Is Food Writing Biased Toward Wine?
The Wall Street Journal runs a promising story today about the growing appreciation of beer and the practice of pairing beer with cheese. Author Davide Berretta shares good news about beer-and-cheese pairings popping up at Slow Food's cheese festival in Italy and at American gourmet bars such as Beer Table in Brooklyn. But Berretta also uses biased language that portrays beer as a less deserving product than wine, a dangerous threat to wine's sacred place on restaurant menus and the palates of gourmands.
The headline (which was likely written by a copy-editor, not Berretta) sets the tone: "Trouble Brews for Wine; Cheese Chooses Beer" [emphasis added]. The story is about growth in an industry: beer. More people are appreciating good beer in the way many people appreciate good wine. Both can coexist, and the world can enjoy more fine libations.
But in the very first sentence, Berretta posits this growth as a conflict between beer and wine — and of course beer is the uncouth and unwanted guest at that dinner party. His first sentence reads:
After wrestling for a spot on the gourmet drink list, beer is trying to push deeper into wine territory: right by the cheese platter. [emphasis added]
The amount of bias here is maddening. First beer is an aggressor, "wrestling" and "pushing" for recognition. But worse, it's seen as an invading (in other words, unwelcome) force on "wine territory," as though wine somehow has sole ownership over cheese. They are paired together often, yes. But cheese is no more "wine territory" than peanut butter is "jelly territory." It's an example, not a rule.
Wine and cheese are historically consumed together more often than beer and cheese in what writers like Berretta consider "gourmet" settings — that is, France and Italy. But in countries like Germany, Belgium, and the Czech Republic, whose beer culture is as rich as France and Italy's wine culture, artisanal beer and cheese are equally regarded. And in all countries, people can enjoy both.
Berretta is biased on a more systemic level, too, in his sourcing. Aside from the one Brooklyn restaurant, he quotes mostly sources from Italy and France, two countries with strong wine preferences and beer cultures that are in their infancy. (A decade ago, all either one produced was fizzy yellow stuff; today, the number of breweries exporting to the U.S. from each country is still in the single digits.) Berretta doesn't mention Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, or Britain. And he scarcely mentions the United States; I could name a dozen places in D.C. alone that do beer-and-cheese pairings.
It's wonderful that good beer is getting attention, and that media are picking up on food lovers' enthusiasm for it. But food media is still biased toward wine. Hopefully soon writers will realize that beer is not the enemy and is not seeking to steal wine's thunder. It's just another food for people to enjoy.
Photo by will ockenden via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License