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January 13, 2013

Sunday Times: The Obscenity of Food (and Youth Culture)

Ever mindful of my own the demographic and geographic limitations, I have a savvy 20-something friend in New York who I speak to regularly about politics and cultural trends. I haven’t spoken to him yet this Sunday, but I’d be very surprised if I didn’t hear from him before the day is out. The reason? Over the past year, we’ve had more than one conversation about the latest weekend piece in the NYT bashing youth culture (pejoratively labeled “the Friends generation”).

The latest whiplashing comes in the form of the piece in the NY Section this morning titled “The Unaffordable Luxury of Food.” Here’s just one morsel to chew on:

It surely comforts modern parents who have spent fortunes educating their children to know that these children are spending money on pork belly and not, for instance, cocaine. But what solace can it offer to realize that $300 a week put into an S. & P. 500 Index fund over the past five years would have provided an annual rate of return of 10.34 percent and grown to $100,354 today?

It’s unfortunate, too, that the piece is more about city youth blowing money on boutique food and trendy restaurants when the oldsters — many on the Times payroll, too, I’m sure — have the same addiction.

Consuming the lead photo, since that’s what we gorge on here at the Bag, it’s hard to escape the tie-in with the analogy above. Like those memories of Yuppie youth that the article draws so heavily on, we see the shiny spoon heading as much for the nose as the mouth as if this sundae creation at Spice Market (or the article’s also pictured $2,013 pasta with wild mushrooms, lobster and truffle shavings from Bice) could be pulverized and snorted instead.

If truth be told, though, shouldn’t we be talking about the dynamics of this photo, and the foodie addiction, as culturally widespread?

(photo: Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times. caption: EATING WELL Three friends reveling in a meal at Spice Market restaurant.)

  • robert e

    Cocaine? Addiction? Is “foodism” an addiction? “Fad”, “trend”, “craze”, OK, but addiction is a strong word. Yes, the Times found one extreme indulger to break down her costs. And?… (Actually, I was amused to think that a true foodie might take the investment advice as their ticket to foodie nirvana, or at least to the Brice meal.)

    I’m a bit disappointed and puzzled by this post, Michael. Rather than skeptically deflating a hyperbolic media narrative, as I would expect you to do, you seem to be aiding and abetting. The $2,013 is the price for a limited and unprecedented prix-fixe meal event, and a significant chunk of that price is surely accounted for by the limited-edition gold-leafed Versace-designed platter that the diner takes home. See:

    Shame on the Times for this subterfuge, sensationalism and, well, porn. Shame on you, Michael, for falling for it. Doubling down on the message as well, you lament the limited scope of the Times’ concern–suggesting that this awful scourge afflicts more than just young adults.

    Well, the photograph that leads both the Times piece and BagNews’ commentary is left to do the debunking on its own. A dreamy, sensuous and nostalgic Instagram-like filter has been applied to this picture; appropriate, perhaps, for an opinion piece disguised as reportage (by no means unusual for the Sunday TImes). The immediate metaphor that came to mind was not cocaine but “born with a silver spoon”, which to me is a more appropriate metaphor for a lifestyle that is about pleasures both sensual and social, and about aspiration, entitlement, fantasy and entertainment–at least far more so than it is about highs from substance abuse. (More appropriate, too, for a magazine that profits from same.)

    But besides the romanticizing filter and upscale scenery, the photograph rather undermines the Times’ hyperbolic thesis by showing three women enjoying the sharing of a single $9 dessert. Hardly extravagant, or illustrative of addiction. In fact, if these women are anything like the twenty-something foodies that I know, they might have begun with more affordable food and drink at home or elsewhere, reserving their limited budgets for sharing and tasting and socializing. (Since everyone else involved is throwing out personal experience as relevant, I might as well join in.)

    One thing I did agree with you on, Michael: it seems unfair to single out the young, either for squandering their income or for indulging in food connoisseurship. I would go further and say that it’s also unfair to conflate the two.

    If this was all sarcasm, I’m sorry I missed it. Otherwise, here’s hoping BagNews returns to form after the weekend.

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