At around 10:30 a.m. on a recent weekday, Todd Kennedy, a 31-year-old product developer at a major New York media company, walked down the hall to the office of his co-worker, Antony Petersen, and without so much as a “Morning” or “What’s up, dude,” abruptly inquired, “So what’d you make for dinner last night?”
“Oh, I got some beautiful rock shrimp,” replied Mr. Petersen, who is 39 and Australian. He explained the meal down to the smallest detail, but the abridged version, both gentlemen recalled, went something like this: Sautéed some onions and garlic in olive oil; added Chinese cooking wine and a dash of chili oil; threw in the rock shrimp and cooked them until they were perfectly crunchy and firm; and put it all on top of some fluffy white rice.
Mr. Kennedy proceeded to describe his own entrée from the previous evening, ordered from the pan-Asian Williamsburg hot spot Red Bowl on Bedford Avenue, just as elaborately. In a nutshell, as it were: salt-and-chili prawns—not soggy at all considering it’s fried delivery food, he noted—steamed string beans with oyster sauce and, same as Mr. Petersen’s concoction, white rice. (“We didn’t talk much about the white rice given that white rice is kind of boring,” Mr. Kennedy told The Observer.)
Before they knew it, more than half an hour had gone by.
“I can’t explain what took so long about the conversation,” said Mr. Kennedy, who lives in Greenpoint. “I think I just ended up going on and on about how awesome salt-and-chili prawns are.”
New Yorkers’ water-cooler chitchat has changed. They used to talk about sex and politics and TV shows. Now they can’t stop yapping about what they’re shoving down their pie holes.
We see it in the meticulous record-keeping of eating habits on personal blogs. The ubiquitous Facebook updates and tweets about subscribers’ most recent meals. (Surely you also have those five or so friends whose feeds are 90 percent food-consumption-related?) The requisite iPhone pic before a certain kind of diner—let’s call him a foodiot—ravages his plate.
A Giant Taco
Things were different 10 or 15 years ago, when most of us were, to put it bluntly, eating like shit. But now that we shop at the farmers’ market, now that we know the name of the cow whose flanks we’re about to sink our teeth into and the type of grass on which it was raised, now that our neighbors keep organic chickens on their back patios and stock their refrigerators with handmade pickles and artisanal cheese, what we eat has become a dominant, and perhaps obnoxious, part of our everyday cultural discourse.
One Brooklyn Heights IT professional documented each course at Le Bernardin with his iPhone—escolar for the appetizer, monk fish and striped bass with langoustine as the main courses, and panna cotta for dessert.
Indeed, “I think about a third of all my conversations are about food,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Posted on his Facebook “wall” are the photos from Mr. Kennedy’s Flickr album: a close-up of a giant taco covered in grated cheese, a salad smothered in creamy dill dressing, a slab of seasoned shark meat, next to a side of corn on the cob on a large white plate. (It’s worth noting that food, no matter how delicious it tastes, can look kind of, well, disgusting when shot by an amateur. As Paul Grimes, a food editor–stylist at Gourmet, told The Observer, “There’s a lot that goes into making food look good,” and that usually doesn’t involve a point-and-shoot camera.)
Then there are Mr. Kennedy’s status updates. Recently, he was in a “taco truck coma.” He was also “so full of awesome thai food.” And he spent seven hours in the kitchen cooking “homemade tagliatelle, meatballs and tomato ragu, a triple batch of pizza dough, pancetta sauteed with brussel sprouts, a grilled zucchini & scallion, grape tomato and feta salad.” (Not to mention his one update about the raw squid!)
“I’m not always talking about food,” said Mr. Kennedy. “But I’m always more than happy to talk about it.”
So is Stacey, a 25-year-old financial analyst for a major Wall Street firm who said she constantly chats with friends and co-workers about where and what she has been eating.
“Here’s my thing,” said Stacey, who asked that The Observer use only her first name—perhaps so her employer wouldn’t realize how much time she spends on food blogs. “If I’m out with some people and we’re talking, and someone has a friend from out of town or something, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, you have to go here to get this particular food because it’s so good and so delicious!”