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Argument: Food Is the New Music


(Photo: Tomwsulcer)

What music do you listen to? What bands are on your playlist? Who have you seen live? In a way, these common conversation starters are asking "What is your identity?"

That's because in the US, for many years, music has been a major center of popular cultural discourse. Contrast this with, say, dance or sculpture. These art forms are well-developed, but are not as deeply embedded in the daily lives of Americans.

In a fascinating blog post, Eugene Wei argues that the role of music in popular culture is being replaced by food:

Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it's because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it's become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste. If you've eaten at Noma, you've had an experience a very tiny fraction of the world will be lucky enough to experience, whereas if you name any musical artist, I can likely find their music and be listening to it within a few mouse clicks. Legally, too, which removes even more of the caché that came with illicit downloading, the thrill of being a digital bootlegger.

Once, it felt like watching music videos on MTV was a form of rebellion in plain sight. Nowadays, the channel doesn't play any music videos. Instead, we have dozens of food and cooking shows, even entire channels like The Food Network dedicated to the topic. Chefs have become elevated to the status of master craftsmen, with names that have risen above the status of their restaurants, and diners revere someone like Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame the way a previous generation worshipped the guitar sound of a rock god like Jimi Hendrix.

The conspicious consumption and discussion of food is a way of signaling your identity:

It's not just the scarcity of the actual food that offers such signaling opportunities. You can generate your own scarcity just by having a broad palate. When it comes to dining, many people still have narrow bands of taste, so if you're from the Jonathan Gold school of adventurous dining, you can easily set yourself apart by ingesting something exotic, like tripe stew, or some part of an animal that most people didn't even know was edible and certainly wouldn't dream of consuming.

-via Marginal Revolution


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