Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Simon says...

I am a newswhore. It is official, or at least according to the Urban Dictionary definition. And whilst I am not so vain as to think this blog is about me, I did feel it necessary to explain, why I spent part of Bank Holiday Monday reading The New York Observer on-line.

For those (with real interests) not all together familiar with the The New York Observer, it is one of the City's weekly rags. In a city of 8 million residents, it has a relatively small circulation of 50,000 but this belies its influence, particularly in New York’s media, political and real estate circles. It is a newspaper for people who would read The New Yorker, if not for their weakness for sensationalism. Present readership excluded, of course.

With that aside, what got me stirred up was this week's edition of the "Simon Says" column entitled, "My Summer Summary. Dating Down, Balmy Brits." The column's author is media darling, Simon Doonan, the bestselling author of Confessions of a Window Dresser, creative director of Barneys New York, and regular writer of the "Simon Says" column. He is also pictured here.

Upon recently returning from a holiday by the Amalfi Coast, Simon had a stop-over in the UK and reports back in his column what he learnt. Namely for us: "that the Brits have all—with the notable exception of the footballers’ wives—morphed into a bunch of self-denying, ascetic flagellants who think they are to blame for everything and won’t put anything in their mouths unless its gluten-free and has been hand-crafted by depressed lesbians somewhere in the British countryside."

Forget the reports of debt fuelled, abstemious shopping; of soaring obesity rates attributable to genetically modified fry-ups; of night-time economies plagued by binge-drinking. And welcome yourself to Modern Britain, a land of carbon footprint citizenry abetted by guilt complexes worse than anything felt by Republicans who voted for Bush, and where WAGs are the estimable exception. And Simon doesn't stop there, he goes on to say "the earnestly multicultural Brits are wearing organic-cotton hair shirts, eating fair-trade gruel and blaming themselves for all the ills in the world, including the emergence of home-grown terrorists."

Let's put America, the land of trail mix and soya smoothies, governed by it's own home-grown terrorist, aside for a minute, shall we Mr. Simon? And so it was, I entered into a stammering, sputtering soliloquy over the pugnacious level journalists in silly season (akin to dogs in heat) will sink. That is, until I was reminded of the surging popularity of David Fotherington Carbon ( I mean Cameron); of the overtaking (literally) of London's streets by the hybrid Lexus 4x4s; of the teenage cat fights over natural clothes label, Made, in Topshop; and of The Guardian's annoying Ethical Living column, which posits various rites of consumer behaviour against their supposed eco turpitude. In other words, devoted column inches pandering to the chattering classes 'softer' worries.

So on deeper examination, could what "Simon Says" from his media pulpit across the pond actually have a grain (organic, or manufactured) of truth in it? Has the nation of proud, empire building, shopkeepers become the nation of remorse trodden, crunchy conservative, eco warriors? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves, whilst I tuck into my plastic-wrapped Starbucks non-free range, chicken, microwaved panini and sip my mocha, vente latte from land-fill ready styrofoam. But you wouldn't judge me on that, or would you?

For those genuinely concerned over the genetically modified issue, or still worried about the whole mad cow thing:

Whole Foods, the company that owns Fresh & Wild, is set to open it's whopping 75,000-Square-Foot Kensington High Street flagship store (former site of Barkers) in early 2007. Their first ever in Europe. Whole Food Market stores are so popular in NYC that apartment rental ads have been known to state how many metres away they are from the nearest one. Check out www.wholefoodsmarket.com to stay informed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely think that mad cow disease has made us Brits more enlightened consumers of quality food than the Americans or anyone else for that matter. Does that make us boring? Maybe but it certainly doesnt instill a guilt complex?!!

4:02 pm  
Anonymous Claire said...

Brits are definitely becoming more eco conscious. Which is why D Cameron has a good shot. Also why Al Gore is coming back on the radar in the US. The environment cannot be ignored. I agree with Mr Simon even if it does make us boring. At least we dont trhow maxi pads into the ocean like Italians.

4:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm surpised by the tepid response to your column today. Evetyone must be busy raising their free-range chickens or reading the product info labels at their local Tesco.

I'm not so sure about the comments from Anonymous. Brits are more enlightened consumers of quality food than anyone else? I'll accept the part about eating better than Americans, but the rest of Europe? Come on...

You can't be serious. Have you dined in London recently?

4:19 pm  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I am sick and tired of the Brits being pissed upon. Fine our food is not the best culinary experience in Europe but that Simon Says makes us boring, eco fuel eaters. Please somebody pass him a pint of Guinness and tell him where to stuff his column. Sarah says...

4:43 pm  
Blogger Moaner Lisa said...


If you want rage about journalistic standards, I - a self confessed news-junky - will. Kicked out of rehab when they discovered Observer comment section rolled up in my socks, I have found the annual cold turkey session that is August particularly hard to deal with this year. Sorry, but hearing top stories about British tourists being 'ok but a little tired' after a fire in a Greek hotel or reading that cows moo with regional accents doesn't give me the hit I'm craving.

The media may defend itself by saying that nothing happens in August. But if my understanding is correct, global warming isn't a 11 month-a-year phenomenon and aids doesn't have a fag and a break from all that nasty killing towards the end of summer.

The fact is too many journalists are at a loss when they are not being spoonfed stories by political parties, lobbyists and such like. And we get poor articles to read as a result, Doonan's being a good example.

We keep going back for more though....desperate addicts that we are....

5:41 pm  
Anonymous newyorkdaytripper said...

I read Simon Says last week as I am one of those 50,000 New York readers you mentioned. I must say I couldn't help but laugh out loud when he compared the Brits to the Italians. From the English I have met it only sounded too true. Quite a grumbling old bunch. And I dont agree Moaner that is is the silly season to blame. Columnists such as Doonan always write cultural observations. They are not in the business to cover mainstream news agenda topics. So like it or hate it you can't blame anyone but the journalist him/herself.

6:03 pm  
Anonymous Tanya said...

Wow London gets a Whole Foods?! About bloody time. I cant afford Fresh & Wild prices but hope this mega store will price closer to Safeway than Waitrose? And will they deliver to Hackney? Time to get on da bike

6:28 pm  
Anonymous Sam said...

Well structured argument but exactly what British people did this guy Simon come across? Those in some health food shop at Gatwick Airport? I also dislike that Ethical Guardian dribble. Does anybody out there read that recycled rubbish??

7:09 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

Is now a good time to mention the great meal I had at Hamburger Union in Dean Street on Monday?

9:58 pm  
Anonymous dawnbythesea said...

Shep - poor yuo why didnt your friends treat you somewhere better? Hamburger Union is definietly not free range, and definietly not oragnic, but they still charge £6. And CS - why would you ever ever buy anything from Starbucks? It is just so wrong in so many ways. Laziness the two of you. Anyone else on the confession box?

10:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't want to be picky CS but since when did New Yorkers think in metres ? You're not French are you ?

11:06 pm  
Anonymous the bloke from brum said...

How self righteous are you miss dawnbythesea? Starbucks is evil so are hamburgers? How about judging people baesd on where they get a coffee or a snack? Give it up already u hypocritical middle class snobs.

11:13 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

But but but...

...it was so darn tasty!

11:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is this about Italians throwing maxi pads into the sea?

11:33 pm  
Anonymous Bill said...

Considering Whole Foods is moving to Ken High Street I doubt it will be cheap. Shame as well. My friend Bill in NYC met his wife in line for a carrot juice at Whole Foods in NYC. Loveless in London evermore

9:17 am  
Anonymous littleredlighthousebookshop said...

I must say I am truly shocked and embarassed that such crap was printed in The Observer. I have been reading it for years and Simon Doonan is a very well respected columnist. Just seems out of turn and a long way down for such an esteemed journalist.

11:40 pm  
Blogger Will said...

The Observer's always been London centric and in all honesty i don't believe that people outside of London give much of a rats arse about organic, free range or biodynamic, etc. In this country the majority of eggs bought are still battery farmed. Seriously, how much more do organic, free range eggs cost - 50p?

I like that supermarkets like Waitrose and M&S are taking a stand against this and only stocking organic eggs, but they should take this further.

However, i think the big problem we come across is that in some establishments organic food is so much more than non. But, if you ate locally sourced organic food, as opposed to flown half way round the world additive added mangos, you'd be financially better off with the locally grown stuff. But it means that people need to adapt to eating seasonal produce, which they're not happy to do, and which supermarkets aren't happy to do either. They'll do what the consumer wants. And as I said, most consumers don't give a rats arse that they're feeding their kids turkey twizzlers made from mexican jumping turkeys on steroids.

What I say is that supermarkets should pay the foreign producers of these goods a decent wage, and up the price in their shops. If someone wants blueberrys in winter then they should have to pay a premium for them.

And please boys and girls, shop in farmers markets when you can. The food is better, you get to try it first, and you're supporting the small number of people in this country who've got the balls to become farmers. And I salute them for that.

I'd love to move to the country and grow stuff to sell in Borough Market, but I know nothing about gardening, live in Muswell Hill, and have a far too comfortable, well paid job. Bugger.

4:44 am  
Blogger Will said...

It was a long post, but the gist of it was that healthy, organic food should not be a luxury item, available only to the chattering classes. Amen.

4:46 am  
Anonymous Obyto said...

"in all honesty i don't believe that people outside of London give much of a rats arse about organic, free range or biodynamic, etc."

On a small, pedantic note - I suppose the world of blogs is built on such things - I'd like to point out that Bristol held the largest international organic festival in Europe last weekend. The Soil Association is based down here too, and an enormous "zero-carbon" restaurant/deli/cafe whatnot has just opened up. Along with all yer fresh and wild type stuff too.. I just thought i'd mention it, to point out that maybe the Observer writers aren't the only ones being London-centric...

6:01 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

Obyto, thanks for your post. Whilst I am sure Bristol is at the cutting edge of pesticide reduction, City Slicker is a blog for Londoners hence the inherent bias slant. But the next time we make it to Bristol we will no doubt keep the zero carbon restaurant in mind. Thanks for reading!

10:21 pm  
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11:03 pm  
Blogger hungech said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:17 pm  

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