Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bad Food > No Food?

Matt Yglesias makes an interesting point about how, despite coffee snobs' (Matt said it first!) protestations to the contrary, Starbucks has on balance been a force for coffee progress in the US. As he puts it:

"The worst coffee shop or bookstore or whatever is the one that doesn't exist at all, it's only by bringing ideas to scale that you can achieve ubiquity."

There are many places whose markets are so small that its tough to support much diversity in product offerings and/or more specialized stores. Although these lower quality, mass produced options are inferior, they help to spread acceptance and build appreciation for the specialized goods (and services), which may ultimately lead consumers to explore and pursue higher quality versions of those goods. The spread of bagels across America is another example of this.

You gotta start somewhere, right?

But this got me thinking, what about the innumerable bad "Chinese" (Americanized-Chinese) restaurants all over America? Or bad "Thai"? Or bad "Japanese"? This hits closer to home for me. It's easier for me to accept the Bad Coffee > No Coffee argument since I rarely drink coffee. But is bad, super-Americanized Chinese food better than no Chinese food? I don't ever eat at Panda Express or Charlie Chang's--but coffee connoisseurs probably don't ever patronize Starbucks, either.

If we could see a definite trend toward Americans' appreciation and demand for better Chinese food, then I think I'd agree with the Bad Food > No Food argument. And honestly? I think we do see that trend, very slowly but surely. Though, there are many (most) who are satisfied with the dumbed-down Americanized versions of "exotic" cuisines.*

*And to be sure, Americanized-Chinese, in particular, has really evolved into its own thing at this point.

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