January 13, 2011

The Taste of Tyranny

We like to think of ourselves as individuals, as free thinking, free living, self determining beings. And though we harbor that fantasy, and nurture it as well, we know better. We know that we are social creatures, but more specifically, pack animals. That is, we find comfort in the herd, the safety and anonymity it provides.

But if we are as sheep, then there are also those who function as shepherds -- those anointed as "tastemakers". They move the flock where they will, guiding it where they will, protecting their investment more than any individual.

These are the individuals featured in Details, telling men that khaki/ navy is the color combo you need to be wearing right now. Those in Men's Health, advocating the rampant consumption of whole grains and lean protein, sprint intervals and deadlifts.

They tell us what to wear, what to do, what to watch. But more importantly, they tell us what to think, about ourselves and others. If we make some effort to achieve the standards they set, then we have taste, then we are somehow correct. Those who fail to do so are either pitiably ignorant, or worse, some combination of unwilling and unable. They are wrong, either by choice or by failure.

Coffee is not without this phenomenon. There are those who grind right before brewing, who sip and swirl, who discuss notes of cocoa and speak of bright, sparking acidity. Those -- a group I include myself in -- cast coffee as a beverage rather than a drink, a luxury rather than a mere caffeine vehicle. We look down our noses at the Folgers drinking masses, loading their insipid brew with hydrogenated soybean oil. We avert our eyes as they ladle sugar and cream in to their coffee, curl our lips at the mention of "skinny" or "vanilla". We are the ones with taste, they the stragglers to be left for the wolves.

And in that judgment, we are wrong. One cannot truly make taste for anyone but one's self, insofar as experience of stimuli, and thus the perception thereof, is entirely subjective. There is nothing right about black coffee, sourced from some obscure, third world farm; nor is their anything wrong with stale robusta beans, milked via a Mr. Coffee. There is only preference. And in that, one has some measure of freedom, some right to enjoy what they enjoy, and to do so on their own terms.

This is not some advocacy for rugged individualism, no poetic waxing for some mythological ethic. This is nothing more than a verbose confirmation of the obvious, which is too often forgotten: Drink what you like.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Alex, keep talking like that and you're going to start pissing off the coffee snobs! (But you are absolutely right.)