You Don't Hate Charcuterie, You Just Hate Rich People

Charcuterie boards have always belonged to the working class.
August 4, 2020, 5:00pm
A charcuterie board.
Image: Pixabay

The difference between mimicking class aesthetics and actually being a member of a different class can now be succinctly summed up in how you feel about charcuterie boards.

Yesterday, Twitter user Cheesybeaver posted a picture of a charcuterie board adorned pleasingly with pickles, meats, and cheeses, which she ate for lunch. Someone else quote tweeted her, saying that this meal was "what rich people eat I guess." Beaver objected, saying that her lunch only cost $20, and was actually lunch and dinner for two, making it all in all cost effective. Since then, Twitter has been alight over the politics of food, and the aesthetics of class. Some users are also posting examples of their budget charcuterie, others are getting technical on the definition of charcuterie and others still are posing a difficult question: is a Lunchable technically charcuterie?

To the charcuterie haters, charcuterie is an object that belongs to the upper class, and chasing the aesthetics of the upper class makes you basically the same thing as a class traitor. Why would you want to partake in these aesthetics unless you secretly want to be rich? Right now, more people are food insecure than ever. COVID-19, and our government's disastrous response to it, have left 26 million Americans to go hungry. Being concerned about those statistics is natural, and Twitter is a place where it's very easy to shame people for taking things you assume they don't need. But looking at the history of charcuterie, the foods it's made out of and how those foods are made, you'll see that boards of cured meats and cheeses have historically been a cost effective solution for the food insecure to make their food last. Rich people have always wanted to take everything that poor people enjoy and claim it for themselves.

All a charcuterie board is is a collection of cured meats, bread, cheeses, pickles, and other little snacks arranged and served together. All of these food preparation techniques are ones that poor people developed to make food last longer. Curing meat extends its shelf life, as does pickling vegetables. Hard cheeses are the only way to store dairy in hot environments if you don't have refrigeration. People have baked their own bread since the dawn of man. Putting all these things on a board in a pretty arrangement is not only the easiest way to eat lunch if preserved foods are the only things you have and can afford, but also a useful way for tradespeople to display their wares to prospective buyers.

Over time, as food became mass produced and more complex forms of preserving foods were invented, curing meats and pickling vegetables were no longer things every household did. If you live in a major city, you know what kinds of people picked up those trades: small, artisan shops that sell their products at high price points. But cured meat and pickled vegetables are not necessarily methods of production that only rich people can afford to enjoy. Hell, I have baked my own bread and pickled my own vegetables. In fact, here's a dirt cheap recipe for pickling red onion: take a whole red onion, slice it into thin rounds, add it to a jar with a cup of hot water, a half cup of apple cider vinegar, and some salt and sugar, then wait an hour. Congratulations! Now every salad and sandwich you make at home tastes better.

While not everyone has access to fresh foods and grocery stories, you can also buy the ingredients you need for charcuterie on the cheap. In or around the produce aisle, you can find salami, brie and crackers, as well as dried fruit and jams. Some of those items, especially dried fruit, which can be bought in bulk in some grocery stores, are cents on the dollar. Some Brie and crackers and other snacks for two people? That's not boot licking, that's good eating. 

The idea that poor people—or even just people who aren't exorbitantly wealthy—should only eat the bare minimum is one that those same wealthy people have implanted in your brains. Just looking at what you can and cannot buy on food stamps is a clue to what people think the poor "should" eat. In fact, pre-made charcuterie boards are explicitly prohibited to be eligible to purchase with SNAP as a "prepared food." Our government and rich elite have made eating charcuterie something only the rich can access, even though it's borne from food preparation techniques that have historically been essential to the working class. 

Poor people deserve to have, and eat, nice things, especially nice things that they invented. To make that the purvey of the rich is to play their game for them. Go ahead and have an adult Lunchable as a snack today. Cured meats and cheeses belong to the working class after all.