Betty’s post about food and class got me thinking about among other things, “conspicuous consumption,” as a status demonstration when it applies to food.*
There is the obvious 21st century “food fetishism” of the latest expensive gourmet trend. From what I read in the papers, last year in New York City, it included pig fat cooked in remarkable and (I believe) French ways. Materials need to be expensive, recipes and presentation must keep up with the very latest trends. “Tall food is so last year.” The food may be wonderful, and some of the people eating may simply be enjoying the taste–its primary purpose is to show that the diners have the status of money, taste, and leisure. These restaurants might serve white truffles at $1,000/pound or more (or fraudulent blanched black truffles bought at $16 per pound and sold as if they were worth $1000). Who really needs green tea that costs $500/ounce?
Then there is conspicuous consumption of “healthy food.” (I’m writing this as someone who is primarily vegetarian and has a weakness for bacon.) For example. eating only organic vegan food, in forms that call for lots of preparation time, can shows the status symbols of money, leisure and taste (in this case the taste of being an aware “healthy” food person) much the same way that eating pig belly fat prepared by a famous chef can.
And vegetarian and vegan restaurants that cost $100 for dinner (we have several in San Francisco) are clearly a statement about more than that vegetables are good for you. My local small organic market is currently selling asparagus for $7.98. The people who’ve lived in my neighborhood for more than ten years aren’t buying it at that price, but someone is. It’s a little surreal that “slow food” in modest quantities can still be a sign of conspicuous consumption.
And whether it’s a lush or “healthy” food style, they have a language and a culture that take time, money, and leisure to belong to.
* “Conspicuous consumption” describes buying things for the purpose of showing other people that you can afford them. It comes from an angry 19th century economist named Thorstein Veblen.