My trusty hipster guide Zevon made me home-made falafels slathered with babaganoush and Umeboshi paste, and presented me with his artisan cheese platter featuring Zamorano, Epoisse, Fontina val d’Aosta, Adriatic figs, and guava chutney while explaining that while he appreciated my desire to lose weight I would have to do so by adhering to the Hipster Eating Code of which there are twelve principles.
Principle #1: Hipsters Don’t Go on Diets. Zevon made it clear that I could not under any circumstances go on a diet, for dieting is anti-hipster and, owing to the Herd who take marching orders from Low-Carb Fascist Dr. Atkins, Beverly Hills Diet maven Judy Mazel and other dietary charlatans, going on a diet is downright gauche.
There is another important reason hipsters do not go on diets and that is that diets promote self-denial and going on a self-punishing diet is a sign of capitulating to the media’s tyrannical notions of what constitutes a pleasing body image. Zevon made it clear that dieting is anti-hipster because hipsters are what Zevon calls “educated hedonists,” meaning they indulge their voluptuary and sensualist appetites with temperance. A hedonist eats expensive high-grade dark chocolate, for example, but savors it meticulously, caressing each subtle flavor more like a professional food critic than someone in desperate need of a chocolate fix. In other words, eating rich, indulgent foods is a hipster imperative, but equally important is the attitude the hipster adopts while eating. “Eating,” according to Zevon, “is an exotic adventure. It is never the base act of feeding at the trough like an animal.” I then explained that eating like an animal, hoarding food, and being driven by a voracious, unforgiving appetite pretty much defined my entire existence upon which Zevon shook his head and said I had much to learn.
Principle #2: Hipsters Don’t Get Bloated. The trick to being a hipster is to be slender and to eat lavishly but in small quantities. This principle is both embraced by the French and the Japanese who wisely adhere to the saying, “Hara hachi bu,” which means eat until you’re 80% full. The Anti-Bloat Principle, not surprisingly, prohibits a hipster from eating at all-you-can buffets or any eatery where large portions are emphasized over quality.
Principle #3: Thanksgiving Must Be Anti-Bloat and Anti-Traditional. For hipsters, Thanksgiving is a necessary evil—an obsolete tradition rooted in revisionist history and one that asks us to indulge in backward eating habits. Piling an incoherent amalgam of food slop on a plate and eating until one is debilitated is definitely anti-hipster. But Thanksgiving is also a time for hipsters to gather and enjoy a sense of “shared experience,” a favorite term for hipsters. To make Thanksgiving cool, hipsters avoid turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and other ingredients that constitute the “eating clichés of the Herd” and demonstrate that one is shackled to close-minded provincialism. A more open-minded, cosmopolitan hipster Thanksgiving feast might feature home-made sushi, Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, miso collard greens and Ichigo Daifuku sweet cakes. Faring international food at one’s Thanksgiving table is conclusive evidence that one is enlightened enough to see the folly of the traditional Thanksgiving, but warm-hearted and magnanimous enough to seize any opportunity to embrace a time when family and friends bond and get together.
Principle #4: Hipsters Don’t Get Punk-Fed by the Man. Zevon made it clear: Hipsters are the most educated eaters on the planet. And their modern-day Food Sage is author Michael Pollan who proselytizes over and over in his books, In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that the human race should shun the processed foods made by the Evil Food Industrial Complex and eat only real food. By processed foods, Pollan is referring to the chemical-laden “foodstuffs” like Pringles, Doritos, Twinkies, frozen pizzas, all of which can be identified by ingredients with polysyllabic chemical names so long and confusing as to defy correct pronunciation even from the most erudite microbiologist. On the other hand, real foods aren’t meddled with. How much can you do to an orange, or an egg, or an almond, or piece of salmon? It is food in its unmolested form that constitutes the badge of being “real” and is therefore hipster. The highly processed foods, on the other hand, are made by the Evil Industrial Machine, AKA, the Man, and hipsters never, ever let the Man punk-feed them.
Principle #5: Hipsters Only Eat Foods That Are Part of a Grand Pastoral Narrative. As food writer extraordinaire Michael Pollan expounds in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there is a certain kind of shopper who frequents Whole Foods because many of the foods are attached to pamphlets or have some kind of literature that attests to the Edenic setting from which truffles, coffee beans, Mission figs, artisan yogurt, and “free-range” chickens are cultivated by benevolent, rosy-cheeked farmers and make it to the Whole Foods market without leaving too large of a carbon footprint. The hipster is eager to share the fact that his dark chocolate was founded by a visionary, socially responsible explorer who adopts orphans in remote regions of Latin America, pays them generous wages for their labors of picking cocoa beans and establishes scholarships for all of them so that eventually they become neurosurgeons, college professors, and activist lawyers, and Pulitzer-Prize winning authors.
Principle #6: Hipsters Only Eat While Conversing Or Reading. As a general rule, hipsters go against the grain of mainstream America. For example, Americans eat the largest food portions in the world and have made eating the equivalent of “feeding the beast.” By this I mean too many Americans eat with a shameless rapacity which renders their brains completely empty. The American penchant for consuming slop until one is moribund and incapacitated is astutely explained by Laurence Shames in The Hunger for More, where he posits that the America’s frontier, fueled by the myth of Manifest Destiny, created an appetite for conquering vast lands. In the absence of virgin forestry, we, as Americans, still have the hunger to conquer and exploit, but now we’ve circumvented that rapacity into consumer excess and in the process, I would add, we’ve regressed into our troglodyte ancestors. To be sure, this troglodyte-style eating is an anti-social act. For example, I’ve heard there is a steakhouse in Houston where each partitioned table has its own color TV. Hunched over like ravenous carnivores, customers squint at the TVs, just inches from their face, while cutting into their oversized rare steaks, blood and meat bits splattering against the television screens. Every now and then a busboy rushes to the TVs and wipes blood juices off the screens with a sponge. He works around the patrons who, transfixed by their program, will not budge from their spot. I imagine that as the busboy places his hands dangerously close to the chomping mouths, he sometimes gets a finger or two bitten off. His digits, sticking out of the patrons’ mouths like chicken bones, are probably inhaled during the feeding frenzy.
The feeding orgy I have just described is quintessentially anti-hipster. For a hipster, eating is a communal, almost sacred, act rich with ebullient repartee with like-minded hipsters. Hipsters like to talk about the foods they are eating with the same artistic rigor they might apply to an analysis of a Renoir painting. The point is that for hipsters the food is not of value by itself, but is only provides an opportunity for bonding and luxuriating in a bath of ideas. If no one is available for conversation, then a book is needed, featuring such standard hipster reading material as the notebooks of Albert Camus, the philosophical musings of E.M. Cioran, or the latest manifesto from Jeremy Rifkin.
Principle #7: Hipsters Know Their Sushi. Going into a sushi restaurant and being completely lost with the menu and not knowing the sushi protocols, such as the correct technique for using chopsticks, is definitely anti-hipster. Perhaps because sushi is so diminutive in its portion size and so artistically presented, it represents the antithesis of troglodyte eating and is therefore prized highly by American hipsters who navigate insouciantly in a sushi restaurant, fluently ordering agari (green tea) and hamachi (yellowtail tuna). However, Zevon warned me that bringing a sushi guide into the restaurant would result in the loss of “Hipster Points,” as would ordering the ever loathsome California rolls.
Principle #8: Hipsters Grind Their Own Coffee Beans and Use a French Press. Zevon made it clear that hipsters were at their fascist worst when it comes to coffee preparation. A list of infractions that can never be forgiven are using percolators, instant coffee, and sub-grade coffee beans. Equally egregious is tarting up one’s coffee with flavored creamers and artificial sweeteners. Not only must hipsters grind their own beans, they must use a burr grinder because the cheaper blade grinders make inconsistently sized crystals, which compromise flavor. Anyone who does not know the distinction between a blade and a burr grinder, Zevon emphasized, cannot be a hipster.
Principle #9: When It Comes to Setting the Table, Hipsters Favor Japanese or Swank. Hipsters sniff at conventional tableware and prefer Japanese earthen bowls or sushi sets or in the absence of a distinctly Japanese aesthetic, they go swank, which means setting the table with retro tableware from the early 1960s, including magnetic orange juice glasses on checker or chess boards and billiard ball shot glasses. Zevon made it clear that going retro is not about nostalgia. It’s all about cultivating irony and showing off that one watches the consummate hipster television show, set in the early 1960s, Mad Men.
Principle #10: Making Gourmet Comfort Food Is Ironic and Therefore Cool. Sometimes patting themselves on the back for knowing the meaning of “oxymoron,” hipsters love to make comfort food—something from the archived recipe books of our frumpy mothers—and reinventing it as the contradictory “gourmet comfort food” by adding some fancy touches and thereby making the dish ironic. For example, macaroni and cheese might be made with brie, camembert, roasted garlic, truffles, and Mission figs. Or cornbread might be made with blue cornmeal, chipotles, sun-dried tomatoes, and Havarti cheese. Hipsters are fond of calling these comfort food variations “deconstructions” to show that all the time and money spent on grad school did not completely go to waste.
Principle #11: Hipsters Never, Ever Buy Store-Bought Salad Dressing. One of the hipster’s most rigid codes is the dictate that “thou shalt make thine own salad dressing from scratch.” The reason behind this fierce rule is considered by some to born of urban legend, but as someone who witnessed the circumstances that are responsible for this strict decree, I wish to explain, first-hand, why store-bought salad dressing is strictly forbidden. Back in 1984 when I was working my way through college by stocking wine and beer at a hipster liquor store in Berkeley, I witnessed an aspiring hipster suffer the humiliation of being admonished by one of my co-workers, Skyler Oliphant, for bringing a bottle of pre-made salad dressing to the cash register. Skyler was the classic hipster snob over-educated for his position as a wine clerk. He often discussed literature with the customers, explaining, for example, how reading Flaubert’s Madam Bovary in the original French better captures the nuances of provincial France. Or as he bagged the brie, smoked salmon, and Sauvignon Blanc, he often explicated the finer points of Don DeLillo’s White Noise while defending the novel’s lack of plot and narrative arc. He spoke three languages. He always lets the customers know through his conversations that he had a life outside his job that was far more meaningful and exciting than what he did for an actual living. Skyler in fact was an expert in Japanese landscaping. He also built futons with his bare hands and sold hand-crafted Japanese mattresses and pillows, Sobagaras, that he stuffed with buckwheat hulls.
Skyler was fond of admonishing customers if they shopped for products in the store that reflected mediocrity, convenience over quality, or the greatest plague of the upper class—philistinism. Skyler was eager to save people from these plagues, so that whenever customer sets pink Chablis, onion-flavored processed cheese and frozen microwave lasagna on the counter, Skyler sighed, rolled his eyes and proclaimed that he adamantly refused to sell these products. “Those are for the troglodytes,” he would say, “the out-of-towners who came out of their caves for a quick bite.”
On one notorious afternoon, a young couple—soon to be married—entered the store and said they were in a rush to go to a dinner party of which they were responsible for bringing a salad. The man, dressed in a preppy light blue sweater with the shirt collars folded over the sweater as was in vogue during that time, brought a bottle of poppy seed dressing to the counter, at which point Skyler nearly had a fit. “Why are you buying this overpriced salad dressing when you could make it yourself?” Skyler asked him holding the bottle and scouring the ingredients. “Not to mention that this stuff is crap.”
“Just sell it to me. We’ve got to be at a dinner party.”
“Nonsense. Bringing store-bought dressing is an insult to your hosts. It won’t take more than a few minutes to whip up a good dressing.” Ignoring the man’s repeated concerns that he was rushed for time, Skyler recited a list of ingredients for a home-made dressing—mustard, cider vinegar, olive oil, onions, sugar, and poppy seeds. While the man became annoyed that Skyler was making him and his fiancé late, the woman was thankful and said it would be okay to be a few minutes late if it meant bringing a high-quality dressing to the dinner party. The man and woman bickered back and forth and as the man gesticulated while holding the salad dressing bottle, he inadvertently whacked the bottle into a sharp corner of the candy bar rack, causing shards of glass and dressing to splatter all over his fiancé’s body and face. He then stormed out of the store while Skyler applied first-aid to the attractive young woman.
To make a long story short, the couple’s wedding was called off and Skyler soon after starting dating the woman, whom he eventually married.
Word quickly spread throughout Berkeley and San Francisco as to the cause of this couple’s breakup and ever since that fateful day buying store-bought dressing has become emblematic of being backward, provincial, and downright anti-hipster.
Principle #12: Hipsters Are Eating Contrarians. Zevon made it clear that hipsters are too diverse a group to all be vegetarians or vegans. He explained that vegetarianism is just one way to be a food contrarian, going against the cultural mainstream. “It doesn’t matter what contrarian eating position the hipster takes, Zevon said. “Whether it’s gluten-free, anti-diary, pro-dairy, detox, all-raw, anti-oxidant, pro-soy, anti-soy, the point is that hipsters have to be prepared to argue their eating position to the death. In other words, it’s not the diet that matters so much as the level of expertise. Hipsters research their diet with the rigor of a specialist and use their contrarian eating habit as a springboard for showing off their fluent knowledge of chemistry, anthropology, history, and bio-medicine. Zevon admitted that it’s common for hipsters to go from one food fad to the next, which is lame, but at least they arm themselves with a profound knowledge of their subject so that they can vigorously rationalize their position.
Over the ensuing month, I did my best to adhere to the Hipster Eating Code, reading Nietzsche and Pascal as I ate my morning oatmeal and exploring new ways to add golden beets to my radicchio salads. But while obeying Zevon’s dictate to never count my calories, I gained five pounds. It turns out that my genetic DNA and metabolic rate are definitely anti-hipster.
So as our new President adroitly heads the Executive Office looking svelte and presidential, I must resign myself to looking less like Barack Obama and more like Larry Csonka.