My foster home in Cologne has a problem with their archbishop. The last man to be persecuted by court was Siegfried von Westerburg, but in 1288. One of his successors, Clemens August I of Bavaria, had a manor house built outside the city gates a good 400 years later to be on the safe side. . Augustusburg Castle in Brühl is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the magnificent dining room and its intricately painted ceiling. From the gallery below, it was explained to me during a tour, the elite bourgeoisie were allowed to watch the prince-bishop dine.
This should look familiar to us. The staging of eating and drinking for reasons of status is not a new phenomenon. But we live in reasonably democratic times, and few of us have a refectory from which to have a panoramic view of our meals.
The restaurant, one might think, would be a worthy replacement. There are plausible theories that the foundations of out-of-home catering were laid after the market was flooded with unemployed cooks as a result of the French and other revolutions. But let’s be honest, even if Instagram and Tiktok are still not only filled with kittens and porn, but also largely with photos of spectacular dishes, visiting an expensive restaurant no longer surprises anyone. What used to be called gourmet temples have long since been democratized and social inhibitions have been completely removed. Anyone who can pay is welcome.
Today’s haute cuisine is not only characterized by Michelin stars or Gault Millau points, but also by a marked lack of concern in matters of etiquette. In this context, we often have to wear a tie (no longer necessary!) and sneakers (no problem!) as indicators that they no longer play any role in much of our daily lives, which at least in matters of clothing has been adjusted for class differences.
But tie or no tie, most of us have to do our own shopping. And in the food trade, we continue to be monitored. On the one hand, because all retailers, from Aldi to Rewe, would like to know who we are and what we buy, when and where. On the other hand, because we like to ask ourselves this question. During slow times at the checkout line, who doesn’t like to look at items before or after their own merchandising block?
But what do the regional tomato, the oat milk tetrapak and the vegan meat sausage mean to us? For a long time, alternatively produced foods and their outlets were a sure sign of social change, from health food stores to the first cooperatives and discount stores. With the widespread decoupling of the “organic” phenomenon from the sphere of anthroposophical self-sufficiency, the triumphant march onto supermarket shelves, but above all through the pandemic-related shift of food shopping to the Internet, this is the end of that.
The “organic” label is on its way to becoming a standard and has had its day as a status message. We must look for a new distinctive symbol and it is to be hoped that it is not the 4.95 euro liter bottle of sunflower oil.