March 5, 2013

Food culture and cocooning

From a comment I left at a recent post at Uncouth Reflections, which asked why the food scene appears to be thriving compared to other cultural fields:

Seems like food isn't as social as the other art & entertainment forms, both on the production and consumption sides. Think of how much trust and team-mindedness you need to pull off a great movie or pop song. The musicians, sound engineers, actors, and film crew seem to go way far out there in opening up and giving more to one another.

Food isn't as collaborative, so when social cohesion begins to loosen, it isn't struck as hard as movies and music are. There’s the lone mad genius thinking up / experimenting with the recipes, and a more rigidly hierarchical pyramid of workers to carry out his vision. That operates more on authority than collaboration.

Same thing on the audience’s side. Hearing great music in a social setting (live performance or in a dance club), or seeing a great movie in a crowded theater, makes it a thousand times better than if you’re alone. Everyone is feeding off of everyone else’s energy, and you feel more closely bound together.

Eating the same meal at a popular restaurant makes it more enjoyable than eating it at home — but not by a thousand times. Restaurants aren't as interactive or group-gluing as dance clubs or movie theaters. When you see a fellow patron tear into something and close their eyes in ecstasy, does that pump you up even a little bit? Not really. You’re not sharing the same gustatory and olfactory experience as your fellow patrons. Even if you coincidentally order the same meal as someone else, your actions and reactions are not synchronized. You’re each eating at your own separate rhythms.

At the dance club, everyone’s moving their bodies to the same rhythm, or splitting their sides laughing at the same scene in the movie theater.

So, when the society starts getting more anti-social, restaurants won’t be hit as hard as dance clubs, concerts, and movie theaters. You don’t need to be that sociable when you eat out.


  1. The "restaurant boom" is single men going to Hooter-style sports bars by themselves. As outlined in the following article:

    "Twin Peaks owner Randy DeWitt downplays all of that and insists that the appeal of the restaurant goes beyond the obvious. Hearty meals and a focus on making customers feel special, he says, are what really keeps them coming back."

    So basically, strip clubs are going mainstream. This is a sign of worse relations between men and women, and men retreating more into reclusiveness and fantasy.

    (and yeah, the article gives an example of a guy who brought his kids there, but I don't buy it)


  2. And now that I think of it, Hooters(and other sex-themed restaurants) is a strictly "reclusive era" phenomenon. I remember specifically my parents and other adults talking about how controversial Hooters was when it popped up in the(when else) mid-90s. It must have been a new concept.

    So the restaurant boom is a sign that things are(or were very recently) getting more reclusive. As relations between men and women get worse and worse, women working in the service sector are being paid to show men affection. And men are paying extra money to get that affection.

    That being said, though, going out to regular restaurants is an outgoing trait, and hopefully it will make a comeback.


  3. Pretty girls have always worked in restaurants, probably moreso in the New Wave. But "flirting with the customer" as part of the job description, seems like the type of artificial construct - like beer pong - that is so common during reclusive periods. Guys can't get affection in their daily lives, but they're not yet beaten down enough, or brave enough, to go to a strip club.

    Its also what you would call "pussified".


  4. Dude, why didn't I think of it before -- the carhop girl at the drive-in restaurant was the mid-century version of the Hooters girl and the 20 year-old Starbucks barista from the Millennial age.

  5. It wasn't only "flirting" that was absent from New Wave customer service, it was hovering and obsequiousness in general. Back when you might hear, "Mister if you don't shut up, I'm gonna kick one-hundred percent of your ass!"

    Back then, you socialized and got attention from the other people you showed up with, as well as other customers (uh oh, "strangers"...). Now that that's forbidden, and now that most people would find it too awkward to initiate even if it were allowed, they opt instead for a commercially mediated form of socializing and attention, from the servers who work there.

    It's weird how that goes not only for individuals who showed up alone and never talk to anyone else, but also for people who showed up as a part of a couple or group of "friends". They might never talk to their friends seated right next to them, preferring the comfort of their laptop cocoons.

    But then they'll shoot the breeze for a couple minutes with the baristas. Somehow the baristas are safer and more comfortable to talk to, since there are clear boundaries about how close and far you're allowed to get socially/emotionally. With your friends or bf/gf, you have to navigate wide-open real life, and that's too frightening for folks today.

  6. There’s the lone mad genius thinking up / experimenting with the recipes, and a more rigidly hierarchical pyramid of workers to carry out his vision. That operates more on authority than collaboration.

    Writers are like this too.

    I did wonder whether a change in orientation from band to producer oriented music maps this change. The Mike Oldfield style singular creator of pop music. The composer.

    Does this help explain the great classical music period, which overlaps with the Enlightenment?

    Playhouses would probably be bigger hit by an anti-social tide than movies, being more social and more audience oriented.

  7. Interesting point on this one agnostic, have you actually graphed cinema attendance against crime rates?

    Here's a US graph:

    and a British graph -

    both (for the time periods they overlap) show a early 30s low point a 1940s surge and decline thereafter, reaching a low point in the 1970s, where they stabilize.

    There's possible a slight trend to increase in the late 1980s through to the 2000s, but it is not clear to me.

    Perhaps cinema was most visited in the mid-century but cinema goers did not "connect"?

    I suppose we could say "correcting for technological trends"...?

  8. Just to clarify, I don't believe that trying to make conversation with a waitress or server is bad or weird. During rising-crime times, a lot more flirtation happens between customers and "hired guns"(the girls working there).

    And actually, I think I have may have been wrong in a lot of what I said. Businesses have always advertised the possibility of getting to flirt with the help, even(perhaps especially) during wild times. For instance, in the 1960s or 70s, Southwest or Delta airlines put billboard pictures of actual stewardesses on the side of airplanes, and in big letters above the picture was "Fly Me!"

    Yet, Hooters and other places like it are somehow qualitatively different. I can't put my finger on it. I guess its because men mostly go to those places.

    So the question is: why don't women go to Hooters, or at least why didn't they in the past 20 years? Any ideas?



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