There is a hipster civil war a brewing. You need to look no further than the recent antics around Antler restaurant for proof. In recent weeks, the vegan movement has come head to head with knife wielding carnivores who’s expression comes more from what they make look pretty on a plate. This battle has received widespread media attention and has polarized the otherwise unified youth movement. In a nutshell, Antler has been scrutinized about their claims regarding the ethical treatment of animals. Farmed game meats and the abhorrent appearance of fois gras on the menu seems in stark contrast to the restaurant’s statement. As a result, on some of the busiest dining nights of the week, protesters have periodically riddled the streets in front of Antler donning signs and chanting sayings defending our four-legged friends. In retaliation, owner Michael Hunter (I mean with the name Hunter can you blame him???) decided to first take one of those friends and demonstrate his butchery through the front window, cook it up and down it in front of the crowd using the same medium. Understandably, the vegan protesters “were in shock”. The subsequent social media comments have been as polar as opinions towards Trump. Some are posting that they are planning to make a reservation ASAP while others are speaking out and calling for a full out ban of the Dundas St. eatery. I can’t confirm whose winning the battle other than noting that blogTo reports that reservations have soared in the days following the latest standoff. Personally, although I’m off meat at the moment, I’m tempted to book one myself.
The clash between those trying to save animals and those who would rather grave them is nothing new. Humanity’s position on the food chain has always been up for much interpretation. This situation, however, goes well beyond this argument alone. In other words, the ongoing battle is more than just the fundamental rights of an individual to behave and function within societal laws; it’s the morality around why they do it.
I’m not sure where I sit on this issue. Do we have the right to disrupt a legal business because we don’t like their philosophy? On the flip side, do businesses have the right to brand themselves using, in the eyes of some, ethical pretenses? Finally, regardless of the action, was the owner justified in his actions given they occurred within his own establishment? To me, it’s not an argument about meat;it’s merely the scape”goat” (God..that joke was baaaad) or maybe more appropriately, the catalyst which accelerated the aforementioned hipster civil war. You see, what we have here if a battle between two entitled groups who believe their own righteous philosophies trump the other. I can’t say it’s much different that the American civil war…minus the guns and widespread fatalities of course. Instead, Antler may in fact be the Fort Sumter of this millennial battle, with placards, tweets and deer limb replacing muskets and knives. Perhaps entrepreneurial carnivores are deemed the south in the sense that they support slavery; but in this case that of our avian, mammalian and piscine friends.
So how do we end the standoff? Perhaps we can halt the mean-natured posts and public displays of gluttony by drafting a constitution of hipster behaviour. It would outline acceptable behavior yet have room for amendments based on the ever changing trends of a millennial’s world. This document could be posted on facebook, reddit or other social media channels and come complete with amendment suggestions from the likes of @dontmeatmefordinner or @nosetotailneverfails. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:
The right to bear meat. Conditions would include the right to carry concealed meat but public displays would be reserved for grocery stores, butcher shops or display windows along Spadina avenue. Otherwise, animal foodstuffs could be displayed in private spaces providing the windows are opaque or have sufficient glare during dinner hours.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects , restaurants against unreasonable searches and seizures protesters and placards shall not be violated, and no Warrantsreally mean social media posts shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oathinstagram or affirmation twitter, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.challenged.
Just don’t lie about shit including claims about ethical treatment of anything or things like GMOs, free range, fair trade, farm to table, organic, natural, sugar-free, gluten free, omega-3, air-chilled, low carb, high carb or no carb. Also, no absurd claims about cocktails (ie that vodka martinis are better than gin ones or that old fashioneds should be made out of rye instead of bourbon) should be made.
Regarding the Antler situation, I think I’ll exercise my constitutional right and plead the fifth. I see both sides of the story but will stick to the fact that this issue is bigger than the safety and welfare of animals. It’s an egotistical battle fueled by self-righteousness and entitlement on both sides. It will be interesting to see how this one “pans” out…but perhaps the affected parties can sit down and resolve it over a plate of GMO-free gnocchi in an agreed upon neutral restaurant which is not owned by a conglomerate of course.
After being hyper-vigilant for a few years, i fell off the blogging bandwagon for most of 2017. I can probably blame a universal shift or some other cosmic phenomenon but it’s mostly because I got jaded and lazy. I won’t spend much time on the laziness but will focus my efforts on the former. I’m prone to jadedness…some say it’s in my DNA. Perhaps it’s that I’m a disciple of Darwin and his theories of natural selection and the theory doesn’t seen to working at the moment.
I’m not about to go off on a general social commentary but I will bring my observations and feelings back to what I love to write about…food. What we eat and the industry surrounding it has not been immune to the utter stupidity that has infected the world over the past half decade. Whether it be social media, the deprioritization of what we eat as part of a dining experience or the utter ignorance of everything wrong in one of the most corrupt industries in current society, the relationship between who are and what we eat is at an impasse. Unless we really evaluate what we are doing and rethink things, we may end up severing a relationship that has been evolving for thousands of years.
To this day, one of the most important books I have ever read has been “You Eat What You Are; People, Culture and Food Traditions” but Thelma Barer- Stein. I first read it during a university course as part of my nutrition degree. It opened my eyes to the wedded yet delicate relationship between humanity and what we eat. It used to be quite simple; you ate what was around and developed a culture around that. With the advent of transportation, increased exposure to foods from all over the earth and a rapid fusion of many cultures in a span a few decades that strong cultural history is being forgotten, opening the doors to those with creative business minds to redefine and reinforce new ways for consumers to belong to their definition of food culture. Unfortunately, Dr. Barer-Stein left us in 2017 but I would have loved to sit down with her just for a few minutes to get her reaction to how, in a matter of a few years, managed to destroy our relationship with what we eat in the same fashion as what we have done to our precious environment.
Social media has been one of the biggest catalysts in the destruction of our relationship with food. At one point establishments survived based on word of mouth and quality of their menu as opposed to their elaborate social media platforms which are endorsed by hipster zombies who know how to use hash tags. Speaking to a friend, reading a review in a newspaper by a food critic (with proper prose and complete sentences) or getting you hands on a hard copy of a Zagat review has been replaced with uncensored bias reviews written in broken English by people revered for the quantity as opposed to quality of what they post. Yelp, for example, rewards those who post glowing reviews about every Tim Horton’s in town, citing things like “The coffee was priced similar to the other Tim’s across town” or “I saw they had maple dip donuts which is amazing because we live in Canada”.
Instagram is probably worse. True..a picture does speak a thousand words but unfortunately these photos are usually selfies representing “look what I have and how cool I am” versus “look at how good this looks”. Take the Starbucks unicorn frappuccino for example. Anthony Bourdain called it “the perfect nexus of awfulness. Just add pumpkin spice to that mix, and you can nuke the whole county”. I couldn’t agree more. In addition, I would argue it was one of the biggest reasons for truancy in 2017. High school students flocked to their local Starbucks instead of math class to get their hands on one and the main driver was bolstering their social media status. Being one of the first to post yourself looking like a giraffe sucking back heavily dyed 400 calories (complete with 10 g of saturated fat..the same as a Big Mac) and adding a clever hash tag like #iskippedschooltodrinkthisshit or #sweetthensourjustlikeme elevated your profile to new heights (at least for a few hours or until somebody posted a new puppy or something). In other words, food has become an accessory in a fashion similar to a designer purse or a pair of Hunters.
In the restaurant industry, food has slowly fallen from the centre of attention. At one point, people went out to have a good steak or the best eggs benny in town and actually communicated with those around them. Now it seems an experience out has become synonymous with heading to the CNE for Medieval Times in which you enter a rambunctious environment and watch a bunch of costumed knights put on a show while you wear a crown and slurp cold tomato soup from an iron bowl before tearing dry chicken off a leg bone with your teeth. Now, instead of jousting horses, you can go to most restaurants and be surrounded by similar barnstormers. Whether you are into pretentious aristocrats with fake accents or sullen hipsters with the menu tattooed on their arm, you can choose your own adventure. What’s even better is that in most cases the environment is so loud that you don’t even have to have a conversation with the person or people you are with. This is a definite advantage when you have to hang with annoying friends or family members or maybe with a match.com date that just isn’t working. Listen, I not saying that I don’t appreciate spending my money on a good overall experience which includes great service and a cool vibe but it can’t come at the experience of the food. I don’t think too many people have left medieval times saying the show sucked by the food was great. We can’t be lead to believe that the reverse mentality should exist for a place where sustenance should be the primary objective. Furthermore, we have succumb to the mentality that, unlike medieval times when servers were servers, it is acceptable for us as patrons to accept and encourage the sadistic attitude of those we pay as part of our bill. In other words, the acceptance of the current culture puts yet another barrier in the longstanding and evolutionary relationship between humans and the food we eat.
I want to clarify that I’m not against all social media. In many cases it can be used to unify like minds, promote a business or allow for free expression. The #metoo movement has been one of the best examples of an important use of social media…sort of. The core of the movement is long overdue as sexual harassment by whatever definition you choose to use has been running rampant for years. Part of the magic of facebook and other outlets is to allow the unification of people with commonality regardless of their position on the social ladder. A 50 year-old business executive who hit a glass ceiling because she wouldn’t engage in relations outside her job description has as much clout as a 19 year-old waitress who was inappropriately touched or verbally by a restaurant manager. Unfortunately, special interest groups (including Hollywood and yes, I do refer to Hollywood as a special interest group) have hijacked the cause. I’m not suggesting that making millions of dollars is an invitation to be sexually harassed. My point it that turning the Golden Globes into a funeral for the male species fueled by speeches of presidential intention don’t speak for the thousands of men and woman who may live in a constant environment of exploitation not to live in a mansion on the hills but instead in order to pay their rent in a one-bedroom apartment above a convenience store.
I have a 17 year-old daughter who worked for a local restaurant. A number of months ago she discussed a sexual harassment issue with management. A cook in the kitchen easily 40 years her senior continuing made references about how he would like to have babies with her. When it didn’t stop she brought it up with management and the solution was “he was warned”. The behaviour stopped but she was fired 6 months later. It was shortly after she was promoted to a serving position by one of the managers although she was not yet of the alcohol serving age. She was doing well until the owner came in and complained. The pattern continued…every time he would come in he would complain and harass the staff about an underage server right in front on my daughter. I still remember the night she came home and told me she was fired. I asked her why and she said they told her she was moved to a job she couldn’t handle and her old spot wasn’t available. When I went in to discuss it was a manager I was told it was because she missed work too many times (she called in sick once because she was…ummm…sick and other the time was because our dog of 5 years acutely went blind, fell down the stairs, shattered his front leg and had to be put down). The termination letter stated even a different reason for her dismissal. My point is, sexual harassment or not, employees in food service are treated like cutlery and other inventory and it has to stop. In general, they are at the highest risk of exploitation given the history of the industry, the need for gratuities to survive and the hierarchy and balance of power that exists. Simply making Mario Batali a celebrity sacrificial lamb and wearing black designer suits and gowns while you sip expensive champagne while ignoring the hundreds of other who wear short black skirts because they are pressured to and SERVE expensive champagne speaks to the Hollywood hypocrisy that plagues most social moments that exist. I really hope we see a dedicated movement in the restaurant business which recognizes harassment and even goes as far as to promote a harassment free menu and environment with the same awareness and passion that has been used for gluten and peanuts.
Much like our relationship with the environment, if we do not reevaluate our interconnection with what we eat in short order (pardon the pun) then good food will become as scarce as clean air and water. We need to show some gratitude for the food we eat and the people who serve it to us. I’m not suggesting we bow our heads and say grace (although I’m sure some marketing genius will find a hipster way to do it soon), I certainly didn’t take a selfie of me gorging on Grandma’s jelly salad or give her a slap on the ass on the way past the Thanksgiving table. Maybe we can use social media presence to promote the businesses and people who work hard to respect the food we eat and the people who make and serve it instead of using it to pad our inflated virtual egos. Maybe it’s time to realize that Hooter’s was founded in 1983 and yes, things have changed since then. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that hikes in minimum wage and automatic 18% gratuities do not give us permission to treat food service staff like subordinates (although I’d ask the same in return). Finally, in the words of the late Thelma Barer-Stein, maybe it’s time to think about eating what we are and not whatever the output of the latest, flashy marketing campaign tells us to.