February 22, 2015
Here I am blogging from the KLM Crown lounge at Schiphol again. The robots in Cupertino think it’s still Saturday night, but here in Holland we are well on our way to Sunday morning. So it’s time to think about the Thornapple blog.
The night before last I checked in at Chino Latino in Nottingham where Yelp! informed me that I was at a “hipster” place. Back when everyone was drinking Sanka and listening to Hank Williams (see last week to uncode this obscure reference) it was hip to be hip. It was so hip that only the hipsters would talk that way. By the time we got to Hendrix it was no longer hip to be hip. The truly hip were making snarky comments about anyone who appeared to be hip. Hendrix himself was so hip that he was beyond all that and could do just about anything including being generous about wannabe hipsters. Still and all, even Hendrix would ask, “Are you experienced?”
So speaking of sushi (again, check last week) Chino Latino is taking sushi to new territories, as I suppose any truly hipster place would. I had a nice roll made with duck—not something you would probably get at the sushi stands circling the Tokyo fish market. The duck itself was cooked in a tangy sauce heavy on the chilies (hence the Latino in Chino Latino). Pretty good I must say. Next time you are in Nottingham, you might want to check it out. But I’m bringing this up in connection with hipster food. Back in the day when hipsters were digging John Coltrane (they were never into Hank all that much) a nice roll would not likely have been the topic of conversation. Or if so it would have been reefer or booty, rather than ancho glazed duck breast and jasmine rice. But that is (to keep a thread going to the point of ridiculousness) how we roll.
While the truly beat hipsters were obtaining nutrition from cigarettes, sour coffee and booze they were focused on other more potent and less legally sanctioned comestibles. In our era hipsters are seeking a kind of experience where the food is more than a backdrop. Appearances to the contrary, food still may not be the main thing. I’m of the mind that it is the experience a contemporary hipster is after, no less than it was for the beat generation. But we can’t deny that some novel foodie twists (along with the appropriate lighting and décor) go a long way toward constituting the hipster experience in the present day.
And what do we want to make of this from a food ethics perspective?
We could, of course, be snide, alluding back (as I’ve done already) to the “true hipsters” as a way of undercutting the claims of the present. But I demur. Although I’m deeply into historical context setting (way too deep, my students say) the present day hipsters may be derived from the beats in some sense, but they are too keenly absorbed in the irony of their hipsterdom to be derivative. Let’s give them that much credit.
We could also note that there was a dark side to old-school hip that you are just not going to capture with an ancho chili duck roll, no matter how appropriate the lighting is. I think there is something philosophical to pursue here—a source of depth and looming tragedy that only pessimism can produce. William James explored it in his essay “The Sick Soul,” from Varieties of Religious Experience. But however much a moralist might be enthralled by dark thoughts, it’s the lot of ethics to discourage one from going there. The fast living and drug addictions of the beats brought too many of them to a premature end, while those that survived testify to the superficiality of the “depth” that absorption in demons of that ilk produced.
The age of sushi may have a certain flatness to it, but maybe that’s not a bad thing, after all.
Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University