Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Skim cappuccinos, farmed salmon, and other crimes against humanity

As I know from having been on both sides of the espresso-drink process, coffee bars have in their possession a variety of types of milk, and it's up to the customer which will go in each drink. Part of the coffee bar experience is the eye-rolling you get from the barista when you specify which type of milk you'd prefer, but the fact of the matter is, the whole enterprise of the modern coffee shop asks that you be choosy. The options are there, or else the place wouldn't stock all the possibilities. And while there's almost nothing you can order in a Starbucks, say, and not sound obnoxious, ordering 'just' black coffee as proof that you are low maintenance is... still spending $2 on coffee, the result being that we as a society must get over ourselves.

That said, I sympathize with fellow (former, in their case) NYUers the Olsen twins, whose Starbucks barista intentionally put whole milk in drinks they'd ordered skim. Ordering coffee drinks from crowded shops, there's a certain amount of human error you just have to accept. What is unacceptable is for the person making your drink to add in commentary on your body type. I've had this happen, that I've ordered a drink with skim milk and been told that I'm too thin to do so. Well, I didn't feel like getting into a long discussion with the barista in question about how I actually eat quite a lot, but prefer the taste of skim, and, since I'm not malnourished, there's really no need for me to go out of my way to have the higher-calorie choice, again, given that I don't even prefer it. Now another way to look at this is that the barista was trying to pay me a compliment, which was probably the case, since I'm a good three Olsens in width, and do not look a whole-milk mocha away from collapsing. If that's the case, he made a mistake, because just as no woman wants to be told she looks fat, none of us want our bodies commented on by random strangers. But more importantly, neither men nor women like it when our small luxuries are brought into question.

This brings us to the broader and gender-neutral question of being told what foods we are and are not supposed to think taste good. I was struck by the following passage from Bee Wilson's New Yorker article about the food industry, largely because it denounces what I eat for dinner about once a week:

The great mystery of the world’s insatiable appetite for farmed salmon is that it doesn’t taste good. Grescoe, a Canadian who was reared on “well-muscled” chinook, gives a lurid description of the farmed variety, with its “herring-bone-pattern flesh, barely held together by creamy, saliva-gooey fat.” A flabby farmed-salmon dinner—no matter how much you dress it up with teriyaki or ginger—cannot compare with the pleasures of canned sardines spread on hot buttered toast or a delicate white-pollock fillet, spritzed with lemon. Pollock is cheaper than salmon, too. [...] Given that the current food economy is so strongly driven by appetite, it does seem odd that so much of the desire is for such squalid and unsatisfying things.

The thought of "canned sardines on hot buttered toast" is just... ugh, no. The smell of butter alone makes me queasy, so I can't imagine adding sardines into the mix would help. If this is about which foods are "sustainable" and which are not, then fine, some are and some aren't. But the argument that we can divide food into that which tastes good and is organic/local/smug and that which is tastes bad and is none of those things is one that simply holds no ground. Taste is a matter of, well, taste, and no one, even at the New Yorker, can tell anyone else what, objectively, tastes good. I now realize this is basically the same as my point about crushes, but also goes for every guilty pleasure--just because you like what you shouldn't like doesn't mean you don't really like it.

1 comment:

Petey said...

"(I) prefer the taste of skim"

"The smell of butter alone makes me queasy,"

Your Francophile credentials are hereby officially revoked.