Thursday, August 25, 2011

When in doubt, YPIS

-Frank Bruni has called out foodie types for their "elitism." This fact alone will probably have many nodding along to his column, but the content itself makes no sense:

When [for-the-masses celebrity chef Paula] Deen fries a chicken, many of us balk. When the Manhattan chefs David Chang or Andrew Carmellini do, we grovel for reservations and swoon over the homey exhilaration of it all. Her strips of bacon, skirting pancakes, represent heedless gluttony. Chang’s dominoes of pork belly, swaddled in an Asian bun, signify high art.
Is this snobbery? Or is it perhaps the fact that there is no obesity crisis among the customer base of expensive Manhattan restaurants. Whether this is because even wealthy New Yorkers are not dining out every night (and are in all likelihood eating all other meals at home, using Greenmarket ingredients), or because they're so rich that they think nothing of picking at their food and tossing the rest, sneering at the bourgeois convention that at an expensive restaurant one must finish one's plate, the fact of the matter is, they're a skinny bunch. Bruni might as well be saying that because many Americans are obese, the French, if they're going to point this out, need to cut back on Camembert, that to do otherwise would be hypocritical.

-From the beauty blog I love to hate, hate to love, for a change, a PhD student profile. One who uses no makeup whatsoever, and whose beauty routine consists of bathing. A female grad student, to be clear, and one not averse to wearing a pretty floral dress. Continuing the love-hate theme, this latest post makes the useful point that if many women gave up on complicated and expensive processes of de- and rehydrating their skin with products and just used soap, the same balance would be achieved, and probably with less exposure to chemicals than using glob after glob of products marketed as "natural." (OK, this woman doesn't use soap, but soap-free "gentle cleansing wash," because she is, after all, a woman.) It's brave, in a way, for someone whose blog is about finding the perfect products to spread onto one's skin to offer up the idea that glob-less works, too.

So that's the love. The non-love ("hate" seems a bit extreme) is that this version of "low-maintenance," while of course available to all, is something not so many women can get away with while still looking conventionally attractive. Most women have to choose. For women with any hair texture other than fine, straight, and summered-in-Martha's-Vineyard, using whatever shampoo's lying around means not caring how your hair looks. "Normal" hair is still defined by shampoo companies as what this woman happens to have, which is how she gets to have a no-fuss approach and still look nice. And because she's blond, too, she's able to avoid hair-salon primping altogether and still look 'done.' "I’m out in the sun a lot doing research on boats, so my hair just gets naturally lighter." She's also, conveniently enough, thin, pretty, and occupied with a kind of research that keeps her fit. (Kind of the opposite of reading 19th C newspapers in Paris on the way to and from croissants.)

Given how much "maintenance" women do is about looking how this one does naturally, it hardly seems a ringing endorsement of self-acceptance that this particular woman keeps things simple. But I wouldn't exactly say that anyone's privilege is showing - I get the sense that the PhD student in question found it amusing that a beauty blogger wanted to interview her on her "routine," and don't get the impression at all that she's judging those who do such things as schlep home giant and not-so-cheap containers of the only shampoo and conditioner that work for their hair, on account of they're about to move to a place that might not sell it, only to come home and look up something called "soap.com" where the product is not only available for delivery but also cheaper. Ahem.

16 comments:

PG said...

Re: Bruni's column, I'd keep in mind that he now writes as a political columnist, not in the food section, and so his ultimate point was a socio-political one:

And her retort exposes class tensions in the food world that sadly mirror those in society at large. You can almost imagine Bourdain and Deen as political candidates, a blue-state paternalist squaring off against a red-state populist over correct living versus liberty in all its artery-clogging, self-destructive glory. ...

But these preferences reflect privileges and don’t entitle me, Bourdain or anyone else who trots the globe and visits ambitious restaurants — the most casual of which can cost $50 a person and entail hourlong waits — to look down on food lovers without the resources, opportunity or inclination for that.

Besides, treating Deen, Lee & Co. with anything that smacks of moralizing and snobbery isn’t likely to move them or their audience toward healthier eating. It’s apt to cook up resentment. And we’ve got enough ill will and polarization in our politics. Let’s not set a place for them at the table.


Bruni acknowledges from the get-go that America has an obesity problem. But he dislikes Bourdain's criticism of Deen because that criticism ignores the structural problems that correlate obesity rates with lack of wealth. It's like blaming rap music for urban crime -- a facile critique that only sees superficial cultural factors. Just as African Americans tend to bristle at the "it's all the fault of pathological black culture" reasoning of white conservatives, people who enjoy Paula Deen aren't going to cotton to Bourdain's telling her to shut up about butter lest her viewers thus be led into eating foods they otherwise wouldn't.

Phoebe said...

PG,

It's not that every last word makes no sense. It's that saying it's hypocritical to admire chefs who make fatty food at upscale Manhattan restaurants (or to be such a chef), yet to at the same time condemn overall American eating patterns. And I don't think the rap analogy holds - rappers don't purport to be explicitly advising listeners on how to live their lives, whereas TV home-cooking show hosts do. I mean, when I'm thinking of what to make for dinner, I look at food blogs and the like, without thinking much about the nutritional breakdown of the meal. I don't think it's patronizing or unrealistic for me to suggest that those who get their meal inspiration from TV would be inspired to make what the TV chef's cooking.

As for what it means that Bruni's a political writer now, I think he may have been reaching for things that are good political points, but this was just a bad example. I think he wanted to make a point about how often, when rich people do A, their version of A is considered more acceptable than poor people's A (laws on cocaine vs. crack), or just generally that 'coastal urban elites' will hate B until some hipsters in Greenpoint or Bushwick semi-ironically embrace B (being a farmer, dressing like a farmer). It's not that these are impossible points to make, just that Bruni's pointing to hypocrisy where there is none. His article gives the impression of making a point along these lines, but doesn't follow through.

PG said...

I don't think it's patronizing or unrealistic for me to suggest that those who get their meal inspiration from TV would be inspired to make what the TV chef's cooking.

But it might be a bit unrealistic to suggest that they're cooking Paula Deen's recipes 3 meals a day, 365 days a year. As the new Cookie Monster would say, Butter is a sometimes food. Why is it reasonable for Bourdain to deem Deen's recipes intended for all meals but Chang's to be a sometime food? To condemn Deen is not the same as condemning overall American eating patterns. She herself doesn't seem to be obese or in ill health from cooking and consuming the food she does, and I suspect if someone tried a "Supersize Me" project where he lived as Deen does, he'd not get the sort of results that were obtained from McD's. (And of course you could try the same thing with Deen that a conservative did with McD's, i.e. eating the lesser-known healthier options, such as Deen's Sho-Nuff Vegetable Sandwich or Cornucopia Salad.)

If you are obese, have high cholesterol or other indicators of poor health, actual medical professionals (which I'm pretty sure Bourdain is not) don't condemn food by its class or price. They condemn it by its content and quantity, so that all diets with large amounts of animal fat are problematic, whether it's coming from Deen's cookbook or Chang's.

The cookbooks are the relevant thing, since I doubt that Deen's fans could afford to eat out at her restaurant for most meals any more than I can eat out at Momofuku-anything for every meal. And I can say based on the set menus for Momofuku Ko, as well as the fried chickens and pork butts of Noodle and Ssam, that Chang's fans are hardly avoiding gluttonous quantities of food when they do eat at his restaurants.

If Bourdain's idea was to say, "It's OK to eat fancy fatty food because most people, especially you poors, can afford much of it anyway," then I think Bruni is quite right that this is bad optics. A polity infuriated by the idea of having to carry health insurance is hardly going to reform its eating behavior based on the notion that it is only acceptable to treat oneself to fatty foods when one is a wealthy Manhattanite.

Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman said...

The non-love ("hate" seems a bit extreme) is that this version of "low-maintenance," while of course available to all, is something not so many women can get away with while still looking conventionally attractive. Most women have to choose.

True dat. If I followed this woman's beauty routine, I would look like Anne Hathaway in the "before" part of The Princess Diaries. Which is not to say that my own habits are complicated per se (I have discovered, for example, that detailed skin care routines don't work for me), but the Keratin, the fancy shampoos, the lipstick and mascara help, y'know?

And does this mean that the stereotype of New Yorkers eating out all the time is untrue? ;)

Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman said...

Also: having recently taken on the subject of "feminist wedding planning", I'm going to be keeping your comments on Jessica Grose in mind. Series is meant to be a "how to" for people freaking out thinking they can't have a wedding without spending X thousand dollars or a year of their life on it, but I fear it may quickly turn into YPIS. As you say, sometimes we just need to own that we enjoy doing conventionally feminine (or conventionally conventional) things.

Phoebe said...

PG,

I really think you're reaching here. We're looking on the one hand at special-occasion food for a population with no obesity problem, and on the other, at food promoted as convenient and inexpensive aimed at a population that does have an obesity problem. A populist TV chef obviously isn't responsible for food deserts, or for (goes the eternal argument) the fact that those with busy and stressful lives might choose McDonalds over lentils and kale, even if the latter are technically available as in nearby and affordable. But a populist TV chef might be responsible for promoting the idea that eating a big plate of unhealthy food is not only pleasurable but normal.

Meanwhile, a chef at an upscale Manhattan restaurant doesn't get credit for the fact that rich Manhattanites, for all kinds of systematic and cultural reasons, some healthy and others not, stay slim. It's not, in some moral sense, that "it is only acceptable to treat oneself to fatty foods when one is a wealthy Manhattanite." It's that this population has incentives to stay thin, that make the impact of foodie bacon-on-everything-ism negligible.

Rachel,

"If I followed this woman's beauty routine, I would look like Anne Hathaway in the "before" part of The Princess Diaries."

Me too! Maybe that movie (which I've never seen in its entirety) worked, visually, because it gets at many women's "before," not in the pre-makeover sense, but in terms of what so many of us would look like minus what's these days standard-issue primping. She really has the look of the high school student just before she realizes that everyone else owns tweezers/a razor/a hair iron.

"And does this mean that the stereotype of New Yorkers eating out all the time is untrue? ;)"

There are all kinds of eating out. NY has lots of good-fast-food-type options (my own favorites being a taco place near Union Square and Thai food that you get on a tray in Chelsea Market), so if you don't feel like cooking or sitting down to a restaurant meal, that's a possibility. Those who eat all the time in upscale sit-down restaurants are either food writers (who might well put on weight from their work) or, more likely, the very wealthy, who have some method (picking at their food, not eating at all until dinner, etc.) that allows them to do this yet stay slim.

And, I'm definitely interested in what you come up with with that series. I think the important thing, to avoid Jessica Grose-style fauxbivalence, is to only object to the things you object to. If (to give an example) you're unnerved/offended by the idea of wearing a white dress, don't. But if you want to wear one, yet feel you shouldn't want to, the answer is to wear one and get over it, not to overanalyze what is, in your own case, a non-problem.

PG said...

But a populist TV chef might be responsible for promoting the idea that eating a big plate of unhealthy food is not only pleasurable but normal.

But I don't think Chang, Bourdain et al advertise their food as purely special occasion. Ideally for their profit margins, people would eat out like that all the time, and if you talk to people who were BigLaw summer associates pre-Great Recession, you'll find that fancy meals were a near-daily occurrence. I gained enough weight during my first law firm summer that my suits were getting tight.

To assume that Chang's pork-on-everything approach won't influence People Like Us to become obese, but that Deen's will influence less-educated/less-wealthy people to be obese, is exactly the kind of snobbery that Bruni cautions against. It's why I made the analogy to rap music and African American youth; if it's safe for white kids to listen to Johnny Cash and Robert Earl Keen sing about the fun of crime, then to claim that black kids are peculiarly susceptible to "bad" messages will understandably raise hackles. Even if it's true that X group IS more susceptible to their culturally-specific messages that influence them negatively than Y group is to substantively similar but Y-Group-specific messages... to say so is not going to make X group inclined to listen to you.

It's that this population has incentives to stay thin, that make the impact of foodie bacon-on-everything-ism negligible.

Everyone in American society has incentives to stay slim, though admittedly Manhattan-slim is a different critter than Louisiana-slim, but even the latter doesn't enter the territory of being medically overweight, much less obese. In low-income areas, fat kids get picked on, fat women have fewer romantic opportunities, fat men are scolded by their cardiologists. Paula Deen could be on Food Network 24 hours a day promoting Health at Every Size and the women in her audience will still wish they were thinner.

Phoebe said...

PG,

"I gained enough weight during my first law firm summer that my suits were getting tight."

Yes, and both times I've studied in Paris for more than five minutes, I was excited to have the possibility of amazing pastries whenever I wanted them, and it showed/shows. But as a population, do successful NY lawyers have weight problems? Do Parisians/Americans who move to Paris? I don't think so. If you'd continued that lifestyle, you'd have probably done something to counteract it, like waking up at 5 to run ten laps around the city or whatever it is thin people who eat in restaurants all the time must do.

"To assume that Chang's pork-on-everything approach won't influence People Like Us to become obese, but that Deen's will influence less-educated/less-wealthy people to be obese, is exactly the kind of snobbery that Bruni cautions against."

First of all, if it's meant literally, not sure about "us" - I don't make enough to go to the upscale-chef-wraps-things-in-bacon restaurants more than once in a blue moon, and the rare occasions I've been to upscale NYC restaurants, it's been with my extended family, and thus not to places that are the hot new thing. (I.e. no Momofuku anything.) If I have the cultural capital to schlep over to some Greenmarkets and not to cook what Rachael Ray tells me, that's hardly the same thing in terms of what Bruni's discussing. In saying that rich Manhattanites aren't fat, I'm not making a point about myself.

But more to the point, if Population A has an obesity problem, and Population B does not, then yes, it is worth considering the possibility that Deen sends all around a different message then Cheng, or simply that it doesn't matter what message Cheng sends. It's fun to call out snobbery, but where's the snobbery?

This is starting to seem like those arguments about out-of-wedlock births that conflate rich-hippie couples in Park Slope and on the UWS who don't believe in marriage but have been together since forever and raise their kids in some mildly quirky variant of the UMC ideal and the problem of a poor 15-year-old having to drop out of school to raise a kid alone. Either a community is dealing with a particular issue, or it's not. Is your feeling that a particular phenomenon must be condemned with equal force in all communities just to avoid seeming snobbish, even if not all communities are even the least bit damaged by that phenomenon?

"Everyone in American society has incentives to stay slim, though admittedly Manhattan-slim is a different critter than Louisiana-slim, but even the latter doesn't enter the territory of being medically overweight, much less obese."

I don't know about Louisiana specifically, but I can think of another non-coastal spot where an acquaintance of mine from a while back, likely medically overweight but of course I'm not her doctor, was celebrated as thin, because (as Facebook confirms) nearly everyone else where she's from is obese. And... as Dan Savage recently pointed out, most Americans are heavy, so weighing a bit (or, in some communities, a lot) more than medically ideal in fact does not prevent "romantic opportunities" from happening. Yes, everyone has the medical pressure not to be too heavy, except the few who've blocked out that info and found a doctor in the Fat Acceptance movement. And yes, all women would push the lose-10-pounds button, if no other effort were required. But no, not everyone's life would be radically different if they were carrying a few extra points. This, I think, gets to that age-old question of why various Europeans (of all social classes) stay thin. It's because the negative-social-consequences-for-being-"fat" kick in well before they're what most Americans would consider fat, well before anything a doctor would object to.

PG said...

The "us" was meant more about Anthony Bourdain and the general necessity in being a snob to have a People Like Us vs. People Like Them. I'm guessing in this discussion, there's a socioeconomic continuum in which Bourdain's at the top, I'm below him, you're perhaps below me, but the people whom you envision being influenced into obesity by Paula Deen are a good ways below you.

Either a community is dealing with a particular issue, or it's not. Is your feeling that a particular phenomenon must be condemned with equal force in all communities just to avoid seeming snobbish, even if not all communities are even the least bit damaged by that phenomenon?

No, it's my feeling (and apparently Bruni's) that the actually-troubling phenomenon (in this case, obesity; in your example, children born without two involved parents) should be condemned, but that people who are less-subject to the phenomenon should be careful about condemning what they perceive to be cultural factors that cause the phenomenon, despite their having parallel factors in their own lives.

Bruni agrees with Bourdain that obesity is particularly a problem for populations lower down the economic/educational hierarchy. What he disputes is
(a) the causation of Paula Deen to that problem; and
(b) even if Deen is somehow contributing, whether it's wise -- if what one wishes to do is actually change people's minds instead of just bloviating for personal enjoyment -- to condemn Deen's bacon while celebrating Chang's simply because the latter caters to a wealthier and thus less-likely-to-be-obese audience.

Bruni's political point is that one doesn't win friends and influence people by telling them that they are stupidly susceptible to what their culture tells them about food, but oneself has the correct culture that, yes, also says to eat bacon, but it's totally different because one belongs to the less-likely-to-be-obese class. Again, optics.

Phoebe said...

PG,

It's not quite the spectrum you say. There are people with far more money and status within their communities than I have, who are in populations where obesity's a problem. It's this cross-section of region and wealth, of cultural and economic capital, of a variety of factors, such that being that I'm not a populist Republican looking for votes, I wouldn't say that a wealthy Alabaman for whom Deen's recipes hit home is marginalized with respect to an adjunct prof in Bushwick who's all about kale and lentils. For regional reasons, Momofuku strikes me as less remote than Paula Deen (as in, I used to walk by what was, I think, a Momofuku on my way to campus), but neither bears any relation to what I actually eat.

Anyway, my sense re: a) is that unless we're going to say that things just are, that product placement, etc., don't influence consumption patterns, a popular TV chef advising that meals are simple and cheap to make without a doubt influences how people eat. Is such a chef wholly responsible for obesity in her target audience? No. Partially? I'd think so.

Re: b), "optics," I think you/Bruni make a stronger case, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree. Everybody's susceptible to how those in their communities approach food, so it's not like rich Manhattanites are on an individual level doing anything so admirable. A lot of that non-obesity, in that demographic, is maintained in not-so-healthy ways. Item B, like opposing a soda tax, is a way at best to be hypersensitive to something it's unlikely anyone would find offensive, at worst to flaunt one's 'see, I get The People' credentials, and as such also reads as pandering/patronizing. What makes you/Bruni think someone in Deen's target demographic wouldn't see the difference between a populist TV chef suggesting cheap and easy everyday meals, and a fancy NYC restaurant chef wrapping something in bacon to elicit oohs and aahs from a model or socialite who will maybe deign to bring a small forkful to her mouth?

I mean, I do see how this is a sensitive issue that can often be presented wrong. The obvious example is when NYT commenters and the like hold forth on how thin everyone was when they last vacationed in France or Italy, how thin they themselves got in France or Italy, how Americans are pigs for not being elegant and slim like the French or Italians, etc. By that same reasoning, I don't think it's productive to frame the discussion of obesity in America in terms of, 'look, rich Manhattanites eat bacon and don't get fat, they must be superior beings. But then you have people like Alice Waters, who come across as snooty beyond all get-out, who absolutely seems to see certain cultures as superior (her beloved Frahnce), but who somehow manage to get at the essential question, which is how to populations that manage to enjoy food and stay healthy do it? And to turn this into activism. This approach includes looking both at issues like produce availability and at the way bacon-wrapped upscale meals are consumed in populations that consume them. It's politically flawed, fine, but so is Bruni's ultra-sensitive alternative.

PG said...

such that being that I'm not a populist Republican looking for votes, I wouldn't say that a wealthy Alabaman for whom Deen's recipes hit home is marginalized with respect to an adjunct prof in Bushwick who's all about kale and lentils.

Sure, but populist Republicans say such things because they are effective to say -- because the McMansion-dwelling, SUV-driving Alabaman really does believe herself to be marginalized within current media culture relative to an academic living in what the NYT called "arguably the coolest place on the planet."

It's not just models and socialites eating David Chang's food (I've been to each of his restaurants at least once, and seen only a couple of other patrons who seemed like they'd fit into that category). When I went to Chelsea Market to find pork belly, the butcher wearily said, "You're making the Chang buns, right? I know he says to buy with the pig hairs still in, but trust me, they're a pain to get off at home." I doubt people who won't eat more than a few forkfuls of food per meal are spending their weekends roasting pig fat.

a popular TV chef advising that meals are simple and cheap to make without a doubt influences how people eat. Is such a chef wholly responsible for obesity in her target audience? No. Partially? I'd think so.

I guess I'm just essentially doubtful that people who put in the time necessary to make even Paula Deen's food are the most likely to be obese. I suspect there's empirical research on this. Something like: level of obesity among people who cook at home even if they're cooking Deen type food, relative to people who eat out all the time.

What makes you/Bruni think someone in Deen's target demographic wouldn't see the difference between a populist TV chef suggesting cheap and easy everyday meals, and a fancy NYC restaurant chef wrapping something in bacon to elicit oohs and aahs from a model or socialite who will maybe deign to bring a small forkful to her mouth?

Well, to go back to your prior analogy: Dan Quayle talking about Murphy Brown's influencing unwed motherhood rates, and the wave of "Dan Quayle Was Right" conservative commentary since then? Seeing the difference between two superficially similar things, aka nuance, is not a hot commodity in America's discourse. Sarah Palin and her ilk have been successful in capitalizing on the cultural resentments of Middle America because those resentments already existed and were ripe for political exploitation. (As they only slightly-hyperbolically say of Murdoch's "shocking" success with Fox News: he's made money by appealing to half the country.)

If you look at the coverage of the Bourdain-Deen kerfuffle in regional papers like the Houston Chronicle, the tone is very much, "Bourdain, what a fathead, picking on our Paula." It's the same way that pointing out Palin's intellectual shortcomings only increases her popularity among the folks who don't already loathe her.

Phoebe said...

PG,

Let's set aside the question of whether Deen or Chang's cuisine itself brings about obesity. (If "home-cooked" means frying up a big batch of whatever, or even - and this is my own preference - boiling up a family-sized portion of tortellini, there's some slight benefit, maybe, over fast food, but the further you get from from-scratch and the more calories involved mean that something that took hours to make in the kitchen can still be fattening, even if the person cooking is more sensitive to the fact that X sticks of butter went into whatever it is. Meanwhile, the way home-cooking tends to go, that still leaves much of the family oblivious as in a restaurant. Empirical I don't know, since I don't know where the line would even be drawn for home-cooked, whether we're calling McDonalds a restaurant, etc., but the morbidly obese family Jamie Oliver "saved" or whatever on his America show did cook, I believe, prior to his intervention, but it was big piles of fried everything. If I remember correctly...)

In terms of your argument... It's not my preference, I suppose, to be hypersensitive to what could offend a Palin fan, aka what a Palinite could intentionally misinterpret and use as fodder for a populist rant. It's a case of letting irrationality win, and I'm not even clear on the strategic benefit. Nothing Bruni, a man who reported for the NYT from Rome and reviewed upscale NY restaurants for the paper, could possibly say would please that crowd. New Yorkers offend that set merely by existing, not just New Yorkers who frequent Momofuku (and no, I wouldn't say a prominent NY feminist blogger/lawyer is an example of how that's a restaurant for the commoners - while no doubt a good many NYers could scrape together enough for a meal there, if expensive meals out are a limited thing for you, it's all the less likely you'll have been to any given one. Thus my Momofuku-virginity). By showing how very sensitive to that set's concerns he is, Bruni's if anything empowering their more dangerous tendencies, telling them not that their genuine grievances matter, but that basic a political ideology on resenting an ill-defined "coastal elite" in fact made up of a whole bunch of near-powerless individuals (not to mention the dog-whistle applications...) is a perfectly reasonable attitude to hold, one that deserves respect, because after all, "Friends" was set in NY.

PG said...

Mmph, as I'm personally ceding ground on my former liberal loser type ("better to be intellectually correct than to have, like, actual influence and power"), I guess I see what Bruni is doing as not an awful concession to the forces of ignorance, but simply a realistic appraisal of our current society. Moreover, note that he isn't talking to Paula Deen fans in this column; he's clearly addressing Bourdain and those of Bourdain's mindset who think attacking a popular TV chef is a clever way to discuss the obesity problem. It's very much a "coastal elites talk amongst themselves about how to address everyone else" kind of column.

Speaking of fancy food that's not really very healthy, I thought the first lawsuit noted here might amuse you: http://abasalagandfood.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/in-re-ferrero-litigation-and-pom-wonderful-v-ocean-spray-cranberries/

Phoebe said...

PG,

I'm going to refer to two remarks I already made above: that I don't agree with you on the strategic benefit to Bruni's approach, and that I think we have to agree to disagree on this one. If that makes me a "liberal loser type," so be it.

I would, however, be curious to see your thoughts on David Lebovitz-channelling-Alice Waters, on how it's good to leave a restaurant still hungry.

PG said...

I think Lebovitz sets up a silly false dilemma: either your stomach is distended OR you're still hungry. The portions typical in a lot of middle America (including and perhaps especially Texas) are aimed at distending your stomach, and these are excessive. But of course anyone to whom David Lebovitz talks is not eating at Goode's BBQ, she's eating somewhere like 11 Madison Park, where your stomach can only get distended if you order about 5 courses. I think the amount of food you get at the typical NYC restaurant during Restaurant Week is just about the right amount. You go in hungry, you leave satisfied but not needing to go to sleep (which is the effect that epic multi-course meals like Ko's have). If I leave a restaurant hungry, it's because they've screwed me on the amount of food I'm given for the money; i.e. I expected to spend about $30++, and that was only enough to buy two "small plates."

I tried a dinner at Chez Panisse last summer and was severely disappointed. I felt cheated -- the beef entree was tough and chewy, and when I responded honestly to the inquiry about the food by pointing this out, the waiter said, "Oh, that's because of the cut of meat." OK, maybe some people like that cut, but if you're serving the same set menu to *everyone*, perhaps you could do something of a more general popularity. The dessert and the wine were good, though. I didn't leave the restaurant hungry, but my husband who's a foot taller did. The experience was a severe blow to his faith in my ability to pick restaurants.

Phoebe said...

PG,

"I think Lebovitz sets up a silly false dilemma: either your stomach is distended OR you're still hungry."

Silly, but it's not unique to him. The idea that dining out should really be about drinking/socializing/admiring a tiny dollop of foam on a giant plate is basically an upper-class notion, a way of distinguishing one's self from the hearty middle classes, who like a square meal and feel ripped off if they don't get one. It's not even (just) about rejecting make-you-ill massive portions, it's also about rejecting a traditional well-rounded dinner like grandma used to make.

And chewy beef, yuck. This was my punishment recently for picking the less expensive (but still expensive!) cut of steak at Whole Foods.