The Search for Authenticity: A Questionable Manifesto

question-man

You familiar with Panera Bread or Five Guys? Ever visit a food truck? Each kind of business represents a part of the fastest-growing segment of the dining industry, known as “fast-casual.”

The premise is simple: a step above “traditional,” expected fast-food, but not the kind of sit-down experience you receive at restaurants. No servers. Relatively little fuss. In essence, it’s a way to create a more direct connection between customer and choice, even if that literally means taking out a middleman to put you and the creator of your food face-to-face.

What’s worth noticing about the increased attention and interest of this format of consumption is how it can also be part of broader social trends. It’s an extension of what the past decade has offered entrepreneurs and consumers in the wake of the Great Recession. New ways to approach how we give and receive goods and services.

The rise of fast-casual may not be unique to the 21st century, but it’s prominence in our preferences – creating gastro-social bonds we thought lost in the gluttony of early aughts dining – showcases a new awareness of who we want to be as eaters and drinkers. In phases of our lives, we’re searching for stronger connections to what’s around us, all the while inching ourselves back to avoid the harm that comes from too much personal investment. Get what you want, feel it’s coming from a trustworthy source, and complete the transaction.

Is it a behavior influenced by our experience of financial turmoil just years ago? Is it due to our changing relationships in the real and digital world? Whatever the reason, at least the common thread weaving these and other possible answers together is that as human beings, we’re trying to find ways to make connections.

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Reporter’s Notebook: Why I Wanted to Talk About Race

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A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting at the front of a room surrounded by fellow beer bloggers and writers listening to Julia Herz of the Brewers Association. It was the first day of the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference, this year held in Asheville, North Carolina.

As Herz spoke to our group of 150 attendees – from the titular writers to brewery representatives, marketers and more – I looked around the room and jotted down in my notebook my first two thoughts of the conference:

  • What were demographic registrations for past years?
  • Male/female breakdown of ’15

At the time, Herz was speaking about women’s place in beer and its growth in recent years. An important topic to discuss, for sure. As I continued looking, I saw plenty of female faces, but they were all white. Ditto for the guys.

Which led to my third note:

  • Anyone of color?

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24-Hour Retrospective: A Conversation on Race and Beer

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Reaction to my post on race and beer

So that took off.

Yesterday’s post looking at the cross-section of race and beer, or rather, the whiteness of the beer community, received lots of attention, views and comments, as just about any discussion on race is apt to do.

While I planned a second post to be the end of it, I feel compelled to share a snippet of the reaction. Most common among the interactions I had were people asking me about the “call to action” of my message or if I just wanted to play PC police.

For those of you who have been regular readers of this blog, you may have surmised the overarching theme of what I do is based around the question of “why?” In this case, I saw a topic of interest that had little discussion and I wanted to ask just that. I had no grand idea in place or urge to force anyone into doing one thing or another.

My end game? There was none, other than the hope of spurring talk among beer lovers, not to turn it into a navel gazing session to wrap our heads around some great philosophical place of beer and society. In some ways, I succeeded in that.

But my post also ended up in one of the more vitriolic places on the Internet: under the title “If You Drink Craft Beer You are a racist.” on Reddit’s CoonTowna place for “crude jokes and racial slurs; links to news stories that highlight black-on-white crime or Confederate pride; and discussions of ‘black people appropriating white culture.'”

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Color of Beer: Addressing Our Whiteness

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When imagining the stereotypical beer drinker, thoughts might float to large, bearded men with rotund bellies or thick-rimmed, bespectacled hipsters carefully quaffing out of snifter glasses.

Rarely does an initial impression end up with women, who account for 25 percent of total beer consumption by volume and about a third for craft beer. Even more so, how often would we consider a black, Hispanic or Asian drinker?

“It doesn’t bother me that much, but after a while, you’re like, ‘how come more people that are like me aren’t doing this?” asked Liz Garibay, historian and beer writer at History on Tap. “It’s never been something I’m overly sensitive to, but you start looking around a room, especially within the beer industry, and it’s something you become aware of.”

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Liz Garibay

Garibay, whose parents both immigrated from Mexico to her current hometown of Chicago, admitted she’s never felt out of place within the beer community because of her background – enjoying good beer and good company isn’t dependent on the race or ethnicity of others. But for any community, having the ability to share multiple perspectives isn’t just pivotal for the sake of diversity, but can be meaningful for education and exposure.

Which is why, as beer companies shift attention to demographics not representative of the large, bearded man or skinny-jeaned hipster, perhaps we should, too. Because, as scholar J. Nikol Beckham points out, “from every casual scanning of a craft brewery’s website to the staff page of Brewers Association, it’s pretty obvious to anyone inclined to notice that craft beer is remarkably white.”

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A Few Words on … “two-ounce culture”

The way of the future?

The way of the future?

We live in a time of parity. Or, at least, one of constant distraction. Not everything may have our utmost attention, but it’ll sure as hell fight for it.

Are we stuck in the era of a “two-ounce culture?” Are we, as a people, fixated on the idea that mass consumption equals enjoyment? Is it simply a matter of society today? They’re questions raised by Rob Fullmer over at the Beer PHXation Blog and echoed by Stan Hieronymus.

Whether it’s art or news or beer, there are plenty of options to be had. Now more than ever, we’re taking advantage of it.

But what I believe Rob and Stan are ultimately getting at is this: is a two-ounce culture a good or bad thing? Do we put the most value in collecting experiences?

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