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The Cost of Kale: How Foodie Trends Can Hurt Low-Income Families
March 13, 2014 1:46 PM   Subscribe

"If you want to be cosmopolitan, you’ll buy star anise, kimchi, and coconut oil. If you want to prevent cancer, buy collard greens, blueberries, and omega-3 eggs. If you want to eat food free of pesticides and high fructose corn syrup, buy organic meat, flour, and dairy. Compound all of these seemingly innocuous exercises in American Dreaming with diet fads like “clean” eating, Westernized veganism, or the paleo diet, and you’ll get a supermarket full of people staring at labels, searching the copy for proof of ideological and medical purity. I need to buy this if I want to be good, if I really want to take care of myself and my family. As it turns out, this moralistic way of framing choice is extremely profitable for food processors, restaurants, and produce retailers: we’ve been effectively held captive by our own consciences."(slBitchMagazine)
posted by Kitteh (145 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Uh, no, I'm not taking the blame for any of this shit any more. This is governments and corporations. Corporations being greedy, and governments being gutless. I'm just buying some fucking kale.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:00 PM on March 13 [163 favorites]


This author has articulately stated ideas I've had fragments of kicking around in my own head for a while and then backs them up with hard data and cute illustrations. A++ would read again.

We've already agreed that rich people deserve better cars, education, clothing, healthcare and now food. Next clean water and air.
posted by fontophilic at 2:00 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


All we need are some solid restrictions on what you're legally allowed to eat according to the intersection of your class and race. Easy-peasy. How 'bout it, government?
posted by codswallop at 2:02 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]




Find-replace 'housing' with 'food' - now your neighborhood gentrification article has transmogrified into a food gentrification article!
posted by incessant at 2:12 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Have you looked at arugula prices lately?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:12 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


“Food gentrification” = morel panic.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:16 PM on March 13 [131 favorites]


The hilarity here is that if you just go to an ethnic grocery you can buy fruits and veggies at a fraction of these prices. Limes at 15¢ each, etc.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:17 PM on March 13 [35 favorites]


So I'm a bad person for eating collards and kale and such, literally taking food out of the mouths of babes. I suppose I'll have to stick to the traditional privileged dilettante foods of my people, like fois gras and braised peacock tongues. I should enjoy eating less, or at least pretend I do, and certainly not talk about it. And definitely not eat in a small local place (or New Orleans), because fetishism is the only reason I'd go there and my whiteness might rub off on the place. Community gardens? Right out...attracts the wrong sort of people.

Wow.
posted by kjs3 at 2:17 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


Soleil Ho is a chef and writer living in New Orleans

#KALEGATE is a real thing. The city is up in arms about kale this week, it's because of a NYT piece that said in part, "New Orleans is not cosmopolitan, there's no kale here."

So weird.
posted by polly_dactyl at 2:21 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


The idea of 'food gentrification' makes me angry because it's meaningless. Yes, if a farmed crop becomes more popular the price will likely go up, that doesn't mean it's been gentrified, it just means it's a popular farmed crop. Should we consider people becoming more aware of what they put into themselves a bad thing? It seems like that's exactly what we've been screaming the need for, for decades.

Food has been shooting up in price not because of hipsters, but rather because we're fucking up the world, the US has had huge droughts over the last year, and that's drastically hurt crops. That's the real driver here, that's why if you look closely, all the manufacturers are moving to ever so slightly smaller packs, so they can keep the retail price the same-- that's easy to do with a pack of oreos'; it's harder to do with a bunch of kale. So the price reflects that quicker.

Oh, and meat-- this is a doozy, the failed crops hurt feed price so much that cattle is being slaughtered early because it's not possible to keep them fed at a price even the 'gentrified' will pay. The cheap meat you find in the supermarket will now likely be dairy stock, until that's exhausted, guess what that does to your cheese, milk and yogurt prices.

We're at a point now where the cattle population of the US is less then it was in the 1950's, and it's going to take a long while to correct that. So in the interim, with a massive market growing in China and Japan, costs of beef are only going to keep on increasing.

Even pork, traditionally a cheap meat will see large increases over the next year, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (doesn't that sound nice) is spreading widely, I think about 4 million pigs in the US have been killed because of it so far, so expect prices to rise there too.

As consumers get put off by prices of their standard foods, they look down the scale and put their dollars there-- and of course that causes prices to increase on those items.
posted by Static Vagabond at 2:21 PM on March 13 [58 favorites]


Even pork, traditionally a cheap meat will see large increases over the next year, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (doesn't that sound nice) is spreading widely, I think about 4 million pigs in the US have been killed because of it so far, so expect prices to rise there too.

I made pulled pork last weekend and I was surprised at the jump in cost for pork butt, which is usually a cheaper cut.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:23 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]




I followed the whole food gentrification thing on Twitter, and it might just be my reflexive defensiveness about anything food-related, but I don't think I entirely understand what they're talking about. There's one thing they're clearly talking about: instances when certain "ethnic" foods become trendy and therefore get priced out of reach of the people who originally produced or ate them. That's what apparently happened with quinoa, and it seems to be happening to some extent with kale. But that doesn't seem to me to be terribly common, and I think there's more to their complaint than that. And that's when I start to get confused. Is it about appropriation? If so, how does "gentrification" add anything to the discussion that the word appropriation doesn't do?

Personally, I think I've pretty much given up. I feel like there are just people lined up in every direction waiting to hurl food-related shame in my general direction, and I'm done with it. I try to eat in ways that don't hurt myself or other people or the environment, but I'm never going to be perfect. I have limited means and limited access and limited energy, and I'm doing my best. That's going to have to be enough for me, and if it's not good enough for everyone else, I can live with that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:23 PM on March 13 [25 favorites]


Food has been shooting up in price not because of hipsters, but rather because we're fucking up the world, 
The Math That Predicted The Revolutions Sweeping The World
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:25 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


The article is kind of a mess. I've been trying to articulate how since I read it last night …

It's a general melange of Issues, none of which I have a particular problem with on their own, but together fail to make any kind of argument and I think just serve to get people's heads nodding.

The biggest problem is that the article misses the Capitalism boat in a big way. The price of kale has risen because supply hasn't met demand. Organics have always been more expensive than chemically-grown food — production costs are higher, big farming companies pay for subsidies in the Farm Bill, demand is lower — and will be until some of those dynamics change. Blaming other consumers for this dynamic is just pissing in the wind.

The article does mention some of the actual problems — wages not keeping pace with inflation, for instance — but it gets most of its milage out of the GRAR of privileged folks eating foods previously eaten only by the marginalized.

It looks at the whole system and says, "Ain't it fucked up that People A get to eat this and People B can't afford food?" and decides that the issue is People A.

This is capitalism, folks! What we need is a government that understands that its task is to constrain, contain and shape capitalism so that it benefits the most people. Pointing fingers at other consumers is naive at best and seriously counter productive at worst.

Honestly "food gentrification" is a great name for this because people miss the real issues in gentrification discussions in the same exact way.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:26 PM on March 13 [61 favorites]


I've read the article three times now and I still can't understand how she's getting from "You eat fancy food" to "Poor people can't afford food." The rhetoric is fancy but empty.
posted by incessant at 2:27 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


codswallop: "All we need are some solid restrictions on what you're legally allowed to eat according to the intersection of your class and race. Easy-peasy. How 'bout it, government?"

Relevant Daily Show bit. Starts at about the 40 second mark and continues into the second clip.
posted by calamari kid at 2:28 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I don't find the level of analysis in this article to be very high. It basically just states a number of significant problems-- food is getting too expensive; poor working families often can't afford high-quality food; etc-- that anyone who's paying attention would agree need to be solved. But...I'm not sure there's much more here than problem-stating. And even there, some of the author's points seem potentially specious. Is it actually better for people to have access to $0.88 kale in 4,700 neighborhoods than $1.10 kale in 50,700 neighborhoods? I'm not really sure, but it certainly doesn't seem obvious to me.
posted by threeants at 2:28 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Even pork, traditionally a cheap meat will see large increases over the next year

Fortunately there's always long pig.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:29 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


"The cost of feeding a family of four has increased 18% in 5 years." - from the opening graphic in the article.

Inflation has been about 1.8% annually and that's a rise of about 3.6% annually, so food has been rising faster than the overall rate of inflation, but not at a crazy rate in absolute terms.

At the 1.8% annually you'd expect it to go up about 9.3% so... I dunno? Inflation is sort of normal?

The real issue is that wages are flat.
posted by GuyZero at 2:30 PM on March 13 [18 favorites]


It's not as if kale is a staple food for the poor in America. Before it got trendy, I suspect most people had some vague idea that kale might be a nasty vegetable of some kind.

The real issue isn't about different foods being trendy, it's terrible economic policy combined with bad agricultural policies and practices.


Fortunately there's always long pig.

That's a modest proposal if I've ever seen one.
posted by Foosnark at 2:32 PM on March 13 [20 favorites]


I suspect most people had some vague idea that kale might be a nasty vegetable of some kind.

Before it got trendy the largest buyer of kale in the US was Pizza Hut who used it to decorate their salad bars.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:33 PM on March 13 [42 favorites]


Forget organic food, fresh plants cost a fucking stupid amount in this country. I've spent the last 8 months in Chile and I could walk 2 minutes down the street to one of two almacens (little mom & pop shops) and buy fresh onions, pumpkins, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, carrots, peppers, etc. at amazingly reasonable prices. In actual markets just 5-10 minutes walk away there was even more variety at even lower prices. We're talking e.g. 30¢/lb for onions and about proportional for other foods. Go to the supermarkets and processed foods were about in line with US prices, sometimes even a little more.

I got back to the states and was literally shocked, buying the same bunch of veggies I'd spend $2 on in Chile was more like $12 here. Maybe 50% on top of that for organic, and damn does some of that organic food look sad and scrawny. And yet a bunch of Pizza Rolls or Cheez-its or frozen hamburgers was cheap as anything, way below Chile's processed food prices.

This is why we're fat. How is it even possible that you can feed and raise and slaughter a cow and its fucking cheaper by weight or calorie than any plant? Corn subsidies? God damnit America.
posted by crayz at 2:37 PM on March 13 [30 favorites]


Honestly "food gentrification" is a great name for this because people miss the real issues in gentrification discussions in the same exact way.

Yeah, exactly. In both cases you get this incoherent, manifestly logic-less moralism, and blame-the-consumer cultural politics, substituted for actual economic analysis. But in this case I think (as some people have already mentioned) the actual motivation is barely-submerged #kale rage, i.e. New Orleans parochialism, dressed up in the "gentrification" rhetoric because that's seen as more likely to draw national sympathy.
posted by RogerB at 2:41 PM on March 13 [14 favorites]


Who knew that my mothers admonishment to eat my vegetables would elicit guilt twice
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:42 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Limes at 15¢ each, etc.

I live in a super Mexican neighborhood and at my (very, very nice, fully outfitted) local grocery store, we get 15 limes for 99¢. Broccoli is 49¢/lb, butternut squash all autumn and winter was 59¢/lb, I can get two bunches of cilantro or parsley the size of my head for a dollar, hot peppers are so cheap they're basically free...I walk out of the store with a week's worth of food (this includes a few gallons of milk) for about 20 bucks pretty consistently.

Sometimes I forget how much regular grocery stores suck, and I walk into a Jewel and see all the depressing mushy veg sitting there for like 4x the price and it just makes me sad.
posted by phunniemee at 2:44 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I get what you're saying about ethnic markets being super cheap--because they can be--but I still don't see many of them in neighborhoods that would qualify as being food deserts. I am definitely not saying they're in tony neighborhoods either--they aren't--but they aren't as everywhere if you don't live in a big to medium-sized city. Food needs to be accessible in terms of people being able to get to the stores selling it at reasonable prices.
posted by Kitteh at 2:48 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


So by the infallible principle of reductio ad absurdam I must conclude that if I voluntarily eat feces and toxic waste, the poor will be better off.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:48 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


Gentrification is a funny thing, and I feel like it can only be tackled at the structural level.

I assume that there's a small number of people who have enough money that they have a very wide range of choices in housing and food - people who can truly live almost wherever they like and eat almost whatever they like - and who choose to move to a neighborhood or buy a kind of food for purely cultural capital reasons.

There are certainly people who buy things or move places where there's an intersection of cheapness and cultural capital - there are a variety of cheap foods, but not all of them are fashionable; there are a variety of cheap neighborhoods, but not all of them are trendy/being gentrified.

But I think the vast majority of people are moved more by cheapness and health than by cultural capital, and that means that any time anything is cheap and good, poor folks will be driven out by somewhat less poor folks. It's entirely reasonable that Joe Lower Middle Class is looking for an apartment he can afford and food that is both tasty and nutritious; because we in the US live in a society where there's constant downward pressure on wages and relatively little good affordable housing, Joe Lower Middle Class is going to live in the best apartment in a poor neighborhood and buy his kale at the ethnic market, because those are good things that he can afford.

It's not wrong for Joe Lower Middle Class to want a decent apartment. If you can a shithole with no access to public transit in Nice Suburb but an okay studio on the busline in the poor neighborhood, naturally you're going to pick the studio. Similarly, it's not wrong for Joe Lower Middle Class to buy his collards and kale.

Everyone needs to have the right to good food and decent housing.

"Gentrification" would stop in its fucking tracks if working people had more money and rich people paid more taxes, because then poor folks could compete economically with the wealthier for basic goods. Affordable housing overseen by the state and available to people with a certain income range; more SNAP; wage increases; more job security; maybe even a jobs program. I don't think any of this is possible without directly addressing racism, because the reason we can't have nice things is the fact that a lot of white people would rather Not Have Nice Things than have nice things that are shared with people of color....and the nice things will only happen through organizing by people of color-led movements.

Fetishization of culture is creepy and gross, but where it intersects with real needs like food and housing, it gets more complicated. White folks don't need to twerk, for instance, but we do need to eat.
posted by Frowner at 2:50 PM on March 13 [59 favorites]


The hilarity here is that if you just go to an ethnic grocery you can buy fruits and veggies at a fraction of these prices. Limes at 15¢ each, etc.

Well to us, its not an "ethnic grocery", we can get our food from places that aren't what my family calls "museum grocery".

But lets be clear...if I want to make something desi, it'll cost me a fraction to make it from my local grocers (aka "ethnic grocery") than it would if I were at whole foods, or gelsons. But then if I'm gonna be wanting to make pad thai or some kind of pasta salad, I go back to whole foods to get em.
:-(

(I think) People are having less homogenous diets, and whole foods is like the wal-mart of food. Its a one stop shop byproduct of globalization. BUT, thats what it is, a byproduct of an existing standard...not the principal cause of it.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:53 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


White folks don't need to twerk

Speak for yourself!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:54 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I also refuse to feel guilty. I know that I'm Part of the Problem, but also as someone with severe food allergies, I have to shop at places like Whole Foods, because they're actually knowledgeable about what goes into their foods. While it's pricy, sure, I also can't afford to be sent to the hospital because the regular grocery store can't tell me if the molasses they put in their bread is unsulfited or not, and if I eat it, I risk an asthma attack.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:57 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Okay, this might be a really stupid question, but how can the ethnic stores get away with selling food at such a lower price? Is the food there potentially any less safe?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:03 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Forget organic food, fresh plants cost a fucking stupid amount in this country. I've spent the last 8 months in Chile and I could walk 2 minutes down the street to one of two almacens (little mom & pop shops) and buy fresh onions, pumpkins, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, carrots, peppers, etc. at amazingly reasonable prices.

This is a planning issue more than anything else. It does cost a lot to make fresh vegetables that can be stuck into a roll pallet and shipped cross-country by truck and train, and it takes a lot of farmers to grow enough local fruit and vegetables to stock a supermarket which serves 25,000 people, enough that the warehouse at the back wouldn't have room for bringing them all in by dribs and drabs. So you get amazing places like this, which grows 10% of Britain's salad, which aren't especially cheap, but can load up trucks day and night every day of the year and give people adequate quality fresh-looking vegetables.

I'm not defending them or places like them (especially as they've chosen not to provide permanent employment), but it's a consequence of the lives we lead and the places and ways we shop. Economies of scale come with diseconomies of scale, and it's somewhat of a disgrace how much "bigger is cheaper" is taken at face value.
posted by ambrosen at 3:04 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I've stopped giving a shit. I can't be good. I might as well be indifferent and self-satisfied.
posted by fatbird at 3:04 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Okay, this might be a really stupid question, but how can the ethnic stores get away with selling food at such a lower price? Is the food there potentially any less safe?

They sell "uglies." The limes might have brown spots. The produce might be dirtier, or the greens a little wilted. The stuff you see at BIG_CHAIN is chosen primarily for sales: it has to be the brightest, the reddest, the most enticing. That's part of the reason the tomatoes, for example, are usually so bad when you buy them from the grocery — they're halfway to plastic. The ethnic groceries don't care. They sell for people who are actually going to cook or eat the food, within a day or two.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:07 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


I am interested to notice that the article seems to discuss the structural elements Frowner mentions upthread whereas the defensive responses in-thread seem to be responding to an insult to their morality that I straight up can't find in the actual article. What's up with that?
posted by beefetish at 3:07 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]



Okay, this might be a really stupid question, but how can the ethnic stores get away with selling food at such a lower price? Is the food there potentially any less safe?


I used to shop at one of these and the deal was central valley workers were being 'paid in kind' with crops, which then this shop would convert to USD for the worker. Its most likely some kind of wicked evil way to get subhuman wages and baby slavery. Oh, but its ethnic so its all good.

This thread is a joke.
posted by H. Roark at 3:13 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


an insult to their morality that I straight up can't find in the actual article.

The article implies you should feel bad for eating kale as you're taking it out of some poor person's mouth. Or something. It presents the rising cost of food as a moral hazard.

There has never been a time in the history of modern American when there has not been inflation. What's different now is that there's fairly long-term wage stagnation.

The problem is not that the price of food is going up. That really always has happened (historically).

The issue is that relative to 30+ years ago we're growing the population of poor people.

Gentrification is the fever of the disease that is the growth of the low-income segment of the population. It's a shitty symptom and I don't blame people for wanting to treat it, but it's not the disease. The disease is a lack of jobs and shitty housing policy.
posted by GuyZero at 3:14 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


Okay, this might be a really stupid question, but how can the ethnic stores get away with selling food at such a lower price? Is the food there potentially any less safe?

From comparison shopping at my local shops, I've noticed that the ethnic store produce has a short shelf life. As sonic meat machine says, the expectation is that you're going to actually eat it in the next day or so.

Dry goods on the shelves seem to be older and less tended; no one is being paid to constantly push things towards the front of the shelves and rotate and dust old product.

I also wonder sometimes if they just content themselves with lower profit margins; often the owners know the folks they are feeding with their food so I imagine there is a disincentive to jacking up the prices that the manager of Kroger's or whatever doesn't have.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:14 PM on March 13


The real cost of kale is the fact that your house smells like farts after you cook with it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:15 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


It's a general melange of Issues, none of which I have a particular problem with on their own, but together fail to make any kind of argument and I think just serve to get people's heads nodding.

That could be Whole Foods slogan btw.
posted by srboisvert at 3:15 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


The real cost of kale is the fact that your house smells like farts after you cook with it.

Fartisanal is what I think you are going for.
posted by srboisvert at 3:18 PM on March 13 [18 favorites]


By me, you can still buy old, unattractive, yellow-tinged conventionally-grown curly kale stuffed on the top shelf of the cooler in the regular grocery store for low prices. The difference is that you can now buy fresh, organic kale in three delicious varieties at the food co-op for high prices. So as far as kale as concerned in my little burg, things haven't gotten worse for poor people, it's just that everyone now has more choices (but of course only some can take advantage of them, same as with everything else).
posted by HotToddy at 3:20 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Re: Chile: they spend an average of 23.8% of income on food, we spend around 7%.

pdf
posted by jpe at 3:24 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Yeah. I just... wow. I wish critical theory involved more math.
posted by ethansr at 3:28 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


Of course you can also grow a couple kale plants in your yard or inside in a 5 gallon bucket and have all the kale you could possibly consume. It's a weed, it will grown anywhere and you can harvest it all season long. It also freezes very nicely.
posted by fshgrl at 3:33 PM on March 13 [12 favorites]


The graph at the start of that piece makes me angry. Prices may have gone up 18%, but the hand-drawings make it look like they have gone up 200-300%. Doesn't help that the text of the article isn't much better, and is full of half truths and bullshit.
posted by aspo at 3:34 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


The whole thing is just weird puritanical guilt-trip nonsense. It's down to the consumer to make "ethical choices", as if we truly had any power in a world where, once our rent/mortgage and bills are paid, we've got fifty bucks left to spend how we like. Yeah, I'm the moral center of the universe motherfuckers, gonna buy me some Fairtrade coffee beans and a container of sprouts.

We used to buy these packs of kitchen/bathroom wipes, eucalyptus wipes. Made from recycled fibers and not tested on animals and they used, yes, eucalyptus extracts to do the cleaning and disinfecting, instead of some harsh synthetic chemical, plus they were real cheap and you got like fifty in a pack. They were great, and then suddenly they weren't on the shelves at Woolworths any more.

Eucalyptus wipes company says, oh, Woolworths decided to pull them off the shelves, we've had about ten thousand people ring up and complain, you can get them at Spar though. Well, the only Spar near us isn't near us at all, it's just fucking Woolworths's all the way down, so if I want a pack of cleaning wipes, the only kind I can get are the ones that cost twice and much for half as many and do only 50% as good a job using chemicals with a million year half-life and you open the pack and you can still hear the rabbits screaming.

Every day, in every way, we are being told, emphatically, by just about everybody, to go and fuck ourselves. Woolworths and Coles, the two big supermarkets in Australia with like 99% control over the entire market between them, are telling you to fuck yourself every time you walk through their shuddering automatic doors. Go fuck yourself, and the lube's down this aisle. Yeah, it's a different aisle to last time, and the lube you like isn't in stock any more, but, still, go fuck yourself.

They aren't even the ones fucking us any more! They're forcing us to fuck ourselves, and selling us a limited set of tools with which to do it! And yet somehow we're the ones with all the power, and we're the ones who get all the blame.

So, yeah, I'll go and fuck myself, but I'm not gonna pretend I like it, and while I'm down there I don't want some piece of shit coming up to me and tut-tutting about how I'm doing it wrong.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:40 PM on March 13 [30 favorites]


Okay, this might be a really stupid question, but how can the ethnic stores get away with selling food at such a lower price? Is the food there potentially any less safe?

This isn't a stupid question at all, but there are a few factors. To add to the other awesome and legit answers above, oftentimes, depending on the size and scope of ethnicity in your area you're talking about, they have completely different supply lines with different pricing. The produce trucks that go to the asian market up the street are totally different ones than go to the whole foods. Sometimes the produce is the same but oftentimes, the supply lines. The supply lines for 'ethnic' markets (i really hate that term…theyr'e just grocery stores…) can rely on slightly different varieties of product too; the shallots at the asian market down the way are smaller than the huge big ones at trader joes….but they're like a buck for a huge-ass softball sized bag.

It's also an economy of scale. I worked in a fancy pants grocery store for a really long time. Once a year we'd get fresh tumeric in. We're talking like, a couple pounds. All the white folk would ooh and ahh over how pretty it was, and ask us a dozen questions on how to cook with it. After a week, and selling a couple ounces of it, we'd have to toss it (or it would get taken home by all of us who knew how to work with it…). There's just a ton of waste in your average produce section…like 100-300 gallons of solid waste a day at a busy grocery store (thank god it gets composted usually). To make that display look pretty, it costs alot of labor and alot of loss in scratch and dents.

At the asian market? It's just out. No one asks what it is more than people ask what apples are at whole foods. It sells. They sell alot of it. Same goes for limes. Gringos put limes in drinks. Everyone else actually cooks with them. They also don't work the displays to make them pretty. "Here's a couple hundred pounds of pickles, you look through them, customer." And people do, and don't bitch about it either. Imagine that going over well at any regular grocery store.

This concept is also cross referenced under chicken feet, duck hearts, pork belly (*sigh* this is changing), brisket, and dozens of types of greens you and I don't know the names of.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:41 PM on March 13 [15 favorites]


porcine epidemic diarrhea virus

goddamnit, I picked the wrong username.

It looks at the whole system and says, "Ain't it fucked up that People A get to eat this and People B can't afford food?" and decides that the issue is People A.

So it's somehow the poor peoples' fault the affluent drive up the price of something?

Nah, sorry, when People A can afford it but People B can't, the problem is with A. Sure, when it comes to luxury items, I DGAF if some people can't afford it. But when it comes to basic staples like kale--and, as noted here, quinoa--there is a serious problem if People A (that would be just about everyone typing in this thread) are literally taking the food out of People B's mouths. I've been trying to get people not to eat quinoa and explaining why, but it falls on deaf ears.

I live in a super Mexican neighborhood and at my (very, very nice, fully outfitted) local grocery store, we get 15 limes for 99¢. Broccoli is 49¢/lb, butternut squash all autumn and winter was 59¢/lb, I can get two bunches of cilantro or parsley the size of my head for a dollar, hot peppers are so cheap they're basically free...I walk out of the store with a week's worth of food (this includes a few gallons of milk) for about 20 bucks pretty consistently.

This is actually something that makes me kind of jealous of large US cities. Yes obviously we have some small grocers in ethnic neighbourhoods here, and Chinatown is famous for cheap produce, but sometimes it seems like everyone in the USA lives three minutes from some weird-ass bodega or something where they practically pay you to take the food away, and it's always good quality.

Honestly, as trite as this may sound, the real solution is (especially for North Americans): eat as locally as you can. And yes I'm aware of things like economies of scale and questions about whether local is better for the environment etc etc. For one, none of those arguments are convincing to me, as they are pretty well outweighed by the obvious benefits:

- The more locally you can eat, the more you are able to control what substances are making their way onto your food and into your body. When you're having a personal conversation with the lady who grows your carrots, it's pretty easy to get straight answers about what pesticides and fertilizers, if any, they use. Obviously if you're able to grow your own food, you have even more control.

- It will slow down urban sprawl. Cities across North America are gobbling up farmland at an alarming rate. If we can make farms more valuable as farmland (quite possibly through ironclad legal protection), instead of being sold to developers to build another soulless suburban wasteland, everyone wins.

- Death to monocultures. It's creepy driving through farmland that is nothing but the same crop from farm to farm to farm, for miles and miles. It's also not great for the environment. Buying locally means more diversity in farming, whether that means growing different varietals than the Johnsons down the street are, or growing different vegetables--raising different meat animals--making different cheeses. Ecological diversity is a good thing.

- Better health. The more we are able to source locally, the more food we are getting that hasn't been processed and loaded with preservatives and antibiotics and goodness knows what else, that hasn't been choked with fat and salt to replace flavour and trigger cravings, etc etc etc. Cheap vegetables means, sooner or later, more people are going to eat more vegetables.

- Better food quality. When you're not growing some weird hybrid thing because it needs to survive being shipped for two weeks in a truck while still being bright and colourful, farmers can instead concentrate on weird things like flavour.

We need, culturally, to move from 'food is the gasoline that fuels my body' to 'food is the substance I build my body with.' I'm not saying everyone needs to be a gourmet. That would be dull. I'm not saying we need to give up Twinkies forever. That would be awful. I'm not saying everyone has to love every meal they eat--there are plenty of people who just want maximum fuel for minimum effort from start to finish.

I'm saying that we need to start treating food not as a fungible commodity, but as absolutely basic and vital in the same way air and water are. We need to stop putting garbage into the food supply. We need government to step in and not provide corn subsidies, but tax breaks and other incentives for producing food and selling it locally. We need strong disincentives for turning farmland into another office park or Spruce Meadow Gardens. Kids need to be taught in school, from Day 1 of kindergarten, about how to grow food. Every school should have a school garden. Urban planning needs to start fixating on community gardens everywhere. There's one near me but the waiting list is a mile long. Promote green roofs as food production areas--the Fairmont Royal York grows a lot of its herbs on its roof, and some vegetables. They even have a beehive up there. That sort of thing should be bog-standard on any building going up.

We also, as a culture, need to get the fuck over the notion that prices must always be going down. Prices need to be reasonable, sure, and at this point government needs to step in to ensure that people can always afford enough nutritious food to feed themselves and their families.

Frankly I'm increasingly of the notion that constitutions around the world need a new right added: The right to a stable and nutritious food supply. Eating--that is, survival--is a basic human right, and it has been a serious historical mistake to let capitalism take over.

Uh, I'm going to stop there because I've somehow gone from 'eat local' to criticizing capitalism and that's probably far enough.

But I do want to add, "as locally as possible," taking into account things like seasonality and you are going to get my olive oil when you pry it out of my cold dead hands. There's really no reason for someone in Canada to be dining on peaches in the middle of the winter that were grown in Peru. Or whatever. Sure, coffee/tea/chocolate/etc are so culturally pervasive that there's no way to get rid of them, and green leafy things in the winter seem like a necessary evil in some ways. But when you can get $_fruit locally in season for part of the year, is it really so awful to not get that same fruit grown five thousand miles away and brought flavourlessly to your door?

So that's why I say "as locally as possible." Within the constraints of your budget and dietary needs, and with a reasonable eye towards foregoing the occasional luxury that comes from afar.

And yes, I realize--oh how bitterly do I realize these days--that sort of choice is available to the affluent, not to the people who would be so directly benefited by being able to make such a choice.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:41 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


For another consideration of how food's popularity affects the poor, and of the costs associated with cheap meat, see Bee Wilson's "How much meat is too much?," which reviews Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat and Planet Carnivore.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:43 PM on March 13


Less than a month ago I became a pescatarian as a result of a moment of conscience about American pork production. I think the only solution will be to raise and slaughter animals myself. I have lost a real bastion of easiness by giving up meat. I now do not really know what to eat other than what vegetarian food I can make for myself at the moment. I am sure the diet industry is making billions on selling healthy living. I do not care so much about eating healthy all the time although I am losing weight which is good for me to do. I do eat Cheerios and drink coffee. For me, no food producer is going to be 100% honest about their food if they can possibly help it. Food is a margin business. Ignorance is bliss.
posted by parmanparman at 3:44 PM on March 13


parmanparman, look into Indian cuisine, and a lot of cuisines from Asia. Much more emphasis on vegetables and fish, much less on pork and beef.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:46 PM on March 13


Less than a month ago I became a pescatarian as a result of a moment of conscience about American pork production.

So I'm going to be a bit of a jerk here. Don't investigate how tuna is caught. Or the history of the cod fishery. Because you'll probably end up giving up fish too.

I gave up my conscience to keep eating meat. It seemed easier.
posted by GuyZero at 3:48 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


And since kale is such a major part of that article, I know collards are traditionally African-American food, but kale? Kale is big in Italian food, and it's not the nineteenth century anymore. (Although complaining about gentrification as WASP is kind of hilarious. Gentrifies aren't WASPy these days. WASP means a hell of a lot more than "not poor").
posted by aspo at 3:50 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


That infographic is totally misleading. Sure, *nominal* food prices have gone up 18%, but inflation (calculated from the CPI-M) over that period has been 15.6%. So food prices have only risen 2.4%. And I doubt any of that is attributable to "food gentrification."

The real problem is that inflation adjusted wages have fallen. Rather than trying to make things cheaper, we should be fighting for greater economic equality.

But even if high food prices things cheaper were the problem, the article doesn't even have any suggestion about how to fix it. Its thesis seems to be that rich people who eat kale should feel guilty. How incredibly stupid.
posted by andrewpcone at 3:50 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


And I take some of that back. Kale is pretty pan-european, and has been since pretty much forever.
posted by aspo at 3:54 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Also, seconding simply growing kale. We planted some out back and the plants lasted two years or so. The only issue we had was fighting off the snails for it. We must have harvested pounds and pounds of the stuff over time. It just kept coming back.
posted by GuyZero at 3:58 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I am interested to notice that the article seems to discuss the structural elements Frowner mentions upthread whereas the defensive responses in-thread seem to be responding to an insult to their morality that I straight up can't find in the actual article.
The thing about the whole food gentrification discussion is that it makes a connection between two things: the rising cost of food for low-income people and the fetishization of certain trendy foods by high-income people. And I'm not sure I understand the connection, except in certain highly specific instances like quinoa. I think that for the most part, if kale gets super trendy, then farmers are going to grow more kale. Since supply is fairly elastic for most crops, I just don't know that I believe that trendiness is a significant driver of the rising cost of food. I could be wrong about that, and I'm open to seeing evidence.

I also think that a lot of us are neither poor nor rich, and I'm not sure what we're supposed to take from all of this. Since I don't entirely understand what food gentrification is, I have no idea whether I'm participating in it. And then I'm just left with a free-floating sense that I'm probably doing something that I should feed guilty about, but with no idea about what I should be doing differently to fix it, and I think that's the sense that makes me feel resentful.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:07 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


The only issue we had was fighting off the snails for it.

Fortunately, they're pretty easy to outflank. They'll slide right into an ambush, too, if you have the patience for it.

Also, if they elude your trap, they are easy to track.
posted by notyou at 4:08 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


This piece is an excellent lecture in how to misuse data to support a point instead of deriving a point from a bunch of data. This is nothing more than a narrative rant with some numbers thrown in and a poor understanding of the concepts used to generate many (most?) of the numbers presented as incontrovertible support for the writer's assumptions. The average price of kale has increased alongside an uptick in the number of supermarkets selling the stuff? Oh, great, let's talk about how 'averages' work. While we're at it, let's discuss how USDA's definition of food vendors and distributors have changed over time, rendering comparisons over time dependent on adjustments for these changes. While we're at it, let's see some substantiation that Whole Foods calling kale a "superfood" is responsible for a component of its cost increase relative to changes in things like productions costs and inflation.

Scrap that. The article could have made its point without baloneying it up with attempts to make it sound scientific. If you want to get into scientific explorations of food and sociology, start with something like the American Public Health Association's Food and Nutrition Section--maybe even go to their meetings, and read the research submitted to them--instead of reaching for a this-sounds-sciencey article like this.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:09 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


The article also really suffers from extreme bad-faith argumentation regarding the relationship between its audience and subject, exemplified by wildly shifting referents for the inclusive collective in us, we, our, etc. First she uses "we" to refer to people who can't feed their families, but at the end she talks about a "we" who has the economic and social clout to "colonize" the traditional foods of others, suggesting a substantially higher socio-economic "we" than the one she initially seemed to be talking about. It seems a little disingenuous to suggest that the "we" whose interest in kale and organic foods has made them profitable enough for food producers to raise their prices and still make lots of money is the same "we" who can't feed their families. She's just reproducing a demented, tripartite complex of upper-middle-class self-loathing, delusional conception of the importance and effect of the smallest actions of the upper middle class, and deep professed interest in the lives of poor people that never seems to manifest in any form besides hand-wringing and reinvestment in the first two.

And that last paragraph is just just complete gibberish. I'm a graduate student in sociology, and when I read "The setting-aside of food as social capital is logical within the aspirational framework of late capitalism" I think that the speaker doesn't know what the hell they're talking about.
posted by clockzero at 4:11 PM on March 13 [14 favorites]


I also wonder sometimes if [ethnic grocery stores] just content themselves with lower profit margins

No. Normal supermarket margins are too slim for this to significantly lower prices. The difference has to be sourcing, shipping, and waste. Also marketing, real estate, store costs, etc.
posted by ryanrs at 4:12 PM on March 13


And if you can grow kale, chard and broccoli have pretty similar needs.

The only issue we had was fighting off the snails for it.

We had problems with this too, until I learned to prepare and eat the snails too. A dry winter has failed to bring many snails and I'm sad.
posted by telstar at 4:17 PM on March 13


If you grow it under row covers you won't have pests of any kind.
posted by HotToddy at 4:24 PM on March 13


aspo: "And I take some of that back. Kale is pretty pan-european, and has been since pretty much forever."

Lots of places in Europe eat kale, but not everywhere. I really enjoyed this piece in the NYTimes last September about a (to my eyes) obnoxious American trying her hardest to push kale in France.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:44 PM on March 13


Last month, I sounded off about the new Whole Foods campaign rebranding collard greens as the next big superfood.

People, if you can't figure out on our own that all of the leafy cooking greens are pretty much interchangeable (just with fun variations in flavor and texture), I dunno what to tell you.
posted by desuetude at 5:31 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


But when you can get $_fruit locally in season for part of the year,

Canning is amazing for making local eating a year-round thing.
posted by rocketman at 5:34 PM on March 13


People, if you can't figure out on our own that all of the leafy cooking greens are pretty much interchangeable (just with fun variations in flavor and texture), I dunno what to tell you.

Yep.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 5:45 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Wait, people eat Kim Chee because its cosmopolitan and not because its the greatest thing ever for a light lunch with rice? Are they insane?
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:48 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


So I'm going to be a bit of a jerk here. Don't investigate how tuna is caught. Or the history of the cod fishery. Because you'll probably end up giving up fish too.

GuyZero, most people who give up or cut back on meat because of environmental/sustainability concerns are aware of those issues; it's kind of weird that you'd assume that parmanparman isn't just so you could get your chance to "be a bit of a jerk". Sardines and anchovies are among the lower-impact animal proteins widely available. Also, there are responsible methods for farming cod and catching tuna (pole-fishing); while those take a little more research to find, they're hardly nonexistent. There's also a relative abundance of information available in a consumer-friendly format, which makes the switch to pescetarianism easier on a lot of people.

I gave up my conscience to keep eating meat. It seemed easier.

I'm guessing this is the real reason you felt you had to get in a dig at him.
posted by kagredon at 5:50 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


(Also, does no one see the irony of the "just plant some kale!!!" sidebar in a thread about how classism intersects with 'foodie' trends?)
posted by kagredon at 5:52 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Ha a self-hating foodie. Given her mastery of faux-naive graphics, meretricious graphs, and insistence on the monumental moral import of miniscule shifts in bourgeois consumption patterns, I say the author would fit right in at the Whole Foods marketing dept.
posted by jcrcarter at 5:55 PM on March 13


This topic is tricky but at least the article has started us talking about some of the problems that show up when morality, price, class, food knowledge and menu choice are held to be equivalent measures of status in society.

For those of you who have "given up", it certainly is hard to be responsible in such a complex globalized economy but it's not impossible to be reasonably informed. Maybe you should take another look.
posted by mr.ersatz at 6:00 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


No. Normal supermarket margins are too slim for this to significantly lower prices. The difference has to be sourcing, shipping, and waste. Also marketing, real estate, store costs, etc.

I don't know if i'm entirely buying what you're selling on this one.

Do you really believe that a lot of these stores aren't simply repricing and remarketing this stuff as it becomes popular to reposition it in the market, and basically do a fast, modern version of what was done with lobster many years ago?

I find it extremely hard to believe that prices suddenly shot up on this stuff because demand exceeded supply. Some corporation, somewhere within the supply chain is cashing in here. And i have a hard time believing it isn't the large grocery chains or at least their suppliers.

Any time something gets popular and the price shoots up i'm extremely suspicious of claims that it's "selling as fast as they can make it".
posted by emptythought at 6:04 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


it's pretty uncool chartwise that the income graph is to scale but that $145 bag of food looks like it could hold four of the $123 bag
posted by theodolite at 6:05 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I was diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure three weeks ago. I had to change my eating habits. I now eat mostly vegetables.

Our household (4 people) grocery bill has been *reduced* by 25%.

I don't believe this article. If you like kale (a truly disgusting food, and good for you if you develop self-loathing after eating it, because you deserve it) eat kale. If you want to eat blueberries, eat blueberries.

Last time I checked, Walmart has a produce aisle.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:17 PM on March 13


It makes sense for us to colonize others’ traditional foods while critiquing new interpretations of those traditions by the same communities who strive to reinterpret their legacy back into the realm of meaning.
Is this... is this satire?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:26 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


The root cause of this whole brouhaha (previously on MeFi). Obviously the whole "Eat More Kale" tshirt campaign has been wildly successful and now we are reaping its bitter, bitter harvest . . .
posted by flug at 6:39 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Collards taste way better than Kale. I have no idea why Kale blew up when collards are on the shelf right next to it.
posted by scose at 6:42 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Kale is fine but I would much rather eat spinach. Must have been all those Popeye cartoons I used to watch brainwashed me.
posted by bukvich at 6:56 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Any Australians know where/if we can get collards around here? Are they called something different?
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:06 PM on March 13


This is why I pretty much always buy the same five or six things every time I go to the grocery store. I pretty much only eat black beans, brown rice, fish (catfish or tilapia, depending on what's on offer), greek yogurt, and asparagus anymore. Seriously, those five things comprise probably about 90% of my caloric intake and the remaining 10% consists mainly of burritos and takeout sushi (because they are delicious, inexpensive, and not too unhealthy).

Partly this is because when you're cooking for one it's hard to buy lots of different things without most of it going bad before you can use it up, and partly it's because I'm a lazy cook and like things that are extremely easy to prepare, but a lot of it is just that I cannot be bothered to navigate the insane mental maze of the grocery. I've got a handful of things that are reasonably good for me, that I know I like, that are not unusually horrific environmentally, and that I can afford.

I wish asparagus was cheaper, though.
posted by Scientist at 7:23 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


My family was growing boerenkool before it was cool. As mentioned above, it is very easy to garden. It practically grows itself.
posted by ovvl at 8:46 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Any Australians know where/if we can get collards around here? Are they called something different?

God dammit, stop appropriating!
posted by codswallop at 8:57 PM on March 13


(Also, does no one see the irony of the "just plant some kale!!!" sidebar in a thread about how classism intersects with 'foodie' trends?)

Not really. The first house I bought was in what assholes might call a pre-transitional neighborhood in the Bay Area, and all our neighbors were way better than I was at growing a lot of their own food. I ended up with a fairly successful garden and group of fruit trees, but the tenants who live there now (in the neighborhood that has yet to transition) are doing leaps and bounds better with gardening than I ever did. Never mind that they've taken my rose bushes into prize territory, they get far more food out of the raised beds we built than I ever did.

I mean, I don't know if they're growing KALE, but they're growing everything else.
posted by padraigin at 9:00 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


They had gardens/yards in "what assholes [like me?] might call a pre-transitional neighborhood"? That sounds lovely. I think it's good that you and your neighbors had the time, starting capital, health, and energy to grow your own food. I think that's ideal. I do not think that's the reality for many people in poverty. Thus the comment about irony.
posted by kagredon at 9:17 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


The author's basic idea is pretty simple. Kale is a kind of luxury item, which, arguably, reveals something deeply broken/crummy about society. I happen to think the basic idea makes a compelling argument, because [I have complex, detailed reasons of my own].

Sure, I too have issues with the technical correctness of the article. But, honestly, the defensiveness I see in this thread is a reaction to perceived threatening information. This is social justice × critical theory literature we're dealing with, and most audiences don't react well to such specialized texts, this community being no exception. I don't know how to assuage people's discomfort with this article. No, it doesn't feel nice when the author is implicitly criticizing the reader. But that's different than some author saying "you are bad", and it definitely doesn't mean the author doesn't have a good point if you know how to look for it.

I am interested to notice that the article seems to discuss the structural elements Frowner mentions upthread whereas the defensive responses in-thread seem to be responding to an insult to their morality that I straight up can't find in the actual article. What's up with that?

Yeah.
posted by polymodus at 9:29 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


If you are rich and grow your own kale then by the questionable logic of this article, demand for retail kale drops and the price goes back down so poor people can go back to eating kale. Win-win!
posted by GuyZero at 9:31 PM on March 13


If you are rich and grow your own kale then by the questionable logic of this article, demand for retail kale drops and the price goes back down so poor people can go back to eating kale. Win-win!

The article does not say anything like this, you are just drawing the wrong conclusions from a piece of very specialized writing.
posted by polymodus at 9:33 PM on March 13


Sure, I too have issues with the technical correctness of the article. But, honestly, the defensiveness I see in this thread is a reaction to perceived threatening information.

Wait, do you take Blue Cross? I just want to know before you psychoanalyze all of us, thx!
posted by en forme de poire at 9:36 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Okay, this might be a really stupid question, but how can the ethnic stores get away with selling food at such a lower price? Is the food there potentially any less safe?

They do a lot more volume than, say, Safeway, and basically just dump all of it in the bin with very little quality control. They also spend very little on advertising and promotions, and (I think) pay lower wages to employees.

I wouldn't say it's less safe, but you have to be picky about what you buy. At least in the ones in my area, there's a lot of damaged/rotten product in the mix.
posted by empath at 10:03 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The article does not say anything like this, you are just drawing the wrong conclusions from a piece of very specialized writing.

I'm not saying the article says this. I'm extrapolating from the author's logic. If the increased consumption of kale is "bad" then I have to assume that a decrease in the consumption of kale is "good". Where by consumption I mean the upper-end grocery store consumption that drives the price of kale up.

I don't think I agree that this is somehow so deep in the realm of critical theory that mere mortals can't understand the point the author is trying to make. Some parts are pretty straighforward:

Though it can be said that the acrid odor of snake oil marketing has always been a hallmark of American laissez faire capitalism, we’ve entered an age where consumer choice and moralizing have combined to turn grocery shopping into an incredibly neurotic experience.

A fine point that doesn't really take much more than basic everyday American middle-class experience to understand. I'm pretty sure we all agree that whenever the author trots out numbers that the arguments fall apart and they're pretty scattershot and the author take a lot of time to make the rather simple point that poor people's incomes have not kept pace even with the modest inflation of the last couple decades.

The author gets a little more complex in the concluding paragraphs and most of it is fine

It makes sense for us to colonize others’ traditional foods while critiquing new interpretations of those traditions by the same communities who strive to reinterpret their legacy back into the realm of meaning.

Sure, I guess, except that somehow the article is about kale? Maybe the article isn't about kale at all and kale is just trendy and a cheap bit of headline bait that's tangential to the article itself? Because kale isn't anyone's "colonized traditional food" unless you count middle-class Europeans as being the new victims of colonization. You could make this argument with collard greens maybe, but even then it seems a stretch. And I'm pretty sure traditional German food got colonized by the US food industry a long time ago. My apologies to residents of Hamburg.

Finally...

In this way we enact little imperialisms that make it possible for us to pat ourselves on our backs, safe from “normal” food and the industrial processes that sustain an illusion of consciousness: trapped in an endless cycle of sleep, false awakening, and BPA-free Breakfast Bars.

A trite summary that you can't actually win and that when you buy organic you give up a couple of pesticides to end up swallowing some sort of societal poison instead.

Is there a thesis here? Is there a conclusion? I guess it's a rambling stroll through the intersection of social justice and critical theory but overall it doesn't seem to end up going anywhere.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


polymodus >

Sure, I too have issues with the technical correctness of the article.

It has some issues there, yeah. Mostly in the respect of lacking that utterly.

But, honestly, the defensiveness I see in this thread is a reaction to perceived threatening information. This is social justice × critical theory literature we're dealing with, and most audiences don't react well to such specialized texts, this community being no exception.

Here's the thing. I'm not sure the post is really a good example of either of those traditions. Social justice advocacy this incoherent isn't likely to be effective because you can't analytically lump together people trying to decide what kind of grass-fed beef to purchase in order to achieve transcendent moral and aesthetic impeccability with people who can't feed their families, at all. Their material interests and resources are worlds apart, but the author constantly blurs the lines, which makes me question her scrupulousness. And it's not especially good critical theory because terms like "social capital" are used in such an utterly abstruse and therefore gratuitous way. I mean, critique Adorno all you want for being pessimistic and perhaps slightly tendentious, but at least his analyses actually went somewhere and stayed in one piece on the way. They're often pretty thought-provoking, and they tend to eschew the reaffirmation of familiar and flimsy nostrums, which the post instead deploys liberally.

I don't know how to assuage people's discomfort with this article. No, it doesn't feel nice when the author is implicitly criticizing the reader. But that's different than some author saying "you are bad", and it definitely doesn't mean the author doesn't have a good point if you know how to look for it.

There are a couple of good points, to be fair, but they aren't thoughtfully synthesized into either a coherent analytic argument or a compelling moral exhortation, let alone both. What's especially surprising is that she's clearly not unaware of the following existential dilemma:

diet fads like “clean” eating, Westernized veganism, or the paleo diet, and you’ll get a supermarket full of people staring at labels, searching the copy for proof of ideological and medical purity

but can't seem to get that this sort of solipsistic fretting is what the article amounts to, an affirmation of moral purity that doesn't change anyone's life and whose claim to structural intervention is tenuous, at best. I don't mean to be overly harsh, but it seems like nonsense dressed up as wisdom.
posted by clockzero at 10:33 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


Sure, I too have issues with the technical correctness of the article. But, honestly, the defensiveness I see in this thread is a reaction to perceived threatening information. This is social justice × critical theory literature we're dealing with, and most audiences don't react well to such specialized texts, this community being no exception. I don't know how to assuage people's discomfort with this article. No, it doesn't feel nice when the author is implicitly criticizing the reader. But that's different than some author saying "you are bad", and it definitely doesn't mean the author doesn't have a good point if you know how to look for it.

And I wouldn't have a problem with this article if it had an actual point. As it is, it seems like someone started out with a few disparate pieces of info and a point they wanted to make and never made it there.

It feels like a shell of a house for a movie set, but it's really just on cinderblocks and there's no interior. It's like cargo cult outragebait.

This isn't a "specialized text", it's something structured and crafted to look just enough like one that people can be shamed for criticizing it, but lacking of any true substance. It has just enough buzzwords and snippets of actual points to appear to have some kind of point without actually making one. It's like a super drunk guy at a bar trying to argue about this kind of shit and constantly losing their train of thought.

Rebuffing any criticism of it by saying we're just "defensive" because we're being attacked and/or criticized directly is honestly just failing to actually read or process what any of the criticism is saying before you jump the gun to go "oh, typical people pushing back hard when their privileged way of life gets attacked" or whatever you were doing when you cracked your knuckles to blast out that post.

And yea, it really is the author just saying "you are bad" without anything to back of that thesis.

This article reads like a "see the teacher after class" essay in my highschool earth justice class*. The pick a thesis and meander around it, shotgunning a bunch of disparate points and trying to bailing wire them together, all of it.

A couple of things like this have been FPPs recently and it really gets my goat. This is not quality content. It just masquerades as it barely enough to get circulated around a lot, and latches on some JATOs of "whitey gentrification is fucking everything up!" to really achieve escape velocity from a magazine that should honestly be embarrassed this made it past the editors desk.

ugh, yes, this was a real thing. i went to a hippie alternative school.
posted by emptythought at 1:27 AM on March 14 [7 favorites]


a magazine that should honestly be embarrassed this made it past the editors desk.

Yeah I'm a big fan of Bitch but this is not up to their usual standards. Although, frankly, I haven't seen much intelligent critiques of capitalism from any quarters on the left recently. Bleh.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:39 AM on March 14


"Many are in the habit of describing the current age as one of “late capitalism,” as if by declaring it is about to end, they can by the very act of doing so hasten its demise." - David Graeber
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:51 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


But, honestly, the defensiveness I see in this thread is a reaction to perceived threatening information.

One mans "critique" or "mockery" is anothers "defensiveness".

I don't know how to assuage people's discomfort with this article.

Well please don't expend too much effort; you might find yourself on a fools errand. We aren't finding this article "uncomfortable". It's laughable; almost an Onion headline: "OMFG White People Eating Greens Ruins the Whole World". The folks who strike me as uncomfortable are the ones continuing to protest "okay maybe it's not a good article, and plays extremely loose with facts, and perhaps the whole premise is silly, but you're still a bad person".
posted by kjs3 at 4:24 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I think it's funny that the author of this rant against food gentrification is a chef. Back when kale was only sold in 4,000 stores, people who worked in restaurants were just cooks.
posted by layceepee at 4:39 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


It's laughable; almost an Onion headline: "OMFG White People Eating Greens Ruins the Whole World".

This. I grew up poor, ate cornbread and collard greens (and turnip greens, and stewed cabbage, the latter of which is disgusting). My wife cooks green things that I had never even seen when I was a kid. The middle class white person diet when I was younger seemed to be "hamburgers, hot dogs, and anything processed." It's a good thing that vegetables (and even real meat and fish) are becoming more popular, even if it makes the food cost more.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:08 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


The thing is, I feel pretty poor. I am not objectively poor like a lot of people are - I have a union pink collar gig and good health insurance - but I make meaningfully below the median and I'm always worried about the grocery budget (especially since I went from working a single job to a "split time" position which is effectively 150% and don't have a lot of time to cook). Whenever I see those federal food recommendations add more and more and more vegetables - like now they recommend basically "as many servings as you can swallow" - I think about the grocery budget and despair, since I'm spending a huge chunk of my money on vegetables already and I pretty much eat carrots, onions, tomatoes, apples and frozen spinach. Rice is full of arsenic, especially brown, and they've cut the recommendation on that to only a couple of regular servings a week, which I routinely exceed but not by that much. Quinoa is right out because Bolivia. Corn doesn't have much nutrition, neither does pasta. Too much wheat makes my stomach hurt and I regularly cook for two people who can't eat it. As I've gotten older I find that I can't eat more than one generous helping of home-cooked legumes per day without feeling sick. Nuts - other than peanut butter - are expensive, but I eat a lot of them.

Kale costs less than spinach. I like fresh spinach (and have come to hate frozen, as it goes in everything) a lot better, but kale is cheaper. I don't actually buy kale that often because it cuts into my "the rest of it" budget.

If I were to add all the rest of the moral strictures from the left about food today, I would need to be a much stricter vegan (no more boosting the protein with the occasional cheese stick or piece of queso fresco); I would not eat any food appropriated from other cultures, so no cheap tofu, or tofu at all, never mind curries or non-western spices; I certainly wouldn't eat kale*, or collards, or mustard greens, or those boxed spring greens which are a big treat for me that I don't buy often. I would eat as much local food as possible, which in the Midwest in winter is a difficult set of options.

Everyone already says "can food" and "grow your own produce" and I try to think about adding those tasks to my current schedule and realize that it would only happen if I gave up the community ed that I do and gave up my Saturday afternoons of loafing (groceries on Saturday morning, Sunday is chores and cooking).

My point isn't that I can't do anything - this year I'm hoping to start an herb garden as a way of getting my feet wet (our yard has arsenic in the soil so we can only do raised bed) - but that I can only do so many things. There's no way I'm going to be able to follow all the food strictures, and at some point I am mostly going to choose based on health and affordability concerns.

The thing is, the new popularity of kale may well have driven the prices up. But I feel like the issue is deeper than that - it's much more that wages are stagnating and people are poorer, so the traditional foods "of the poor" are going to get bought by the "new poor".

Thrift shopping is fashionable now and there's much less good in the thrift stores - but a lot of that is because people are poorer, not because they're all hipsters. All this stuff - Uber and Air BnB and so on - is basically "the former middle class can't afford what it used to afford, so it's doing part time the jobs that the working class used to do full time, undercutting everything even more". The core problem is inequality, which is substantially driven by racism although it impacts everyone.

*How does all this "the rich are ruining kale" talk fit in with the Jack Monroe kale pesto recipe that the Tories were criticizing as being too fancy for the poors, even though it came from an actual poor queer single mom?
posted by Frowner at 5:13 AM on March 14 [16 favorites]


Collards taste way better than Kale. I have no idea why Kale blew up when collards are on the shelf right next to it.

This year for New Years, the grocery store was completely out of collards so I had to substitute kale for my New Years' greens, and it was just terrible. I spent the whole day wishing I had gone to the grocery store earlier.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:15 AM on March 14


A trite summary that you can't actually win and that when you buy organic you give up a couple of pesticides to end up swallowing some sort of societal poison instead.

Wow, I must have read a different article than you.

If anything, the author points out that a false panic has been created around "eating clean" or "pure" or "wholesome" foods, for which Organic™/superfoods/kale is a poor proxy for moral righteous. Organic food is not nutritionally different from conventional. Full stop. What is different is the ability for the elite to say that they are somehow better for consuming it.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the environmental impacts of pesticides and abuse of fertilizer. What is very clear to me, is that some consumer-level "choice" is like cleaning an aircraft carrier with a toothbrush. It is a distraction for the larger issues. Government regulation could enact far more effective change.

And furthermore, foodie fetishization is a great distraction for the nouveau-poor, the formerly middle class, to still feel like they're better than the "truly" poor even though their incomes are the same. If we're to have a new bohemian class we need to make them happy, let them think they're better than the deserving poor (who *gasp* eat white bread!) lest we have a peasant uprising on our hands.
posted by fontophilic at 6:30 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


I'm having to rejigger my diet and budget again after my two scant years of being officially in the middle class (after twenty-five years as a wage slave) dumped me unceremoniously back into the realm of near poverty, and I'm very, very happy that I live in an ethnically diverse area where there's a Super Best giant asian/latin market with affordable food instead of another goddamn Aldi with its huge selection of garbage. At the regular markets, old staples for po' folks are now boutiquey and expensive. Is it gentrification? I dunno, but if the price of cabbage shoots up, I'm going to be eating my shoe leather.
posted by sonascope at 7:09 AM on March 14


Wow, I must have read a different article than you.

The sentence you quoted of mine was just my criticism of her closing paragraph.

a false panic has been created around "eating clean"
foodie fetishization is a great distraction for the nouveau-poor

I agree these are good points. The article is not without merit. It's just not very coherent. But it definitely touches on real issues with some good points.
posted by GuyZero at 7:44 AM on March 14


This article needs better editing. There's interesting stuff in there, but it's all over the place and nothing is really fleshed out.

To me, this is what the article should be re-written around:

It’s hard to believe that these forces are working simultaneously: how can we fetishize the act of eating so much while also making food more inaccessible to the people who need it the most? Who is benefiting from this? The setting-aside of food as social capital is logical within the aspirational framework of late capitalism; it makes sense for us to be celebrating the product over the worker and to implicitly shame the ones who cannot afford to shop in the same supermarket aisles as we can.

There seems to be so much focus and fetishization of food going on right now, from the scores of tv shows which aren't even about cooking anymore, but are just watching people put endless amounts of food into their faces, to "eating clean" and paleo and kale smoothies. As important as American culture seems to agree food is--it's ignoring the fact that it's harder for many to afford food right now.

I do wish the article expanded more about the idea that we are celebrating the product over the worker. I can go into Whole Foods and find more about the kind of soil my produce was grown in, how much sunshine the farm gets, what kind of feed the chickens ate, but nothing about the people who planted, harvested, slaughtered, to get this food to me.
posted by inertia at 8:44 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


The article is a paltry 1300-word essay in 6 paragraphs. The potential for critique is there, so hasn't some researcher, or heck someone like Anthony Bourdain, written or said something on culinary fetishization already?

As for this article, I liked it because it's from the perspective a young practicing chef; I don't need to hold the writing to a more rigorous standard, because I can appreciate the text on its terms in its context and walk away with something to mull over. But again, it would be nice if we had links to other authors, if any.
posted by polymodus at 9:08 AM on March 14


I was going to comment about how some criticisms of gentrification essentially become "privileged people unfairly distort the market," which is on some fundamental level true (the market encourages stratification and benefits the rich versus the poor) but also comes with a moral criticism attached: dammit rich people, stop making our food/neighborhoods so expensive. That's harder to swallow, I think.

I was going to comment on all this but actually Frowner's comment already says pretty much what I was going to say. The solution shouldn't be "privileged people, stop eating our kale, it's not for you;" it's basically impossible to implement as a solution, for one. Ideally the solution is to make it so that everyone has easy access to kale, quinoa and other healthy, formerly low-cost foodstuffs, which to be fair I think is also a major component of the Bitch article (and possibly more so than "chrissakes WASPs fucking eat your own damned food").
posted by chrominance at 9:24 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Food gentrification? Oh FFS. Maybe if farmers were incentivized to grow anything other than corn and soy beans, there would be enough collard greens to go around. Maybe if a good fraction of even that asinine corn crop wasn't turned into useless ethanol, we’d have a little more variety to go around.

If your social justice work for big picture stuff like food infrastructure is aimed at shaming middle class people, you’re not aiming nearly high enough. The dwindling middle class are not the power brokers that you seek for real change. If you’re not going after the decision makers, then you’re aiding them by promoting in-fighting amongst basically powerless people.

If we weren’t all being abused by the corn lobbyists, yeah, food gentrification would be a good point, but that’s just not the case.
posted by Skwirl at 9:45 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


What the hell is "Westernized veganism"?
posted by grobstein at 10:30 AM on March 14


To the extent that one can escape these grocery shopping dilemmas by simply not thinking about them, they are more hobbies than they are problems. Note that I am not referencing dietary choices that might have a serious chance of affecting a being besides oneself or one's family.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:34 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I dunno, versus Jain vegetarianism I guess? Or Buddhist veganism? Western veganism seems based on relationship to animals vs other practices which are usually based in some spiritual belief. But I dunno what the author was actually thinking.
posted by GuyZero at 10:35 AM on March 14


The potential for critique is there, so hasn't some researcher, or heck someone like Anthony Bourdain, written or said something on culinary fetishization already?

Actually, Bourdain has, many times. He's not a fan.
posted by kjs3 at 10:43 AM on March 14


Frowner: I would not eat any food appropriated from other cultures

Is this really a left moral stricture on food to any real extent? I haven't really seen that idea advocated outside of some especially extreme circles on Tumblr, and I think it's highly problematic to treat them as spokespeople for the left, for lots of reasons. To the extent that this idea has taken hold on the left (and I'm not sure how much it has outside of those Tumblr circles), I think it should be pushed back against, as I think it both makes no sense and has the potential to be actively damaging. I'm not arguing that harmful cultural appropriation isn't a thing, but I think of it as being things like "plastic shamans", for example- something sacred to a marginalized/oppressed culture being taken and used in a way that is against the cultural consensus of that culture. It's not hard to see why "hipster headdresses", for example, are a problem- it's rather like wearing a fake Medal of Honor as a fashion statement, only worse due to the terrible history between whites and Natives. When cultural appropriation theory gets taken further than that, though, it starts to seem more and more like the idea that races and cultures should remain separate and "pure", which doesn't seem like something that should be a left-wing ideal at all, and applying it to food nearly always puts one in that territory, I think.

There are certainly all kinds of real issues that come up when a previously cheap foodstuff becomes trendy- the sort of thing this article is trying to get at, though I agree with the consensus here that it's not very well thought out or coherent. But the response to those issues certainly can't be reduced to "eating food from cultures outside yours is wrong", because, well, IMO that only even makes sense from a far-right racialist/nationalist perspective anyway (which, to be honest, I suspect might actually be what's behind at least some of this on Tumblr), and furthermore I can't think of any way that a "stick to your own kind" ethical approach to food would benefit the poor and/or people of color in the least, and plenty of ways it would do active harm- what would happen to a great many Chinese/Ethiopian/etc. restaurants in the USA, for example, if people outside of their particular cultures stopped going to them? One can say that's a result of capitalism and it shouldn't be the case, and I'd basically agree with that, but in itself that doesn't ultimately have anything to do with the mere fact of people eating food that isn't from their own cultural tradition- if the ideal anti-capitalist state is one in which cultures remain separate and (for example) only Chinese people go to Chinese restaurants, that sounds much more like a third positionist vision than a traditional leftist one.
posted by a louis wain cat at 10:46 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


I would not eat any food appropriated from other cultures, so no cheap tofu, or tofu at all, never mind curries or non-western spices

Is this real? Are there really people who think it's wrong to eat tofu because it is a cultural appropriation? Who think it's wrong to make curries, unless you have appropriate connections to a curry-making culture?

I ask not only because it seems bizarre to me, but because I can't find any evidence that it's a thing. I thought I might at least be able to find some Tumblr blogs criticizing tofu appropriation.

But I find nada.

So?
posted by grobstein at 11:07 AM on March 14


The author of the piece in the OP had an article in the last issue of Bitch Magazine about cultural appropriation and food. I don't think that what she's objecting to is quite as simple as eating tofu, though, although sometimes it's a little bit hard to tell.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:15 AM on March 14


I wrote that about tofu not because I've encountered critiques specific to tofu but because I've definitely encountered tumblrs - in general tumblrs I like and think are quite right on! - where it's pretty much "stay away from my food, white people", and my ancestors definitely did not invent tofu. (I won't link because that's the royal road to hate-following in this political climate.)

There's all kinds of complexity to this from a historical standpoint - a lot of national foods date back to the 19th century and either benign trade or imperialist contact, for instance, rather than the pre-imperialist past. But I tend to feel as a white person that I should not make a big giant fuss on those lines. At the same time, rice noodles and tofu (and, let's be honest about it, the enoki mushrooms, and fancy ramen I bought yesterday at the pan-asian grocery store near my house) are convenient, cheap and delicious. It's one of those things I feel pretty conflicted about, because I definitely see it on tumblrs whose politics I otherwise respect, so this suggests to me that I am put off by it only because it represents an inconvenience rather than because it is wrong.

I think the idea is that when white folks glom onto a thing, not only does it change the culture around a thing (an event that had been a comfortable, POC-centered one, for instance, becomes an uncomfortable one full of white gawkers and fetishists) but it can also raise prices and change access, as discussed in the article above.
posted by Frowner at 11:23 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


The author of the piece in the OP had an article in the last issue of Bitch Magazine about cultural appropriation and food. I don't think that what she's objecting to is quite as simple as eating tofu, though, although sometimes it's a little bit hard to tell.

This article boils down to one paragraph for me:

All of this makes the experiences of the immigrant’s Americanized children particularly head scratching. We’re appreciated for our usefulness in giving our foodie friends a window into the off-menu life of our cuisines, but the interest usually stops there. When I tell white Americans about the Maggi-and-margarine sandwiches and cold-cut rice bowls that I used to eat, they tend to wrinkle their noses and wonder aloud why I would reject my grandmother’s incredible, authentic Vietnamese food for such bastardizations. What I don’t tell them is, “It’s because I wanted to be like you.”

The issue is less whether white people eat phở but that some people do that annoying thing where they assume anyone of a certain ethnic origin is some sort of cultural expert. Which I agree is just terrible. It's the foodie version of "but where are you really from?"
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


This is what gentrification of actual land for the purposes of the bourgeoisie minority looks like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_Belt
posted by Skwirl at 11:53 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I'm amused at the idea of kale as a luxury item. Like most of the brassicas, it's a classic poverty food; easy to grow, will last farther into the fall than most vegetables, and provides vital vitamins to a diet that is likely otherwise dependent on cheap starches and pulses. The basis of her entire article is a claim that because kale is called a superfood the price has risen. Except her cited price is a rise of a few cents over inflation, and the BBC article that she claims says prices have risen for 'superfoods' says no such thing; it says *sales* have risen, and since kale requires no extra infrastructure and only two months to mature, there is no reason to suppose that the supply has had any problem meeting demand. So a nasty little article with no factual basis for the premise, but a yen to make people feel guilty. Sounds like her last bad article wasn't exactly a one off.

I shall continue to eat kale with enjoyment and no fear of depriving others.
posted by tavella at 11:57 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I'm also amused at the idea of kale as a luxury item. When I was growing up (pretty wealthily, all things considered), my dad insisted on feeding us kale and purple sprouting broccoli and sprout greens and all kinds of other brassica leaves grown in the garden. And, because my dad has the gut bacteria of a ruminant, they would always be just how he liked them: grown way past their prime and gone all woody. And I hated them and always wished we could eat cauliflower and normal broccoli (which my parents called calabrese and spoke of it as a hoity-toity thing).

Imagine my surprise a couple of years ago at my local upmarket supermarket (Waitrose) when I found myself delighted by the selection of brassica available: all the things that I'd hated as a child, but grown to correct tenderness. (Surprised to find myself delighted, not surprised by the steady increase of 1950s retro vegetables. I am aware of trends).

I cooked kale for a friend shortly afterwards, and mixed a little of the water it was boiled in with some miso and balsamic vinegar, then tossed it in that as a dressing. My friend has raved about it for the subsequent 3 years.
posted by ambrosen at 12:16 PM on March 14


I would not eat any food appropriated from other cultures

So you don't eat noodles, then?

This really is a fatuous stance to take. Where do you draw the line? I'm assuming from context that you're Caucasian--does that mean any food created by Caucasians is fine? Better stay away from Spanish food with its Moorish influences then. Or, indeed, basically any food around the Mediterranean is the result of cultural cross-pollinization from people with more melanin in their skin.

The entirety of American cuisine is based on mixing up foods from different cultures. I assume you will never eat a taco?

Seriously, I get cultural appropriation and why it's bad, but unless you're taking food for special occasions and not paying attention to the context (e.g. soy sauce on plain white rice is a Japanese funeral food), you're not appropriating. You're eating something delicious.

tldr you can pry sushi and pad thai and tacos and tagine and baba ghanouj and noodles and and and and and out of my cold dead hands.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:06 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


In fact, cynical me noted how her price comparison was uncited. From the price points, I suspected she was using the USDA Fruit and Vegetable weekly price report. So I went and played around at their very nice portal, where they have data back to 2011. If you pull reports for Kale Greens, you will discover that there is no particular trend since 2011 at all; the price goes up and down, presumably according to weather and supply. This is particularly clear if you pull it using the price per pound, which is more accurate in terms of nutrition per dollar. In fact, given that it appears that the data is not weighted by inflation, the overall price of kale may have actually gone down.

I think there are many interesting things to say about food and culture and poverty and appropriation. I just wish we were getting posts pointing at better and more honest articles than Soleil Ho's contributions.
posted by tavella at 1:09 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


You do realize that Frowner was saying what she would have to do if she adopted a particularly extreme stance and was not actually endorsing the position you're attributing to her, right?
posted by kagredon at 1:10 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


because I definitely see it on tumblrs whose politics I otherwise respect, so this suggests to me that I am put off by it only because it represents an inconvenience rather than because it is wrong.

Sounds like endorsement to me.

I mean, my family heritage is from the UK. Does that mean I shouldn't go have a gyros for lunch because AFAIK we have no Greek heritage? Am I not allowed to eat Ferran Adria's food because I'm not Spanish?

The whole idea of cultural appropriation of food, again outside very specific contexts relating to specific foods consumed as part of rituals, is preposterous in the extreme.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:15 PM on March 14


My point isn't that I can't do anything - this year I'm hoping to start an herb garden as a way of getting my feet wet (our yard has arsenic in the soil so we can only do raised bed) - but that I can only do so many things. There's no way I'm going to be able to follow all the food strictures, and at some point I am mostly going to choose based on health and affordability concerns.

No, it actually really doesn't sound like endorsement. Respecting someone's opinions doesn't mean agreeing with them, either, to address your out of context pull quote. Read people's comments before you start putting words in their mouths.
posted by kagredon at 1:19 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


There's an interesting article to be made about how the dominant culture treats "ethnic" food. For instance when you look at what the search for authenticity really means to many eaters, there's some serious examined baggage. However, neither of this author's bitch articles do a good job of dealing with the issue.
posted by aspo at 1:23 PM on March 14


This really is a fatuous stance to take. Where do you draw the line? I'm assuming from context that you're Caucasian--does that mean any food created by Caucasians is fine? Better stay away from Spanish food with its Moorish influences then. Or, indeed, basically any food around the Mediterranean is the result of cultural cross-pollinization from people with more melanin in their skin.

Hey, wait up. Please read what I wrote - I said that I had read this line of argument, and that it troubled me even though it was a historically muddled argument because of really-existing racial inequalities and my reluctance as a white person to dismiss argument from a person of color about race.

On another note - I really don't like it when white folks break out the "but if you say you shouldn't [do fairly clear-cut culturally appropriative thing] then you mean you also shouldn't [do much more ambiguous sorta-related cultural appropriation thing] and then we'll never be able to do anything!!!!" Even if I were to say "I am not going to eat pho because around here it is a food that belongs to relatively recent immigrant communities and I can't eat it without disrupting existing cultural and economic relationships" that would not be anything like saying "I can't eat [common food that has been available for centuries but that did not originate with northern Europeans] because it was not eaten by my ancestors on the veldt". Those are two really different political and economic statements. Whether they're valid or not is another matter, but I don't care for the line of reasoning that merges them.
posted by Frowner at 1:33 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I think the idea is that when white folks glom onto a thing, not only does it change the culture around a thing (an event that had been a comfortable, POC-centered one, for instance, becomes an uncomfortable one full of white gawkers and fetishists) but it can also raise prices and change access, as discussed in the article above.

That's fair - but I think as with gentrification in general, it seems like the real culprits behind raising prices and changing access are 1. an undersupply of affordable and healthy food and 2. economic inequality. Those have to be addressed with policy, I think, because individual people, especially people who aren't particularly wealthy, don't have a lot of room to maneuver here: like affordable shelter, affordable food is something we can't really live without. I definitely agree that it's a real problem when people use other cultures to make themselves seem more exotic, "real", etc., but I think that's also avoidable to some extent - I think it's possible as a white person to buy something predominantly consumed by POC or white people of a different social stratum without behaving like a gawker or fetishist, for instance.

(BTW, Frowner, I know this isn't necessarily your belief and definitely don't want to put you in the position of defending someone else's position that you may or may not agree with - I just thought it was an interesting POV and wanted to respond to it.)
posted by en forme de poire at 1:35 PM on March 14


No, it actually really doesn't sound like endorsement.

Yes actually it does, to me. Or am I not allowed to have an opinion?

Read people's comments before you start putting words in their mouths.

I did, and I wasn't.

Bye.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:47 PM on March 14


Even if I were to say "I am not going to eat pho because around here it is a food that belongs to relatively recent immigrant communities and I can't eat it without disrupting existing cultural and economic relationships"...

This is also particularly weird because, for example, pho is something that Vietnamese immigrants specifically intend to be consumed by "white people" (i.e. Americans). They start pho restaurants because they have the skill of cooking pho, and they want to make money with which to buy things. By rejecting their food, you would be essentially saying: "Since I'm white and don't want to disrespect your culture, I'm not going to eat the product you're creating in order to make money and live." That is nuts.

Fundamentally, food is food. If certain products become more popular, they will become more expensive, but they will also be grown more commonly. It's not white people eating kale that is making food prices rise, and I'm not some sort of cultural imperialist because I eat Vietnamese food on a daily basis.

In general, I find this whole line of thought pretty insulting, because, as part an interracial marriage, it seems just about one step away from saying "You disgusting white man, imposing your imperialist ways upon a poor victimized person of color!"
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:48 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]


Actually, Bourdain has, many times. He's not a fan.

When? I've read two of his books years ago, but they were journalistic and autobiographical as opposed to analytical and distilled argumentation, and—looking at the last chapter of one of them right now—he does not take anywhere near a radically critical perspective.
posted by polymodus at 5:23 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


In fact, given that it appears that the data is not weighted by inflation, the overall price of kale may have actually gone down.

I live in a Canadian city equivalent of, idk, Queens or Flushing. We have kale at our Chinese groceries, yesterday [morning, before I saw this article] the crates of it were placed prominently out front. Half of it is conventional curly leaf, the other half is organic lacinato; I know what good kale is since I've lived abroad, and I'd grade these particular ones a 5/10, you get two bundles for a few bucks. What is notable is that they are looked at, yet touched by no customer. Kale, today, is a privileged, luxury vegetable, period. So you see, this is not even about price fluctuations—that is not a line of reasoning that is in play. Yes, the article is flawed (I've said this repeatedly). I just want to suggest that it is possible for author's problems and concerns to resonate with the reader. An empathetic reading is actually possible.
posted by polymodus at 5:36 PM on March 14


…she's clearly not unaware of the following existential dilemma… …but can't seem to get that this sort of solipsistic fretting is what the article amounts to, an affirmation of moral purity that doesn't change anyone's life and whose claim to structural intervention is tenuous, at best.

This is a very tempting argument to make, but (amongst philosophers) this is actually a known, standard equivocation, for example sometimes used by so-called neo-liberals. There is a subtle reasoning error made in the apparent comparison the two cases. (One way to see why this is the case is to think of the two cases as models of problem solving, and then to reason about their interaction.)
posted by polymodus at 6:04 PM on March 14


polymodus, I've read your last comment several times and I still have no idea what you're talking about (and not in the sense that I disagree but in the sense that there seems to be some context that's missing that is necessary to interpret what you're saying). Maybe everyone else in this thread gets it, but I suspect you need to be much more specific and concrete if you want other people to be able to follow what you're saying here.

I also don't understand the chain of reasoning you're making in your comment above - none of those statements seem to follow from one another. How are you concluding that price fluctuations are irrelevant? On what evidence are you basing your statement that kale is a "privileged, luxury vegetable, period"?
posted by en forme de poire at 6:16 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


polymodus: "I know what good kale is since I've lived abroad, and I'd grade these particular ones a 5/10, you get two bundles for a few bucks. What is notable is that they are looked at, yet touched by no customer. Kale, today, is a privileged, luxury vegetable, period."

Uh, maybe it's not selling because, as you noted, it's of meh quality and there are other varieties of greens that look better? Maybe it's not moving because European varieties of kale may not be the first greens of choice for Chinese customers? (Well, presumably the curly kale isn't moving because it's just dreadful stuff that doesn't deserve to be sold as a vegetable, let alone considered the same vegetable as lacinato, red russian, or any other flat-leaf variety.)

Regardless, I can't fathom how your experience leads you to believe that kale is universally regarded in any particular way.
posted by desuetude at 9:34 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


/Me pours one out for the much-beloved but now extinct The Allens Poke Salet Greens. I'm a little afeared of doing my own, and having to rely on the "three boils with three changes of water" to avoid poisoning myself, but that flavor. Think leafy asparagus. I've never found another canned substitute. Now those are some good eatin' greens.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:26 PM on March 15


What the hell is "Westernized veganism"?

Social justice warrior shame treadmill garbage.

Amusingly, it sort of screams orientalism to me and sort of breaks logic because it places "traditional" middle to far eastern veganism on some kind of pedestal as "authentic" or... something, and turns the western variety in to some kind of affectation and possibly even appropriation.

Ignoring the fact for a second that it comes off like something that would be said in the next paragraph after a person had posted that "speciesism = racism" garbage thing in earnest and taking it seriously for a moment, it's just laughable and doesn't actually make any rational sense. I bet if you asked someone who said that to expand on what it meant you would just get a bunch of fluff.

It's way, wayyyy too deep down the "everything white people do in the west is evil and wrong!" rabbit hole far past rational thought for me, but hey, that does fit the tone of this article.
posted by emptythought at 3:25 PM on March 15


To be fair, there's an ongoing conversation that spans "social justice", vegetarian/vegan writing, and classism that I think is legitimate and important (cf.) I don't think specifying "Western" veganism is meant to necessarily be a "lolwhitepeople" thing, but to point out that veganism sort of winds up intersecting differently with class issues in a society where veganism is normally pursued by upper-middle-class folks, compared to parts of South and Southeast Asia where veganism is relatively common, spans multiple classes and is more tied to religion than anything else.
posted by kagredon at 3:49 PM on March 15


Actually, Bourdain has, many times. He's not a fan.

When? I've read two of his books years ago, but they were journalistic and autobiographical as opposed to analytical and distilled argumentation, and—looking at the last chapter of one of them right now—he does not take anywhere near a radically critical perspective.


Well, shit, polymodus, since Bourdain hasn't said a word, in any media, before or after the two books you read "years ago", I must be completely wrong. It's not like the guy has ever written anything else, or had a couple of television series, or appeared as a guest on a half dozen or so other series. It's not like you could Google "bourdain" and "foodie" and see dozens of derisive quotes. Thanks for setting me straight. Your exhaustive research covering the only true cannon of Bourdain is a credit to the Blue.
posted by kjs3 at 7:22 PM on March 16


Metafilter: Social justice warrior shame treadmill garbage.
posted by kjs3 at 7:23 PM on March 16


I know what good kale is since I've lived abroad

Good enough for me!
posted by kjs3 at 7:25 PM on March 16


I will say this: before they were trendy, organ meats and bones were very, very cheap. Now, if you go to Whole Foods or a similar upscale food market, you'll see them for sale for crazy prices. I saw standard soup bones (not the "nice" osso bucco style) for sale at $5/lb.

Similar thing seems to have happened with farmer markets, at least in my neck of the woods. The produce for sale at farmer markets is often cheaper at the store — including the identical produce from that same farm, just sold *within* the brick-and-mortar shop!

I don't know enough about the agriculture industry but I wonder if it ever experiences "crop" bubbles, where popularity of a given food item leads to higher prices for the crop, until one day the fad dies out and farmers are left with a surplus of grapefruits.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:43 AM on March 19


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