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The Dinner Divide, Discussed: Or, Food + Class in America

The Dinner Divide, Discussed: Or, Food + Class in America

In her November 22 Newsweek article "The Dinner Divide," Lisa Miller dissects the latest Barneys ad campaign, writing that "food is no longer trendy or fashionable," but instead simply "fashion." As evidence, she cites one ad for an $80,000 diamond pendant garnished with octopus tentacles.

Miller received the store's catalogue in the mail. In our case, every time we leave the house, we see the massive Barneys billboard on La Cienega featuring a pale model with what looks like a crown of chocolate ganache florets piled atop her head and a fat cherry tucked between her dark-red lips like an edible ball-gag. "Have a foodie holiday," reads the script in piped icing font.

Food is already a mighty dividing line in America. The richest Americans are getting richer; the poorest Americans are getting no less poor. Rich people buy $20 hunks of raw-milk cheese and talk about ramps; poor people eat frozen dinners, suffer from obesity, and die before they should. Thus, it's sort of grossly perfect that a high-end department store has seized upon the idea of pairing sex and impeccable produce to push luxury togs.

In "The Dinner Divide," however, the Barneys campaign is only a canapé. Miller ends up diving headlong into a broad, engaging debate about food choices and class, profiling the eating habits of her Brooklyn-based friends and neighbors and quoting, among other experts, Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington:

"'In America,' Drewnowski wrote in an e-mail, 'food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say--social class. It used to be clothing and fashion, but no longer, now that 'luxury' has become affordable and available to all.' He points to an article in The New York Times, written by Michael Pollan, which describes a meal element by element, including 'a basket of morels and porcini gathered near Mount Shasta.' 'Pollan,' writes Drewnowski, 'is drawing a picture of class privilege that is as acute as anything written by Edith Wharton or Henry James.'"