Master of None: Understanding the Gentrification of Food

“Eating in Italy is My Favorite Thing”­ — Dev Shah and Arnold Baumheiser, Le Nozze

After an 18-month hiatus Master of None Season Two dropped May 12th, and like most millennial I binged it. At the end of Master of None season One Dev suddenly packs up his bags and goes to pursue his dreams­–making pasta. By the end of Le Nozze (Episode Two of Season Two), Dev is setting up to go back to New York. The last bidding words from his pasta instructor–continue to make pasta. He jokingly offers his friend Francesca to come to New York, and work for him at his pasta shop. In response, Francesca explains she might as well open her own competing shop. And then something struck me… the gentrification of food. In the small three-minute dialogue between Dev and Francesca, I started to question the idea of “authentic food”. Does gentrification affect food–yes. Can food be gentrified–yes. The true question: is gentrification good or bad for the narrative of food, and how should we be caring about it–or not?

Being from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), I have the privilege of hoping on the subway, and going to explore a neighborhood. It is echoed that Toronto’s neighborhoods hold a vast array of multicultural foods and cuisine. Toronto has been praised by numerous people for its diversity. In 2014, The New York Times ran an article about Toronto having an “ethnic buffet”. Within a week, Caroline Youdan of Toronto Life writes a response to The New York Times article. Youdan specifically looks at Chinatown in Spadina, and brings up the topic of how gentrification may affect Chinatown. Both articles were written in 2014, so what has changed now that it is 2017?

NOW Toronto released an article this year headlining: Toronto’s changing Chinatown: who is it for? The article glosses over the history of the first Chinatown in Toronto set up in The Ward. And lightly interjects the positive gentrification has on Chinatown by using examples of Peoples Eatery, and Jackpot Chicken Rice. Tony Yu, the chair of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA) explains the glee he has to see a younger generation returning to their roots, “they move out, and that makes room for another wave”. So who is moving in, and can anyone move into that wave?

Gentrification is a complex issue involving social class, economic systems, and race. When reporting on gentrification, it is viewed as changing the landscape to please the current middle class. It if often used in the retail industry where mom-and-pop stores are disappearing due to larger boutiques, and chains. The opening of a new store or café is often met with positive attitudes, as this shows signs of a “new period of growth”. This optimism is often noted as hopes for reinvestment in the neighborhood helps to revitalize its image. It marks an upgrade in services, raises rents, and provides “more opportunity” for neighboring establishments. But these new establishments mourn the loss of a beloved local store or restaurant. A prime example can be seen in CBC’s feature of “Spadina’s Hipster Makeover”. It lists a variety of establishments that have now opened up, and allows for individuals to send them examples of “traditional Spadina shops transforming for a new clientele”. Who is this new clientele? Should I be worried that the death of Chinatown is upon me?

With the combination of “millenials” and social media Richard Florida has nudged at the idea that Yelp reviews create a preconceived notion of a neighborhood, which in turn can accelerate gentrification of the area. But looking solely at food, individuals forget food can be gentrified (Google the origins of General Tso’s Chicken). Spadina has welcomed a number of new establishments these past few years, a lot of them have their own takes on certain dishes. Food is a lot more than restaurants. There are rich stories in the traditional, and non-traditional ways of cooking. And this is the heart of what becomes crucial­–the story.

For a lot of individuals, we consume purely the end product [whether it be food, music, or even clothing]. We neglect the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a plate. It is not just about the restaurant, or the chef who make the plate. It is also our ancestors who gave us the ability to make what we have in front of us. If we begin to ignore the historical value of our food and our culture, we will begin to suffer.

At the end of Le Nozze, Dev lands a job as the host for Clash of the Cupcakes. I could not help but laugh. The beginning premise of Le Nozze is to “eat all day without minimal breaks”. As viewers we spent the majority of Le Nozze faced with montage of food porn. I finally got to dive into the culture Ansari has been studying for months! And after that, Dev lands a job for a cupcake show. This made me realize why I love Master of None.

Master of None tinkers with a variety of themes allowing viewers to delve into; relationships, immigrant identity, and gender. In an interview with The New York Times, Ansari credits Season Two to having the same level of ambition like episodes “Parents”, “Mornings”, and “Indians on TV”. Master of None focuses on the idea that not every 30-something year old has their life sorted out. And it is important to note that the main cast are all millennials trying to figure out their life, with the looming knowledge that their parents never had the same circumstances. People are constantly evolving, and Master of None shows us it is okay to be curious about the different narratives people live out. Learning our narratives presents a new future ready to unfold.