Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Foodies and Hypebeasts
A friend sent me this article about how its the best of times and worst of times for food in America. I'm sure lots of you have been thinking this already so give the article a read. Yet, after reading, I found myself defending foodies. It reminded me a lot of street wear and hypebeasts.
I have always been a sneaker head, but when I came to NY in '04 I saw people with kicks and independent clothing brands I never saw reppin' classic hip hop. For those from NY, just so you have a frame of reference. In Orlando or even Miami, it was really hard to get SBs, OG Jordans, Bapes (u know you wanted em in '04), independent screenprinters, etc. The MECCA of street wear in ho-lando was fucking Demo. And the clothing options we had didn't connect with us culturally at all. As consumers outside NY, you end up supporting companies/cultures/etc that have nothing to do with you. Now that I'm in NY, I take it for granted. Either way, long story short (as possible... ha), street wear went up and it went down. If street wear sustained itself, I never would have opened baohaus. Hip hop and basketball are my first loves, but I was sad to see what happened.
Street wear used to be a tight knit community of people who really FELT the culture. We had something to say, we had philosophies about how clothes represented us, and we brought smart hip hop and fashion to the forefront. But, then big business saw what we were all doing and wanted to co-opt it. Department stores started asking us to print large quantities of our Obama, Ali, 718, Sho Nuff tees, etc. Hoodman was comprised of Steve, Ning, and I. As a group, we decided, even though we needed the paper, we didn't want to sell out. We stayed with independent retailers like Digital Gravel (DEFINITELY the most honest retailer in the business! support them!), Union, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of people made a dash for the cash and went karmaloop. The whole game was fucked because when you try to expand and bring your culture to new markets, you inevitably compromise your work because now you need to please them for their dollar (like ethnic restaurants catering to non-native eaters). That's consumer power gone bad. Now you have aspects of street wear swallowed up into high fashion as well as low-end brands like H&M, Gap, etc. (like when fusion fine dining incorporates yuzu or red cooking) It seems normal now and some of the things we popularized have become staples. It sucks. We're just another footnote.
If we had kept our community tight-knit, us against them, and refused to compromise our look and culture, we would still own our businesses and retailers. But, everyone expanded too fast, depended on fickle customers who weren't down for the cause to sustain expansion, and now we're caught with our pants down. A lot of great retailers like Union are gone and the retailers that are still around have trouble filling the shelves because some brands that started off as street wear have become something else.
I bring this up because I think the foodielution is reaching an apex. Why? People fucking hate foodies. There are several camps. There are people who have loved food all their lives or grew up in home/neighborhood food culture. As one of these people, I get upset being classified as a "foodie". To me, foodies are johnny come lately post-food network types who just discovered it is good to eat good food. Then, there are those that didn't grow up in a strong food culture, yet, still love food but not in they foodie hype way. They respect food, they soak it in as they eat, but they aren't emailing 30 friends to set up shitty pot lucks or tours of flushing every week for exhibitionist purposes. Then there are the culinary school/fine dining types, snooties if you will lol. I think the key is not to differentiate or compare between groups but just be genuine. And if you still hate foodies, believe me, they are the last hope. Seriously, if we can continue this explosion of interest in food and genuinely sustain it by developing a true American Culinary Scene, well, that's something worth working toward and we can't do it without these foodies coming of age.
The gift and the curse of foodies is that they have buying power. On one hand, foodies wanting micro-brews has been a benefit to all of us because local bodegas and supermarkets have rotating micro-brews to stay competitive. Even Budweiser has stepped up its game. It is a VERY good thing that lots of people are interested in food. If I had a choice between having foodies that are undereducated and overconfident as opposed to living in a city where people don't care what they eat, I'll GLADLY take the foodies. But, then there is the very real problem of foodies being in a rush to be connoisseurs. After a year of reading blogs, the times dining, 100 yelp reviews and photos later, they crown themselves experts/judges/whatever. This is where the problem occurs, foodies get insecure. Instead of admitting what they don't know, they try to overcompensate by judging the unknown using what little they do know. I hear foodies all the time in Baohaus tell friends, "I have an asian friend that told me gua bao is supposed to be THIS way..." All of a sudden, any Uncle Chan you can grab off the street is your authority on Asian food. News flash people, it doesn't happen much, but sometimes...... Asian people are wrong. I know, I know, hard to believe, never true of math, but with food, yes, sometimes we're wrong. Don't take someone else's word for it, travel, eat, and come to your own conclusions. If you've only had gua bao once, admit it, and don't speak as an authority. It's not the end of the world.
Now, how is this a problem? Well, foodies establish false standards and maxims. They're writing the book as they go and the real problem is that they're in a rush to do it. Why? The internet! The internet, blogs, etc. its all about speed. Why is it that Eater, Grubstreet, etc. have such huge market share? Because they have the ability to post, edit, comment in a matter of seconds. The NY Times on the other hand is meditative, the authority, they marinate on a restaurant for 3 months before writing. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but one is more open and ripe for abuse... A lot of this new digital marketing is dependent on user responsibility and education. This is why I have a huge problem with Yelp. There are too many incentives for dishonesty and sensationalism.
You have elite status, elite parties, you get sent compliments for being funny, informative, etc. Chowhound, I like much more, even though it looks like a web 1.0 dump. Chowhound has people who just care about food, they post on a board, and conversation begins. There is much more anonymity, less incentive to show-off, lie, be sensational, etc. on top of it all, yelp deletes good reviews, leaves dishonest ones and they pressure restaurants to buy their ads. I get calls from them every week and they get really aggressive when you turn them down. I really hope someone exposes yelp because as a business owner, there is definitely something fishy. Now, how is this similar to how streetwear peaked and fell? I see a lot of phonies. People who don't care to REALLY understand food, but just want the image and pretension of being a foodie. They want to SEEM like experts even if they aren't. This means a lot of gimmicky restaurants that cater to foodies do well, the real places go under, and we're stuck with a half-assed upgrade like Budweiser Golden Wheat. Yes, it is better than the piss you were drinking before, but it still sucks balls.
I do feel the article that spurred this whole post was off though. I wouldn't pit foodies against culinary snooties. Every group is problematic in their own way. For instance, many people like myself who grew up eating Taiwanese or Chinese food a certain way can be dogmatic in what they consider good by over associating good with authentic. I've tried to break out of that and Xiao Ye is an attempt to stay true to the flavors I grew up with, but taking different roads and paths to that end flavor. Every "camp" is problematic in creating unreasonable standards. Do I really need to wear chef whites to cook good food? Do I need to grind my own five spice to make a good Lu Bao? No and No! I think the cool part about foodies is that there is finally interest in food. These are all silly markers that are false attempts at quantifying culinary knowledge. If you know, you know and there's no need to show off. There isn't one thing you HAVE to know. I also don't think you need to go to culinary school or read a certain textbook to know food. It just takes time and experience. You have 3 classes a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if you are maximizing those opportunities to eat and experience food, you're fine. Until then though..... stop blogging your ratings or yelping LOL.
disclaimer: I blog, obviously. I don't rate restaurants. I do shit on extremely sucky ones in my opinion, but I also try to stay within flavors and regions where I have developed a certain level of understanding where I feel comfortable passing judgment on a restaurant such as (taiwanese, chinese, japanese, some korean, some vietnamese, and of course Southern American). if you also count, i have more ridiculous hip hop videos and shenanigans posted on this blog than food ratings. it is not a food rating blog or a recipe blog. its a day in my life blog, which happens to have a lot of food cause I cook. i'm not saying i hate foodies, i'm not saying you shouldn't blog, i'm just trying to lay out the "scene" as I see it as an eater and a business owner.