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When Is A Foodie Not A Foodie…..?

New York Magazine, ever on the  prowl for a new urban trend or lifestyle to expose to its audience of affluent ex-Manhattanites, offers up a lifestyle piece this week on a “youth culture phenomenon” being perpetuated by what are best referred to as “Yuffies” (Young Urban Food-obsessives) (The term is mine, not the magazine’s, so please direct your disgust at me).  Specifically, they profile a Ms. Diane Chang.  As New York Magazine describes Ms. Chang and this “phenomenon”:

Diane Chang is a prime specimen of the new breed of restaurant-goer. The species is obsessive and omnivorous. Although they lean toward cheap ethnic food and revile pretension, they do not ultimately discriminate by price point or cuisine . . . . They abhor restaurant clichés (Carnegie Deli, Peter Luger) and studiously avoid chains (Olive Garden, McDonald’s) but are not above the occasional ironic trip to either. They consume food media—blogs, books, Top Chef and other “quality” TV shows but definitely not Food Network—like so many veal sweetbreads . . . . They talk about food and restaurants incessantly, and their social lives are organized around them. Some are serious home cooks who seek to duplicate the feats of their chef-heroes in their own kitchens; others barely use a stove. Above all, they are avowed culinary agnostics whose central motivation is simply to hunt down and enjoy the next most delicious meal, all the better if no one else has yet heard of it.

Ms. Chang seemingly defines herself by what she is not – she is not a hipster, not a foodie, not a yelper.  “I just like what I like,” she says.  Fair enough.  The article seems mainly focused on how her tastes seem calculated to support a certain agenda – i.e, obscure, unfamiliar, unappreciated food is good, while mainstream, well-known food, even if widely appreciated, is lacking.   A lunch at Momofuku Ko and dinner at Blue Hill are dismissed negatively, while Ms. Chang’s iPhone screensaver proudly displays a pig’s foot dish “from a tiny food stall in Taipei.”

Of course, Eater pounced, extracting ten damning lines from NY Mag’s “insufferable foodie story” and declaring that the article is “ostensibly about how people have turned dining out into an obnoxious status-symbol seeking hobby” and “eye-rollingly maddening.”  The comments (both on Eater and the NY Mag article) were not kind either.

Now, it would be easy to pile on,and certainly Ms. Chang made some statements in the article that are hard for me to defend:

She says she disliked M.Wells, last year’s consensus “It” restaurant, partly because of “the fact that everybody loves it, and I just don’t want to believe the hype.”

If you say something like that you are selling yourself out right there, and you lose credibility.  But Ms. Chang also speaks some truth.  In regard to her quest for obscure dining experiences, she says: “It’s a badge of honor . . . Bragging rights.”  As much as I might hate to admit it, its true – having gone to more than my share of obscure restaurants hidden away in Queens and elsewhere, IT’S FUN to be able to brag about it afterwards, boast that you went on this adventure that no one else did.  Of course, you have to be honest about it – if the place sucks, you can’t brag to everyone about how good it is.

The truth is, Ms. Chang and I are not so different.  I’m sure we’d have a lot to talk about if we ever met.  Honestly, it sounds like she needs to get around Queens a bit more – Spicy & Tasty is sort of a noob’s Flushing Chinese (not a criticism of the restaurant,which I enjoy greatly), much like Sripraphai is a noob’s Queens Thai (again, no critique – they have taken lots of my money over the years).  Likewise, I don’t know my ass from my elbow when it comes to eating in Brooklyn.  But I can’t escape the feeling that Ms. Chang did not get a  fair shake from this interview, or from Eater.  As to their “Top Ten Lines” from the article, I have already discussed the ones that I don’t particularly agree with (e.g., M. Wells, Momofuku Ko).  Others I am not so sure about.:

The author describes the “silence” among Ms. Chang’s lunch guests when he revealed his favorite restaurant was Eleven Madison Park, and writes cleverly that “on the food-as-indie-rock matrix, I have just accidentally confessed to loving the Dave Matthews Band.”  But his whole issue seems to be entirely internal, there is no indication that his guests care one way or the other.

Second, Eater (via the author) seems to be trying to pin the (purported) opinion of a friend of Ms. Chang’s on her, excerpting  the statement that:

Lately, Casey has been championing the theory that mediocre food is better than good, the equivalent of a jaded indie kid extolling the virtues of Barry Manilow.”

“Casey” is James Casey, a friend of hers and some sort of food writer.

Eater again goes after her for “not riding the subway,” quoting the article’s report of her taking a $38 cab ride to go to a Korean BBQ place in Flushing.  Now, I’m not sure why anyone who knows better would take a cab to Flushing when it is about 15 minutes away on the 7 Express Train.  However, read in context, it is clear that she had a budget to spend on food from NY Mag and the cab fare came out of her budget.  Plus, as I mentioned before, it sounds like she is not very familiar with Queens. (Also, it sounds like she took the subway home anyway, I’m not sure $38 would get you there and back.)

Finally, she calls Park Slope “the worst food destination ever.” Now, I have no experience in this area but when I sent the article to J. Burger the first thing she said was “she’s right about Park Slope.”  So there you have it.

Anyway, all this to say, the media may have been a bit hard on Ms. Chang.  She obviously is very passionate about food and highly opinionated.  The author of the article made his decisions about how he would describe their time together, and fashioned his story accordingly.  When I first read this article I prepared to pile on but, as I said earlier, Ms. Chang and I are not so different.   We obviously care enough about food enough to spend our time eating out, or planning to eat out, or cooking at home, or planning to cook at home, or writing elaborate blog posts when we could just be relaxing and watching Netflix.  I can’t support everything she says in the article but neither do I think it quite makes her out to be the “status-symbol seeking” snob that some have labeled her.  And I am probably guilty of exercising some of my “bragging rights” in a way that has annoyed people.

Her Tumblr page is quite unassuming, just a simple collection of photos of stuff she’s eaten with some commentary and a link to a “paired” song.  Unlike this blog, there are no tirades about restaurants, or culinary trends, or news of the day.

UPDATE: Eater has posted Ms. Chang’s response to her coverage in New York Magazine (and subsequently on  Eater).  Without further comment on my part, it can be found here for readers interested in pursuing the subject further.

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