Thu. November 8
Bobos 2.0: The New Cool is a Hand-Crank Grain Mill
Twelve years ago, David Brooks coined a term for the new educated elite. He called them Bobos, short for bourgeois bohemians. In his bestselling book Bobos in Paradise, Brooks identified, analyzed, and ridiculed the people (himself included), who make up the new establishment. “These Bobos define our age,” Brooks said. Mixing bourgeois morals and mores with bohemian counterculture, Brooks explained that materially crazed Bobos spend thousands on “old things whose virtues have been rendered timeless by their obsolescence: turn-of-the-century carpentry tools, whaling equipment . . . typesetting trays . . . and hand-operated coffee grinders.” Brooks argued that this trend of buying expensive obsolete tools to be appreciated as works of art “one-downmanship.”
Fast forward a decade to the new Williams-Sonoma catalog for Thanksgiving 2012 and you can witness the evolution–or should I say devolution–of us Bobos: Expensive obsolete tools like hand-operated grinders aren’t just art anymore, now we are supposed to actually use them. William Sonoma has a whole section of over-priced kitchenware devoted to living like it was 1912 (make that 1812?). It is called the Agrarian Guide.
As the catalog reads, “Agrarian supports a lifestyle of healthy living – connecting the virtues of homegrown and homemade to your everyday table. Find everything you need, from a handy harvest calendar to illustrated guides for planting, canning, cheesemaking and more . . .” The products include a reclaimed rustic chicken coop for $759.95, which makes sense is a world where urban chicken farming is a movement that has its own blogs and is gaining in popularity. There is a Warre beehive made from “untreated Western Red Cedar” that retails for $399.95, a vinegar pot for $90, an $80 fermentation pot to make “your own sauerkraut,” and a hand crank Burr grinder grain mill retailing for $675.95. The accompanying grain mill clamp will set you back another $105.95.
What is going on here? There has been a slow food movement for more than a decade now, but hand-grinding your own grain with a crank? That’s a whole other order of magnitude of slow.
And the most amazing thing about this is that as we keep reading in multiple studies and news stories, Americans aren’t doing their own cooking.
But reality hasn’t stopped Williams-Sonoma from peddling Bobo fantasy. Indeed, it’s been the Bobo’s go-to kitchen catalogue for a while now, so really the Agrarian section should come as no surprise. As Brooks himself noticed back in 2000, the catalog used to “flog” us with morally superior sausage links due to their being imbued with the “secrets of curing that Native Americans taught the first European settlers in Virginia (the mention of Native Americans gives the product six moral points right off the bat).” So why should we be surprised in 2012 to see a $30 mixture of dry mustard and herbs to which we can add water and voila, the perfect accompaniment with our ethically stuffed sausages?
Ridicule aside however, it is worth noting how important it remains to sell products based on their ethical value. So the implication when grinding your own grain is that it is healthier not only because the resulting flour will not be the product of some evil, big-time wheat-processing behemoth, but because of the “virtues” of homegrown and homemade goods. Trouble is, homegrown and homemade aren’t virtues, they’re adjectives.
Abby W. Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based journalist and blogger. Follow her on twitter.com/abbyschachter
Readers: What is the most Boboesque item you’ve seen from retailers?