Sperlings Best Places just published an "America's Top Foodie Cities" report in which New Orleans was not in the Top 10. OK, different strokes, different folks, etc., but I read the Best Places criteria and they left me puzzled:
A city’s food appeal is not just measured by fine dining or Michelin stars; you have to also consider the everyday eating experiences. Is there a unique regional cuisine? Have ethnic enclaves left edible legacies on the area’s tables? The availability of fresh local produce, meats and seafood are other major considerations.
Let's try that with New Orleans and see how we do:
Is there a unique regional cuisine? (Absolutely.) Have ethnic enclaves left edible legacies on the area’s tables? (They have, for hundreds of years, and they continue to do so.) The availability of fresh local produce (some), meats (does sausage count?) and seafood (oh mais oui) are other major considerations.
Unique regional cuisine, ethnic influences, fresh local seafood ... So why did New Orleans get its butt kicked by places like Burlington, Vt.?
Turns out Best Places determined you get those things by having these things ...
... using the following city data: ratio of local restaurants to chain restaurants, number of Whole Foods and cooking stores, number of wine shops, wine bars, craft breweries, and brew pubs; and the number of CSA (community supported agriculture) farms and local farmers markets.
None of these are bad things, of course — but none of them add up to good food. Local restaurants can be just as weak as big chains, and all the fresh farmers market produce in the world isn't of any use unless you know what to do with it. Good raw ingredients /= good cooking.
Most disconcerting of all, though, Best Places seems to equate consumerism (cooking stores! wine shops! Whole Foods!) with cuisine. Having those things doesn't make you a foodie town; it makes you (to continue the -ie trend) a shoppie town. Because when I read what Best Places found praiseworthy about Seattle:
Seattle scores high in numerous foodie categories, with 65 breweries, 93 wine shops, 55 farmers markets and 29 CSA farms, not to mention the seafood.
... I don't think that guarantees Seattle has good food (though it does).
I think it means that Seattle has money.
(Via Food Dude, who pronounced the whole exercise "a waste of electrons.")