Friday Food Blogging July 17, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Food and Drink.
Tags: corporate food, food snobs, The Cheesecake Factory
Does corporate food suck?
Ezra Klein, who now writes a biweekly column on the politics of food for the Washington Post, has a post defending the virtues of The Cheesecake Factory.
In contrast to food snobs who disdain chain restaurants, Klein argues:
Not only did the miso salmon rock, but so too did the crispy beef. The spaghetti carbonara and chicken piccata Ruhlman’s party ordered were also pretty good. And of course they were. The Cheesecake Factory isn’t accidentally popular. They spend millions each year on food research. They have access to a tremendous quantity of data on consumer preferences. They have the money to test new products and experiment with new dishes and refine their flavors. They have central processing plants where food is par fried and broken down with sugar and salt injections. People should read David Kessler’s The End of Overeating to get an idea of the resources that go into creating the flavors for chain dishes. They’re not screwing around.
Foodies have an unfortunate tendency to alight on a Unified Field Theory of Corporate Food: It’s bad for the environment and bad for workers and bad for animals and bad for waistlines and, above all that, a fraud, because it also tastes bad. This would be convenient, if true. If people weren’t actually enjoying what they were eating, then getting them to change their eating habits would be pretty easy. But it’s not true, of course. They keep going back to the Cheesecake Factory because, well, they like it.
He goes on to discuss the fact that such food is laden with calories so it is bad for you. However:
Human beings are wired to prefer abundance, salt, fat, sugar, and value. The Cheesecake Factory is giving people the whole package. Changing people’s eating habits so that type two diabetes don’t become the new chubby would be easy if the food was actually repulsive or the value was bad or it was all, in some other way, a trick. But it’s not. The food is enjoyable. The value is incredible.
Having eaten at The Cheesecake Factory recently, I suppose I agree that the food tastes good. And he is certainly right about the resources corporations dump into figuring out what people like and giving it to us.
The problem with his post is that he misses the point about why foodies dislike corporate food. Foodies don’t seek out food that tastes good—that is easy to find. We want food that is unusual, authentic, inspired, rich with interesting cultural associations, creative or inventive, and capable of satisfying idiosyncratic tastes.
You won’t find corporate food satisfying any of these criteria. In fact, the whole point of their research and development is to make sure their food is not challenging. I just can’t get excited about another plate of chicken piccata or miso salmon.
From the standpoint of why food is interesting, corporate food isn’t. And that sucks.
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