I've long been confused as to when arugula became the Food of the Elite. I mean, it's lettuce. And not even particularly recognizable lettuce. But via John Schwenkler, the mystery is solved:
The arugula meme was born, so far as I can tell, when a young and relatively unknown presidential candidate by the name of Barack Obama, attempting to sympathize with a group of Iowans about the challenges of rising food prices, opened his mouth and promptly inserted his foot:
“Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?” the senator said. “I mean, they’re charging a lot of money for this stuff.”
Yikes. Not exactly that smooth populist touch. On the other hand, there's something very real about it. The famous questions about grocery prices are generally meant to prove that a politician hasn't shopped for himself in years, and is thus out of touch. Obama, pretty clearly, does shop for himself, or did, but like a lot of upper income urban types, conducts a lot of that shopping in the Whole Foods produce aisle. In a sense, he passed the question's test, but fell afoul of a rather different trap. Schwenkler, meanwhile, goes on to make a point that I'm surprised gets so little attention:
Many aspects of what has come to be thought of as the “liberal” understanding of food and food production are things that traditional conservatives should be deeply sympathetic to: the importance of carefully prepared family-centered meals, for instance, should be recognized by those who value the integrity of the family, while thriving local economies are a necessary prerequisite to political self-governance, and culinary traditions are no less important than flag, faith, and ancestry in helping to define “who we are.”
Suffice to say, liberals are quite bad at branding things. On the other hand, much of what makes up the "liberal" take on food is really a "yuppie" take on food. And yuppies, though often liberal, are defined more by income and education and place than by ideology. Similarly, their food traditions, like a lot of food traditions, were meant to encourage a definable sense of who they were, and so though they ended up substantively aligned with conservative goals, they were explained in fairly exclusionary terms. For instance: awhile back, I posted a recipe for farfalle with crisped prosciutto and sweet peas. That recipe was basically macaroni with ham and peas, but translated into yuppie, which made it relevant to a different audience who wanted to express something slightly different in their cooking. If I had called it macaroni with ham and peas, no one would have made it.
Image used under a CC license from Ariel Amanda.