Ingredient Bragging

A long-time CK reader, Stuart at Addicted to Canning, ran a post recently about recipes with pretentious, impossible to find, or inappropriately up-market ingredients.

For example, let's say you offer your readers a recipe that includes potatoes. But instead of just writing "potatoes" in your list of ingredients, you (unnecessarily) write "organic, local potatoes."

Here are some other examples:

* Instead of writing "milk" as a recipe ingredient, write "raw milk"
* Instead of "chocolate" (say for my Mole recipe) write "fair trade, organic chocolate"
* Instead of "carrots" write "local, organic Purple Dragon carrots"
* Instead of "pork shoulder" write "pork shoulder from traditional hog breeds finished on acorns"

I bet you think I'm joking about that last one. Sadly, I'm not.

This is a surprisingly common phenomenon in food blogging, and we need a new phrase for it. So allow me to coin one: ingredient bragging.

When offering a recipe to strangers over the internet, self-aware food bloggers know full well that they can simply write ingredients as is. If a recipe requires carrots, the word "carrots" suffices. If an individual reader wishes to use organic carrots, local carrots, carrots from their backyard garden, cruelty-free Purple Dragon carrots from their local hipster farm market--or, uh, just carrots--they can.

Now, I fear that any food blogger who actually needs to be told this is already beyond help, but... if you actually write local, organic Purple Dragon carrots as a recipe ingredient, you impose an obligation on your readers: an obligation to restrain themselves from throwing their laptops across the room. You've pretentiously given your readers a non-obtainable, expensive and frou-frou ingredient, and then forced them to ask various near-existential questions:

Does this recipe really require Purple Dragon carrots? 
What the heck IS a Purple Dragon carrot, and where could I possibly buy one? 
Can I substitute just... carrots? Am I a bad person if they're not organic?
How much longer is this urge to throw my laptop across the room going to last?

Your readers only just read your recipe, and already they hate you.

But there's more to ingredient bragging than just pretension. And annoying your readers. And doubling their time spent shopping. And quadrupling their grocery bills. And replacing their laptops. There's more going on here.

If we really want people to cook at home--for health reasons, for economic reasons, for personal development reasons, for whatever reason--we want to make cooking accessible. Ingredient bragging does not make cooking accessible. On the contrary, it makes cooking seem far more difficult and far more expensive than it really is. It actually encourages people not to cook! This was Stuart's point in his post, and it's a good one.

But worst of all--worst, worst, worst of all--is the bald-faced status signalling. If you have the temerity to engage in ingredient bragging you are openly, transparently and unnecessarily signalling your status. You are overtly advertising that you are the type of person who of course always buys these high end ingredients. You are elevated and refined, and you want to make sure everybody knows it. In fact, it's so important that your high status be known that you will remorselessly make your readers' lives more expensive and more difficult in order to signal so.

Ingredient bragging: Just don't do it.

Readers, what are your thoughts?

PS: Every new annoying trend ought to have its own neologism. When I touched on this topic before here at CK, I called it organic-dropping, an admittedly stone-handed portmanteau of organic and name-dropping. Readers, I hope you like ingredient bragging better.

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Stuart Carter said...

Thank you for the shout-out!

As to the Pollan quotes: oy. Purple prose and humble bragging are a bad combination.

María Machón said...

My thoughts are: pink Himalaya salt. Aaaaahhhhh!!!