Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Jay Rayner was wrong

A week and a half ago, Jay Rayner, food writer for The Guardian, wrote an article concerning the horse meat controversy happening in the UK right now. I found it surprising, and a bit galling. Before I go off, I'll let you read the piece:


Now, I have a few issues with this article, but I will try to keep them as logical and simple as possible to be as clear as I can.

1. The Headline
Let's start with the headline and its subheading. Here, Mr. Rayner claims that as bad as the scandal was, it was "compounded"by the reaction of "foodie Indiana Joneses." 

This is false. The reaction of the food adventurers was a byproduct of the discussion, but it in no way compounded or worsened the problem. The real problem here was the lack of transparency of the food providers about what kind of products they were processing and selling, and the full on betrayal of public trust by outright systematic lies. People claiming after the fact that eating horse is no big deal is not compounding or worsening this. It's a footnote.

In fact, the subsequent article ignores this entire argument and goes on to simply call out food adventurists as poseurs. The headline is a red herring, and more likely than not, just trolling for reactions from people like me. Mission accomplished.

2. The Logic
In logical terms, the article is a complete mess. Here's how I read the logic in the piece (I'll spell it out so that if you disagree, you can feel free to argue with my logic):

JR: "Culinary adventurism" is faux sophistication and just an example of machismo for its own sake. It has no real cultural or culinary worth. Culinary adventurers who replied to the scandal claiming that eating horse meat is fine were just ridiculing the masses for being less sophisticated than they are.

While I don't disagree that this may be the reason many of these folks eat the strange things they do, I'd stop short of painting this group with such a wide brushstroke. In fact, it seems very subjective to judge them as such on simply the retort that horse meat is fine to eat. No matter what your subjective thoughts are on the subject, millions of people objectively choose to eat horse meat. That is a fact. If you do not know this, you are culturally ignorant, not better or worse, just lacking in the information.

In fact, culinary adventurers are actually the unsophisticated eaters, because they only eat the "odd" food to impress others, not because they taste good. We should not be impressed because the "crazy" food they eat is not objectively good in taste or flavor. His example is anecdote of a restaurant that served insects could not draw a crowd in London, thus proving his point. Mr. Rayner concludes that this is the reason that the "triumverate (sheep, cow, pig) dominates." These foods are objectively better, the numbers prove it, and, therefore, food adventurers should stop trying to claim otherwise.

The logic here maps out as follows:
  • All people should eat what tastes good.
  • Proof of objective good taste is what the majority choose to eat. 
  • If it is not eaten by many, it is not good.
Therefore, the best tasting foods in the world are... McDonald's? Pizza Hut? Also, caviar, truffles, and lobster must not be good because few people eat them. El Bulli closed, so molecular gastronomy must not produce very good food. Some studies claim that goat is the most consumed meat in the world, so what does that mean for the triumvirate?

This opens the cultural relativism argument. Where does Mr. Rayner draw the line? In Mexico, insects have been eaten for thousands of years. Horse is still popular in Italy. What is considered "normal" in Japan or in Sweden? Does that mean that those cultures are just showing off? Or is it about only eating what is part of your culture? I'm assuming that this logic would mean that most people should be monolingual, and all those crazy multilingual people are just showing off.

Finally, even though some might claim that because he enjoys offal that he is just as guilty as those he is attacking here, he claims that it is different because they are part of England's cultural heritage, a smart use of resources, and objectively taste good.

At this point, his conclusion and his defense seem to completely conflict. If food should be objectively understood as good by it's popularity, then offal should be objectively considered bad because it has been shunned by most English diners. If restaurants that serve offal have closed for bad sales in the UK, it's proof that food is not good. Other foods that are native to their lands are good use of resources, and in fact, for the most part cows are awful for most environments and an awful use of resources. And if Rayner claims that pigs' trotters and brains taste good, much to the disdain of the rest of the country, he should just stop showing off and get himself to a Nando's.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SXSW vs. Liverpool Sound City (part 2)

New York Sound City, part 2

After the day's events, the festivities moved from the Wythe Hotel to the evening's music showcase at the Knitting Factory Brooklyn. While KOF's hiphop folk, The Verdict's British pop stylings, and Brodka's electro-pop, all made for an enjoyable evening, it was the other acts that I was most excited to see, some for the first time and others for second round.

I was, in fact, most excited to see the Wet Nuns. Playing to my theory that British metal is the next big thing, the Sheffield duo sludged through a tight and raucous short set, but delivered from the start. Reminiscent of QOTSA, but not at all uneasy about being the only heavy band on the bill, they delivered handily, and I hope they can return soon to deliver a full and proper set.

As the sole representatives for Liverpool, the Tea Street Band's energy was the catalyst that finally brought the crowd into full voice. With a 100% British sound, TSB was made to feel at home right away and repaid that embrace tenfold. Jumping into the crowd and making the most out of their Stateside debut, they made an impression and made each person in that crowd into a fan by the end of their set.

Similar to my recent post about Jake Bugg's unique positioning between UK and US fans, the final 2 acts see lots of blowback from the UK critics. Reverend and the Makers and The Enemy both seem to be too "British" for the Brits to get a fair shake in their homeland by critics and the indier than thou. But for me, they seem to honest messengers of the Anglo anthemic and the sounds that are historically and  uniquely British.

As I had previously seen Rev and the Makers open for Oasis at Wembley, having a chance to see them at such a small venue was a real treat. The energy was high, the songs were infectious and the enormous attitude was not lost in translation from the grandeur of the Wembley stage to the tiny Brooklyn venue. This isn't rocket science; it's rock music, and McClure and company deliver just that. Denying their abilities is just cynicism.

And the same goes for the Enemy. I had seen them at Bowery Ballroom before in a room full of expats, and was impressed by both their simple songwriting chops, as well as their ability to fill a room with both noise and attitude. Leaning more towards huge hooks, The Jam-style sloganeering, and uniquely British subject matter makes it more difficult to see US audiences embrace them at first blush, but again, their personality, energy and presence make them undeniable. Even though I was honestly a bit disappointed with their output since their debut album, the live set's newer songs overcame my fears and still delivered with flying colors.

Without the Doritos vending machine stage and the silly marketing attempts to connect bands and brands that have replaced the original mission of SXSW, Liverpool Sound City brought to NYC exactly what want out of my early March music showcase. As an Anglophile, this was the event of the year and worth every penny.

See you next year, New York Sound City.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

SXSW vs. New York Sound City (Part 1)

As a Texan, South By Southwest has a special place in my heart. I have attended SXSW events since my high school days in the late 80s, and have been there as a journalist, a record label minion, "friend of the band," a technology expert, #1 super fan of British export bands, and even as the dreaded  agency guy. Suffice to say my opinion about the event has changed and is less than glowing at this point. So the fact that I have missed this and last year have not upset me too much.

Luckily, this year, during the same week that most of my NYC peers went off to Austin, Liverpool came to NYC in the form of New York Sound City. A conference focused on exposing the world to the music, tech, and businesses of the Liverpool area, this was Sound City's second year in NYC, but my first time.

The day began with panels and roundtables about everything from British hiphop, music technology, how brands deal with bands, and the need (or lack thereof) for record labels in this day and age. Including both UK and NYC experts (including Monie Love, Ninjasonik, and former colleagues of mine), the experience was very genial, very open and was designed very much to open dialogue and knowledge exchanges.

The midday keynote featured Andrew Loog Oldham and Danny Fields giving perspective on the rise of the Rolling Stones and how ALO created the role of superstar rock 'n roll manager. Again, the ambience was very relaxed and allowed for a very open exchange and honest look at the people, times and events that changed the music business and rock 'n roll history as we know it.

After, the keynote and some drinks, NYC was graced by The Anfield Wrap, the premier Liverpool FC focused podcast. As a die-hard LFC supporter, it really was a special opportunity. Sitting in a room with Liverpool locals, who know their football (as well as a bit of music), was entertaining as well as educational.

With the podcast, roundtables, and really special keynote, Liverpool Sound City in NYC was a great day. but the night was even better.

Hear about the music showcase in my next entry...

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