Is There A Cleveland Cuisine?
by Bruce Alan Grossman
Last week the Cleveland Pravda (we call it the PD) asked if there is an authentic Cleveland cuisine. I think not, because this post-modern culture is also post-cuisine. Eating is no longer about sharing the common pot of grub, it’s now about identity creation, pastiche menus, and a certain claim to being cosmopolitan, or having good taste. But what is good taste? And what is American good taste, let alone Cleveland good taste? In good post-modern form, this can best be explained by deconstructing a 1960’s T.V. commercial, to wit, Charlie the Tuna, the pitchman for the Starkist brand tuna co.
It is significant that Charlie the Tuna flourished on the airwaves in the early sixties. Then America was blessed by the triumph of industrial manufacturing techniques, and the issue was no longer scarcity and mere survival, but overabundance and how to stimulate consumption by constructing consumer dreams, desires, identities and habits. Also, America was blessed with an economy not ravaged by WW II. But mainly those were the good old days of the Cold War, when America fought the specter of International Socialism with the Capitalist Welfare State. It was a time of unprecedented prosperity and confusion of the hierarchical class structure. An this is where Charlie the Tuna comes in.
Charlie the Tuna was a social climber and voracious consumer of “high-brow” culture, or Culture with a capital “C”. Charlie was a pretentious beatnick forever dabbling in abstract expressionism and hi-fis to mask his working class origins and claim for himself the most elevated status of an aesthetic elite. The joke of the commercial was that Charlie was forever trying to prove his “good taste,” in order to be worthy of being selected, slaughtered and canned by the Starkist company. Because Starkist tuna were the acme of good taste. But the punchline was, “Sorry, Charlie. Starkist doesn’t want tuna with good taste, it wants tuna that tastes good!” And so the cultural pretender was vanquished until the next installment in this series of repetitious ads.
When I think of Cleveland, I think of Charlie the Tuna, but only an updated version with sleevefuls of tattoos. When I think of Cleveland, I think of the Starkist tuna noodle casserole and the Betty Crocker Cookbook and how we’ve all become so embarrassed by our mother or grandmother’s style of cooking. You can’t have a cuisine if you cut off all your roots. How there can’t be a cuisine if there is not a common pot or a common American casserole. But mostly I think about Dean Moriarty and hope Starkist reads this blog.
Go to LinkedIn. I am the Bruce Grossman who calls his art projects Bagwhan Music, and have a nice photo of me sitting in the Koffie Cafe.