The Rise of Yuppie Foods
Do you shop at Whole Foods? How about Trader Joe’s? Do you insist on the superiority of dark chocolate over milk chocolate? Do you buy organic foods? Fair Trade? Equal Exchange? $2.50 cups of coffee?
The recent explosion of the gourmet is an interesting phenomenon to me. I question whether the organicification and gentrification of food tastes is the result of a surge in disposable income, a surge in availability of such foods, or a genuine movement in the name of taste. While I’d like to think that the movement is bud-driven, I can’t suppress the idea that the proliferation of Whole Foods is a result of a middle-class need to distinguish itself through consumption. Once iconic brands like Kraft and Heinz are now seen as secondary products to the small company; a product is superior as long as it has an earthy label and description about its small-world ethics an natural roots. I highly suggest William Roseberry’s The Rise of Yuppie Coffees and the Reimagination of Class in the United States (pdf warning). It’s a nice analysis of the roots of this movement. Read it, because I spent too much time on this post for you not to.
“We live now in an emerging era of variety and choice, and the revolution in consumption seems to indicate, and in some ways initiate, a revolution in production. As with coffee, so with other food products: the moves toward product diversification often came not from the established and dominant corporations but from independents whose initiatives have undercut and undermined the established practices and market share of those corporations.”
This is different than the debate between fresh/local foods and pre-packaged/corporate foods. Recall that, during the 80s and 90s, folks considered name brand foods like Kraft and Folders to be fancy eatings, given the alternate was usually a generic rendition of the same. Now we have the consumption of gourmet because, quite frankly, the poor don’t consume the organic. Why wade through the diseased masses at Shop Rite when there’s clean aisles and fresh fish to be had for a few bucks more at *Insert Name Here*’s boutique shop? The taste, I suspect, is only part of the equation.
This, of course, brings me to coffee. Oh, let me count the ways I love thee, coffee. I read the above-linked paper for an “anthropology of food” course and saw my yuppie, caffeine loving self mirrored in the text,
“As I visit the gourmet shop, it might be a bit disconcerting to know that I have been so clearly targeted as a member of a class and generation, that the burlap bags or minibarrels, the styles and flavors of coffee, the offer of a “gourmet coffee of the day,” have been designed to appeal to me and others in my market niche. But such are the circumstances surrounding my freedom of choice.”
The ambiance (to be read in a French accent) of the cafe is the reason
suckers people like me are willing to pay out the nose for such a cheap commodity. There would be no two dollar coffee if Starbucks were as dingy and florescently lighted as a McDonald’s. I am paying to be surrounded by jazz, yuppie intellectuals, people playing chess, dark chocolate, and a secure blanky of middle-class comfort. The same phenomena has now spread to food producers writ large. Frozen vegetables? Maxwell House Coffee? Milk Chocolate? You might as well drink Mountain Dew if you are going to consume these new foods of the proletariat.