marxism on veggies

Mon Aug 28 17:43:05 MDT 1995

Jon [Beasley-Murray] really did a fine job on this thread.  We have
transformed a marxist analysis of vegetables and mineral water from
an off-hand contribution to that recurrent marxist-humor thread into
a deeper and insightful discussion of bourgy-pop-USA culture.

Let me add another car to that train of thought (almost it seems that
it could go without saying, but...)  Hey, it's not about what's good
enough for the working class, it's about what workers can afford!

"Italian sun-dried tomatoes" are a great example.  They cost a lot
more in USA than they do in Italy, a lot more than they reasonably
should.  There is nothing special about them, so a good question is
how and why did they become so super-trendy here?

I have read that when the tomatoe season is on, there are so many
tomatoes, nobody knows what to do with them.  All the canneries are
maxxed out, and I've seen video of people having town-wide tomato
fights in the streets, because they are so cheap at that time.  (It
gets like that at my house, almost, and I have only 6 plants.)

Somebody got a bright idea about marketing the excess to USA, and
somebody is making mega-bucks.  I suspect that part of the secret to
success was to make it expensive enough and market it so that it
would be regarded as a luxury item.  Otherwise, it is just the most
ancient, no-tech, no fixed capital, cheap, prole/hunter-gatherer's
method of excess food preservation known, big deal, who cares.

Of course, "primitive", "tribal", "hand-made" is quite trendy now.
Esp. when it is made in China or the Philipinnes, etc ['cheap
labor'].  It is a rarefied clientele indeed that is willing to pay a
USA living wage for the time that goes into a handknit sweater.

This is the realm of conspicuous consumption.

Exactly how something gets into that super-trendy category, I'm not
sure, but once it does, some people will eat anything.  My original
definition of arugula mentioned its bitterness [well, okay, some
people like it, I can't stand collard greens either].  But whoever
got the idea that fish eggs of a particularly rare sort were
incredibly delicious?  Or is it largely the rarity, distance, huge
labor time per pound, hence expense of caviar that gave it its appeal
to begin with?

Did some european royalty really have pies made of hummingbird
tongues and other such extravagent nonsense, or is that extreme
finally an exaggeration?

And, while we lament the arugula style, which seems designed to
reduce joy in the food and consumption itself, as well as to set the
wealthy apart, let us not forget that the rules of anti-enjoyment and
anti-consumption apply in extra portion to women, and fall most
heavily upon the servants [often of color].  They get no plate or
place setting at all.

Lisa R

On Sun, 27 Aug 1995 glevy at wrote:
> What are "bourgeois" vs. "working class" veggies and fruits anyway?

>>> Jon Beasley-Murray <jpb8 at>  8/27/95, 02:03pm >>>
Obviously no vegetable is intrinsically bourgeois or proletarian.
However, saying that Italian communists eat sun-dried tomatoes
doesn't  mean that their consumption in the US is not indicative of a
particular  (yuppie or whatever) class fraction quite different from
that of the  Italian working class.

[snip] You can't just  overturn the meaning of eating arugula in 90s
New York City merely by  invoking either rural proletarians in a
different continent or a  post-revolutionary utopia.  Social meanings
are more intractable than that.

There is also the whole issue of the *style* of eating arugula, so
far  untouched in this discussion. [snip]

A bit of Bourdieu (but whom else?):

"The art of eating and drinking remains one of the few areas in which
the  working classes explicitly challenge the legitimate art of
living.  In  the face of the new ethic of sobriety for the sake of
slimness, which is  most recognized at the highest levels of the
social hierarchy, peasants  and especially industrial workers
maintain an ethic of convivial  indulgence.  A bonviant is not just
someone who enjoys eating and  drinking: he is someone capable of
entering into the generous and  familiar--that is, both simple and
free--relationship that is encouraged  and symbolized by eating and
drinking together, in a conviviality which  sweeps away restraints
and reticence." (_Distinction_ 179)

"In opposition to the free-and-easy working-class meal, the
bourgeoisie  is concerned to eat with all due form.  Form is first of
all a matter of  rhythm, which implies expectations, pauses,
restraints; waiting until the  last person served has started to eat,
taking modest helpings, not  appearing over-eager....  The manner of
presenting and consuming the  food, the organization of the meal and
setting of the places, strictly  differentiated according to the
sequence of dishes and arranged to please  the eye, the presentation
of the dishes, considered as much in terms of  shape and colour (like
works of art) as of their consumable substance,  the etiquette
governing posture and gesture, ways of serving oneself and  others,
of using the different utensils, the seating plan, strictly but
discreetly hierarchical, the censorship of all bodily manifestations
of  the act or pleasure of eating (such as noise or haste), the very
refinement of the things consumed, with quality more important than
quantity--this whole commitment to stylization tends to shift the
emphasis from substance and function to form and manner, and so to
deny  the crudely material reality of the act of eating and of the
things  consumed, or, which amounts to the same thing, the basely
material  vulgarity of those who indulge in the material
staisfactions of food and  drink." (_Distinction_ 196)

In the light of these quotations, I find it interesting that only one
 post to the list has attempted to describe the *taste* of this
lettuce,  rather than it's appearance of its (non)trendiness.

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