Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Hamburger Snobbery

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Hamburger Snobbery

Article excerpt

WHEN FOOD AND WINE MAGAzine emblazoned a hamburger on its cover in 2004, casual readers might have concluded that food snobbism was dead. Snooty foodies, however, are alive and influential, and eating habits remain an important indicator of social status, write Josee Johnston and Shyon Baumann, sociologists at the University of Toronto. The difference is that 50 years ago familiarity with a single culinary tradition--French--identified diners as belonging to the elite. Today, knowledge of ethnic and regional cuisines is as important as the ability to pronounce au jus correctly was two generations ago.

The expansion of the high-status food repertoire exemplifies a cultural trend called omnivorousness--eating, or trying, everything--in sociology-speak. The same thing has happened in music. Where it once might have been enough to recognize classical composers, today the status-savvy need an ability to banter about bluegrass pickers and Cuban singers.

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As Americans publicly disdain snobbism and embrace meritocracy, the "democratic ideology" of omnivorousness fuels the notion that arbitrary standards of culinary distinction based on a "single, elite French notion of culture are unacceptable." The cuisine of other cultures and classes now gets its due, according to Johnston and Baumann. But anything still does not go. Although a taste for pecorino, a hard cheese made from sheep's milk, marks the palate of a sophisticate, Velveeta, the easy-melting "cheese product," remains verboten. …

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