For the second time in less than a year, the lazy producers at the Today Show had a segment about beer hosted by someone from Food & Wine magazine. This time it was Gail Simmons, who’s perhaps better known as a judge on the Bravo television show Top Chef. I’ve looked over her biography and I can’t for the life of me find any mention of beer whatsoever.
The advice she gives isn’t terrible, though it’s pretty basic to the point where she couldn’t really go too far off the rails. Most of the beers are fairly pedestrian, but they most likely have to be available for a national audience. It was nice at least to see Lagunitas IPA and Victory Prima Pils highlighted. Although I can’t for the life me understand why they put the IPA in a pilsner glass!?!
I know most people’s take on this is that we should be glad beer is getting any positive attention — and I am — but I’m also enough of a curmudgeon to want it to be on our terms. I know I keep hammering this point, but it just doesn’t seem that unreasonable to want wine experts to talk about wine, food experts to talk about food and plumbing experts to talk about plumbing. For almost any expertise you could name, that’s the way it’s done and most people would agree that makes sense. But when it comes to beer, mass media seems to believe almost anyone can be an instant expert on beer for no better reason than a familiarity with another alcoholic beverage or food more generally. And that’s likely because of their own ignorance, believing that beer is only the commodity it’s portrayed as by the big beer company’s advertising and marketing. That, plus being too lazy to take the time to learn anything different. But for fuck’s sake, there are plenty of beer magazines around these days. Surely they must have run across one of them. Perhaps they’ve heard of Google? A quick search would reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of people who know more about beer and food pairing than Gail Simmons.
Evidence of their ignorance comes out loud and clear when segment host Lester Holt tells Simmons the following. “Thanks for legitimizing beer. I’m one of those beer drinkers that feels funny ordering a beer in a nice restaurant instead of wine sometimes.” First of all, and no offense to Simmons, but she’s done nothing, absolutely nothing, to “legitimize” beer. That work has been done by thousands of dedicated craft brewers, beer writers and aficionados over thirty years of hard, patient work. Her magazine is now addressing craft beer because of the groundwork laid by all those people; she’s reacting to the market, not leading it. That Holt offhandedly gives her “credit” for so many other people’s hard work is deeply offensive and just plain pisses me off.
Secondly, why on Earth would anyone “feel funny” ordering what they want with a meal? How sad that anyone would feel they “must” order wine with any meal in a restaurant. When he made that statement, you could almost hear the collective marketing world patting themselves on the back. When you convince people that wine is the only thing to order in a fine restaurant to the point where they “feel funny” doing anything different, that’s a great victory for advertising. But when any industry persuades society to believe what they want them to wholesale and unquestioning, that can be deeply damaging to the world as a whole. Life becomes skewed, and I would argue that’s our world today. A century of advertising has made us “feel” certain things about brands, specific companies and their products. You have to marvel at the success of it all when you see millions of people voluntarily wear clothing with corporate logos on them, essentially paying for the privilege of advertising for them. That no one thinks twice about it boggles the mind.
With wine, this manifests itself in the way newspapers and other media have “wine sections” or “wine and food sections” that cover all beverages. Even the Today Show’s website has a Food & Wine section. Can somebody explain to my why it can’t be Food & Drink or Food & Beverage? Why is it always exclusive and not inclusive? Of course, like Food & Wine magazine, they all do occasionally include articles about beer, spirits and even coffee, so why not call it by a name that reflects that? Perhaps they’d cover beer more often if wine wasn’t in the title? I’d at least feel better if the Today Show’s “expert” came from, if not a beer magazine, at least a Food & Drinks magazine. That might go a long way to “legitimize beer” and their coverage of it.