I really like and admire Mario Batali. His encyclopedic knowledge of Italian food is very impressive, but what I really love is that he is so obviously a geek. I'd bet money he plays World of Warcraft or something similar with his kids. I have fantasies about playing Settlers of Catan with him. Also, I like his shoes.

All that being said, I was really disappointed to read his quote in the NYT article about Food Network branding this morning:

Still, Mr. Batali said, “They don’t need me. They have decided they are mass market and they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd,” which he said was “a smart business decision. So they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.”

It's true-- they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd. And the Kohl's crowd and the J.C. Penney crowd. The ubiquity of Rachael Ray and Paula Deen-- both ladies I've enjoyed watching in the past-- is starting to get annoying. Ray was just adorable at first, but her 18,000 different series have put me into sensory overload-- and I don't even own a TV. Paula Deen was charming when she was still the single mom who made good with a combination of talent and ingenuity, but now, I'm pretty sick of her attempts to become a lifestyle guru, like Martha Stewart with a Georgia accent.

But Mario. Dude. Don't. Be. A snob.

My husband and I both hold advanced degrees-- his from an Ivy League institution-- in literature. Our three year old uses polysyllabic words (although they are, for now, confined to English). We are paying off some ridiculous student loans and rearing two children on a single income in stupid expensive Northern Virginia. The availability of inexpensive retail like Wal-Mart and Target helps us do that. While I'm not going to consult big box stores regarding my lifestyle choices anytime soon, it helps that I can get underwear at Wallyworld and browse the clearance rack at Target for four dollar shirts.

I know from bitter personal experience that shopping at Wal-Mart does not make me stupid (which is not to say I'm not stupid, but I can't blame Wal-Mart for it), but embracing intellectual snobbery would allow me to cultivate contempt for my fellow human beings-- and that is never acceptable, no matter where they shop.


M. Robert Turnage said...

You obviously have not been to the Wal-Mart by my house, because it DOES make you dumber.

The store is stocked in a nonsensical fashion so you have to cross it at least four times to buy the two items you wanted, and they always only have only two registers open per every 100 people in line.

And the regular customers like to suddenly stop in front in front of your cart for no reason whatsoever, staring, mouth agape, at the holes in the acoustical tiles in the ceiling. These people cluster together, causing a human barrier that cannot be plowed through no matter how much you say, "Excuse me." These customers like standing, shoulder to shoulder, for aisles upon aisles, acting as feng shui cholesterol, personally guaranteeing your visit will be at least five hours longer than what it should be.

At the end of the experience, everyone develops a Redneck accent, a Bronx accent, or a Redneck Bronx hybrid accent from all the yelling. A typical Wal-Mart debate goes something like:
"I'm shoppin' here!"
"I'm walkin' here!"
"I just want me some pickles!"

In conclusion, I probably don't shop at the right Wal-Mart.

Having said all that, Settlers of Catan is an incredible game and I don't have the opportunity or social network to play it as much as I would like. Because I totally dominate at that game.

rolfthedog said...

putting my personal experiences with the knuckle draggers that populate the wally-worlds in the immediate vicinity aside, I refuse to shop at Wal-mart for broader social and economic reasons. Keeping a large workforce just at or below the poverty line does not help the community or the nation as a whole. Actively discouraging unions and forcing vendors to cut every penny of profit so that the only labor they can afford to use comes out of a sweatshop, is ethically wrong. I am an American and I consume. The only vote I have that counts is with my dollar, and it's up to me to choose to spend it with a social conscience.

To your point, Mario has every right to be snobby. He's a gourmand, and as such, he is an intellectual/culinary heavyweight.
He perceives his audience as cultured and literate. Traits that marketing demographics define as an atypical Wal-mart shopper. Appealing to the lowest common denominator is simply not in his M.O.

Oh, and i like the shoes too.

Sherri said...


Is that a challenge??? Because I am the omnipotent empress of Catan. We are SO going to throw down the next time I'm in Texas. Or, if you and C. will come visit us, we can play up here.

Sherri said...

I hesitate to say this... but maybe there's something about Texas Wal-Marts?


Rolf, all those may be good and compelling reasons to avoid Wal-Mart (a subject for another post, perhaps), but that's not what Mario said. What he said was that the Food Network didn't need intelligent gourmands to appeal to "the Wal-Mart crowd," which implies that everyone who shops there is uncultured and illiterate. I took offense at that, I guess, because I perceive myself as cultured and literate, and surely we are not the only such family forced by the financial exigencies of our circumstances to make use of the cheap goods available at big box stores.

Re: the right to snobbery, perhaps we are using the word differently? When I use the word snob I'm using it in the sense of one who not only cultivates good taste, aesthetic discernment, intellectual achievement, etc., particularly as they are markers of being of a high social class, but who also holds in contempt or disdain those whom he perceives as being of a lower class than himself by virtue of lacking one of those markers.

My objections are to the "contempt or disdain" part- it's fine to choose not to be associated with Wal-Mart, or even to choose not to be associated with the Food Network for being associated with Wal-Mart, for reasons ethical or aesthetic or whimsical or strategic. What is not fine, IMO, is cultivating contempt for other human beings based on the fact that their decisions are different from mine.

Sherri said...

...and of course I violate that "don't be a snob" principle regularly, but I do repent of it when I catch myself. I guess we could call it an ethical mark at which I aim, even if I don't always hit it.