This morning I have been reviewing some of the beer-blog reports on the SAVOR event in Washington, DC this last week. The theme of “over booked” topped the two also-ran themes of “too expensive” and “they ran short of food/beer/space”. One blog in particular caught my eye when it linked to two more sites that had different takes on the same subject… snobs.
I believe that this “snobbism” is a symptom of a disease that infects almost all aspects of life in these United States. The vicious political battles being fought are just the tip of the topic. Should I venture too far from New York City perception of “us” real Americans vs.” them” elitist New Yorkers is palpable. Outside the major urban areas the “illegal immigrant” issue has large sections of this country tied in knots. World-wide, the friction between countries that throw away millions of tons of food and countries lacking any food at all is a bomb waiting to go off. On the malt beverage (beer) front the stakes are not as high but are just a fractious.
Craft Beer vs. Mega-brewers, all-grain homebrewers vs. extract brewers, and “extreme” brewers vs. “to-style” brewers are just a few of the factions bickering in the beer world.
When I put my “food writer” hat on it had best be made of Kevlar. In culinary cosmos the battle between the mega-food producers (I cannot be convinced to call them farmers) and sustainable growers is joined by the “Slow Food” movement and the anti-fois gras people. This is not to leave out the vegan vs. carnivore campaign or the whole-milk brie vs. Cheese Whiz® scuffle.
What do I make of all this? I believe that the inflation of differences to the point of confrontation illustrates only one thing – we live in a nation of smug, self-centered egoists that want it all and want it now!
It is no secret that food priced to sell to those who can least afford it is designed to render profit for the producer rather than nutrition for the consumer. It is no secret that $5.00 spent on beans, tomatoes (yes, from a can) chicken parts and onions can provide two meals (at least) for family of four. It is no secret that $5.00 spent at a processed food provider (read “fast food”) will supply that same family with two large cups of sweet soft drinks, two processed sandwiches and two envelopes of deep fried potatoes. It is also no surprise that the latter is more the norm for impoverished families than the former. It is no mystery why six-packs of beer or soft drinks sold at $5.00 flies out of convenience stores while milk is ignored. It is no mystery why a dozen white sports sox made in Asia and sold at $5.00 outsells better made and longer lasting merchandise manufactured locally. Most of this country is financially squeezed to the point that there is little sympathy for “sustainable farming” and “craft beer.”
Should you have a chance to visit, or attend a James Beard event you will find the answer to the viability of slow-food and sustainable foods. That answer is that those who are wrapped up in the issues are comprised of those who can afford to spend $15.00 a pound for grass-fed beef and $10.00 a pint for their organic beer.
This results in the rise of factions that foster friction rather than understanding. While I applaud the efforts of small brewers and farmers to give back to their communities through civic programs that enhance the lives of the less fortunate I find the “us” vs. “them” mentality persists. I believe it persists because most of us want it to. People want, dare I say it, need to feel unique. Unable to affect daily lives in any real way people cling to icons and symbols.
Financially strapped and stressed out, the easy-way is the only alternative. Fast food is easier than spending the time cooking the meal (if there is the time). Price is the answer to almost all consumer purchases. The majority of consumers to not have the luxury of paying the price for crafted anything. Those who can afford to seek out the crafted food, beer or clothing, who can afford to support “Slow Food” and James Beard Foundation can afford to sneer at consumers of mass-produced products… And that’s why they call them “snobs.”
What is the answer to the warped perception created by this situation? The answer is to drop the “in your face” attitudes that is perceived as “snobbism”. To paraphrase Ronald Regan, “Take down your signs that say “Hooray for our side!” and replace them with a hand shake and an attempt to communicate on a personal level. (Almost every brewer who meets the definition of “craft brewer” knows the routine… sales are made one bottle at a time, one person at a time and has to be maintained.)
A few weeks ago I met with Sam Calgione and Marnie Old, the co-authors of “He said Beer… She said Wine.” (http://www.beerbasics.com/009 003/009 003 beerbasics visits.htm ) Their book takes the beer vs. wine snobbism and actually transforms the battle into a love fest. (Don’t tell them I said that.) The interview ended up confirming that situation. “Beer” folks have a lot to learn from “wine” people and “wine” people have a lot to learn from “beer” people. Now if these two can do that there is a glimmer of hope for the rest of the situation.