Is San Francisco Making You a Food Jerk?

EdibleSelby_Int_ReleasedToPrinter_3_29-113
Food porn from the Edible Selby by Todd Selby, making the rest of us pie-makers look bad

Last summer, I went to a good friend’s baby shower and, keeping in line with my greatest fears at these sorts of events (where the hostess knows the hodgepodge of bodies in the room but no one knows each other), I was forced to make small talk with a new person. When you don’t know people, there are very few topics of universal conversation. One of them is food. Because I had brought a homemade peach pie, I found myself cornered into a nauseating dialogue about peaches. The fact that I made the dough and filling from scratch should have been enough. We should have been able to say “how nice” and move on. But I found myself having to discuss the attributes of varieties of stone fruit with this girl, who seemed like kind of a food jerk. You just haven’t lived until you’ve had this variety dripping out of your mouth and warmed by the heat of the sun straight off the tree. I don’t know how anyone could just eat a regular peach. I was clearly not really living, but instead going to work everyday rather than hanging out in peach farms. I swallowed my pride at my beautiful rustic crust and also the dirty, secret truth that my peaches were domestic. Seriously, not only did I not pick them myself, I couldn’t afford to buy organic, and I would have died rather than tell this so-San Francisco of eaters, lest I be shunned and stoned to death by the rest of the taste-buds in the room.

Boring small talk about fruit at a party aside, I realized this whole SF foodie thing was getting out of control when I read an art interview where the artist was asked what he did besides make art. He responded that at the top of his list was “pruning his Meyer lemon tree.” Really? I know Meyers are supposed to be more “lemony,” but do you really need to name-drop your fruit tree? Have we gone so far in our obsession with food that we have replaced clothing labels with food varieties, to be bragged about in totally unrelated contexts? Isn’t boasting about your brand of fruit in an art interview the same as someone asking the question, “How do you get to work in the morning?” and me answering “I put on my Dior jeans one leg at a time before I get in the car.”?

It’s not that I don’t totally value organic/local food, but I don’t really have all the time, patience and money it requires to go farm-to-table constantly. I’m not going to three different stores to make dinner. The problem is, after looking at Bon Appetite, I am convinced that the only thing worth pairing my CSA chard with is a top quality piece of local organic fish that I end up spending more on than I did on my last pair of shoes. What’s worse, our current climate of food obsession, intention and pairings makes me feel like I have to abide by Chez Panisse standards even when I am by myself, in case the food jerks ask me what I had for dinner or look at what I’m eating for leftovers the next day.

One of Pollan's many books: You better learn the rules.
One of Pollan’s many books: You thought you knew how to eat, but you better learn the rules.

This problem is that people in SF have too much time and money on their hands, driving an elitist city of food jerks. They have replaced all other activities with eating and cooking. Originally, it began innocently enough — Michael Pollan, and Alice Waters before him, called for a new way of thinking about what you eat. Around the recession, these books, like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, started suggesting spending more time in the kitchen and it suddenly became a thing to do to cook food instead of spend money on things. People got romantic visions of raising chickens in their roof-top gardens, and through things like The Selby on the NY Times, it became hip. People started carrying their own gray salt around with them everywhere and discussing heirloom tomatoes in general conversations. How did this spiral into a brand-whoring, one-up-manship sport akin to keeping up with bands and buying the latest labels at the mall? Because the same people who used to go to underground rock shows or Neiman Marcus are now making their own pickles in their state-of-the-art kitchens and then gloating about it on Instagram.

weknowmemes.com
From weknowmemes.com

Worse still, I don’t even notice how awful a food jerk San Franciscan I’ve become until I go visit my mom in her small town up in the gold country. I don’t realize how much money I really do allow myself to spend on food until she shows me all the frozen packaged dinner options she bought from Grocery Outlet and I suggest I take her out to dinner rather than eat them. It’s not her fault; she’s retired and living on a fixed income. I, on the other hand, just paid $16 for cherries to make a pie. I am the food jerk. I am the one talking about what I got in my CSA box to my friends on the phone. I am the one looking up recipes for fennel, while my mom is giving me concerned looks. San Francisco has made me an embarrassed food jerk who sniffs at the hunk of cheddar and hunk of Swiss they call a cheese plate at the coffee shop in my mom’s town. I practically laughed when the waitress handed me the plate — I really expected at least a bleu veiny wedge I don’t even like on principle. Just like an SF food jerk. How was I supposed to take photos of that?

Related

  • Lauren

    Here, here! Now, back to my organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee (in support of starving Ethiopian fair trade coffee growers), that I ground myself (shh…don’t tell anyone that I didn’t use a burr grinder, nor did I roast it myself – but a friend roasted it for me – really!), and had with locally sourced organic milk…

    • madchen

      It’s “hear hear”

  • hisserenehighness

    I use my CSA chard for breakfast, scrambled with eggs.

  • Jody

    Love this! In the last five years or so, it has suddenly become a problem to everyone else that I don’t LOVE food. I like food, but I kinda just don’t care about it, y’know? Also, I think cooking is SO boring. But what do I know? I do most of my shopping at Safeway.

    • Balu

      Safeway … OMG … That’s almost as bad as whole foods these days. ;)

  • writ81

    This is so spot on. I’m tired of feeling like a food underachiever around all my one-upping self-called “foodie” friends. I feel like people used to have other interests. Art, film, books — I can’t remember, it feels so long ago…

  • Jayson Frisk

    To try and make people feel bad because they like to cook and like to know where there food is sourced is ridiculous. I cook, I go to shows, I make and collect art, and I volunteer to give back to my community. Food is only a part, albeit an important one, of being a well-rounded busy urban dweller. I’m not embarrassed, nor a jerk.

    • friend

      Way to take a comedic piece seriously. (>.<)

  • OldManMtn

    its not just food jerks in SF… there are also beverage jerks (wine jerks, coffee jerks, tea jerks, smoothie jerks, water jerks, etc), as well as tech jerks, car jerks, medical jerks, I know who-is-what jerks, etc….

  • http://chucklehut.org chuckles

    yet we have such a shameful shortage of soda jerks. Where’s my handcrafted organic egg cream with house-infused seltzer and U-Bet made from free-range Foxes when I REALLY NEED IT?

    • geraldfnord

      Sir:
      I wish I could bump the above up by more than 1…’U-Bet made from free-range Foxes’ wins you at least one Internet.

      • http://chucklehut.org chuckles

        dude, you made my day, and it was badly in need of being made so NAILED IT. My internet arrived today and it fits perfectly. Thanks!

  • BetweenTheLinesSF

    We are like the same person. I think the general movement toward knowing where your food comes from and trying to buy local to lower your carbon footprint is great. And I find cooking and discovering new ingredients and ways of doing things very fun and creatively stimulating. BUT I feel food and methods of preparation have just become another form of conspicuous consumption. And I feel like such an a$$hole when I go home and my mom makes some sort of casserole with generic cheese and meat from Safeway, and I can feel myself get judgey.

  • Camwi

    I live in a small town in the Gold Country and we have lots of inexpensive organic food purchasing options (even at Grocery Outlet) and most of the options seem much less expensive than the Bay Area and sometimes even cheaper than “4s”.
    One thing that I appreciate about the foodie movement is that more of those gorgeous kitchens that we who enjoy cooking drool over are finally being used. :)

  • R. P. Zweibel

    your peaches are “domestic”? don’t you mean “conventional”?

    oh shit…i’m a food jerk.

  • Shane Simmons

    the most ironic part is that for the most part, food here sucks compared to the east coast

    • geraldfnord

      Anything Eastern European Jewish, yes.
      Anything Italian….mezzo-mezzo.
      Anything Chinese: no—cooks here are as good as back East, and the produce is usually much fresher, even in cheap dim sum houses.

  • geraldfnord

    People are masters at finding ways of being better than everyone else…even to the point of being ‘humbler than thou’ if necessary.

    • excaliburr

      You can’t imagine how annoying that is until you meet someone who feels smug about how everything they own is older, more worn out, more cracked or chipped, or cheaper than what you have.

  • rhinogoat

    The author constantly confuses varieties & brands. A Meyer lemon or
    an heirloom tomato is not a brand like the Dior jeans she references.
    It is not name dropping; saying ‘Marin Sun Farms tomatoes’ or ‘Devil’s
    Gulch Lamb’ would be Dior-like name dropping, but heirloom and meyer are
    types of food in the same way corduroy or jeans are types of pants. If I
    say that I’m wearing ostrich boots, that’s not the same as saying I own
    a Prada jacket. I always hate name dropping farms on menus, btw; I
    don’t care what farm you bought it at as long as it tastes good! I do
    care somewhat about words like local, organic, sustainable, but that is
    no different from worrying over whether or not your iPhone or pants were
    made in sweatshops, you know?

  • Daniel Dock

    Jerk? The right word is snob. Or next up is asshole. Jerk is pretty far down on the list of euphemisms.

  • Serena

    Thanks for all the comments, guys. I really am not trying to pick on anyone for liking to talk about heirloom tomatoes, although where I come from, they are all just called ‘tomatoes’. What grosses me out is how this spirals out of control into ridiculously hip and judge-y obsessions with DIYing everything: http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2013/05/diy-high-fructose-corn-syrup.html

  • Stephanie Bruce

    Do people your age always complain about everything? Is your life so wonderful that you have to complain about the abundance of amazing food that is available to you out of sheer boredom? Honestly every blog I read that is written by people your age sounds like a spoiled brat whining because there is nothing better to do. Go eat a Marie Callender’s frozen chicken pot pie and then go out and enjoy your life. It’s dripping with wonderfulness – your life and the chicken pot pie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mekoontz Melody Elliott Koontz

    Big Belly Laugh…loved it. I had to hang my head in shame with reference to the “Meyer” lemons. I won’t ignore my Eureka’s any longer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mekoontz Melody Elliott Koontz

    I had an event at my house and someone saw my canned/preserved tomatoes on the bottom shelf. Did you do that? “yes”. Did you take the class at Food Co-op? “no..my mom taught me, and her mom taught her. no..I grew the tomatoes myself. no..gardening class. my mom taught me, and her dad taught her”.

    People in small towns know a lot more than city folk do. :) It’s just as bad in Sacramento..btw. I’m all for sustainable, local..etc. but I am going to check myself from now on. I have a friend who lives way off the grid in Wyoming..they make their own power, grow ALL of their own food and can for the winter or dry…for their animals too, raise their own meat and slaughter it (humanely), shear their sheep and sell what wool she doesn’t spin herself. No clothes dryer. No cell phone coverage. Internet as long as their is enough wind! I’d love to hear people talk sustainable to her!!

  • Chris J

    Great article.

    Here’s the thing–I like to cook and I generally prefer fresh produce and fresh things like fish, meats, and the like. I have no gluten issues, don’t give a damn about organic or sweating out sourcing, and for the most part, I shop based on my budget and being economical. This means organic is less of an option, and if the food isn’t local, I won’t trip.

    If a peach pie is made with from a frozen dough made with a machine, BFD.

  • San Francisco Man

    anyone who takes pictures of food needs to get a life

  • San Francisco Man

    I should clarify, I am not talking about professional food photographers. I mean people that can’t eat a meal without their phone being out or on the table. It makes me crazy that no one can do anything without grabbing their phone to capture whatever they are doing…and the food reviews, pictures, blogs, etc are just part of it. Glad to say when my wife and I go out to eat we talk. Phones are not needed.

Author

Serena Cole

I'm an artist, not a writer. Also, sometimes I pee my pants a little.

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