Farm to drive-thru

Dear Hipster:

Despite the fact that Bloomberg Businessweek claimed contemporary agriculture quarterly magazine Modern Farmer had hit a “jackpot” when it started, it looks doomed now that the editorial staff has quit en masse and production has been suspended. Does the mag’s likely demise indicate a sea change in the hipster-food dynamic?

— Michelle, North Park

If Modern Farmer collapses entirely (it’s fate remains uncertain as I write this), it could very well herald the end of “farm-to-table” as we know it. In many ways, Modern Farmer perfectly encapsulated what we think of as the hipster’s relationship to food and cooking at its best and most comic: It reproduced, in aching detail, the romantic image of agrarian life; an image being lived out by urban lumberjacks from SD to NY; and it sought to forge a connection between rural communities where food (and similar commodities) are produced, and the big-city environments where they are inevitably consumed.

At the same time, the existence of Modern Farmer in itself says something about the rise in popularity of farm-to-table food culture. Urban hipsters were into the farm-to-table thing way before everybody else. Eventually, it became mainstream enough to warrant substantial investment... like when billionaire Frank Giustra (ex-chairman of Lion’s Gate Entertainment) bankrolled Modern Farmer! That’s a world apart from, say, a small-scale modern farmer selling shares of a community-supported agriculture in 2002. Keep in mind, by that I mean an actual farmer making a go of it in the modern world without being crushed by huge agribusiness.

I’m trying to see some humor in this, but my hipster sense keeps tingling. Considering things from the other end of the spectrum, Carl’s Jr. officially released a grass-fed burger in December of last year. If Modern Farmer indicates that hipster foodie culture has gone mainstream enough to conquer the press, surely the only thing worse would be hipsterizing the drive-thru window — basically degree zero for all cuisine!

Nobody expects hipsters to like something so popular!

For the sake of a parallel example, look at the art world and so-called “street art.” The important artists sold out and got rich — my kooky aunt from Boca Raton has a Banksy shirt, and most self-respecting hipsters are truly over it.

How to chop wood

Either way, what we think of as “hipster restaurants” really aren’t that hip anymore. They’re just “restaurants.” For their part, Modern Farmer asked people to pay a $7.99 premium for something that was only sort of cool, and hardly original. It may have been glossy, but if I want to learn “How to Chop Wood,” I’m going to YouTube for free.

Then again, maybe all of this is a good thing, not for Modern Farmer, but for the world in general.

Part of what makes hipsters great — something that people caught up in wanton hipster-bashing often forget — is the fact that hipsters can thrive at the cutting edge of culture. A lot of non-hipsters, even most active hipster-haters, enjoy the benefits of the pressure put on the food industry by the demand for grass-fed beef and a wider variety of artisan bread. In a lot of ways, popularizing the idea of more delicious food, and reconsidering modern society’s relationship to agriculture, has caused ripples and perturbations in the entire food industry, even to the extreme end, the lowest common denominator of eating.

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