An arrogant appetite. | Oakland, CA
Have you ever thought about—really thought about—the word tonic? Gin-and-tonic, herbal tonic, tonic water; a word hearkening to something restorative and/or mystical for its healthful effect. It’s a good word. “Tonic” makes me think of egregiously euphemistic newspaper ads from the 1900s, preaching poisonous or watery liquids as equivalent to the fountain of youth/life/vigor/everlasting erections; to a time when Coca-Cola actually had cocaine in it.
All marketing and health travesties aside, I like the idea of tonic. It’s nostalgic, hearkening to an era I’d like to believe was filled with people who were sweet, gullible, and naive enough to trust the health claims of pseudo-scientists and capitalistically-oriented food vendors. But really. It’s a nice idea.
I don’t really understand binge eating.
Evolutionarily—okay. Food equals nourishment equals comfort equals eating as much as possible as quickly as possible. Still, in those moments when you’re TV-munching or sneaking cookies upon returning from closing out a bar, once the childlike joy of food-shoveling ends, I can’t help but chuckle (or yell) at myself.
I don’t know how I feel about this.
On the one hand, I agree with the general sentiment (perfectly lambasted by someone at McSweeney's). Unwieldy, conspicuous shooting of food photographs is like those Real Housewives who consider having less than 25 tweets by 10pm a bad day—it’s distracting to others, it’s arrogant, and it’s another example of the conspicuous consumption of the upwardly mobile.
But on the other hand—isn’t being a chef (especially at the upscale restaurants that are the biggest naysayers of frivolous food-stagraming) intrinsically visual, performative, and aesthetically-oriented?
To me, the complaint seems akin to trying to ban those concert goers (who are, granted, annoying) who insist on raising their arms above the rest of the crowd in order to more properly capture live video of the performance on their iPhones. Sure, flash should be off. And sure, they shouldn’t let their muscled and tattooed boyfriend give them a piggy-back ride in order to get a better shot of their fangirl (or -boy) obsession. But, as the NYT article says, for some, food photography is more for personal memories (maybe they scrapbook? I miss scrapbooks) than a pretentious display of ~coolness to their social media “friends.” If they’re not bringing in tripods and asking for the lights to be dimmed, what’s the big deal? Unless the kitchen staff is completely ignorant or apathetic regarding the visual component of a dish’s presentation to its eventual consumer, dinner plates always have some sort of artistic value. Whether it be the foaming bubbles atop a $35 plate of braised bok choy or the plop of sour cream on enchiladas at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint, cooks and chefs try to make their creations look nice. Banning the capturing of their culinary artistry (whether it be worthy of praise or dismissal) rejects the whole concept that one’s eyes can be bigger than one’s stomach.
On my wall there’s an illustration of Vasilisa the Brave. Not familiar with Vasilisa? She’s pretty much the OG fairy tale heroine in Russian folklore. Kidnapped by the witch Baba Yaga, she escapes her captor with the help of a talking skull that belonged to one of Baba Yaga’s earlier victims (macabre, right?).
It’s a pretty illustration. I’m a sucker for art with borders. But what really does it for me is her inquisitive facial expression while she holds a staff topped with Mr. Magic Skull. She’s scared, but curious. Frightened, yet brave. As I hesitantly emerge into the “real world” of post-grad life, I’ve found Vasilisa to be my archetype of choice to emulate.Read more
Two days before Christmas, our house was equipped with a working oven.
For two months prior, my mom’s vintage buff-colored oven had been incapacitated, due to the disastrous sparking flames that rushed through it after we had tried to broil a fatty piece of meat under its rickety electrical heating unit one weekend when I was visiting. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was why it took so long to replace. Every few days I’d call and check in; and, after we both shared the doldrum details of our days (indeed, cubicle enclosures and torturous rays of florescent light leave little to be discussed), I would ask if she had committed to purchasing an oven yet. The sense of urgency in my voice was suppressed, but still came through in my incredulous tone. “It’s fall, Mom!” I’d implore. “You’ll miss root vegetable roasting season!” (Such are the household stresses I choose to pay attention to.) She’d sigh, and talk about how she wasn’t sure about the color, or the size, or the type of dial.Read more
When I think of “California”—not as a place, but as a the abstract entity it connotes—I think of “California cuisine.” Without a doubt, California is the birthplace for several different schools of culinary thought (in the popular imagination if not in actuality), of which I think three loom largely in the consciousness of food and eating.Read more
My life these past few months has seemed to correspond with this theme.
Sumac. Spicy, sweet, exotic, and a little unpleasant if you eat too much of it.