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The United States of Arugula

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"The United States of Arugula"

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In today’s column, David Brooks observes that “over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts.” He diagnosis the problem as stemming from the fact that “Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare . . . [w]hat had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” I said something similar recently, arguing that the conservative movement “still draws the same lines” as when it was more politically successful, but now “draws the ‘real America’ circle more narrowly — defines it as a kind of self-conscious hickdom that construes Cafferty as a citified elite.” Since I wrote that, I believed it. But I’m less sure now than I was a week ago.

The reason is that I’ve been reading David Kamp’s book, The United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution. This was written long before Barack Obama’s arugula gaffe and it’s not at all about politics. But of course everything is politically relevant if you’re politically inclined. And the political takeaway of Kamp’s book is that a lot of the causation goes in the other direction. In 1968 or even as late as 1980, it was genuinely the case that things like fancy salad greens or shallots were only known to a small, self-conscious avant-garde. In the intervening decades, we’ve seen the rise of a mass gourmet culture. Mesclun mix may not be the food of choice for the typical person, but it’s still very much a mass market product widely available at your typical supermarket, not some incredible rarity.

That suggests, to me at least, that it’s not so much the case that the GOP has traded in a strategy of narrowly targeted rhetorical attacks on liberal intellectuals for broader attacks. Rather, it’s the case that similar rhetorical strategies have come to target more-and-more people as certain once countercultural habits become widespread yuppie habits. Indeed, now that I think about it this is sort of what Bobos in Paradise is about.

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