*** RYAN TATE: Shocking secrets--revealed! ***





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Table set at Ferry Building (Jun. 6)

S.F. out to rattle chains (May. 30)

S.F. plan sets goal of 10,000 homes (Jun. 27)

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Is San Francisco's housing crisis over? (Jun. 20)

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Anne and her Cheese Diaries





David Warsh

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Joel Spolsky

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A nearly perfect breakfast this sunny Sunday morning. Traditional omelet with nearly-farm-fresh eggs and fresh dill; a thick slice of pain de mie from Acme Bread with soft Plugra butter, and a plump, juicy peach from Central California by way of the Berkeley farmer's market, not quite Frog Hollow but close. Oh, and a cup of Peet's coffee, Sumatra. Music provided by Bobby.

It's amazing how good the simplest foods are when they are of high quality. We often forget this, because the tendency in the marketplace is not to increase quality but to add fance. ("Fance" is a new word invented by Anne's sister Jane, it is the noun form of the adjective "fancy.") That's because it's tougher to convince consumers to pay more for extra quality than to get them to pay more for extra things, extra features, extra stuff. Extra stuff shows up immediately on a menu or product box. Extra quality is invisible

For example, if a restaurant tried to offer my breakfast for sale -- plain omelet with slice of bread, peach and coffee -- I think they'd have a tough time. As consumers, we want something we can't make at home. We don't want plain omelet, with just butter and herbs. We want some gruyere cheese and mushrooms oh and maybe some bacon (or, in Berkeley, more likely prosciutto or panchetta) while you're at it. And not butter and bread but instead how about choice of toast -- five kinds! -- or biscuit or pancake. And the fruit is nice but can you throw in some home fries? With sour cream?

The thing is, you can offer all the extra fance for the same price as the simple meal. You just have to sacrifice quality. The factory farmed bacon will be made in batches before the customers arrive, the eggs will be prepared and kept refrigerated, the fruit will be an afterthought, unripe and bland, the butter and coffee -- who cares? The bread will be loaded with corn syrup and preservatives, about a week old.

And maybe that's OK. Maybe eating fancy gourmet bread and imported butter and free range eggs and juicy peaches ain't your thing, you just want breakfast ,dammit. I know the feeling. I can clean up a Denny's chicken fried steak and eggs (with toast, hash browns and plain black shitty but brilliant coffee) as quick as any Texas trucker.

But what sucks is the slope is slippery. We keep not caring about quality and one day we wake up and we can't recognize our food any more. And instead of fighting to reclaim all that has been lost, we might just throw up our hands on enjoying food altogether, surrender pleasure and keep processing food until it turns into medicine. Healthy, but soul-less.

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