NYT foodie-turned social critic Frank Bruni had a fun piece on Sunday about the way increasingly sophisticated mass taste is being directed at increasingly low-brow gastronomy. The nadir (zenith?) is the recent comparison of Timbits vs Dunkin’ Munchkins. When rarified taste meets economic downturn, what happens? The only solution is “to apply one’s powers of discernment to doughnuts. To mull the nuances of burritos and cupcakes. To assess rival burgers as if they were rival brasseries on the Left Bank.”
This is not exactly new. One of the funner aspects of the NYC food scene is the rapid but totally preposterous turnover in cool foods. One week it is all about meatballs, then suddenly everyone is into lobster rolls. Lobster rolls? That’s so yesterday, surely you want ramen noodles. Then it’s mini-burgers, then tapas, then cupcakes… on it goes, in a perfect collision of conspicuous consumption and Adam Smith’s observation that the division of labour is determined by the size of the market.