missing out not trying local craft brews!

  39. Charlesbartley says

    My favorite drink had absinthe, huckleberries and rosemary in it. :D

    I am from Washington state. My first time in the South was in Meridian Mississippi. I Asked my host “where can I find some Southern food?” he directed my to Outback :( After asking around some more, I found a place in a 150 year old house that had what I was looking for, but it was surprisingly hard.

  40. Chelsea says

    Greta, come back to Edmonton and I would LOVE to take you to my favourite hipster douchebag eatery!

  41. Emma says

    Greta, if you’re ever in the UK, I shall make you my deconstructed molecular Kir Royals (basically Creme de Cassis “caviar”) suspended in chilled Champagne. In the time it took me to perfect I could have finished my psychology dissertation, but, you know, priorities and all that.

  42. Onamission5 says

    @movablebooklady–

    Asheville, YES! NC might not be the bastion of social progressiveness, but Asheville takes the cake. So many small farms doing well because of the restaurant culture here. Chains, we have ‘em, but (not so) snotty hipster foodies, we have ‘em even more.

    It’s funny, Greta, what you said about eating local and fresh being old timey Norman Rockwell values. Having grown up ultra conservative and isolated in a tiny backwater region of Oregon, where quite literally everything we ate at home came from about a 50 square mile area, I have to agree with you! If we didn’t grow it or butcher it ourselves, chances were good we knew who did. I thought that all small towns were like that until I moved elsewhere. I had no idea that we were urban douchbag hipsters. I just thought we were country poor.

  43. MartiniConQueso says

    @#27 – Athens really is blessed with a ridiculous number of good places to eat for a town this size, isn’t it? Everything from thirty-year-old soul food joints to the very stereotype of “pretentious hipster douchebag culinary culture.”

    Yet I have co-workers of means who will drive right past all of it to have lunch at Longhorn. Every day.

  44. says

    I’m one of those people who grills the waitstaff (politely, of course) on the exact provenance of the meat, and whether it was raised and killed

    Meat isn’t raised or killed. I believe you mean the absent referent, animals.

    in a manner that befits my ethical standards.

    From what I know of your ethical standards, the odds of this are miniscule. Asking the waitstaff is not sufficient to determine this.

  45. brovar says

    uh, yeah, but “pretentious hipster douchebaggery?” Your piece describes how I eat, but I think I manage not to be a douche about it

  46. AshtaraSilunar says

    Visit Austin, Texas. There are a bunch of really, really great restaurants (and random little food trailers) here. They serve great food, and, this being Austin, are used to questions about where it came from and exactly what is in XYZ dish. My favorite BBQ place for years was Bee Caves BBQ, a little trailer on the side of the road with the giant wooden spools from heavy cable for tables, and logs for seats out front. It was DELICIOUS. They moved into an actual building down the road, so I don’t make it by as often, but the food is still good.

    I’ve always had good luck asking the local construction/yard workers where to eat, because they tend to direct me to places that are cheap, have delicious food, and don’t give a damn how dressed up I am.

  47. John Horstman says

    @36: Which points, specifically? And in “The Corporation”? I’ve seen both in the context of classes (and thus read a few other books on the subjects of food production and corporate capitalism around the same time), and nothing stood out to me as extremely dishonest. There’s a certain degree of values-framing in each, where if one disagrees with the idea, for example, that we have a responsibility to the well-being of others and not just ourselves, one might find some of the framing dishonest, but I don’t remember off the top of my head things that were empirically inaccurate, and certainly not lots and lots of things in either film.

  48. Barry Cochran says

    The other frustration is travelling with people who refuse to eat at the local place. *”Let’s go to Applebee’s,”* they exclaim and just look kind of confused when you say, um, we could eat there at home…

  49. The Rose says

    Greta, the absence of the word “foodie” in your article is conspicuous. Are you against the term, as I and some others are? I’m trying to get people to use “comestier” instead. (How pretentious is that?)

    Oh, and welcome back to the bay area.

  50. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    I’m trying to get people to use “comestier” instead. (How pretentious is that?)

    What’s wrong with “Tastytarian?”

  51. Sara K. says

    Taiwan presents an interesting case.

    On the one hand, there are far more local places (often run by a family) to eat than chain places, and some of the chains are local (i.e. only in Taiwan). So while finding a McDonald’s is not hard, international-chains do not dominate the restaurant scene.

    Taiwanese agriculture is also still dominated by small farms. Of course, Taiwan only supplies 32% of its own food, but almost all of that 32% comes from small farms. Urban and rural areas are far blended together in Taiwan than in the United States – for example, I live in the downtown of a mid-size Taiwanese city, yet I can walk to a rice paddy within 20 minutes (there are many farms which are within city limits, and even more vegetable/fruit gardens).

    On the other hand, outside of big cities like Taipei and certain touristy-areas, it is difficult to find the hipster places. In the city where I live, the most ‘hipster’ place is a Taiwan-wide chain of organic stores which also sells a lunch set. However, if you want to buy some fried potato balls from a nice old woman who runs her own little stall, that’s easy to arrange in Taiwan.

    However.

    Most Taiwanese eateries, especially at the cheap end, add lots of chemical additives (food coloring, MSG, who knows what else). And I’ve read that Taiwanese farms use, on average, 7 times more pesticides than farms in the United States. It’s the local, small businesses which are doing this. I try eat at places which do this in moderation, but I know that to completely avoid this I’d have to either only cook at home or spend a lot more money on food.

    There is a family-run place near I live which has a reputation for selling the best tofu pudding in town, and they say that they don’t add any chemical additives (though I don’t consider it hipster since a) the soybeans are imported, most likely from the US and b) it’s not organic). While the city I live in does not have any local specialties, there are historic towns nearby which have their own local specialties, and those specialties are also available in this city.

  52. says

    No, I do not want a beer. I just got back home to San Francisco after a week in the South and the Midwest. I want a ridiculous, pretentious, overpriced cocktail with a lot of stupid crap in it.

    I totally feel the same way when I get back home after traveling to see family and whatnot. I grew up in Texas and mostly ate at chains and thought they were pretty good back then. Then I moved to the San Francisco bay area; I can’t stand eating in Texas anymore :). Even the few local places there just don’t care about food like they do here it seems. The food (and lack of churches) here just makes me feel so much more…I dunno…relaxed/comfortable/whatever when I get back home. It’s funny how happy I usually feel to see the restaurants and food available in SFO, like a reminder that I’m home.

  53. ik says

    I support a lot more industrialization of food than I do now, but it doesn’t have to be our stupid low quality industrialization.

  54. Eclectic says

    coryat: it’s easy to eat badly in the U.S. Eating well depends a lot on location. I’ve rarely found it that hard, but it definitely takes more work. Most reasonable-sized cities have excellent options; the challenge is picking them out.

    (E.g. I’ve only been to FIG in Charleston, SC once, but OMFG it was good.)

    Likewise, despite the rivers of urine-coloured and -flavoured swill that the U.S. produces, there’s also a lot of good beer. (Anything by the Dogfish Head brewery is worth trying; it may not be to your taste, but it won’t be simply bad.)

  55. The Rose says

    #Azkyroth @54

    Tastytarian — Love it!

    I’m not exactly sure why the term “foodie” never quite sat well with me. The first (and I think only) time I ever heard someone corroborate that was a long time ago on Clotilde Dusoulier’s blog, “Chocolate & Zucchini”. She’s an excellent blogger with a great sense of humor. Anyway, one of her commenters took issue with the term and I vaguely recall that it had something to do with it not taking into account all the other cool/douchebag things that go along with food like tools & utensils, cooking methods, cook/authors, &c., &c. She also took issue with “gourmand”.
    But tastytarian — boy, that just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

  56. otrame says

    San Antonio, Greta.

    My father-in-law, definitely an Applebee’s kind of guy, once said, “I see a restaurant on practically every block.. Does anyone in this town ever eat at home?” to which we answered, “Not often”.

    Sure, we got the chains, but we also have many, many mamacita’s cocinas (Tex-Mex), two or three completely different styles of BBQ, and ultra-hipster places that sell a mixed grill of deer, quail, and pronghorn with an agarita berry compote (all local). Napolitos and eggs are easy to find in season. Hell, they sell prickly pear tunas (the fruit) in the local big-chain supermarkets.

    We also have mom and pops from all over the world here: middle east, Indian, and the various east Asian. At one time we had a place to get a real British tea (the meal, not just the beverage). We even have REAL Mexican food (the recipes from Oaxaca are my favorite).

    So, while it is true that the chains are a threat, the locals, mamacitas and hipsters alike, still thrive here.

  57. steveschulers says

    Ah!!!

    Nothing quite so awe inspiring as children of privilege celebrating their privilege!

  58. Nosmo King says

    Greta–You might be encouraged to hear that, having visited my tiny hometown in NW Iowa for the first time in 10 years, we ate at nothing but local eateries, including one that had seven kinds of homemade pie for desert (with a good example of the now-rare sour cream raisin); and one that had the best steak I’ve eaten in a decade or so. All this in a coupla three towns of maybe 2000 people or less each.

    Seems like there’s a sour spot for restaurants– once a place reaches a certain size, the chains and franchises can move in (a McDonald’s franchise fee, actual cash paid to corporate hq, starts at like 300,000 bucks a year; and this is in addition to all the other expenses of running a restaurant. That’s why franchises are bad for the local economy). You would never have cause to go to a place as small as my hometown, but neither do McDonald’s or Applebee’s.

    I only wish that I could write such a substantive, well thought out comment like #62, but then we’re not all destined to be french-kissed by the muse like that.

  59. steveschulers says

    Roger That, Nosmo King!

    And not all of us are so vain as to engage in such an articulate exercise in psuedo self-deprecating crticism of their own behaviour only to ultimately justify their self indulgences as a moral good because, after all, they are Anti-Corporate, as Christina has done in this piece.

    Holding a position on the left side of a bourgeoisie value system still contributes to the maintenance of the bourgeoisie power structure.

    I know, Greta is significantly oppressed and under-privileged in some respects, not so much in other respects. But Hey!, isn’t that true of all of us?

  60. steveschulers says

    Funny you shoud ask!

    Actually I’m smiling the whole time. Feels pretty good, too!

    Not hard to do when you don’t take yourself, and others, too seriously!

  61. says

    steveschulers, agriculture is, basically by definition, bourgeois unless you’re advocating state collectivism or communal living on a scale that can lead to self-sufficiency but doesn’t support other kinds of specialization. Collectivism on the scale of a state has thus far been demonstrated to be simply a different means of concentrating power in the hands of the few. The ability to specialize has had tremendous benefits for humanity that go right along with its downsides. If you want any of that to continue, you’re supporting a system that contains the bourgeoisie.

    There are ways to mitigate the effects of unequal ownership of capital. There are ways to blur the lines between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Support of a model that concentrates capital less is one of those ways. That’s what Greta is doing, and it is a good thing. It is not something to be sneered at because it isn’t…what exactly are you advocating anyway?

    Also, dude, you’re commenting from a computer or a smart phone. On a blog. Get over yourself.

  62. Shawn says

    “I will grant you just about every criticism you care to make, trivial or serious, about this pretentious hipster douchebag culinary culture…I will simply ask you to grant me this, or at least to consider it: Pretentious culinary hipsterism is one of the few forces pushing back against the relentless corporate monoculture that’s demolishing local food.”

    They aren’t pushing back on anything, they are merely the flip side of the same coin. Slop for the masses and the finer things for those that can afford them. People who can afford to live well do, people who can’t eat shit. There’s nothing wrong with liking good or even gourmet food, there’s nothing wrong with having high standards for quality, but we all know that that comes at a price that not all can afford. If they were really pushing back they’d be fighting for everyone to eat better instead of building their own pricey enclaves.

  63. says

    Here in Albany, NY we are a small-ish city surrounded by a multitude of responsible farmers and small food producers. Approx 25-35% of the population seems to care where their food comes from, supporting many regional farmers markets and CSAs. My husband and I don’t go out to eat often because there are only a few high-priced restaruants who make known the provenance of their ingredients. We don’t want to eat GMOs, trans fats, dyes, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, so we started to get to know our food producers while baking breads for tiny farmers markets the last 8 years. We now own and operate (literally a “Mom and Pop”) our own bakery/cafe serving seasonal and locally sourced, affordable, vegan/vegetarian sandwiches, soups and salads, artisanal loaves and from-scratch baked goods/desserts, we even make our own butter every week from a local dairy’s vat-pastuerized heavy cream. We put an enormous amount of money back in to our local economy, supporting our neighbors and a community of families who are committed to producing food ethically. We started using NY organic (or beyond organic) wheat 2 years ago. It takes more time, organization and money to source from multiple farms/producers and to prepare everything from scratch, but it is SO worth it. We were just voted “Best New Restuarant to Open in the Last Year” by the local paper’s readers poll, we must be doing something right and a critical mass of people who care about the food they eat has hopefully been achieved. If you’re ever in Albany, come visit us on Delaware Ave. at All Good Bakers!

  64. ben says

    Yes, it’s pretentious (obviously).

    You’ve lost me. How is it pretentious to care about your food? And how is it all those other things?

    In particular, the whiff of classism and gentrification is merely due to the fact that there’s a wealth gap. Doesn’t anything that makes use of money reek of classism and gentrification?

  65. oakfarm says

    Just remember what Josh Schonwald wrote in The tast of tomorrow: “foraging for wild asparagus shouldn’t be viewed as at odds with championing lab engineered vitamin A enhanced rice that could save children from blindness […] I make this point because of the rising tide of food-specific neo-Luddism in America. While entirely well intentioned and often beneficial in its impact, this foodie fudamentalism is unfortunately often associated with a dangerous antiscientism.”

    Sure as I’m from Sweden I do not know much about American “pretentious hipster Douchebaggery culinary”. But I like to cook, I have even made a lot of pickles without knowing that it is possible makes me a hipster, and what I’ve seen on blogs, etc. there is antiscientism in the culture. And of course I’ve read Michael Pollan, that’s why amazon recommending The tast of tomorrow to me, and I let Amazon choose books for me.

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