“I was like, ‘Whaaaat?’” said Nicole Taylor, author of “The Up South Cookbook.” “A lot of things ran through my head. The first was, I need to call and tell my mom that they are selling collard greens for $80.”
She couldn’t help but be amused: “The food that was considered poor people’s food, or Southern food, or black food, is now being advertised and sold by a luxury brand,” she said. “I‘ve heard people from the South say that they were ashamed that their family cooked collard greens.”
There’s a reason Neiman Marcus has earned the nickname “Needless Markup.” Also, what kind of rich person buys their food from Neiman Marcus? Wouldn’t they just get a caterer?
“Unless you can’t get greens, and I don’t know anywhere in the U.S. where you can’t get greens anymore, you can get someone to cook them for you for less than $66,” said Nathalie Dupree, author of “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” “Part of what’s so ludicrous is that people who could afford more didn’t have greens on Thanksgiving. Greens were saved for weekdays. My mother-in-law would never serve greens on Thanksgiving or on Sundays.”
The collard greens quickly became the subject of mockery on Twitter.
Others took issue with the retailer’s choice of ingredients. Ham hocks are traditional, but Neiman Marcus’s version uses bacon.
And collards weren’t the only high-priced dish that raised eyebrows. A similar-sized eight-to-10-person serving of baked beans costs $80, plus $18 for shipping.
“Candied yams, $64. Wow, are you kidding me?” Taylor asked. “They’re sweet potatoes!”
But the amused outrage on Twitter isn’t just the product of charging a nearly 4,000 percent upcharge for something that costs as little as $2 a bag at the grocery store. It’s also about the appropriation of food culture. While greens are eaten by families of all ethnicities in the South, they’re especially associated with black soul food.
“Really, they don’t understand the cultural nuances behind greens and what that brings up?” said Taylor, who wishes that Neiman Marcus would have given a nod to the dish’s origins in the catalogue listing. “They should do a better job if they’re going to sell foods that are tied to people’s ethnicity and culture. They need to do some nice copywriting.”
Emailed a list of questions about how the company prices its food items and how many orders have been purchased, a Neiman Marcus publicist responded: “The Neiman Marcus Collard Greens are a new item we are carrying this year. The order arrives in four 12 oz trays so you choose how much you would like to serve. Overall, the four 12 oz trays serves 8-10 people. Thank you.”
Whole Foods waded into a collards controversy earlier this year, too, when it tweeted out a recipe for collard greens that was also devoid of the dish’s cultural context.
“You don’t have to be Jewish to eat Levy’s Rye, and you don’t have to be ‘Colored’ to love collards, but this is the key … being culturally aware needs to be a value in our society — for all of us,” wrote food historian Michael Twitty after that controversy.
Taylor wasn’t offended by Neiman Marcus’s decision to put collards in its catalog. Just the price.
“I mean, it’s Neiman Marcus. Let’s keep it real,” she said.
So, who do they imagine is buying them?
“Definitely people that don’t know how to cook,” Taylor said. “Anybody in their right mind would not spend that much on collard greens. They would call up a neighbor, a friend, and say, ‘Make me an extra pot.’”
For Dupree, the probable buyer is “Someone who doesn’t know any better, I suppose,” she said. “If this is really the state of Southern cooking, we are in terrible trouble here.”