Is Oakland's Pop-Up General Store Hopelessly Out of Touch?
At Bay Area Bites, Andrew Simmons pours champagne vinegar on the unhealable wound that's nagged progressive Bay Area foodies since the dawn of Alice: Is wonderful food fatally elitist? Simmons is reacting to Chron contributor Carol Ness and her May 27 report on Oakland's Pop-Up General Store, a sometimes market where chef alums of Chez Panisse sell beautiful prepared foods: frozen gyoza, boudin blanc sausages, fresh pasta.
Simmons quotes Ness: "The Pop-Up General Store is one of a kind because its wares carry an exceptional pedigree: They're made with pristine ingredients ― Becker Lane pork, Soul Food Farm eggs, Riverdog produce ― by a dozen or so Bay Area chefs...." The problem, Simmons suggests, is the food's essential lack of necessity, which the name ― Pop-Up General Store ― only heightens. Authentic general stores (and their successors, the strip-mall 7-Eleven) are places that peddle basic necesseties, or cater to universal weaknesses, like pints of cheap vodka or plastic-wrapped numbers of Honcho. They're acknowledgments of human vulnerability.
By calling their enterprise a "general store" ... [the] founders ... are actively trying to evoke the sort of life-sustaining community-generating apparatus that came to my mind the moment I saw Ness's headline ― all while selling boudin blanc for $14 a pound. While such a project might draw attention to certain sections of the community ― producers, chefs, growers ― and bring together others ― hungry food writers, people with money ― the vibe ― however delicious ― doesn't quite jive with the handle.
That's the dilemma, right? Can one good (turning food raised ethically by small producers into delicious things) zero out the troubling fact that of the food's inaccessibility to residents of the poverty-strafed West Oakland where the market pops up?
Me, I'm ambivalent. Maybe it's enough that Soul Food Farm exists, even though I can rarely, or never, afford its chicken or eggs. Maybe there are some foods destined to dangle at the top of the chain.
This just in: Capitalism itself is fatally elitist.