Food For Thought


A popular subset of folklore studies, foodways is the study of how people acquire, prepare and consume foods. Without question, food is an integral part of the material life of any culture. What people eat caries social values, reflects the local environment, and, in some cases, offers insight into cross cultural pollination. What we eat can also relate to lifestyle and identity.

Pictures of food play a huge roll… I mean role… in the streetwear blog scene. Whether just as place holders (as in, I really did nothing today, but I did have this delicious burrito), or not, these photos inadvertently document the foodways of the culture. Food in this version of street culture, to a presumptuous eye, primarily is consumed outside the home and often at Korean BBQ spots.

Of course, that last remark is in jest (people also eat ramen and Mexican food), but the interesting thing for the material culture scholar in me comes not so much in what people are eating, and more in what they are not eating. For all the celebration of various material products of urban life, from graffiti to punk and skateboarding to fixed gear, street foods play almost no role in the documentation youth street culture.

Is something as unremarkable as a soft pretzel too boring, or documenting meals on the run too run of the mill? Perhaps, but, I think streetwear’s association with food relays a secondary, though equally important, aspect of the community. That is sharing, learning and building a base for collective knowledge about the world. Food is truly remarkable in the capacity to share traditions and experiences. In this, the dinning exploits of our favorite bloggers are not only about cool places they have visited, but also serve to expose a thirst for learning among the constituents of the culture that otherwise is not immediately apparent to the outside world.

We all know that not all sneakers are created equal. And, we know this fact is lost on the majority of people. But, in food, the connoisseurial eye streetwear aficionados cast upon other products is more accessible. It marks a group that cares about quality and experience. A group that is somewhat adventurous, at least with what is granted in a typical urban setting (as much as I enjoy the show Bizarre Foods I am reluctant to seek out some of the things consumed on the program).

While I joked about the proliferation of Korean BBQ snapshots earlier, the question of “ethnic” foods figures into a “cosmopolitan” existence. These foods shape the milieu of the contemporary urban environment, where styles, smells and sounds meld into the fabric of city life. Does it mean anything that streetwear and non-American foods are so connected in blogs? Not really. Just further hammers down the global nature of it all and, hell, Korean BBQ allows for good lengthy conversation.

In food, I believe I have learned more about the people in streetwear than from the products they hype or produce. More over, the way the approach to food characterizes the culture most explicitly. To clarify, streetwear and street culture really is about how people look at the world, and, in this climate, the looking primarily focuses on not settling for the average.

Though I am amused that street foods are a forgotten element of street culture in the streetwear derivation, the underlying reason behind it speaks to the value system building in the core community. As I have mentioned before, streetwear is best defined as being in opposition to something else. Sure, the foodways of streetwear culture are not firmly in opposition; instead it is testament to the formulation of cultural signifiers that exist beyond the most simplistic realizations of material life in the community.

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