New York Times food critic Frank Bruni wrote what I can only describe as a very snobby article last week bemoaning the current state of “trivial” food writing. I read it this weekend and, days later, I’m still annoyed.
“Foie Gras Palates, Hot Dog Pocketbooks” responds to the widespread media coverage of Tim Hortons, a Canadian doughnut chain that recently moved into twelve NYC locations previously occupied by Dunkin’ Doughnuts. The so-called Canadian invasion promoted numerous articles, commentaries, and taste tests – including a piece from the Times’ own Diner’s Journal. But Bruni implies that mass-produced doughnuts don’t merit such attention, saying that food writers for both traditional and new media fetishize pedestrian foods like cupcakes, burgers, or pizza that, 20 years ago, would have been beneath the notice of restaurant critics.
While I understand Bruni’s point – the kind of attention that the food media pays to fast food outlets used to be reserved for upscale restaurants – I fail to see why this is a bad thing. Why should we be bemoaning a media culture that pays more attention to the things people actually eat on a regular basis? Yes, it’s fun to read a review of a new upscale restaurant; I get to live vicariously through the review. But as someone on a “hot dog” budget, I’m much more interested in a review of, say, a new Pho place in Columbia Heights.
Bruni also implies that the food media’s hyper attention to fast food joints and neighborhood restaurants is a new phenomenon. But that can’t be true – otherwise, why would New Yorkers have such heartfelt beliefs about where to get the best pizza, the best hot dog, or the best Chinese food in the city? Who doesn’t have a relative who swears that McDonald’s has better coffee than Dunkin’ Doughnuts, or vice versa? When I lived in Seattle, everyone I knew had an opinion on which coffee shop served the best latte (it was never Starbucks). And I won’t even hazard a guess about which DC restaurant makes the best hamburger, lest I anger the vast army of Five Guys fanatics.
People have always paid attention to the food their communities have to offer – both the upscale and the cheap. The difference is that now, with the advent of blogs, people have a medium to publish these long-cherished opinions.
And I say more power to them. I find a blog post on who has the best delivery pizza in DC as valid as a review of Proof. And as someone who’s very interested in a food item that Bruni deems trivial – cupcakes – all I can say is that there’s a world of difference between what you get at Cakelove and what you get at Hello Cupcake. And that’s worthy of a blog post.