Monday, January 31, 2011


Beth Ditto with her pals Karl Lagerfeld and Kate Moss
Here's the second installment of our side-by-side reading of two anthologies published by Da Capo Press: Best Food Writing 2010 and Best Music Writing 2010 (see our introductory post here). Since there are alot more pieces included in the Food Writing anthology than the Music Writing one, we'll be comparing the pieces by theme (or, if there ain't a theme to find, by sequence) when we can. If you're keeping count, when we compared the forewords for both anthologies, Best Music Writing came out ahead with a +1, while Best Food Writing slumped a bit behind with a -1.

Both anthologies tackle, in their own way, the idea of status. In Best Food Writing, two writers implicitly deal with the topic by way of locavorism; in Best Music Writing, a piece on the Gossip's Beth Ditto at the Paris Fashion Week does so more explicitly.

Best Food Writing

In "And You Will Know Us By the Trail of German Butterballs," Jonathan Kauffman pays good acknowledgement to elitism and locavorism. That's usually the main criticism of the movement, though Kauffman approaches the how-and-why of it in terms of appeal rather than a nuts-and-bolts reading of the economics involved:

Our generation is addicted to keeping up with the entire planet - in real time, no less - yet we nurse a deep romance for anything that helps us feel anchored in the here and now. And the seasonality of local foods is just as significant an element of their specificity...Let's face it: specificity also confers cachet...But the specificity that carries so much cachet for the people who buy into locavorism is exactly the thing that makes its so suspicious to the people that don't.
Kauffman then makes fascinating comparisons between the appeal of locavorism and indie rock: both are taken as examples of uniqueness amongst a larger consumer world of cookie-cutter everything. Which begets a problem for locavorism: what happens when the movement becomes mainstream, as with organic foods? "Just as Nirvana's hipster cred plummeted the moment Sam Goody started papering its windows with Nevermind posters, the mass production of organic food has sullied the purity -- and cachet -- that we longtime believers relied on the label for." (Huh - it might not be as cool to say now, but I still like Nevermind plenty.)

The latter concern starts off Brett Martin's article, "The FedEx Meal Plan," wherein Martin boldly proclaims that "local, seasonal, and their attendant food pieties had jumped the line-caught, fair-trade, National Marine Fisheries Service-approved mako shark."  From there, Martin embarks on the craziest food experiment one can conceive in this age: he FedEx's amazing meals that are specific to their locale.

There's attempts to ship in bollito misto from Bologna, parsley and marrow salad from St. John Restaurant in London, tonkatsu from Tokyo, pork noodles from Malaysia...most of which prove unsuccessful due to pesky legalities.  Martin is more successful at domestic shipping -- muffuletta sandwiches from New Orleans, pulled pork from North Carolina -- and figures out that the USDA don't care about fish.  Remarkably, he is successful in getting herring from Stockholm and a prawn mee soup from Kuala Lumpur across the borders, though delays at customs for the latter ruin the fun (and, uh, the edibility).  At the end, Martin figures out that it's about the experience: eating a FedEx'ed muffuletta sandwich just isn't the same as actually eating it in New Orleans: "Cervantes may have said that hunger was the best sauce, but context runs a close second."

Points: +2; Running Score: +1 (We threw in an extra point for spurning off great conversations on what Canadian foods we would want to ship in: poutine from Montreal, smoked meat from Montreal, bagels from get the gist.)(On that note, we did actually try this out, and Xpress Post'ed some wild bison prosciutto from Oyama in Vancouver to our pal Ian Doig in Calgary overnight. As far as we know, both he and the proscuitto survived.)

Best Music Writing

In "The Gossip Takes Paris," Michelle Tea follows Gossip's Beth Ditto around Paris Fashion Week, where the Gossip are scheduled to play a party thrown by Fendi at Karl Lagerfeld's invitation. This latter tidbit is not lost on the writer: if you're not familiar with Gossip, Tea aptly summarizes the band as "an indie-punk band with overtly queer/feminist lyrics who, though they're little known in their native US, are huge overseas, in large part because of their charismatic, outspoken, fat, femme lead singer, Beth Ditto." This is a no understatement: Ditto is as grand as they come, while Lagerfeld has "infamously declared the existence of fat French people more alarming than the scourge of anorexia."

Overall, it's a good piece on a stranger in a strange land, which Ditto, a lesbian feminist growing up in smalltown Arkansas, is somewhat familiar with. It seems, however, that everyone in the fashion industry has a similar story, most people fawn over each other, and a large amount of fame and awe - both in terms of Tea's fascination with Ditto and the grooming of her fame, and all of their fascination with the fashion world at large - keeps the whole chaos going. So, in the end, it's a nice article, but that's about it, particularly if you're indifferent about the Gossip.

Points: 0; Running Score: +1 A tie!

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