Communism Destroyed Russian Cooking (Reason)
How did pizza first appear in the Soviet Union? (Russia Beyond)
How Not To Feed the Hungry: A Symposium (Law & Liberty)
Vintage Thanksgiving Postcards Are Bizarre (Hypperallergic)
Or, some Monday links on flavors, figurative flags and fails
I mean, it would be impossible to have a business like this in the States, a wood-burning fire – illegal, the meat – illegal, the dog – illegal, the cheese sitting out uncovered – illegal. Basically, everything that makes this place good would be illegal in the United States.Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations ep. 1 – 01 France: Why the French don’t suck (Jul. 2005)
The other day, Brandon highlighted (the review of) a cultural history book, one that documents the postwar shift of cultural gravitas from Paris to New York. So, the talk is about the big league, the respectful duo of countries that gave us, among other things, modern constitutionalism and an understanding of the natural hue of fundamental rights. Here, I venture to present a sincere, if arbitrary (and somewhat superficial, since I never learned French, to my mother’s disappointment) selection of other Franco-American bites, that shadowed greater trends, or even shaped them.
160 years ago, chef Charles Ranhofer, a Frenchman, traveled to the US for a second time. A year and a false dawn at another premise after, he was hired at Delmonico’s in New York, an already established name. There, he proceeded in making it the definite flagship of American fine dining for the next 30-35 years.
His achievements include the invention of renowned dishes, innovations in the dining business model and a massive Franco-American culinary encyclopedia (The Epicurean, 1894, complete with nearly 1000 dishes and thorough guidelines for the proper tables/ menu setting, depending on the occasion). The story fits well in the Gilded Age picture, though I would guess not at front center.
Our own Escoffier (Los Angeles Times)
My pastry trilogy came a full circle only last year, having started some ten years ago: a Mississippi mud pie, a cheesecake (early 2010s, both under the guidance of my wife) and a tarte Tatin (May ‘20 lockdown, unsupervised, our then nearly-5-year old provided merry company). Of the three creations, the final was the most refined, as deserves to a French recipe from late 19th century. Like, it needed some real – if basic – technique, not the average ingredient gathering I was used to. It was also a mild failure. I followed a modern take, one to safely blame without retort. Will try again, someday. There are relevant recipes aplenty, though not in its contemporary Epicurean.
Deconstructing tarte tatin, the classic French dessert (National Geographic)
The Gilded Age was nearing its end when the famous Lochner v New York decision was delivered (1905). The Supreme Court struck down a New York state law on regulating working hours, as a breach of the liberty of contract, which was protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A few decades later, in United States v Carolene Products Company (1938), an interstate trade case, the Court lowered the standard of review for economic legislation, effectively demoting economic liberty vis-à-vis the other personal liberties.
Both decisions refer to the food industry, bakeries and milk manufacturers respectively. They hold vast importance and warrant further study (for starters – note to self – judicial activism in Lochner, individual rights in Carolene).
As a certain minstrel in a certain fantasy realm would have it, the truth of these decisions became something bigger than the facts. The two cases work as handy banners of the paradigm shift from “unrestrained economic liberty” to “state interventionism”, which happened as right/ left-wing totalitarianisms convincingly challenged the prewar liberal order. Liberal-minded thinkers from the two sides of the Atlantic tried to revitalize the liberal creed in the interwar years. Some of them convened at Paris – few months after the Carolene decision – to honor the visit of the American journalist/ author Walter Lippmann, a notable critic of the New Deal.
There were deep differences, but also a strong agreement on the threat posed by central planning and some tentative overlapping on the perceived failings of “old” classical liberalism and, interestingly, the potential of the state in enhancing personal freedom by pursuing limited social goals. The – middle – way forward needed free markets in a solid, impartial legal frame, which would enforce competition and even provide for a modicum of social justice. By one account, it was during this meeting that the term “neo-liberalism” took root (other ideas included “left-wing” or “constructive” liberalism. Chicago theorists – not represented at the Colloque Lippmann- had previously written about “positive” liberalism), though the term is older. The resolution led to nowhere in particular, since World War II broke out shortly after. It is nonetheless considered a kind-of precursor to the Mont Pelerin Society, the well-known organization founded after a conference in 1947, at the invitation of Hayek.
The neoliberal position is nicely summarized by Milton Friedman (who was present at the 1947 proceedings) in a short piece from 1951:
Neo-liberalism would accept the nineteenth century liberal emphasis on the fundamental importance of the individual, but it would substitute for the nineteenth century goal of laissez-faire as a means to this end, the goal of the competitive order… The state would police the system, establish conditions favorable to competition and prevent monopoly, provide a stable monetary framework, and relieve acute misery and distress.
Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects (Hoover Institution)
The term can also be found in scholarly papers from 50s-60s, but upon closer inspection they mostly focus on its German variant, “ordoliberalism”, which was closely associated with the “social market economy” – the postwar platform that defined West Germany (though voters could hardly tell what it exactly was).
My understanding is that, at some point postwar, the French involvement dwindled. Also, some German theorists fell from grace in the Mont Pelerin Society context, while US membership increased in number and clamor. The whole approach tilted closer to classical liberal/ libertarian (another note to my – European – self, Edwin van de Haar offers precious nuance regarding such terminology in a fresh post) and away from the “free market, strong state” convictions of Colloque Lippmann. However, Hayek retained cordial relations with the University of Freiburg – where the original ordoliberal theses formed.
Then the shade of neo-liberalism faded, only to be invoked as a nebulous catch-all characterization of free market policies a couple of decades later, almost devoid of its competitive and social security chops. It got a life though, since it was fleshed in the founding Treaties of the EU of the 50s. The institutional apparatus of the Union smugly radiates “free market within the properly defined lines” (the US influence is not be discounted, of course. Case in point, competition law).
EU, as with the Colloque: The French grabbed a coffee with the Americans and threw a party. Then, they took a step back as the Germans stopped being shy and hit the decks.
Back to the kitchen. Late 60s and into the 70s, gastronomic developments trace the retooling of society-at-large. That was the time various “new” national cuisines rose, with the French Nouvelle cuisine once again leading the way and the New American Cuisine taking clue from it (in Greece we usually talk about the “(new) urban cuisine” of that period, as the country experienced a rapid urbanization wave in the preceding decades).
In the meantime: Political turmoil, be it protests or terrorism, there go Bretton Woods arrangements, productivity flattens, environmental concerns kick-in, enter competition from Asia, human rights against the Soviet Block, university studies expand, telecommunications and transport improve, oil crises, the lights go out in Britain and elsewhere, inflation runs, and so on and so forth. The next decade coincided with the emergence of new political leaderships across the West, as the turbulence discredited the previous guard.
The consensus got a drift for privatizations, deregulation and liberalization of international transactions, with US and Britain adhering to it (though to say that they indeed rolled-back the size and scope of State is questionable). This time, the Nobel Memorial Prizes in Economic Sciences awarded to Hayek (1974) and Friedman (1976) served as a flag (or a scarecrow) for the transition to market-based prescriptions.
The endgame was meant to play out in France. In May 1981, Mitterrand won the presidential election on a pretty standard socialist agenda. The program of nationalizations, hiked taxation, capital controls, grants and subsidies run its course till 1983, when the bad results in deficit, employment, inflation and the exchange rate – underlined by an equally poor performance in local elections – prompted a turn to anti-inflationary rigor and a realignment with more market-oriented policies (Spain and Greece, btw, more or less copycatted the French experience).
In a twist in the myth, three Mitterrand guys even went to assume head posts in international bodies, like the IMF (a member of the unholy trinity of the “Washington Consensus”), and promote capital account liberalization from there.
Endnote: The No Reservations show of late Anthony Bourdain had a role in our family’s inconsistent knack for things cooking/ baking. While writing this, I found out that a documentary on the man’s life just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Encore: “To France”, Mike Oldfield’s cover by power metal band Blind Guardian, from their The Forgotten Tales album (1996). Pas mal.
Here is a story and a sociological essay all rolled into one.
My son the recent college graduate only thinks about cooking. I encourage his inclination, of course. Compulsion does not work. Most people do well only what they like to do. Besides, I am an immigrant from France. Scabs of French pessimism stick to my brain. I don’t know how long the current economic crisis will last. In Japan, there were ten dead years, a full decade lost. I tell myself that cooks never go hungry and neither do those who are close to them. I adore my son’s girlfriend. I want her to have enough to eat, happen what may. I used to work in kitchens myself, around the 18th century. I believe that even the leavings from the average restaurant kitchen will keep you pleasantly fat forever. Go for it, I tell him.
My son has been cooking part-time since he was a teenager and throughout the embarrassingly long years it took him to complete his political science major. He has experience in a variety of fairly humble kitchen positions. I also think he has some talent. I don’t say this because he is my son. I am a mean father by California standards, a stern figure more or less from the Old Testament, you might say. Not long ago, I thought my son was worse than worthless. I am not afraid to be “judgmental,” bet on it! But he has changed. His brain has caught up with his glands at last. Having finished college, he is naturally looking for a full-time position, or better. He is meeting with an obstacle we did not expect but that was expectable if we had thought about it: He is not Mexican.
In California, where I live, everywhere in California, I think, during the fat cow years, immigrants from Mexico took over nearly all the kitchen jobs, Those are mostly hard jobs, stressful jobs offering low pay. The native-born young shunned them in favor of retail “sales associates” positions that are easy and allow for a fair margin of laziness although they don’t pay any better. The Mexican take-over began with Taco Bells and private tamales stands, and, naturally, taco shops. But immigrants are predictable. Many went considerably further. Continue reading