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I’m David Brooks. Nice to meat you.

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HOLD ME I’M FRIGHTENED

 

There’s lots to find problematic about David Brooks’ latest column, not the least of which is the assignment of innate brightness/sophistication/good taste to people with college degrees. But beyond that, it’s the dang weirdness of the whole thing that struck me, this passage in particular:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

A few questions:

  1. Is he implying that Mexican is an inherently unsophisticated cuisine, because the exact opposite is true.
  2. Is there any particular reason his friend could have asked about the meats/breads on the menu? I’d be way out of my depth in a New York deli, too, so I’d probably ask someone for help with the menu.
  3. Is there any particular reason he couldn’t have said something like “Here’s what I recommend” to put her at ease? (This is, of course, assuming she really did get triggered by a meat list.)

I mean…it’s just so…weird.

And then there’s this:

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

Uh, dude…

(It’s the prices.)

Jesus Christ.

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  • What a fucking asshole. And the ignorance! Trump, Kushner, Bannon, Bush, Cruz, Brooks, they all have college degrees. Mary Oliver, Milton Humason, Richard Leaky, George Scialabba, Octavio Paz (Nobel Prize), they don´t… Art and science without the little paper Brooks masturbates to!
    I´m mexican but not a nationalist, so I can objectively say that mexican food is very diverse and rich and thus far from what the pretentious idiot implies.

  • Rufus McBoofus

    Huh, I know lots of Italian-Americans without a college degree who wouldn’t blink twice at pomodoro or cappicola… David Brooks is a dumbass jabroni.

  • brad

    Not to in any way agree with Bobo, but in actual fact, at least in NYC, Whole Foods is among the cheaper grocers.
    Yes, really. There’s expensive high end stuff, but in terms of staples and produce it’s really not that bad, comparatively. Even Trader Joe’s isn’t always cheaper, even putting aside the question of quality.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      True, but I think NYC is very much an outlier. There were a couple of cheap supermarkets near me when I first moved to Hell’s Kitchen (a Key Foods and an independent family-owned place), but they’re long gone. The only supermarkets in the neighborhood are high-end ones (Food Emporium, Gristede’s D’Agostino’s, etc.), and you’re right that Whole Foods is competitive with those chains in terms of price. But most people in most of the country still have access to supermarkets that are way cheaper than WF.

      • brad

        D’Agostino’s still exists? All the ones I knew are long gone.
        You’re right, of course, I think the element at play is being bigger than the NYC centric chains WF has larger supply chains and can keep the NYCcentric shipping costs down, which is much if not most of the markup we see. But, for example, you can go from the Whole Foods in Union Sq to the Food Emporium a couple blocks away and find the same salad mix for 2 bucks more a box at the latter. And that difference extends to the places closer to me in Brooklyn.
        It seems, from my limited experience, as well, that part of the ways all those other chains, outside NYC, stay cheaper is by offering much crappier stuff. I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of that price difference to many, but outside the city WF is still cheaper than most organic/high end groceries.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          Yeah, it looks like there’s about a half-dozen D’Ags still holding on in Manhattan.

          You’re definitely right that WF is very competitive in the specific context of ultra-high-rent places like NYC or SF. The produce prices at our local Food Emporia are positively eye-watering, way more expensive than WF, and the quality is considerably lower. (Our personal solution is FreshDirect: prices in line with WF, delivered, and the produce, meat, seafood etc. is consistently of very good quality.)

          To bring this discussion back to earth: god only knows how the many limited-income folks who are still hanging on in Hell’s Kitchen are dealing with this situation. Gentrification has pulled the rug out from under them.

          • brad

            I think they trek out to the big box stores in Queens or NJ, mainly. I see a fair number of lower income folk on the J/M with big bags from Target/Costco/etc on weekends.

            Or they buy in big bulk but get the cheapest options. At my local biggest market I’ll also see huge carts full of those bulk frozen stuff most of us commenting here could never really stomach.

            • Drew

              The Costco/Target/Aldi in…east Harlem I think? Isn’t too bad a hike from me.

          • Gepap

            One assumes the few bodegas left are in the mix, green carts for produce, and maybe long shopping trips to cheaper supermarkets outside the neighborhood.

            • Uncle Kvetch

              There are bodegas on virtually ever corner, but they’re probably the absolute worst place to buy groceries in terms of price.

              One thing I didn’t think of earlier: the chain drugstores are getting bigger all the time, and gradually transforming themselves into mini-supermarkets. How they compare with the other options in terms of price, though, I can’t say.

              • Gepap

                You would be right to think that the Duane Reades of the area are becoming defacto grocery stores and they would be cheaper then bodegas on a number of things – the issue with them being the replacement is that the size of storefront these places need places them more in fully commercially zoned areas than mixed used, at least if we look at where DR or CVS or Walgreen’s end up in NYC.

      • AlanInSF

        Same as what Brad said, here in SF: A lot of staples, both fresh & packaged, at WF are competitively priced with Safeway, and often of better quality.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          I don’t doubt that. I do wonder how much higher the Safeway’s prices are in the city vs. at a Safeway in the ‘burbs.

      • Drew

        I didn’t realize Gristede’s was considered high end. Always seemed extremely shitty to me.

    • Gepap

      Since when?

      Whole Foods is certainly “competitive” in Manhattan, as in compared with Grimaldis or A Fairway Market, but there are plenty of cheaper alternatives throughout the 5 boroughs. Even in NYC, they are above average when it comes to pricing.

      • brad

        Travel and time are costs, too. It’s cheaper the further out you get in part because the transportation costs are so much less for the stores themselves. I could save a few bucks on the groceries if I went to malls in Queens, and add 2-3 hours travel and at least the $5.50 subway fare.
        And to respond to your other comment above, in what world are bodegas cheaper than even Whole Foods? Their markups are insane, and their quality and selection are repulsive. (Or they’re for yuppies and have even more insane markup.) Most green carts are city funded and very new, not to knock them, and most consumer reports I’ve seen make clear that, in the areas where they are, WF is consistently among the cheapest options.

        • Gepap

          My point is that most residents of NYC do no live within the walking catchment area of a Whole Foods – Manhattan south of 96th Street is not, in fact, the end all, be all of NYC. So to speak of NYC and to talk about WF as the cheap alternative is wrong – if you want to limit your discussion to certain parts of Manhattan, feel free to do so.

          For cash poor people with jobs that don’t pay a lot, spending time to save significantly on groceries is a worthwhile investment. As for bodegas, yes they mark things up, but you start from a lower base of product (as you noted).

          • brad

            I’ve lived in Brooklyn since 2006. Outer borough big box stores and megagroceries are further for a good many people, including all those people in the projects across the street from me. And $5.50 takes a big bite out of the savings, off the top. I’m not trying to say everyone should shop at WF, that would be ridiculous. But the reality is that it’s competitively priced, at worst, in the areas it’s in. Which, in the NYC metro area, is more than just Manhattan.

            • Gepap

              Most neighborhoods in the City have local supermarkets, and outside of mid-Manhattan that means Key Foods, Bravos, Associated, and a whole slew of markets aimed at immigrant communities as well, which certainly price lower than a WF.

              Also, there are only 2 Whole Foods in all of Brooklyn according to the company website, one in the core of gentrified Williamsburg, and one on the Gowanus canal that is not very transit friendly. There are no Whole Foods in the Bronx, Staten Island or Queens. In comparison, there are 9 Whole Foods in Manhattan south of 96th Street (and none north of 96th Street). I would say that the store placement makes it very clear which demographic Whole Foods aims to serve, and it is with this demographic that they are competitively priced.

              • Drew

                There is actually one WF juuuuuust north of 96th street. It literally begins at 97

          • Drew

            There’s actually a Whole Foods above 96th street. 98th or 99th and…Columbus I want to say? Interesting area, lots of public housing and bodegas, and then a Whole Foods and a fancy apartment building. Anyway, prices are decent.

            Beats the shit out of Gristedes, which is expensive and sucks.

            Fairway is still better but then I have to schlep to 74ish and broadway.

    • CJColucci

      In my experience, you pay more at Whole Foods because it has a more expensive product mix than, say, Stop & Shop. On identical or similar items, there isn’t much difference. YMMV.

  • Rufus McBoofus

    Huh, I know lots of Italian-Americans without college degrees who wouldn’t blink twice at pomodoro or cappicola… David Brooks is a jabroni. Does he think that because he learned about soppressata on some foodie tour of Tuscany that it’s not working class food, too? I’ll bet that bedroll pays $30 for a bowl of aglio e olio…

  • Rufus McBoofus

    Huh, I know lots of Italian-Americans without college degrees who wouldn’t blink twice at pomodoro or cappicola… Does David Brooks think that because he learned about soppressata on some foodie tour of Tuscany that it’s not working class food, too? I’ll bet that gedrool pays $30 for a bowl of aglio e olio…

  • Rufus McBoofus

    As the great Paulie Walnuts once said: “These Americans ate putzi until we gave them the gift of our cuisine.”

  • applecor

    This whole thing is so ridiculous. I (a) grew up in an Italian neighborhood, and (b) have lots of degrees, and to this day, I can’t remember whether prosciutto is cheese or meat. The idea that consumer tastes are a marker of “sophistication” is pernicious, but unfortunately widespread.

  • John F

    “I can’t remember whether prosciutto is cheese or meat.” As an Italian-American friend of mine explained, “basically it’s ham sliced very thinly”

    There is a Whole Foods near me, it’s absurdly overpriced- it’s especially telling when they sell the exact same brands as Shoprite or Fresh or Fairway, Whole Foods will be 20-50% more expensive, I don’t even want to know what the mark-up is on the Whole Foods only brands.

    • Cassiodorus

      I don’t know about overall, but the Whole Foods store brand items are significantly cheaper for some items (e.g., pita chips) than competitors in my area.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    Oh god please no. Armchair-sociologist Brooks is the worst of all possible Brookses.

  • jamespowell

    Isn’t it likely that Mr. Applebee’s Salad Bar just made this whole story up? I only read the quoted paragraph and it strikes me as too nicely set up to make the same argument that Brooks has been making since the turn of the century.

    • Cassiodorus

      I thought Applebees Salad Bar was one of the CNN talking heads.

  • andrekenji

    The worst thing is that these foods are popular among working class people in Latin America and Europe. Most working class people in Brazil eat a very similar bread to a baguette(Only smaller) in their breakfast.

  • brad

    I also wonder how many of these meats Bobo himself could identify if we went back 15-20 years. The big name NYC delis are mainly Jewish, so naturally they tend not to have pork products. A couple decades of the gilded life allows for a lot of food tourism, and an asshole like Bobo tends to forget unflattering facts like that.

    • N__B

      He doesn’t live in NYC and hasn’t for a long time, if ever. He’s in the DC area.

      • brad

        True, I forgot that. He must have felt that just having his personal chef whip something up would have been even more confusing for his poor, stupid, idiot “friend”.

        Someone needs to start writing columns solely as the fake people Bobo imagines, responding to him as them.

    • stepped pyramids

      Ah, you beat me to it. I think even most college-educated people tend to encounter these words grouped together in a pile next to “antipasti” or “Italian cold cuts” on the menu. Maybe “salume” if you’re somewhere fancy.

  • neonnautilus

    Thank you for putting my thoughts when I read this column into words. He gets worse with every column.

  • kaydenpat

    I remember when Republicans freaked out about Obama eating arugula. It was supposed to relegate Obama to the “liberal, elitist East Coast, out of touch dude” bin. Now Italian delis fit that category. Good to know.

    • wjts

      See also the time when Kerry was pilloried for thinking he was Fancyman King of England when he asked if a diner served green tea (which you can buy at the goddamn Walmart).

    • applecor

      Also, Kerry ordered the wrong kind of cheeselike substance on his Philly cheesesteak, IIRC.

  • AlanInSF

    Clearly, we need to have trigger warnings and safe spaces for things like this. Perhaps 10 feet from the deli or a restaurant, there could be a sign (and an SMS alert) saying “Attention high-school educated white working-class person: Deli ahead features perfectly normal foods with non-English names!” and directing you to a shelter where you could eat white bread sandwiches of bologna and mayonnaise ….no, wait a minute, that won’t work…

    • Hogan

      Lunch meat and Miracle Whip?

  • AlanInSF

    “The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out.”

    I still remember when I got the memo about soprpressata — I love the stuff! My cleaning person asked me what it was and I could only laugh in her face. “You’ll never know,” I wanted to tell her, but I’m a liberal so instead I enrolled her in a government program.

  • stepped pyramids

    I wonder if David Brooks can explain what soppressata is, and how it differs from capicollo? I know a lot of college-educated people who don’t know anything about Italian cold cuts.

  • MikeG

    Is there any particular reason his friend could have asked about the meats/breads on the menu?

    Given that Brooks most likely hangs with other Republicans, I’m surmising his friend could be the kind of tedious egomaniac who can never admit fault, never admit they don’t know everything and must arrogantly act “in charge” in every situation no matter how stupid and unprepared they are, like GW Bush or Cult45.
    Unfamiliar food can be frightening for people who carry around such a conceit all the time, since having to ask a question and learn something new would be such a shocking blow to their self-image.

  • The Great God Pan

    One hates to sort-of defend David Brooks (I’m only going by what was excerpted here) but I don’t see the issue. Lots of people are intimidated by food they aren’t familiar with and can’t pronounce, and I don’t think it’s insane to posit that many of these people didn’t go to college (although others probably have engineering degrees). I recall reading about a study that showed most people won’t even attempt to order a menu item they don’t know to pronounce. How is this controversial?

    The Mexican restaurant Brooks and his friend ended up at almost certainly didn’t specialize in regional dishes whose names aren’t household terms in the US. It was probably “American Mexican,” stuff that the friend grew up eating. She probably ordered a burrito or tacos. That stuff is no longer “foreign.” Even Donald Trump likes taco bowls, but if you suggest the cochinita pibil he will probably have you deported. To a lot of Americans, Mexican food IS unsophisticated. That’s why it’s OK to eat.

    I’m sure everyone here hangs with an open-minded crowd who dig coppa di testa and cuitlacoche but come on. Joe Schmoe and Jane Schmayne don’t know what that is and, more importantly, they don’t want to know. They also don’t want to watch a subtitled movie, even if it’s an American-influenced action movie. Not only do they not want to eat it or watch it, but they think it’s weird and maybe even kind of offensive that you want to. You know this, unless you truly live in the “bubble” conservatives accuse us of living in.

    • brad

      Why do you assume that Brooks is telling the truth about this experience actually happening at all, let alone in the manner he describes?
      And, frankly, you’re making just as many presumptions about people you don’t know as he does. I’m an elitist, overeducated, asshole, but when your defense is “hey, them dumb Middle America types really do only eat Wonder Bread with Velveeta and Miracle Whip if they don’t get McDonalds”, you’re the one in a bubble.

      • The Great God Pan

        He could be making it up, but I know people like this (i.e. like his possibly imaginary friend, not like your straw-Midwesterner. Some of them are native Californians and eat a variety of food IF it’s A) already familiar to them B) under the name it is being presented as. If the soppressata had been called “salami,” Possibly Imaginary Friend would not have been bewildered). Hell, I’m related to some of them.

        • brad

          And I’ve taken friends with postgrad degrees from coastal enclaves of privilege to Indian restaurants and seen exactly the look of terror and confusion that Brooks is attributing to class or education or geographical location. Being open to trying new foods has nothing to do with anything but that particular person.

        • ColBatGuano

          So you’re saying that his thesis that it’s educational status that causes this anxiety is completely full of crap?

  • AuRevoirGopher

    “Triggered by Meat” is actually the title of my upcoming memoir / cri de Coeur that will establish me as the voice of someone else’s generation.

  • Jeremy7

    Sure, maybe his friend was intimidated by the words on the menu, and this is proof of some deep truths about class, or maybe his friend happens to like Mexican food more than Italian sandwiches.I think Occam’s Razor can tell us the answer.

    • I think Occam’s Razor can tell us the answer.

      No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

  • Never heard of those ingredients either, so go figure. But I would ask because that’s what you do when you don’t know things. That being said that alone is a marker of some sort in this country or world and there are some people who see “odd” names on a menu as reason enough to move on. It could be counted as sophistication (or college degrees) but not really because it’s simply a matter of being open to the unfamiliar (Mexican and Chinese and Italian food having broken that barrier some time ago). That’s the marker. And that might very well have some correlation to Conservatives vs liberals or rural vs urban but to claim sophistication seems a little much (and I’ll give Brooks a pass on the Mexican food thing as it’s more familiar to Americans)

  • Hondo

    I don’t buy this shit for a second. I think Brooks made it up in order to push his selected point. His smarmy bullshit point about how you effete liberals with your fancy salamis, and penis-shaped loaves of bread love to intimidate the salts-of-the-earth with only high school under their belts with your highly-educated sophisticated sandwich tastes. You should know better than to make these people feel uncomfortable in an Italian deli. Be more like me, David Fucking Brooks! Treat the barely educated with respect by eating Micky D’s, and steaks from Texas Roadhouse. This is the problem with you arrogant fucking liberals. Always trying to prove how smart you are by Goombah-splaining the difference between pecorino and parmesan. Make America Polish Again, Fuckers!

      • Hondo

        That’s funny. I wish my handle was that creative. I couldn’t think of anything, so I remembered a guy on my high school baseball team used to call me that. I asked him why, and he just said, “You’re Hondo. Don’t ask why.” Frank Howard maybe? I’m not quite 6 – 7, but I was a first baseman.

  • I find the “friend with only a high school degree” to be less plausible than “a friend who is black” and “a friend who is homosexual.”

    I assume “friend” lives in the area and so would be unlikely to be startled by any form of food that doesn’t leap off the plate and attack. Hacks really should put more thought into their lies.

    • I assume “friend” refers to his nanny.

      At any rate, I have two masters degrees and I don’t know what half the shit is he’s talking about.

  • John F

    Even Red State is slamming Brooks:

    “Pearce, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and presumably well versed in Italian meats, makes the same fatal flaw that Brooks’ does: he believes these meats and the places that serve them are somehow actively signifying something to the novice, wannabe upper-class sandwich eater. But deli meats and restaurants are inanimate and have no will to signify anything to anyone.

    People do that.

    People like Brooks and Pearce do with the mere suggestion that someone might be in the wrong place. And then writing a column about it.”

  • geniecoefficient

    of course, C. “Forget material inequalities, the problem with America is that elites sneer at Cool-Whip, also I like to brag about not caring or knowing anything about policy, plus I think my most banal observations constitute insight” Arnade swallowed this Brooks drivel without a chew. To be fair I like about 52% of what Arnade does. But some of it is bad, and endorsing Brooks’ inanities is bad.

    • There’s an odd echo of that in the idea that certain language and certain terms will work to correct institutional racial inequalities, for instance. That needs changing the institutions, affecting jobs, education, wealth accumulation and so on. Language and culture are not unimportant, but they do not suffice for the kind of change that’s supposed to take place.

  • LurkinLongmont

    Christ, what an asshole…. or has that already been said today?

  • Let me see. I know what pomodoro is but have no idea what those other things are. I would ask if presented with that menu. And I’m almost totally sure that if the story is true she was shocked over the prices.

  • Wm Kiernan

    I’ve read a lot of stuff today about social class divisions in the U.S.A. and one idea that popped up repeatedly was, you have only a distorted or parodic understanding of the social classes next-door to yours, and you don’t know the classes two doors down at all. And it occurs to me that Brooks, who is himself very very rich, is bravely trying (that’s good! I think) but failing (according to the two-doors-down theory, that’s inevitable) to understand classes that are so distant from his that he might as well try to understand and empathize with trilobites or Martians.

    • The problem is that Brooks thinks its his job (or the NYT does) to translate the emotions of lower organisms, like sponges or the wwc, to higher orders who are unaware of the existence of these creatures. And, having translated their emotions, harmony and balance will be restored. But harmony and balance of emotions are meaningless where people are really suffering from inequality, the cruelty of specific policies, misogyny, racism, etc…etc…etc… Brook’s columns always read to me as a fake scolding, de haut en bas, from a lickspittle of the koch brothers about how something something something liberal/upper class/elites have failed to do that makes poor white people unhappy with them. The point of his columns is that if liberals would only do x, or y, poor white people would be happy and then: utopia. Not because inequality or cruelty or misogyny or racism would have ended, but because the lower orders would settle down and stop being justified in their hatred of the upper classes. Or rather, the middle classes since Brooks rarely, if ever, admits that the oligarchs are the ones really setting the agenda here.

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