Tuesday, April 9, 2013

You think Houston has an inferiority complex? Try New York.

Most of the time on this blog I choose to keep it light, poking fun at the so-called creative class in Houston and Texas as a whole, maybe a puff piece on travel, pointing out the obvious flaws in the sardine-urbanist's theories and then calling it a day.  Semi-frequently I'll step into the deep end and point out how terrible Texas Lock Step Political media is, or how hypocritical (and bad) ChronBlog has become etc. but there's a pretty good chance that I'm not going to attempt to take on the big issues, mainly because this is a personal blog (used mostly for writing practice) and I really don't have the time, or desire, to really dig my teeth into something serious.

Today however we're going to talk about a rather meaty topic, something of utmost importance to all of us (excepting rabbit/human hybrids of course) Bar-B-Que. (or BBQ, or barbecue, 'cue, etc.)

It's become a necessity because a really brash, fast-talking, know-it-all food writer from New York has recently generated somewhat of a storm by suggesting that New York City is now a better BBQ "city" than Texas.  Ok well, first, I think you see the problem here. No, not that Texas BBQ is a State thing (there is that) but that comparing different BBQ regions is an exercise in insanity.  There are people in Memphis who believe that the dry ribs at Rendezvous are the best ever, and disparaging KC Masterpiece is almost a criminal offense.  If you try to explain to a Carolinian that, in Texas, we use pork ribs as training meat for our kiddies until they're ready to cook brisket it could lead to fisticuffs.  BBQ is more cultural than definitive, it's hardly a set-in-stone proposition.  I blame Texas Monthly for much of this.  When they named Snow's as the "best" BBQ in Texas, veering away from a long tradition of naming the "top 5", they opened up a world where BBQ was not a cultural experience, but something to be rated, something for people to judge others on, much like the silly wine rankings issued by Robert Parker. What Ozersky is really saying, is that New York City finally has a BBQ scene worth mentioning and that they now view themselves as the best, just like every other BBQ region in the world.

In a way, this is indicative of the problems surrounding the entire FoodBorg. This reflexive necessity to bring a caste structure to food is becoming overwrought.  That you have found you lack an affinity for pickled pork sinus garnished with the reduced gall bladder fluid of virgin robins served over a bed of slightly charred nutria fur is not simply a matter of palate, but it has morphed into an indication of your class. Because of this blight, a seemingly very nice lady was brutally mocked for having the audacity to enjoy her dining experience in (GASP!) Olive Garden. More recently, some FoodBorg blow hard enjoyed his 15 minutes of national fame by doing nothing more than picking on the lower class.  This is not a defense of either Olive Garden or Guy Fieri, but it is a warning that, when reading food reviews from the FoodBorg, it is necessary to realize from whence the author is coming.

This angry, classist bit of food opinion does seem to have found its epicenter in New York City however, and I believe this is a big problem.  Because when New York, undoubtedly America's greatest city, starts thumping its chest in a "me too" style every time another region starts gaining accolades, you are looking at a deflation of our national identity. Old New York was a trend-setter.  It did what it wanted and didn't really give a rat's ass if you didn't like it.  They were ahead of the curve and most trends that mattered flowed from its boroughs like cultural water. Modern day New York is not the same.  Especially among the bloggers and the indie-media set it's more of a trend follower, taking the best ideas from the rest of the country and loudly bragging that they are now doing it better. The old New York food scene gave us the cupcake fad, and you knew that, three years later, Houston would finally catch up.  The new New York food scene has taken a look at Texas BBQ, decided they don't like someone else taking their food thunder, and have co-opted it with the flimsy excuse that the rest of the country is their "farm system".

What they're really suggesting here is that, from an ideas standpoint, they've fallen behind.  They've become the Food Network of the real culinary world, choosing to take the creativity of others, loosely copy it, and then roll out something that is now a "trend" to the rest of the country who are supposed to show the proper amount of deference toward their ability to market.  The problem this attitude creates is something of a perpetual inferiority complex because they're constantly having to compare themselves to others.  The "farm system" analogy doesn't work because the farm system in baseball is controlled by the major league club, and they have a 100% control over what is fed into it.  New York used to have that control over the US food scene, setting trends etc. but they don't any longer.  This is a big problem for them psychologically.  It's gotten so bad that David Letterman feels the need to remind us that New York is the "greatest city in the world" five nights a week. (it's not, but hey)

Most importantly, as a consumer, you have to realize that this is a temporary tempest in the tea pot that is the semi-professional FoodBorg community.  BBQ, as much as many hate to admit it, is, outside of its core regions, a fad.  Like all things, this fad will pass.  Eventually New York's foodborg will strip the businesses clean of originality and will move on to the next big thing, baked beans with animal testicles or something of that nature.  The New York BBQ scene will fade (although not go away) and Texas, the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City and the other BBQ regions will still be there. Ozersky will then turn his pen toward Denver, instructing them that New York cow testicle is far superior to Rockey Mountain oysters because New York chefs personally give the cows scrotum massages before performing the snip. California might have happy cows, but New York cows are far more laid back.

In the interim, you should not feel guilty because some guy sitting in an efficiency flat in Manhattan thinks he's got it all over Lockhart. In honor, go eat your favorite BBQ this weekend and wash it down with an ice-cold Texas beer.  Or better yet, eat on your back patio, in March next year.  The odds are while you're doing this, Mr. Ozersky will be huddled inside complaining about the snow ordering Thai take-away.

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