When that circle started to close is tough to say, exactly — somewhere between the cataclysmic birth of Napster and our sudden, universal hankering for pork belly.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of the foodie class and decline of the record industry. Are the two related? When did we start talking about new food trucks instead of new bands? When did the line outside El Centro D.F. taqueria get longer than the line outside the Black Cat? Is $8 a reasonable price for an order of duck fat french fries just because we can stream our music for free on Spotify?
We’ll have 11 or so hours to gnaw on these questions during Saturday’s Sweetlife Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion, the fourth annual mega-concert thrown by Sweetgreen, a D.C.-born chain of salad restaurants. The day-long event features music from 22 acts, including Phoenix, Kendrick Lamar and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, plus noshables from dozens of vendors, including DGS Delicatessen, Luke’s Lobster and chef JoséAndrés’s Pepe food truck.
And while Sweetlife is being marketed as a music-and-food-festival-in-that-order, next weekend’s Great GoogaMooga festival in Brooklyn reverses the billing — evidence that food culture isn’t linking arms with rock-and-roll so much as replacing it.
That’s because today’s gastronomical adventures provide the thrills that rock-and-roll used to. New restaurants appeal to our sense of discovery. Our diets can reflect our identities, our politics. For fans of thrash metal and/or live octopus sashimi, food is a way to sate cravings for the maximal, visceral and extreme.
And above all, unlike music, food provides a sensual pleasure that can’t be transmitted digitally. We can’t download a banh mi.
“Cuisine exists in a cultural realm where people can engage in status displays,” says Kyle Rees, communications manager at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. “And status items are things that aren’t easily obtained. So if everyone can get music, it loses that value. . . . And the millennial generation, they’re willing to drop the better part of their already low salaries on new food experiences.”
We all remember when video killed the radio star, but if we’re trying to establish that ramen shops are killing the record biz, the numbers are a little blurry.
According to analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent consumer expenditure survey, the amount of annual income that Americans younger than 25 spent dining out increased nearly 26 percent between 2000 and 2011. For ages 25 to 34, the increase was nearly 20 percent. (That’s without adjusting for inflation.)