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On Food Contrarianism

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On Food Contrarianism

Nick | Feb 9, 2002 09:33 AM

I have noticed an interesting trend on these boards. As one would expect in the dialectics of food critic culture now saturated with information, our critical impulses precede our palates and we are inclined to find everything disappointing. Just as the various other forms of cultural criticism have deemed most forms of art "dead," I am waiting for someone to announce the death of food. Some here have come close: Peter Luger's doesn't have good meat, Nobu's fish is mediocre, Lespinasse is boring, ADNY is equal to Balthazar, there are no good bagels in NY, and, from the Big Dog himself, pizza in NY is only good at a couple of places.

After the attack on New York one would actually expect the opposite in the form of a celebration of the city's offerings. Many forms of cuisine in New York are indeed becoming standardized and sacrifice quality for profit and effeciency, but let's not oversate the point.

Food, like all art and craft, is not just a matter of taste. There are standards grounded in history, consensus, and the insights of those critics skilled enough to understand the fine distinctions. I have lived in NY and then moved to other cities, and NY spoils you forever. This is because NY approximates the standards for a variety of cuisines better than any other city. For me this is the primary perk of living in this place and time in history, and we cannot forget that this bounty comes at the expense of those exploited to achieve our standards of culinary living. We walk a fine line here. On the one hand we resist standarization and homogenization of food (and thus the world), but on the other we gripe if our toro is 48 rather than 24 hours out of the Pacific.

I don't intend this as a political flame, but only as a way of thinking about our critical relationship to our food culture.

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