Have you ever seen a recipe on a food blog calling for ingredients like the following?

1 lb organic collard greens
1 cup organic rice
Several pieces of organic (ideally local) kielbasa or sausage
3 cups water
1 chicken bouillon cube
black pepper (or cayenne pepper) to taste

Readers, one honest question: Is it really necessary to place the word “organic” in front of collard greens, rice and sausage?

I mean, if a reader wants to buy organic ingredients to use them in this recipe, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. So isn’t the placement of the word in any recipe essentially pointless?

Likewise with “ideally local.” These are needless words. Those readers who want to use local, organic meat are free to do so. Heck, if you want to go full-on Michael Pollan, you can seek out local, organic pork sausage made from local organic pigs finished on acorns in the fall!

Once again though, readers who don’t, won’t.

So why are those words there? What could be the real purpose of food bloggers needlessly using words like “organic” or “ideally local”?

Do you see it as a form of aspirational behavior? A form of identity construction? As in “look at me, look at me! I’m the kind of person who regularly uses organic collard greens and I think you should too!” In other words, is it a status thing?

Well, once you start to look at the world though the lens of status competition, the use of words like these suddenly becomes a lot clearer: they demonstrate what Thorstein Veblen would call “marks of superfluous costliness” which signal not just our ability to pay, but also our high relative position in the status hierarchy of our society. Veblen even invented what would become a famous phrase to describe this type of behavior: conspicuous consumption.

Ironically, this signal shouts all the louder if we conspicuously pretend we aren’t actually giving off the signal.

The interesting thing here is by unnecessarily inserting words like “organic” or “ideally local” repeatedly into a recipe, you get to show, indirectly, the kind of person you are. And you can do so without even making an expensive purchase! Even we here at Casual Kitchen are duly impressed by such a low-cost way to go about identity construction.

Once again: these words do not need to be there. And yet they are there, and conspicuously so.

Readers, what do you think about this issue? Share your thoughts!

Side thoughts:
1) I cannot think of any other plant where buying organic adds less value than with collard greens. Typically, cruciferous greens like kale, swiss chard and collards aren’t typically farmed with the use of a lot of pesticides in the first place, so the incremental benefit of buying organic is essentially zero. Insects apparently don’t like to eat their leafy greens either.

2) Curious about the where the recipe above comes from? It’s from Collard Greens with Rice and Kielbasa, an easy recipe from right here at CK. I didn’t want to pick on any specific food blogger, so I just used one of my own recipes and “needlessly” inserted the words organic and ideally local here for the purposes of today’s post.

Read Next: A False Referent

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Melissa said...

Those words don't need to be there. It's like Ina Garten saying "good quality" olive oil in her recipes. It's unnecessary, it's pretentious, it's off-putting. No, thank you.

Michelle said...

Is it some kind of attempt at SEO?

When I started looking for diabetic friendly, low cholesterol recipes for my husband, I kept running into "locally grown" and "organic" and "grass fed" and it drove me absolutely nuts. I've got enough on my mind right this second without fussing over what our dinner was eating for its own dinner.

Anonymous said...

Yes! This has annoyed me for years, as the "Health & Wellness" movement has gotten trendier. Now, I'm actually pretty far along the crunchy sliding scale myself - I do buy whole or half cows and pigs, raw milk, and farm-fresh eggs when I can, because that's a priority and because we can afford it right now and because I know/like/trust my farmers. But I absolutely cannot afford to use the pricier eggs in my baking (the main reason I want "healthy" eggs is to eat them raw/undercooked in ice cream or sunny-side up without worries about how old they are), and it drives me crazy when recipes list snobby ingredients such as you describe or include unnecessary adjectives such as "free-range" eggs or "raw" milk or honey. (Once I bake it, it won't be raw anyway.)

I've always thought that people who already use "clean" (in quotes because that itself is a snob marketing term) food will use those ingredients, and those who can't will either feel annoyed or inadequate. It's food snobbery, just as reprehensible as the lifestyle blogger who keeps referring to her name-brand clothing or accessories.


Anonymous said...

You list it as an economic status symbol, but it reminds me also of holier-than-thou shaming from religious circles. I usually ignore qualifiers and use what's cheap, but I've occasionally been "guilted" into using a pricier ingredient, either in an attempt to be healthier or save the world, or because some recipes seem to indicate that they *must* have top-notch ingredients.