Wednesday, April 13, 2011

THE TELLING DETAIL. This is all good fun at Tbogg's place, but the Megan McArdle cooking video he mocks is just a multimedia add-on to her article about upscale kitchen trends. It is a perfectly fine piece of reporting, and even makes some good points about those trends. But it contains what to me is a striking presumption:
Schwefel says, “The core of my business is that 40- or 50-something woman who has more time than she did 10 years ago and is rediscovering kitchens.”

In other words, cooking is increasingly a leisure activity, especially at the high end of the market.
Especially! You see it throughout the story: "...the $250 Breville toaster ovens … the Japanese knives with their own display stands. Why are we spending so much money on a place where we spend so little time?" "Perhaps we’re spending so much on our kitchens precisely because we’re using them less," etc.

Who's this "we"? I'm cooking at home plenty, because it's cheaper. I'm also using less exalted cuts of meat than I used to. I expect a lot of people are these days. Recession, you know.

So who's the audience for this article? It's the target market for $200 knives and $350 Margarita makers. If the number of Sur la Table stores has grown in five years "from 49 to 83—despite the worst economy since the Great Depression," it's not because Joe Sixpack said, screw the rainy day fund, I'm buying a convection oven. It's because even in the "worst economy since the Great Depression," there are plenty of people who are still doing really, really well.

At one point McArdle says
According to Mintel, another market-research firm, 60 percent of restaurant-goers say that the recession has changed how their family spends money, and one-quarter plan to cut back their restaurant spending in 2011. But this can’t explain the decades of movement toward higher-end kitchens and kitchen equipment.
No explanation is needed: The people who are going out to eat less need to go out to eat less. The people with baroque kitchens don't. They can blow tens of thousands of bucks on a home cookery and leave it spotless for guests to inspect. They could do this before the recession, and they can do it now.

I wouldn't normally waste this much bile on a trend piece. But it does appear in The friggin' Atlantic, under the byline of their business and economics editor. And it's a little jarring to be reminded so forcefully that our commentariat is basically talking not to people like me, but to the Travel + Leisure and Cigar Aficionado crowd.

In conclusion, tax the rich. Tax their asses off.

UPDATE. In comments, Whetstone makes good points, illuminated by a link to his excellent article at Chicago magazine's 312 blog on molecular gastronomy.

I also appreciate something Riggsveda said: "The gentrification of food and cookware in the last 15 years is not confined to cooking but an almost inevitable phenomenon that seems to infest every interest that fires the public imagination. If people are liking it, someone will find a way to make it more expensive."

This expresses well a problem with gentrification generally, and tracks with McArdle's and others' attitude toward residential gentrification; though they're allegedly free-market enthusiasts, they seem to think neighborhood uplift is a favor the moneyed do the poor (sometimes backed by the testimony of apocryphal bus riders), rather than something to poor do for themselves, which attracts the rich, who then colonize it and make it difficult for others to afford. But at least the foodies don't price you out of your pots and pans.

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