Local food festivals turning alarmingly autocratic, new study shows

Campaigning for sustainable foods, while drinking beer and talking apps.

Campaigning for sustainable foods, while drinking beer and talking apps.

Anew study on the sociology of Bay Area food festivals has now upended everything we thought to be true about such gatherings. Food festivals are not actually the egalitarian, liberal, bastions of free love we assumed. No, it turns out that these events and the people who throw them, are more akin to autocratic dictatorships.

Sure, we have always been aware of an element of do-gooder one-upmanship at food festivals, especially those situated in North Berkeley or Nob Hill. But we figured that this type of friendly competition was harmless, and would only lead to better strains of sourdough starters and hyper-local varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

Instead, this anonymous study found, there is a sinister side. According to the researchers, 99 out of every 100 festivals visited showed a distressing level of uniformity in the guests and organizers at the events. Indeed, almost visitor polled was about the same age (25-30), race (white), and political persuasion (staunchly liberal). (The study did show a small but noticeable group of Asian-Americans at the festival, at 10%. All Asian-Americans polled fit into every other descriptor, so the researchers considered them to be part of the white group.)  Most (85%) guests lived in one of two locations: Valencia Street, between 16th and 24th, or the Temescal neighborhood (south of 51st) in Oakland. Polled guests told researchers that they were visiting the festivals to learn more about food and to support the local economy, but the researched observed that the guests were, in reality, only purchasing beer and only talking amongst themselves (usually about a new app).

"Others" have clearly infiltrated this NYC food festival

“Others” have clearly infiltrated this NYC food festival

Why such similarity? After the researchers interviewed festival organizers, they learned that these guests were not random. In fact, festival organizers are said to only admit a curated group of individuals to their events. How do they choose? It’s basic profiling: Using their own highly attuned hip sixth sense, organizers are able to select only the most perfect of people to enter the door.

Obviously, profiling is easier at ticketed events. Organizers are able to track hopeful guests’ home location and browser history (using a simple ISP hack) to determine their race, age, and political preferences. They also run a quick search of potential guests’ recipe data; a the more recipes using home-grown produce, lactobacillus fermentation, and hand-butchered meats, the better. At larger un-ticketed events, organizers always set up a volunteer who appears to be taking down email addresses. In actuality, this volunteer is looking out for “Others.” Just as in the television series, “Lost,” these others are unfamiliar outsiders that supposedly pose a threat to the sanctity of the food festival. Once spotted, the door volunteer has one of two choices. Either he/she quietly escorts the Other outside of the festival area or else he/she pummels the Other with ripe sourdough starter.

Ripe sourdough starter, the weapon of choice for festival volunteers.

Ripe sourdough starter, the weapon of choice for festival volunteers.

“It all depends on how cooperative they’re being,” said one volunteer.

Why all of this security? One major organizer is quoted in the study as saying, “In this day and age, we can only trust those who are like us to participate properly in the celebration of locally made foods. We must remain separate and above any others who can’t comprehend what we are trying to accomplish. We must remain elite in order to perpetuate the aura of elitism.”