In defense of arugula

I remember being perplexed last year when Barack Obama was roundly mocked for wondering aloud about the pain Iowans were feeling over the price of arugula at Whole Foods. Not because it was tone deaf – it was. Or because there are no Whole Foods stores in the state of Iowa – there are none. But because arugula itself was somehow a stand in for out-of-touch snobbery. I always just thought it was an ingredient, albeit a tasty and underrated one.

Besides, extrapolating political symbolism from food rather than any real substance, well, just so depressingly mindless. The “freedom fries” debacle of the post 9/11 days is another example of what cynical politicians and their mouthpieces (a fraternity of which I am a member, I admit) say when they’re left home alone after the grown-ups go on vacation.

Upturned Earth blogger John Schwenkler revisits his notion that family-centered meals, local governance and yes, arugula should be more widely embraced by conservatives.

Unlike, say, petite vanilla scones or that old liberal staple, the cappuccino, the plant that is known by much of the English-speaking world as “rocket” hardly deserves to be pegged as the exclusive province of left-wing foodies.


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

3 thoughts

  1. I find it pathetic that intelligent food choices can be mocked. The concept of a “food elitist” implies that anyone who restricts themselves to certain foods over others is a snob. The problem is that it is only used in one direction. Isn’t someone who restricts themselves to Bud Lite and McDonalds and refuses to try or value other foods just as much of a cultural snob in their own right? And isn’t that depiction of the “burger-munching real American” just as much of a caraciture as the a”rugula-munching elitist”? These sorts of culture wars work both ways.

    We all make our food choices for various reasons, and we all think our personal style of eating is better (or we wouldn’t keep doing it). There is plenty of pretention to go around, from the pressed tableclothes to greasy bowling alleys, in which everyone is convinced that their food culture is better and more real. It’s the nature of having an opinion or making a choice. But it’s sad when those choices are used to mock and divide.

  2. Very true, Eric. And I think it speaks to the fact even for Americans – bred as we have been the past couple of generations on mass-produced food – food is part of how we set ourselves apart from others. Food still has a powerful hold on us, even if we eat 20% of ours in the car. And when food retains that power there is the potential for change. The old, locally-oriented and sustainable methods of producing food stand a chance of making a comeback where people retain strong feelings about the food they eat.

    But it can’t happen from Berkeley or Slow Food San Francisco, it’s got to be home-grown; and I see glimmers of that happening here.

  3. Maybe I misunderstood, but when I read the full transcript of Obama’s statement, I thought he was suggesting that farmers should think about getting into growing specialty food items because they fetch high prices. I thought he was encouraging farmers to diversify into crops that people are willing to pay through the nose for. In that context, it didn’t seem as clueless to me. I may have misunderstood it, though.

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