Perplexity of Style



Style is a word that means many different things depending upon what field of endeavor you wish to discuss. In the field of fashion, if you invoke the names Fendi, Versace, or Gucci, it will mean something very definite to those that concern themselves with such things. While listening to classical music you might hear the host say this piece was in the style of Mozart, Chopin, or Tchaikovsky. Even the casual listener can identify that and know what those great composers "sound like". So to use the term style in certain fields can be a catalyst to understanding. If you were to tell me a certain painter reminded you of Monet, I have a general idea of what to expect. The word style runs into trouble when it enters the world of food. To demonstrate this point I will take you on a tour of Shoprite in Stroudsburg.

I did this at risk of being arrested by the food police in the store I will have you know. In the 12 years I have been shopping there not one person has ever asked me if I needed help. If you want to be surrounded by three managers within two minutes simply take your digital camera and start photographing cans of peas. When I told them I was going to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Italians for having our heritage hijacked by major food companies, they dismissed me as another Stroudsburg weirdo and basically kept me under surveillance to whole time I was in the store. I never thought I would feel like I was at the airport in Shoprite. Back to the issue of the word style in food. To be blunt, the word "style" when it enters the world of marketing food completely loses all meaning. I counted no less then 18 different products labeled "New York Style" in the store.

Having been raised in New York certainly does not make me an authority on such things, but I have no idea what they mean by that. What makes a jumbo deep fried pita chip with paprika salt on it "New York Style."? If someone can explain that to me I would appreciate it. No one in the deli department of Shoperite could, but posing the question only heightened the security alert on me to "level orange". There is one food that I understand to be New York style, and that would be a New York style cheesecake. Lindys made it famous and when you tell me it's a New York cheesecake, I know what it is. There are many different things about how food is marketed that involve deception that I wish I could change, but for this article I will take exception to the term "Italian Style". If one had never heard the term before and were to survey all the products with this label in the store, the only thing they could logically conclude is that Italians must have a servere addiction to preservatives and artificial color. This will not be an article for me to give a proper definition of what Italian style is. The question itself is ridiculous. If you were to present that question in Italy you would have 80 million different answers, which is about the population of Italy. To ask that question in Italy is like asking for the time of day, the correct response all depends on where you are.

With those sentiments expressed I have to say there is comedy in the store that mild observation will have you laughing while you shop. Take note of the only truly democratic aisle in the store, the diaper aisle. Little white, black, asian, and hispanic babies happily smiling away while their picture is taken for the box of diapers.

The segregated aisle is the detergent and cleaning products. From Mr. Clean to the arm on Arm and Hammer, all the babies, diligent moms and family shots look like old commercials for "Father Knows Best". It does seem like each type of product has it's own stereotype. My favorite of course are the pasta and tomato products. While living in California I thought they were all illegal immigrants harvesting the tomatoes and fruit. Turns out it's done by stoic looking Italian woman. Those enormous tractors harvesting the wheat in the Midwest that I saw?, wrong again. It's done by large breasted Italian woman with baskets. Who knew?

If at any point during your shopping all this information confuses you, don't worry. Just head over to the dairy section and drink some organic milk. It's really good for your brain and you will be able to figure everything out. The French seem to have been excluded completely from marketing scams with the exception of green beans and canned peas. This is the nation that has had the most influence on how restaurants operate and how food is prepared but there does not seem to be any appeal for something "French Style."

I would not feel honest to say how I cook is Italian style. My father is Italian, I've worked in Italian restaurants, and Italy is my favorite place to visit and eat. To put a label on something for the sake of having a label is only a distraction. I cook the best I can and hope people will enjoy themselves. For me the question of style does not mean recipes or things that can be easily defined. Its more a question of how you approach things. I know I said I would not define Italian style but I will tell you what I think of when I hear that term. My grandfather lived in Clifton N.J. and worked in the trades. He purchased two lots in Clifton not for the purpose of building but to put in his garden. They cost $110 each. They were eight blocks from his house. He would walk there after work and turn the soil, weed, and tend to the garden. In the summer he would sit near the garden until late at night, smoke a cigar, drink red wine, tell stories and "watch the garden".

To me, that's "Italian Style".

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