I am a food enthusiast. In the last few weeks, I've consumed all sorts of outlandishly good food. Here are a few of the highlights:

Bacon and tortilla wrapped hot dog
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon
Kim Chi (Japanese) dog
Lard cooked pork belly sandwich
Vegan deep dish pizza with cornmeal crust
Pan seared catfish
'Should be made illegal it's so good' blueberry coffeecake
Drunk-style udon noodle bowl with korean style beef
A burger called 'badass motherfucker' (lives up to the name)
Multiple derivations of the classic Manhattan cocktail recipe
Two iterations of an Old Fashioned cocktail, one decidedly better than the other
A Jasmine-infused IPA
A dark, dirty, premium chocolate drenched martini

Though this list is expansive, it doesn't make me a food or drink snob. Snobs are enthusiasts, but enthusiasm doesn't mix well with snobbery. With snobbery comes judgement. It's not just telling others what to enjoy; it's telling them what to enjoy instead of what they already enjoy. That's just not cool. I know what I enjoy, and I get great satisfaction out of sharing it with others, but in telling others that what they enjoy isn't good enough, I deflate their pleasure. In trying to slide their likes out of the way, I am in essence saying that the existence of things I find inferior somehow denigrates that which I feel is superior.

Imagine you enjoy a $9 wine. You buy a bottle a week. You enjoy it because of its roasted pepper head and dark berry finish. For you, it's the perfect aperitif to a heavy meal. You're having a conversation about how much you enjoy this wine, when someone tells you:

"You shouldn't enjoy that wine because it's not very good. You're wrong about liking that wine. The wine I like is better, and I'm here to help you appreciate real wine.'

Snobs do that. I don't like snobs.

Enthusiasts share their love of food and drink, always hoping to bring people to new and wonderful experiences they may not have had. Straight up enthusiasts don't pass judgement on what someone currently enjoys. That's their thing. Don't knock it. Celebrate it with 'em or shut up. If you're convinced that there's something better out there, by all means expand their horizons, but don't bulldoze what they already enjoy to get them there.

It doesn't just stop with food and wine snobs. They exist in all walks of life, and in all disciplines. Political snobs, movie snobs, music snobs, art snobs, and fashion snobs are everywhere, telling us what we should like, and watch, and wear, and eat, and believe, as any good enthusiast does, but also telling us what we already like is embarrassing, and wrong, and stupid, and needs to change. Snobs are telling us that we are not good enough.

Fashion enthusiasts design and wear things that make them happy. Fashion snobs live in the same world, but for them, good fashion cannot breathe unless more room is made for it, and the only way to do this is to rid the world of:

Crocs and Birkenstocks, one misguided pair of feet at a time
'Mom Jeans'
Big floppy fedora hats with Lacoste shirts
Members Only Couture
Fanny packs

I do find all of the above atrocious, but I cannot in good conscience knock someone who at some point has chosen to wear any of those things. I've been guilty of wearing at least two on that list, maybe three, and that's my cross to bear. Why, though, would I want to call attention away from the things I enjoy and believe in by spending all my time criticizing and calling attention to those things I dislike? Do they truly threaten me in some way? This is a big world - things we love and things we find distasteful can co-exist in perfect harmony. They don't collide like matter and anti-matter, resulting in some catastrophic existential delete button.

Art, music and movie snobs often inform us that our emotional reactions aren't legitimate. Didn't you hear, we are told. Critical consensus has decided you are wrong. Now that you are wrong, you must redeem yourself by recognizing it, and disavowing your previous associations with the crap you used to like. There, see? Isn't that better?

Film and music criticism has a long and storied history of doing this: tearing things down for the 'public good.' The best critics see peoples' time as valuable, and do their best to convey the broadest interpretation of whether a movie or album is worth that valuable time. Critics also establish general standards for people who have yet to make decisions about what to see. However, film criticism becomes film snobbery when the critics tells fans the films and music they love is actually terrible, and that they should be embarassed. The worst critics are the ones who sincerely believe that the presence of inferior film or music somehow impugns the good stuff. It's fun to get worked up over things we hate, but at the end of the day, isn't it helpful to focus more on what's good, so that we don't find ourselves making other people feel bad about their choices?

If you've seen something, or heard it, and you love it, no one should be trying to convince you otherwise. No one should needle you about it. Even if you like Nickelback.

The topic where snobbery becomes unbearably ugly (and more complex) is politics. Political snobs are interested in changing peoples' fundamental values through sheer force of will. Political snobs are, in essence, activist pundits. They occupy a strange corner of the universe where it's assumed that if you rankle somebody enough about their beliefs, and find enough ways to embarrass them and point out where they're wrong, they will magically convert to your way of thinking. I see this again and again, especially in online message boards and in drunken political discussions. It's the 'who's with me?' school of political activism, and it is an illegitimate style because it's fallacious and it doesn't work. It does not increase the relevance or acceptance of a cause.

I love political enthusiasm - be it about the economy or taxes or social welfare or the size of Government. I love seeing people fired up. The best way to get someone interested in food, or music, or art, or politics, is not to tell them what to think, but ask them questions about things that matter to them, and point them in a direction by your example. If they still disagree with you, let it go, and stop thinking you're better than them. Stop being a snob.

The best way to get someone to understand you is to show them that you understand them. Most political discussions - wherein both sides of the debate are unwilling to stop being snobs and just listen - are the reason that a majority of people are sick of talking about politics. It gets ugly because people with strong beliefs aren't merely content to talk about their beliefs enthusiastically. Armed with facts, they just have to steamroll anyone who disagrees with them, and make them feel small, and stupid, and uninformed. People like this have no place in political discussion. I've fallen down that rabbit hole myself, being the imperfect person that I am, and I've never enjoyed the outcome.

If people skulk away from you or hurriedly change the topic every time you open your mouth about politics, it's not because they're apathetic zombies with no understanding of the socio-economic influence of Jack Kemp, or Friedman's theories on market ethics, or the ratio of GDP to National Debt. You are at fault. You haven't haven't found a way to connect with them on a personal level without making them feel shitty about the things they already consider important. You are more concerned with wiping their slate clean with your ideas. This doesn't work, and when it does, you are no longer just a political snob, but a cult leader, and that never ends well for anybody.

So, the next time someone insists on telling you that milk with ice cubes is the only way to drink it, or that carrot cake with curry frosting is the best dessert ever, or that eggplants stuffed with candy corn is their thing - just respect it, then tell them about this great Lobster Vindaloo you discovered at the local Indian restaurant. Tell them about the amazing congee porridge with you tiao. Be enthusiastic. Just don't waste your time (or theirs) being a snob.


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