Restaurants, Food, Politics, and Rock and Roll

Something DC-ers probably already know is that the Sweetlife Food and Music Festival took place this weekend. For everyone who does not already know about this event, it is an annual food and music festival hosted by the popular local salad chain, Sweetgreen. This year, it featured over thirty food and drink vendors, many of which are companies based in the DC area. This article in the Washington Post got me thinking about how the Sweetlife Festival exemplifies larger trends that have been developing within the food and music scene for a while now. I do not completely agree with the claim that Chris Richards made in the article that restaurants and chefs are subsuming the revolutionary role that rock and roll once held in our society.

Rock and roll is not the revolutionary medium that it once was. While music will always be exciting in its own unique way, it is no longer revolutionary; there is no sort of a movement binding people together through rock and roll like there was during the late 1960s and 1970s. Many artists and bands do and will continue to convey their perspectives on politics and society through their music, but the amount that are saying something worthy of the creation of a movement supporting them, and the amount of people who are following what they say, become less and less each year. People enjoy rock and roll, but it doesn’t have the same effect on people’s lives as in the past.

Rock and roll has ceased being new in most people’s minds despite the better efforts of the artists and bands who are experimenting and creating new sounds and new types of music. I do not think that food, and the rise of food culture, has anything to do with this development. What is new to the younger generation, the generation that is typically thought of as supporting rock and roll, is food culture. Millennials, the generation that attends the Sweetlife Festival, are feeding into and appreciating food culture like other generations before them did not. Top level restaurants serving inventive cuisine have always been around, but many were made by a different audience, and for a different audience, than they are now. Chefs are not more revolutionary than they were in the past.

What has changed is that more people are interested in knowing about what they are eating. They are curious about food and what they are putting in their bodies, and not just because they are trying to eat healthily. Millennials, and particularly Millennials in Washington, D.C., are placing such an emphasis on trying new restaurants, and on food in general, because of the environment in which we were raised where we convey our point of views in different ways that we did twenty,  thirty, or forty years ago. We are skeptical of, and we question, many things; a large number of us are skeptical of much of the food that we eat. We were raised to glorify and/or avoid all sorts of types of food. Food is in the news constantly, too. Documentaries like Food, Inc. and books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma made us think twice about eating processed food. When I was a child, my parents and I did not think about where our food came from. Now, a greater number of people are curious about, and want to know more about food and the way our meals are made. This does not necessarily mean that we are eating healthier foods than we have in the past. We are witnessing the democratization of food culture because more people want to know about what we are eating.

The prominence of food at the Sweetlife Festival does not demonstrate that food culture is subsuming rock and roll as a means of political and creative expression. The proliferation, and popularization of “foodie” restaurants and food trucks throughout Washington, D.C. shows that more and a different type of people are interested and care about what they are eating. Food culture is no longer limited to the “elites” who can afford Michelin-starred restaurants. Larger amounts of people are realizing that they do have a choice in what they can eat, and that their choices in this regard can express their political views. The rise of food culture is not hastening the decline of rock and roll as a revolutionary force. Food culture is rising for much of the same reasons that rock and roll rose to prominence as what you eat can be a means of self-expression just as what music you listen to can, but it is not replacing the role that rock and roll has in people’s minds.

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