Taste The Austerity
Mmmm! What’s that devilish flavor, Midge? It’s got a base of frowning judge and overtones of cold marble and concrete, sprinkled with arbitrary traditions and with subtle hints of collective punishment! Wait, I know — it’s austerity!
Yes, it’s the hot new lifestyle trend that’s sweeping Europe, and it’s coming to America, whether you like it or not! The great thing about austerity is that you can find it in the unlikeliest places: while you might expect to have it served up by the great chefs of the Frankfurt culinary schools, building on their skill at blending unfettered capitalism with nakedly aggressive class warfare, it’s just as likely to attract the attention of those delightful neo-liberals, with their love of fusion: they’ve been whipping it up and serving it on a bed of ‘new economy’ inevitability and technocratic governance so skillfully that they’re some of the biggest evangelists for the Age of Austerity!
Of course, no shifts in traditional cuisine happen without disruption. Austerity has been met with sour faces and unflattering reviews from the head-in-the-sanders hither and yon, whether it’s been added to the bland old reliables of Irish and British cooking or integrated into the spicy Mediterranean mélange of Spanish and Greek food. The complaints are many: austerity dishes can be prepared with a minimum amount of kitchen help, paid wages low enough to keep them from buying the dishes they’ve always helped prepare. The top-down nature of the creative process that results in these delicious selections strikes some as a tad authoritarian, especially when celebrity chefs are involved; a few cranky old-school critics have gone so far as to suggest that austerity is nothing more than forcing the poor to bear the costs of economic recovery.
But such unsugared truths are too bitter to sustain a perfectly good metaphor! Instead, let’s focus on the good things about austerity. Not only is it extremely palatable to the rarefied tastes of the very wealthy — and, after all, who is good cooking intended for if not the rich? — but it rids us of this déclassé ‘more than enough for everybody’ nonsense fine diners have had to put up with far too often. Cafeterias may be well and good for Wal-Mart’s shoppers, but Wal-Mart’s owners didn’t spend all that money ruthlessly de-unionizing the retail and manufacturing sectors just so they could go and have a celebratory dinner at the fucking Golden Corral. Laissez-les manger le pain; that cake is for those who can afford it!
To turn a phrase, the food is wonderful here — and such large portions! The longer we can get the rabble with one packet of ramen in their bowls to stay furious at the rabble with two packets of ramen in their bowls, the longer we can keep both of them from noticing that the guy pointing his finger is sitting in front of a plate piled four feet high with châteaubriand. And isn’t that the whole idea behind fine dining? Who wants to go to a restaurant where everybody gets to eat, even if they don’t have enough money to order the most expensive thing on the menu? If they didn’t want you eating well, they shouldn’t have helped you get rich.
Of course, there’s more to a good meal than just the flavor, the quantity, and lording it over people who can’t afford to get their own. There’s also ambiance, and nothing aids the digestion like privatizing your enjoyment of dinner by publicizing the cost of the fare. That’s what makes austerity such a tempting treat for those with the resources to make it the only game in town: since you already rebuilt your mismanaged portfolio on the cost of a government bailout, forcing the taxpayers to suffer through a loss of essential services so you can keep making money without interruption means that the so-called working class is paying their share of a meal they don’t get to eat twice, while you get to keep eating all you want without paying once! And even if you’re one of those unsophisticated flyover types who doesn’t enjoy haute cuisine, you surely know that 2-0 is a winning score no matter what game you’re playing.
And all this is not even to speak of all the peripheral benefits of an austerity-based approach to fine dining. Just as one’s diet and nutrition can have salutary effects on health, so too can the right approach to the economics of eating translate to a robust and strong-valued political system! As we’ve learned over and over from history, when the right class of people are eating and the wrong class of people are starving, that troublemaking riff-raff can often be convinced to blame appropriately goat-flavored pests for their grumbling bellies, and instead of concentrating on passing all sorts of bothersome kitchen regulations that might take food off your plate, they’ll actually give you more leisure time to sip your digestif by voluntarily doing all the odd jobs you’ve been meaning to get to, like imposing strict law-and-order regimens on their fellow slobs, or fighting your culture war for you, or cleaning up those pesky immigrants. (As they so often do in everything from olive oil importing to quick, efficient cafés, the Greeks and Italians are showing us the way in this regard.)
Remember, though, all this luxury — in your belly and on someone else’s shoulders — comes at a cost. And that cost is listening to the whining and complaining of a bunch of meddlers who wouldn’t know a good meal if it walked up and begged them for a quarter. Sure, there are certain corners of Europe that have rejected the replacement of their local cuisine with forcible austerity; but when was the last time you craved a nice, authentic Icelandic meal? (We’ve always been partial to Singapore noodles, ourselves.) And sure, there are economists on both sides of the pond who point out that in the long run, government stimulus is a much more effective means of restoring economic prosperity than imposing draconian austerity measures. But if these guys are so smart, how come they’re economists and not chefs? Or for that matter, why aren’t they captains of industry who can afford to hire their own personal chefs? (Frankly, we think some of these so-called Nobel Prize winners would be happier eating at a deli, if you know what we mean.)
Don’t listen to all the naysayers, and keep pushing your neighborhood eateries towards that delicious and nutritious fiscal cliff. Like another favorite conservative dish, austerity is inevitable, so you might as well lie back and enjoy it. And remember, the only thing better than a great meal is a great meal that someone else paid for.