The Foodie's Blind Spot

Seattle mag food editor Allison Austin Scheff reconciles her struggle with eating only sustainable,
Allison Austin Scheff  |   April 2010   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

In January, seattle magazine's Grey Matters columnist Knute Berger aired our dirty teriyaki-loving laundry all over the front page of The New York Times food section, when he was quoted in an article on Seattle’s love of teriyaki thusly: “Seattle likes to talk about local foods, about ridiculous things like fiddlehead coulis. Seattle yuppies love the idea of going to some obscure Chinese place for dim sum, but won’t dare tell you that they eat chicken teriyaki. Those places are so much a part of the streetscape that we can’t even see them.”

Rest assured, Mr. Berger has been put on probation for breaking the first and second rules of Food Club: First, you don’t make fun of fiddlehead coulis.

And second, you certainly don’t point out the most obvious and yet largely unspoken double standard that members of Food Club adhere to: That while we haughtily blabber on about how dedicated we are to sustainable, local (bonus points for foraged!) and humanely raised foods to like-minded friends at the farmers’ market, on the drive home we stop by the cheapest taco truck we can find and brag about those $2 tacos—can you believe it? only $2!—to all of our friends.

Our clandestine trips to the neighborhood teriyaki joint, however? Those go into the vault, never, ever to be mentioned.

Boy, does Knute Berger have our number. How fragile our food idealism is! Or perhaps fragile isn’t quite the right word; maybe situational, or convenient, or, dare I say, brag-worthy (vanity-enhancing?) hits closer to the mark.

Among most Food Club members, the discovery of a new Korean barbecue joint trumps the issue of whether the beef you’ll eat at said Korean joint is grass-fed, humanely raised or what have you. But with something as lowly as teriyaki, we keep mum. The reason is obvious, isn’t it?

There’s no cachet in teriyaki.

The problem is, as we become louder preachers of the local-seasonal-sustainable mantra, our blind spots become inconveniently transparent, our inconsistencies are revealed. If we’re eating cheap, inhumanely raised pork, it’d better be at a groovy Mexican joint in South Park that no one’s ever heard of on Chowhound.com.

Even more troubling is the fact that we hold certain chefs at certain restaurants to much higher standards than we do others.

Much of this has to do with price, of course: Our $26 entrée had better be made with a formerly happy critter. But are we actively looking for sustainably raised pork carnitas? Do we honestly expect the tuna in our $5 sushi rolls to be line-caught? What are the chances that hot wings that cost 25 cents each are from organic, free-range chickens?

And so what? Is it all of a sudden sinful to admit that sometimes even those of us with the best intentions are just looking for delicious food, and cheap, cheap, cheap?

Food Club members like myself have to do better at putting our money where our mouths are—buying more from farmers’ markets and less from big-box grocers; eating asparagus, strawberries and tomatoes only when they’re in season; eating less meat, but better meat.

I know, even I think this sounds like a yawn-inducing elitist lecture. But what would happen if we deserted our favorite pho, burger, ramen, barbecue, deli, Thai and, yes, teriyaki joints—those small, locally owned business that couldn’t afford to keep prices low if they bought organic, local or humanely raised meats at current prices?

There’s no simple solution, though one thing's for sure: The occasional gut-check -- even if it comes in the form of an embarrassing New York Times article -- will help keep Food Club members like myself humble. Just don't expect us to fess up about our teriyaki habits.

 

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