Watching foodies beat the organic-arugula shit out of each other in the media is a lot like watching toddlers fight in the sandbox: It's hilarious, semi-productive, and it basically comes down to which kid has the biggest shovel and sand pail to knock down bodies with. Foodie fights are semi-productive in the way that arguing whether or not Michelle Obama is trying to wrestle the Kit Kat bars from our fervent American globbers gives us all something to heat up about over the Danish carts and coffee carafes at work every day. And then there are topics that deserve a solid moment of scrutiny and some tough love to follow.
In the spirit of culinary contention, food fisticuffs, beverage brawls and aficionado acrimony, here are our top five foodie fight topics.
5. Bottled water.
Recently in the news is an Australian restaurant owner who charges patrons $5 a glass for water. The water is run through a $6,000 machine that filters, chills and carbonates it. The restaurant used to serve fancy bottled water at $15 a pop. This micro-argument about whether or not $5 tap water is unreasonable feeds into the great river of conflict over whether people's basic biological need for water has been surreptitiously supplanted by their want for sanitized, mineral-enhanced, taste-manipulated, attractively encased H2O instead of taking a few shy sips from a public water fountain.
This particular fight isn't going away--at least it hasn't yet. Water is still free everywhere (if you forget about municipal taxes, anyway), and a bottle of top-shelf water might as well be a bottle of magical unicorn sperm for the price, but at the end of a hot, thirsty day, is it really worth arguing over why our fellow wankers tip a bottle or drink from the neighbor's garden hose?
4. Fast food.
After the shocking and scandalous revelation that copious amounts of fast food is bad for you and makes you fat if you eat a lot of it, we are all now left with the consistent minutiae over nutritional labels, calorie counts and medical studies, and the persistent argument over whose fault it is that Americans are fatter than a set of Michelin snow tires, and how we can all blame someone or something else.
And as with every single one of these topics, personal responsibility is really where the argument begins. Both sides of this fat camp have legitimate points. Fast-food joints spend more than a handful of coins making their greasy, fatty, sugary wares appealing to adults and children alike, but on the other ketchup-smeared hand, the restaurants are not holding potato guns to anyone's blowholes here. Lawsuits don't really replace personal accountability, but that's kind of a blurry line right now.
3. Meaters and veggites.
The battle between meat and meatless has taken on biblical proportions, and entrenched vegans never seem to get tired of haranguing steak-suckers and chicken-chewers for their nefarious, animal-protein-exploiting shenanigans. Sorry, advo-carrots, but it seems to be you guys and dolls who start the pissing contests, and the pork choppers are usually the ones who throw down the loudest, so as far as moral high ground here...
Okay, look, we all used to be hunter-gatherers. This means that we, as primates, ate what we could from wherever we could kill it, pull it, pick it, cut it or grab it, and we didn't used to be so damn polarized. Thanks to our collective move to agrarian and the lovely advent of transportation and refrigeration, we now have choices and too much spare time to bitch. You weren't gonna catch our primitive ancestors snobbing each other out over who was chomping nuts and berries and who was slicing into a juicy gazelle. So everybody take a deep knee bend and enjoy your visits to King Soopers, whatever aisles you want to plunder.
2. Food shows.
I don't even watch food shows on television anymore. Yep. You read this correctly. Somewhere between Julia Child's The French Chef and Graham Kerr's Galloping Gourmet all the way up to Gordon Ramsay screaming "Bollocks!," Andrew Zimmern's cable-access Elmer Fudd imitations and Giada De Laurentiis's pearly whites and quasi-sexual lamb-shank massaging, I hit critical mass.
So I really have no mint-julep-drinking idea as to why people expend time and energy arguing over the viability, the legitimacy, the characters, the personalities and the subjects of any food show, cooking or otherwise, it doesn't matter which one; take your pick. When was the last time you Food Network hypno-junkies actually picked up an actual cookbook, or just bought some groceries, walked into your own kitchens and just created something remarkable, all by yourselves? Break the Orwellian cable trance and rub your own damn lamb shanks.
1. Chain restaurants vs. independents.
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This topic is the easiest one to broach, the easiest one to argue from either side, and will get both industry folks and civilians into a brawl faster than asking for ten cups of hot tea in a restaurant. Chain restaurants have their strong points such as consistency, more managers to gripe to if your chicken fingers are cold or your server wipes their nose on their sleeve, more flexibility with menu options, high-level marketing to grow brand recognition and mass-issued coupons. Local restaurants have ingenuity, creativity, a greater influx of local products, closer ties to their communities and patrons, and the people-watching is much more interesting, hands down.
But inevitably there is a tarnished side to the silver spoon here. Chains tend to proffer generic menus, decor and customers; there are too many line cooks to "spoil the broth, " image issues to combat on a public scale whenever they fuck up, prices that levitate while the menu items stay the same or portions diminish in size and/or quality, and increased reliance on pre-prepared items. Local restaurants have been tagged for perpetually higher menu prices, smaller seating areas, chefs who would rather gnaw off your limbs than substitute anything in a dish, snottier waitstaff and a general air of superiority that chain-bred consumers find off-putting.
Some of this juxtaposition is actual and some of it is perception, but it seems unrealistic that restaurant diners only eat at one or the other 100 percent of the time, so there's room for compromise here. But since passion-fueled opinions aren't going out of style anytime soon, this topic may be the true never-ending foodie fight.