Education & Fancy Foods

July 13, 2017

David Brooks taken to task

I have been ruminating on this editorial by David Brooks, “How we are ruining America.” Apparently a number of people on the internet lit up with objections to Brooks piece. Here is a sampling: from Garet Williams at Vox, “David Brooks:The reason for inequality is uneducated people can’t order fancy sandwiches,” even the Washington Post noted that “Sandwich story from NYT’s David Brook draws online ire,” but the funniest ones were probably from Paste Magazine’s selected chronicling of Twitter, “The Funniest Tweets about the David Brooks Column.”  Though to be fair some are rather snarky.

Yet the most interesting critique I read was from Salon essayist Erin Keane, “How David Brooks is Ruining America (and George Will isn’t helping, either).”


Erin Keane of Salon.com

As Keane notes, for David Brooks to connect the dots between economic inequality and upward social mobility is growth for a conservative columnist—especially in today’s America. But lost in all of the clumsy rhetoric and analogies is a quest to better understand and perhaps shine light upon a growing problem in American culture–inequality.

I like her quote a lot better:

The secret, which I’m happy to share with David Brooks over lunch as long as he’s buying, is that true cultural barriers can’t be separated from structural barriers. They are intimates; often, they feed off one another… ~Erin Keane, Salon.com

Where I whole heartedly disagree, and shake my head is in Brooks analogy of the sandwich shop, that he is rightly blasted for on the net. It presumed that old high school friend is so awed by Brooks presence and sandwiches made fancily, that they stooped to a level more comfortable for both—Mexican food.


Mexican Food

What does that then say about Mexican food—it is pedestrian or basic sustenance? What is the implied or overt statement about Mexican food—it is too rudimentary? Has David Brooks ever eaten a hot pepper or truly prepared spicy Mexican food—not the American version of it—or even worse Taco Bell, but actual Mexican Food—it is exquisite and sublime; not something I’d merely settle for compared to a gourmet sandwich shop.

I own who I am and where I come from in life. I grew up poor; though I sometimes I think that I wasn’t aware of it until my family moved to Geneseo. Those were some hard lessons learned (in Geneseo about class-based culture); perhaps for another time. I remember when fastfood-McDonalds in particular was a treat out, or a celebration of something. Eating out in general was a special treat.

But oh, have times have changed—today ordering takeout is more the norm than not. Most restaurants, both fine dining and Brooks’ “Mexican food” offer takeout menus and pick up service. Many food establishments are even moving to delivery service. Lord knows, I have once in a great while ordered takeout ribs from Ruby Tuesday’s in Oswego; and like much of America ordered delivery pizza/meals.


Starbucks, my first time

I still remember my first time in Starbuck’s ordering coffee. I was smack dab in the dilemma that Brooks outlined of his old high school friend—what the hell was a grande or venti coffee? Don’t get me going on the caramel macchiato low-fat, with a double shot hold the cream, yada, yada, yada (yep, even watched Seinfeld a time or two).

But then again, I like to consider myself a simple man, who enjoys good food, good coffee, and good conversation. I have found it to be healthier too in so many ways. And again, another pondering for another time is how much I have come to love food I grow or hunt myself—along with Iroquois White Corn.

But back to Starbuck’s. I was confused, though to follow Brooks’ line of thinking—I should have been embarrassed, worried I’d be laughed at and humiliated, or suddenly aware of the fact that I grew up poor—perhaps uneducated. Although, I was actually in college at the time. I actually thought it was a bit elitist to use grande, venti, and the like rather than small, medium, and large.

But then as I joke with my students, I have long opted to be plain spoken, rather than using academic lingo or buzzwords to separate myself from others. My grandfather used to tell me don’t use a twenty-five-cent word, when a nickel one will do the job. I am after the conversation and curiosity—it is why I teach and still learn so much through dialogue.

Maybe it was the confidence in myself I had gained in the military. Maybe it was that I was curious, and not aware of limitations society had supposedly imposed and chiseled in stone about my life and existence based on socio-economic background and upbringing. I simply asked the cashier—what is a grande or venti coffee? She smiled, and said “Oh, it’s our way of selling sizes of coffee.”

That was it—I simply asked. No one in line behind me or ahead of me turned and laughed. No one shook their head in dismay or disgust. I didn’t shrink from fear of being in a Starbuck’s—I asked a simple question, and received a simple answer with a smile. Then I ordered my venti/large coffee and went about my day.

So, what have you been unsure about, asked, and learned something from in life?

Kevin J. White
Toronto, CA