punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

On food snobbery

On New Year's Eve, takayla had to buy some wine for a party. Not anything grand, just plum wine. While waiting to be helped, we watched this one guy take up the wine salesperson's time with some nitpicking and fussiness that doesn't surprise me, per se (I am not that uneducated), but I began to wonder how much of "food snobbery" is all in the head? While this guy went back and forth, stuck on indecision on some variety of Sauvignon Blanc that HAD to be from California (and we're talking bottles in the $50+ range), I wondered if there was such a major difference between Rochioli Russian River Valley and Napa Valley to make the decision SO hard that it took 20 minutes. I mean, how picky were his guests?

"Rochioli Russian River Valley?? FEH! I wouldn't even feed this to a dog. What year is this, the year they wiped their asses with the corks?? Do you have any Scope or battery acid to kill the taste? Or maybe Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Premier Cru Blanc from before 2006...? Gahd, why didn't I spend New Years with Muffy at the Hamptons again? You are a stain on my memory that will smear into 2009!"

I think it's one thing if that's your hobby or job, or you have the income to support your whims, but I often question my own preferences, whether it's Eggo waffles, Kraft Parmesan Cheese, or Kona coffee.

I haven't had any of my Kona blend for a while, and have been sustaining on the variety of brews CR brings home from work. Starbucks employees get 1lb of a coffee a week for free, and I have to say though, not having tons of free money makes free coffee taste a lot better than non-free coffee. But Anya and Brian have just come back from Germany and said that the coffee there is so good, you don't really need sugar or cream. I recall the first time I had coffee that was good; it was on a plane flying from Stockholm to Kallax. But over the years, I have been so used to the (free) Maxwell House at work, I put sugar-free non-dairy creamer and sometimes aspartame sweetener to kill the bitterness. This has become a habit, so I feel that getting Kona would be wasteful, because essentially at this point, I am drinking a poor-man's latte.

I think a lot of food snobbery is in the head. If you give me Maxwell House "Dark Roast" versus Kona side by side, I could probably taste the difference unaltered. But that difference is like $15/lb versus $0/lb, and not being made of disposable income, I chose $0 because while it's not the best, it's not wholly undrinkable. But a few of my friends would disagree.

The snobs are not the ones who can taste the difference, but those who get visibly upset at the claim that you'd settle for less. "Wait," one person posted in a forum, "getting a pound of Starbucks beans thrust upon you once a week is a benefit?" That's the kind of comment I am talking about. The italics are his. The italics would usually indicate either incredulity or projected sympathetic anger, probably both. Like that girl Amanda* in "Addams Family Values" being disgusted at the thought of someone in the family marrying the nanny, "Get out of the cabin! I mean, I’ll kill myself! The help?" But they he offered to pay for my coffee, so he called my bluff of, "They why don't YOU pay me for something better?"

I have often wondered how some of my friends would deal in the class "deserted island" situation. When I was a kid, I read a book called, "Abel's Island," by William Steig. It was a story about a Victorian-era gentleman mouse who get stranded on a deserted island and has to cope with survival when it becomes evident that no one will rescue him. The book goes from the "stiff upper lip" of the gentleman class to "OMG, I have the flu, and I may not last the winter." Stranded on an island for a year, the snobby, cultured Abel, who dearly loves champagne and caviar, must learn to eat wild foods and fend for himself. How would some of my snobby friends cope? I even wonder how some of the uber-hiking, camping, shit-in-a-hole, SCA-technology friends would do, for that matter.

There was an episode of "Absolutely Fabulous" where Patsy and Edina were having some friends visit that they hadn't seen for 15 years. In a flashback, you see them arriving at their friends' housewarming party to find these people have such high artistic taste, they have done their entire flat in minimalist, all-white decor. The white living room, IIRC, had only one white chair, and a huge white mobile in the center of the room. They brought a bottle of wine as a gift, and the stark contrast of the dark bottle amid all the white confused the friend, and they laid it on the floor where it appeared to be an errant blot. Edina goes crazy trying to make the house perfectly minimalist for their arrival. However, upon arriving, so much time had past, they are no longer minimalist trend-setters but extremely harried parents of a newborn infant. This mirrored some of the friends I have with expensive tastes and a large variety of mint collectibles. Many of them, even after marriage, have stated they never want to have children. Most of them state it's because they didn't have a good childhood, which is a rather weak reason, but most also admit they wouldn't know how to care for a child, which is true: but I didn't either. In fact, almost nobody does, and all those books that tell you how to raise a child are pretty much hit and miss for anyone who buys one: what works for the kids of a child therapist may not work for the kids of an artist, even if it SEEMS logical. But I suspect many in fandom don't have children for reasons I could only describe as a fear of giving up an independent lifestyle, and a deeper paranoia that their personal lifestyle choices aren't a good idea. And a lot of that has to do with food.

"Eat your leftover pizza, little one, so you can grow up fat and bipolar like mom. Share your Mountain Dew with your little sister, the addiction keeps your guys from running off like lysine in Jurassic Park. Now, sit down and let's discuss what we read about in 'The Heretics of Dune,' and stop picking your nose!"

A while ago, I was discussing with someone about how fussy I was with food, and how gourmet my parents tastes were. Like a contrast that I am sure affronted my mother. "But... brie is JUST like cheddar... really, try it and you'll like it." Now, brie is not like cheddar at all when you are 8. It's gooey, smells funny, and is covered with a furry outside skin that looks like bread mold mixed with powdered sugar. In fact, even cheese snobs would probably faint at the very phrase, "brie is just like cheddar," and it was my mother's lies that taught me not to trust anything after a few episodes of "try it and see if you like it." I tried stuff, hated it, and soon realized that "try it and see if you like it" was a covert way of saying, "I know it's awful, be in denial like me about it, like my drinking." I didn't start eating new things until about age 15 or so, when someone I trusted (my friend Kate) said, "This is good, have some."

As a side note, when my parents took me to expensive restaurants, how did they deal with my fussiness? I opted not to eat, which was fine with my dad (who didn't want to pay for a babysitter), but after years of experimentation, we found "if it's this restaurant, he'll eat this." But once in a while, we ended up somewhere new. And when the wait staff looked upon the face of a child, they raised an eyebrow and did their best to accommodate. Sadly, most of these people either never had a childhood or completely didn't understand children and their needs any more than I did when I was recently told sugar gliders require "Zoo quality insectivore diet meal." What the hell is that?** Most places assumed I wanted either macaroni and cheese or hamburgers. But what they brought out was barely recognizable as either of those. I am sure someone in the back with 4-5 medals from a prestigious culinary college had never heard of Kraft in the blue box, or seen a fast food hamburger. They may have had to look it up in a dictionary. So what I would get was something that looked like fettuccine sprinkled with bleu cheese and ricotta, or a panini with cube steak and swiss. One cook actually put stuffed olives for eyes, stabbed in place with toothpicks. It looked up at me, like some culinary mutant, whispering, "Kill... me..." Nowadays, I am told, they send a bus boy to the local McDonald's, and serve it on one of their own plates with some garnish.

"Der burgher... suh!"

"Yippie!" goes the kid, who claps with open palms.

So now I am 40, and I have a saying, "I'll try anything once." I have found some awesome tastes this way, and found some foods I'd rather back away from with a flame thrower and a bible. MOST of the time however, the food has been good. And over time, I have found some foods are better than others. No matter how much I try, Kraft boxed macaroni and cheese and the green Parmesan cheese cylinder is superior to generics. Same with boxed Eggo waffles versus the kind that come in a bag. And sushi at the Sakura is better than Hama Sushi, who we used to like until the quality went down when they moved all the good chefs to DC. I will still eat sushi pretty much anywhere else (except the trays from BJ's, yicch, that was rubbery and bad), but prefer Sakura. Sadly, Sakura sushi is expensive, and thus I don't get to eat as much as I would like. That's my own limitation, but if someone said, "I like Sushi Jinn in Silver Spring," I won't go, "What is wrong with you?" And if I get served weak or bad coffee at a party, I won't throw the cup to the floor in a dramatic demonstration it is so weak, it wouldn't even stain the white rug.

So I don't know what guests this guy at the wine store had, but they better fucking appreciate it, because he made the wine sales clerk go back and forth over various shelves while my wife and I had to buy plum wine with American Express because all the rest of our cards are maxxed out.

* Don't do a Google image search for Mercedes McNab (who played Amanda) at work: apparently this girl later played in a variety of horror films and posed naked for Playboy

** According to here, it's, "Now with Taurine added!" I now know where I can get my daily intake of Shrimp Meal AND Calcium Pantothenate. I wonder how long this stays crunchy in milk?

Tags: food, restaurants, snobbery
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