Food trends’ in­flu­ence on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion

The ‘ce­real’ gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of com­mu­ni­ties around the world

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Han­nah Ra­paglia Com­men­tary Writer Han­nah Ra­paglia is a U1 English Lit­er­a­ture and World Re­li­gions stu­dent. To con­tact the au­thor, email han­nah.ra­

They’re colour­ful, they’re loud, and they’re lit­er­ally ev­ery­where. I’m talk­ing about food videos. Any­one who has been on Face­book in the past year has surely seen these videos by Buz­zfeed­food, Tasty, Del­ish, IN­SIDER Food, and POPSUGAR Food.

This is not to say I haven’t in­dulged in watch­ing a few dozen said videos my­self. In fact, I re­cently found my­self dis­tracted from an en­tire lec­ture by food videos play­ing on a stu­dent’s com­puter in front of me. Though they may be cap­ti­vat­ing, their in­tent is far from in­no­cent.

These videos con­trib­ute to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion by at­tract­ing tourism as­so­ci­ated with hip new din­ers and dives. Though these restau­rants have a fol­low­ing among out­siders, they are far less ap­peal­ing to the lo­cals in these com­mu­ni­ties. Ac­cord­ing to Jonathan Mont­petit, re­port­ing for CBC News, low-in­come res­i­dents are dis­il­lu­sioned by the ap­pear­ances of shops and restau­rants; they can­not af­ford to take ad­van­tage of the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of their com­mu­ni­ties.

There can be pos­i­tive as­pects to the de­vel­op­ment of new restau­rants in tra­di­tion­ally poor or ne­glected neigh­bour­hoods: from Brick Lane, Lon­don to St Henri right here in Mon­treal. Af­ter all, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion can yield fresh rev­enue, an ex­pand­ing cul­tural scene, or aes­thetic im­prove­ments. How­ever, the hid­den cul­ture be­hind the food videos that bring about some of this gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is harm­ful and ex­ploita­tive.

Mon­treal is in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the process of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion through so­cial me­dia ad­ver­tise­ments. Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion af­fects stu­dents who are look­ing for an af­ford­able place to set­tle down af­ter they grad­u­ate; they may find them­selves dis­placed as a re­sult of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, as it raises the cost of liv­ing.

St-henri is one com­mu­nity among sev­eral in Mon­treal– Rose­mont, the Gay Vil­lage, and Mile End, to name a few– which has been hit hard by gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in the past two decades.

For St-henri the de­vel­op­ment of con­dos led to a grow­ing num­ber of new busi­nesses pre­par­ing to cater to this new pop­u­la­tion. In turn, as the num­ber of new busi­nesses in St-henri in­creased, so did me­dian in­comes, prop­erty taxes, and rent costs. The quickly-ris­ing cost of liv­ing cre­ated com­pli­ca­tions for StHenri res­i­dents, and they were not go­ing un­no­ticed. In fact, dis­tressed mem­bers of the com­mu­nity be­gan to lash out against the no­tice­able gen­tri­fi­ca­tion with sit-ins, demon­stra­tions, and even van­dal­ism.

In May 2016, a group of pro­test­ers took ac­tion against a high-end gro­cery store in St-henri called 3734. Fed up with the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion they’d been see­ing for years, the van­dals graf­fi­tied the “bour­geois” gro­cer, set off smoke bombs, stole thou­sands of dol­lars worth of mer­chan­dise, and left a strongly worded let­ter be­hind. Their ac­tions are ex­plained in the fi­nal state­ment: “Long live de-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.”

Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is not ex­clu­sive to Mon­treal, but is rather a grow­ing in­ter­na­tional con­cern, es­pe­cially within big cities. For ex­am­ple, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in Lon­don, Eng­land elicited sim­i­lar re­ac­tions from their lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers.

Back in 2014, a pair of Bri­tish broth­ers opened Ce­real Killer Cafe in the for­merly poor and im­mi­grant­filled neigh­bor­hood of Brick Lane, Lon­don. De­scribed by the own­ers as a “colour­ful, nos­tal­gic eatery,” it was a gim­mick from the start. In fact, the cafe was al­legedly a stroke of hang­over-in­duced ge­nius, and it has since served the broth­ers well fi­nan­cially.

Charg­ing up­wards of £4.00 for a bowl of sug­ary ce­real, Gary and Allen Keery have made a killing– no pun in­tended– off hun­gry hip­sters’ strange fas­ci­na­tion with splashy, new-wave eats. And, though the cafe it­self doesn’t of­fer much be­yond break­fast, it has gar­nered stay­ing power. De­spite pick­ing up most of its me­dia cov­er­age in 2014 and 2015, Ce­real Killer Cafe and places of the like are still glam­or­ized in videos across Face­book and Snapchat Dis­cover– where me­dia goes to die– in 2017.

One pop­u­lar food video page, Del­ish, posted about the Ce­real Killer Cafe just this past week, and the com­ments are over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Face­book users can be seen shar­ing the post and tag­ging their friends at will, ex­claim­ing about how they “HAVE to try this place!” Yet, de­spite its sud­den resur­gence of pop­u­lar­ity, Ce­real Killer Cafe is no stranger to con­tro­versy. The Keery broth­ers cer­tainly have their crit­ics. In fact, the cutesy joint has been the tar­get of crit­i­cism and protest through the years - ac­cord­ing to a re­port for The Guardian by Nadia Khomami and Josh Hal­l­i­day, pro­test­ers in 2015 scrawled the word “scum” on the cafe win­dow and wielded lit torches while car­ry­ing pigs’ heads.

The protest’s mo­ti­va­tions are un­der­stand­able. Many peo­ple who be­lieve in the sol­i­dar­ity of their work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties are tired of so­cial me­dia bring­ing un­wanted tourism to their beloved neigh­bor­hoods merely on the ba­sis of a restau­rant or bak­ery sell­ing some ridicu­lous con­fec­tion. Specif­i­cally, com­mu­ni­ties of colour and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties —among oth­ers—have been marginal­ized and forced out of their neigh­bour­hoods in ur­ban spa­ces across the world, de­spite hav­ing made their homes there through past decades. This is largely due to their col­lec­tive food econ­omy tak­ing the brunt im­pact from this in­flux of Face­bookin­spired eat­ing habits.

For peo­ple of colour in newly gen­tri­fied neigh­bour­hoods, part of the prob­lem sur­round­ing the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of food videos is that they pro­mote in­au­then­tic ‘eth­nic’ restau­rants rather than giv­ing this in­valu­able ad­ver­tis­ing to lesser-known, au­then­tic es­tab­lish­ments. In a Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle by Roberto A. Ferd­man in which he in­ter­views Kr­ish­nendu Ray, an ex­pert on food stud­ies at NYU, the dou­ble stan­dard be­hind the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s ob­ses­sion with “eth­nic food” is ex­posed: “We want ‘eth­nic food’ to be au­then­tic, but we are al­most never will­ing to pay for it.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ray speaks to the idea that eth­nic food is looked at from a po­si­tion of su­pe­ri­or­ity, “be­cause of our re­fusal to treat it with the same pres­tige as we treat oth­ers [types of food], [the food] is not nearly as au­then­tic as we imag­ine it to be.”

Of course, un­crit­i­cal pop-cul­ture con­sumerism lends it­self well to the de­crease in traf­fic to au­then­tic eater­ies. Peo­ple who see a Face­book video ad­ver­tis­ing a new hotspot not far from them are surely more likely to seek that out ex­cit­edly than they are likely to do fur­ther re­search and try to find some­thing more au­then­tic. Af­ter all, part of the al­lure of the minute-long sound­bite-es­que food videos is that they reel you in with pops of colour and lively mu­sic with­out ac­tu­ally giv­ing you any sub­stan­tive in­for­ma­tion. They might share two or three menu items—sans prices, of course—along with the gen­eral lo­ca­tion of the joint. From there, it’s the con­sumer’s job to share the video with friends and des­per­ately hunt for the spot it’s ad­ver­tis­ing.

Greeted by ob­nox­ious poppy mu­sic and a clip of the clas­sic “Mikey Likes It!” bit, I re­visit the Del­ish video pro­mot­ing the Ce­real Killer Cafe once more. How­ever, this time as I watch it I am over­come with a sense of bleak­ness. On the one hand, I am glued to the screen as sin­fully sweet menu items with catchy names like “Uni­corn Poop” and “Dou­ble Rain­bow” are pre­pared be­fore my eyes. On the other, though, I can­not help but re­mem­ber the dark side of places like this, and the con­sumerism, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, and ur­ban­iza­tion of work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties they cause at will.

Need­less to say, I in­stantly lose my ap­petite.

Part of the prob­lem sur­round­ing the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of food videos is that the pro­mote in­au­then­tic ‘eth­nic’ restau­rants.

Rahma Wiry­omartono | The Mcgill Daily

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