Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slow Fashion

Why is it that even when they have a point, the various slow-things-down movements - Slow Food, slow art-appreciation, anything else asking us to unplug and return to a simpler time, a slower time - are so very irritating? Is it because we're all in a race of one kind or another, and those telling us to slow down are doing so so that they can get ahead? Is it because pro-slow can mean anti-cosmopolitan which can mean xenophobic?

Or maybe it's because well-meaning attempts to get us to stop being such wasteful Westerners sometimes manifest themselves as pseudo-environmentalist, pseudo-pro-labor arguments for choosing Chanel over H&M, from someone clearly more concerned with helping people not wear what everyone else does to the ball than with landfills. (Via.) The blogger situates himself in a branch of frugality that eschews the obviously correct answer - buy cheap stuff and not much of it - in favor of the more fun-sounding 'buy expensive stuff but not much of it', praise the gods of Quality and I Will Wear This For Years, and feel both smug and thrifty.

Anyway, agreed that the less we spend on clothes, the more disposable we consider them. But! For whom, outside the fashion-and-socialite industry, are 'cheap' clothes that disposable? (And is donation of still-intact used clothes no longer socially acceptable?) For whom, outside these rare exceptions, does the fact that a skirt costs $40 mean huzzah, time to buy a new one every week? No doubt, if I owned a $4,000 dress, I'd take ridiculously good care of it, and could perhaps mimic Golden Age sartorial behavior, wearing just one set of clothes per season, thus saving The Workers and The Environment. But I'm rather fond of my $30 corduroys from Uniqlo, my $17 dress from H&M; for me - and I'm not claiming poverty here - these were monetarily-significant purchases. Designer clothes would mean inability to pay rent; the clothes I own and wear are not "fast fashion", purchased and tossed without a second's thought, but just... clothes. My 'cheap' clothes must be awfully well-made, because they have a tendency to last for years.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Are you being served?"

Saturday night, I was good and ready for dinner beyond what-to-put-on-pasta. Jo and I ended up with lamb chops from the new food-movement-friendly butcher shop in Chelsea Market. Humane treatment (or as humane as killing an animal for deliciousness can ever be) plus a frou-frou cut meant over $20 for barely enough meat for two. Which is to say, it will be a while till we do that again, but it was plenty delicious,* it was still less for two, even given additional ingredients, than an equivalent meal would be for one at just about any restaurant. I know this because I never dare order such a dish at a restaurant, certainly not along with a glass of wine and a cheese-involving salad, because this whole meal would cost... I don't even want to think about it. And the quality of each ingredient was, hands-down, far superior to anything a restaurant even remotely in my price range might provide. Restaurants promising menus rooted in market produce tend to go beyond even a grad-student splurge. Whereas occasional fancy-ingredient home-cooked meals are very much doable.

So far, all I've given an account of is the obvious: it's cheaper to cook than to eat out. Yet restaurants exist, presumably for reasons beyond some people's need to throw money away. Granted, certain contexts call for a non-home environment - a second date, a business lunch, any meal consumed by someone who lives with many kitchen-hogging roommates. And depending what you're used to cooking, some cuisines will remain permanently beyond your repertoire, either for lack of knowledge regarding 'secret ingredients' or for lack of a necessary skill or cooking tool. (If I had a pizza stone, a tandoori oven, the ability to roll sushi and have it come out looking like sushi...). But restaurants typically offer versions of what we could all easily make at home ("arugula, pear, and Gorgonzola salad, $9'), and what those of us with dishwashers can easily enough clean up from.

To enjoy dining out, you need to consider it a plus, rather than a drawback, that food is prepared by someone other than yourself, and that a perfect stranger, rather than you or your dining companion, fetches each dish for you from the kitchen. Despite the hundreds of comments here and here from waitstaff along the lines of 'we're not your servants', dining out is, even for the respectful, non-obnoxious customer, about being served. Otherwise, why would restaurants even offer basic salads, ice cream bowls, and other items simple to prepare for yourself? A diner should, of course, treat staff with respect and follow the local tipping standards. But a customer who followed this advice and spent each meal out feeling grateful not to be too poor to dine out somewhere fancy, and thinking how tough - no, almost tragic - it must be to be a waiter (i.e. reacting to restaurants as Larry David does to chauffeured cars in "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), could not possibly enjoy the meal. While my past experience in food service (limited) and other fetching-stuff-type work (more extensive), along with my current salary, prevent me from feeling the requisite rich-yuppie guilt on the rare occasions I find myself in a restaurant, I still, for whatever reason, find someone making me food I could easily make myself, and someone else handing me that food, more of a negative experience, all things equal, than a positive one,** and certainly not worth spending too much of my earnings on. I like the variety restaurants permit, and the possibility of inspiration for home-cooked meals to come, but do not think that if I earned more, I'd be spending much more at all on restaurant dining.

So, fellow cheapskates, is eating out worth the price?

*I have also discovered that everything, absolutely everything, or at the very least, fish and meat, tastes better after first being marinated in a mix of rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Jo just made a sarcastic remark about me putting this next on pasta, but I think he might be onto something...

**This could, again, have something to do with the fact that when I say "restaurants," I mean real restaurants, which I have been to, but am also on some level picturing the sort of places I go to more often, where grad students might go to splurge - this means places where the one waitress speaks ill of each set of customers as they leave, to the one person making the food, in the main dining area, because the food-prep and dining areas combined are four square feet, or a certain spot in Chinatown where a paper napkin I'd blown my nose in and was about to take to a trashcan outside was quickly snatched by a waitress who proceeded to use said napkin to 'clean' the table for the next customers. Who knows.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cans: not so great, actually

Now that I own a lifetime supply of canned tomatoes,* Mark Bittman informs us that can use means IMMINENT DEATH due to toxins in the material that lines cans, or, if not quite that, that "for the moment, it appears we’re looking at boxed tomatoes." We might be looking at boxed tomatoes, but I am most definitely looking at cans. Many, many, many cans. Cans purchased because they were on sale, on sale, perhaps, because other Whole Foods shoppers got the memo before I did.

Meanwhile, Jo and I thought the sale was due to a revelation that the Italian-seeming cans are actually a domestic product. While local is in, canned tomatoes fall into this category of foodstuffs still deemed inferior if not from the assumed location. San Marzano tomatoes are not, in fact, San Marzano tomatoes. Thank you, Red Hook Fairway:

Cheapness note: those same cans are going for 30 cents less at Whole Foods than the Fairway sale price, suggesting the predictable difference in concern about toxins of shoppers at the two stores.

*An artistic rendering of my apartment:

And for fun, a sign on a men's shoe store in my neighborhood: