For the first time in my life, I heard about the naturalness, tradition and superior flavor of New Jersey produce. “Taste-wise, nothing compares to Jersey Silver Queen,” the New Yorkers declared, clawing at ears of a fat-kerneled, North Carolina-grown supersweet hybrid, all sugar and no corn flavor, nothing like Silver Queen. They tossed the husks on the ground for me to rake up.
The depth of our society’s current obsession with food is impossible for me to plumb, and painful for me to contemplate. Observing the central role that consuming food has taken in the lives of so many successful and influential people is enough to bring out my inner Wordsworth:
Don’t get me wrong — I know why things are this way. We’ve drastically increased the salaries of the upper class while also demanding that they all maintain apartments in our rabbit-warren cities. It’s no great trick for me to find a place to stash an extra motorcycle, mountain bike, stereo system, or automobile; all of these purchases are impossible to contemplate when you’re dropping 2,980 non-deductible dollars a month on a one-bedroom apartment. You can’t even own a lot of clothes, because very few of these places have enough closet space. So what do you with the difference between your $300,000 post-tax annual draw on commission and the $150,000 it costs you to merely exist in Manhattan? You spend $200-300 a day on swallowing things and digesting them. Poof! Problem solved. You’re now free to lecture others on living simply.
This is the lowest form of human existence, really. Even a pig can hunt a truffle. It’s so base that we have to make it complicated. There’s no cultural or contextual apparatus necessary for you to appreciate great art, great music, or great literature; you need only pay attention. Nor do we make it particularly difficult for you to do so. The Internet is free, as are most museums and libraries. Great food, on the other hand, has to erect a Byzantine scaffolding’s worth of intimidation to prevent the unwashed from noting that wine reviews are mostly imaginary or that the color of food plays a large part in what it tastes like.
Alternately, it might be that I have the taste of a twelve-year-old reform-school inmate and am therefore extremely anxious to believe anything that paints foodie-ism as a total fraud. Your choice.
Either way, it’s easy to see why I would be charmed by “Lessons From A Local Food Scam Artist”, from which the opening paragraph derives, and I was — until, of course, things got funky.
The setup is simple: An Asian-American woman (this is 2019, race enters into everything) gets hired at a “local food” stand in New Jersey some twenty years ago. She sells a variety of widely-sourced fruits and vegetables to New Yorkers who are on their way to, or from, “the country”. She delights in telling us all the ways in which these idiots are easily duped regarding the actual provenance of their purchases:
But I dreaded the New Yorkers. They were my first foodies, a type that, until then, I hadn’t known existed. Growing up in a middle-American, meat-and-starch-eating household, I had never before met people with strident opinions about vegetables’ quality, freshness and origins, who would use their children as mules to smuggle forty-cent nectarines to their cars.
Their foodie-ism was the worst kind, all about visual aesthetics, immediate gratification — and bargains. They fetishized the ideal forms of Jersey produce, but had no idea what the real thing looked, smelled or tasted like, much less the state of agriculture in that rapidly developing part of the country. In their quest for perfection, the foodies tried to haggle with me. They squeezed and bruised the tomatoes. They pawed through my displays to find the two prettiest peaches at the bottom, dropping the rest onto the ground. They asked me to pick a pound of the best cherries one by one, to wrap each tomato in a separate plastic bag. They sneaked extra corn into their shopping bags and paid for only a dozen; when caught, they protested that the stand down the road sold baker’s dozens. “Fourteen’s not a baker’s dozen,” I told them. They grumbled all the way to their Mercedes.
The author’s assertion that the foodie-ism of these city mice is “the worst kind” is, unfortunately, a hint that in the near future the article will be discussing the foodie-ism of the best kind, and sure enough, after a brief paean to the farmers and rustic folk that only she has the delicacy of prole-touch to understand, we start hearing about this higher foodie enlightenment:
The New York locavores taught me that “local” didn’t mean a quasi-mystical authenticity, or, for that matter, only a special kind of deliciousness, but also a relationship with the people who’ve produced the food, in a sustainable, equitable, regional network of labor and land stewardship. I could now buy honey and stone fruits from a farm just outside my hometown, whose existence I’d never even suspected. I got involved in the day-to-day work of CSAs based in upstate New York and Pennsylvania; the farmers delivered to Brooklyn, redefining “local” again.
You’re free to see a new form of feudalism here, if you have eyes to do so; that, of course, was the original “sustainable, equitable, regional network of labor and land stewardship” in which farmers busted their asses and rich people ate expensive meals.
…And that nothing smells as good as a heap of thin-skinned, bursting tomatoes in August, except a cantaloupe when the softened stem end exudes a droplet of honey-like juice.
Fifty Shades Of Red right here, ladies and gentlemen. How foolish I was to think that this was an attack on food fetishism when it was really a call for a deeper, more involved, and more expensive form of the perversion! Shame on the New Yorkers whose obsession with eating fruit was limited to a quick stop at a roadside stand. Why, that would be like suggesting that you can be Fox Wolfie Galen by stopping at a Halloween store and buying a set of kitty-cat ears! It’s not that these people should be ridiculed for spending a moment’s worth of time thinking about whether they could get Silver Queen corn instead of another equally palatable and digestible item — they’re supposed to enter into a BSDM master/slave top/bottom relation with a sustainable network of regional farmers first!
Listen, I’m not immune to this sort of idiocy when it comes to other endeavors. I’ve spent the price of a new economy car on a guitar and then spent months agitating on the precise hierarchy of desirability between two different kinds of South American fenceposts. I am willing to destroy friendships over whether the “Kashima Coat” surface treatment given to Fox Factory mountain-bike forks makes them indisputably superior to the Fox Performance Elite forks, which do not have it. (Hint: it does.) In my defense, however, if you look in the toilet one morning and realize that you’ve shit out a $14,000 guitar, you have much bigger problems than the resonance frequently of the neck wood involved. There’s a bit of permanence in any crafted object, even if most cars are junked after ten years and most bicycles after three. And even the ephemeral products of human ingenuity last longer than a mere piece of food. A first-rate live performance of music or ballet or theater elevates the mind and thrills the spirit; a $5,000 bottle of wine creates the same urine as Four Loko or White Claw.
Which isn’t to say that I’d rather eat some things than others. I am simply free of the notion that doing so makes me a better or more refined person, and I don’t seek to justify my gluttony as culture. That being said, it would be uncharitable of me to not demonstrate some common ground with the sustainable fruit lady, so: This column is brought to you by Prairie Vodka. It doesn’t taste any better than Tito’s or Ketel One, but in my experience you get much less of a hangover from drinking it. I have no idea why this is so, but it’s a real thing. Consider this a public service announcement. And some day, when my career in automotive journalism is over, I’ll tell you all the story of a “local” fruit stand in California and how it led to a well-known autowriter breaking down in tears to his girlfriend of the moment over the phone — but that, my friend, is a tale that needs to ripen on the vine a bit between now and then.
This week at Hagerty, I did something different — I hosted a one-hour video interview with driving instructor and all-around good dude Ross Bentley. You can watch it here.
Proving that my brother and I do not always agree, Bark had a different Mach-E opinion.