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What We Lose When We Call Foods "Hipster"

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Over the weekend, a friend messaged me telling me that a recent story of mine for Food52 was referenced in a Guardian article. How nice! I was flattered. My piece on the “turmeric latte” is mentioned in a paragraph about the rise of that very drink outside of India. I opened the tab, saw my name, smiled, and went on with my day. 

How Indian Is Your "Turmeric Latte"?
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How Indian Is Your "Turmeric Latte"?

Only later did I stop to read the actual story. Written by Tony Naylor, the piece is titled "It’s Poké, Man: the Ultimate Hipster-Food Glossary." The Guardian is not exactly known for producing nuanced headlines, but I'm afraid the content of this glossary isn't much more inspiring. Naylor goes on to list 16 foods that are having their sudden moment in the sun, and he assumes a flippant tone in mapping these trends for you.

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“The ideas are often ludicrous,” he writes of the culinary world. “Yet food’s appetite for the new is currently insatiable.” It's stuffed with similarly vague language that doesn't exactly make clear who the hipster is, and for whom this food has now suddenly become popular.

The list has some gimmes, like the "unicorn" cake (a cousin of the rainbow bagel) and a cold brew-spiked gin and tonic ("Turbo G&T"). Quite a few of the other picks, though, raised my eyebrows. Sitting alongside the usual suspects are horchata, jackfruit, khachapuri, and poké. They're what a publication would've regressively referred to as "ethnic foods" in a bygone era.

We Give You Bread Boats Filled with Ooey, Gooey Cheese (& Egg)
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We Give You Bread Boats Filled with Ooey, Gooey Cheese (& Egg)

Sing the glories of these foods all you want, but slapping foods like khachapuri with a hipster label feels obtuse and misguided. These foods are so much more than the opiate of the hipster. They’re foods with histories well before 2017, and the moniker “hipster food” disavows that fact entirely. It's downright confusing to see these foods grace the same listicle as the kalette, positioned as part of the same trend.

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When it comes to the drink I wrote about in that piece Naylor mentioned, well, I was trying to hedge a finer point there: I’m Indian, but the "turmeric latte," called haldi doodh in Hindi, is a drink I never had growing up. The way this drink has made its stateside, dare I say “hipster,” debut reveals the distressingly simplistic ways we often talk about Indian food—as though it is a monolith. Apparently, that point fell on deaf ears.

Stop! Are You Throwing Away the Best Part of Jackfruit?
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Stop! Are You Throwing Away the Best Part of Jackfruit?

There's a lot waiting to be written on what foods, especially those consumed primarily by immigrant groups in the West, gain sudden popularity among a certain crowd of moneyed, coffee-guzzling urbanites. Though Naylor's piece may seem like a throwaway bit of humor, its glib posturing doesn't quite land: An article like this doesn't do enough to situate these foods within the knotty dynamic of who co-opts these dishes, and how they’re packaged, framed, and re-sold to consumers at large. How do these foods travel from our mother’s kitchens to cafes in Bushwick? Who are the chefs and tastemakers who have popularized horchata, beyond the diasporic communities who grew up knowing it? These are, to me, the more compelling questions food media could address in 2017.

Does the 'hipster' label also make you bristle? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: the guardian