Bourgie Food 101: Pizza
On a recent outing-a birthday party-at Broadway Pizza located in Sindhi Muslim, Karachi, Pakistan, a friend of mine who knew of my guilty pleasure of consuming bourgie food asked jokingly [in English]:
“So, is this bourgeois food?”
“Oh, it most definitely is. But you see, I am eating with my hands, not forks and knives, so I am subverting the system.”
My reply elicited a laugh assuring me that I had, with unusual tact, dealt with the question. However, he had once more reminded me of my privilege and I took to ruminating not only the pizza but also on the ethics of eating bourgeois food.
As I am still working towards an ethics of food consumption I would rather not touch upon the topic of my justification for eating the pizza at the moment. First, I must present evidence for pizza being a bourgie food item.
So, what exactly is bourgie food? Well, as usual, it depends on the context. You see bourgie food is essentially a relative and pejorative-though delicious-concept. The matter at hand is made no more easier given that pizza is quite a versatile dish with the only common denominator being-quite literally-the dough. Still, my reasons for classifying pizza as such are quite simple. Ah, and I should also mention that these reasons can work quite independently of each other too.
The first assumption vis-a-vis bourgie food: where you eat the bourgie food, it must not be included within that country’s consumer price index counter (CPI).
CPI can be understood as a list of goods which are most “commonly” used/consumed and are tabulated in order to measure the price inflation of a specific market or country. To be even more specific the bourgie food must not be a measure of the Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) which is computed on weekly basis to assess the price movement of essential commodities at short interval. Currently (or at least according to the latest data provided by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics) using the base year as 2007–08, there are 53 items on the SPI list, and pizza dough is not one of them.
But what of the ingredients that go into making a pizza dough? To make the dough at the minimum you need, wheat flour (on the SPI list), sugar (on the SPI list), salt (on the SPI list), water (not on the SPI list, but included in the CPI), olive oil-bourgie!!!-is recommended (which isn’t on the list) but normal oil also works (and is on the SPI list), and one envelop of dry yeast (not on the list), and lastly heat produced by gas, which would count as gas charges (on the SPI list).
So, judging by the ingredients alone pizza, at least it’s dough, doesn’t seem to be so bourgie after all. But, what of the space within which the dough is made? The pan and the oven/microwave. We also need to configure their costs. Therefore, once you bring in the actual technology needed to make the dough, pizza dough truly turns bourgie. Moreover, it is of import to note that the people who sell the Louis Vuitton merchandise are not, after all, the same as those who use them. Therefore, even if I can make the pizza dough, it is the general populace’s inability to buy it as an everyday food item that places it in the bourgie class.
The reason that I am going as far as to go into such details is because a question I often ask myself is, “What exactly is it that makes a food bourgie? It’s ingredients? It’s rarity? It’s exclusiveness? The skilled labour required?”
Some of them yes, and some of them no. Like I said before it really depends on the context. For example, even if the ingredients are mostly common place the technology and skill required to transform said ingredients into a wholesome delicious dish are not.
Second assumption: the bourgie food is not fed (offered?) to poor-hungry people as charity food.
I thought I had covered the “mass sentiment” in the earlier assumption, however two incidents lead to consider this. One, as I was taking a rickshaw back from my little indiscretion, I saw a dastakhan laid out with tahlis of biryanis on it for people to partake off. I looked at the box of pizza I was holding in my hands and wondered? Why don’t we feed poor people pizza? Why is it always biryani or salan? I understand that in terms of management and economically it is much simpler to provide this but is the difference truly that much? In terms of sheer price a simple chicken homemade pizza that feeds 3–4 people would cost something around rs. 300–400 (excluding the price for gas and water because I cannot calculate them on such a small scale). Homemade simple chicken biryani will also roughly cost about the same, though in terms of technology required biryani is easier to make. Still, there really is no reason for not serving others pizza. But we don’t. Does it shrink the difference between us which makes us so uncomfortable?
Second, the name of the bourgie food is not commonplace among the people. I was feeling guilty about the pizza I was carrying home, and as I got to talk with the rickshaw driver I thought about offering him the pizza and I, quite confidently, did. He looked at me blankly. I offered it again, thinking he hadn’t heard me as the traffic noise is obnoxious. He asked,”who ka ha?”. I opened the box, and he remarked, “ye. acha” after which he declined my offer and asked me, “kya ap ko ye kahana pasand ha? Ap ye khate hain?” This was embarrassing. I ended up lying, “nahi, nahi. Ye to mejihe mere dost ne diya tha.” To which he then replies, “chalen phir ap hi kahyen.” And we parted our ways.
Clearly, it would be nothing short of stupid to declare based on this one experience of mine that the name “pizza” is not widely known among those who are from different social and class backgrounds (the Urdu he spoke was not as fluent as one who grows up speaking a language), systematically oppressed, and exploited. I am sure I can find rickshaw drivers who know what a pizza not only looks like, but also are able to connect the word “pizza” with the image. However, what this incident taught me that this connect which I take for granted isn’t so.
Third assumption: bourgie food must consist of variety not only in it’s presentation and ingredients but also its consumption.
I owe this insight to Marshall Sahlins’s work, “On the culture of material value and the Cosmography of Riches” (2013), where he remarked,
“When I was doing fieldwork in Fiji, the people commented on how bizarre were the European food habits that not only required different foods every day, but different foods three times a day.” pg.172
The basic idea is that why do we carve for novelty, two or three times a day, in our food consumption? Are cooking shows an excellent illustration for this need for diversity in our sock? Is is really so bad, given that we do have the ingredients, that we wish to eat a different dish every so often? (I am too tired to expound further on this point so think for yourself. bye)
Also, as a side note while I do not consider, or agree, that my eating pizza like a roti is an act of subverting the system (which system?) because I was not risking anything since the company I had did not mind my idiosyncrasies. Still, I do consider eating with one’s hands as opposed to forks and knives at times, depending on the context, as acts of resistance. Resistance against the decried “proper” way of eating.