Around spring of 2012, I discovered The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. I’m not a fan of his art works. (I like traditional arts, he’s the most prominent figure in American pop arts, which I actually find weirdly fascinating, though.) His life was the exact opposite of mine. (To start, he’s somebody, I’m nobody.) But I find his view on life strangely resonating and, thus, comforting.
Andy Warhol was also big on food. Very American, very industrial food, but still food. A nice portion of his art works features Campbell’s tomato juice and soups, ice cream, hamburgers and bananas [which I can’t show here because it would entail paying fees ($40 per image) to the Andy Warhol Museum and many legal steps to obtain permission from the Artist Rights Society (I checked). As much as I want to support arts, my humble blog is in no condition for such extravagance. Besides, Google Images does a great job]. Back to food, in the third “Men in Black” movie, when Agent J (Will Smith) goes back in time to stop alien crime stuff, he and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) went to a rowdy party looking for Agent W (Bill Hader), whose alias was “Andy Warhol”. While they were discussing alien business, someone called for Andy Warhol, to which Agent W replied “tell her that I’m filming a man eating a hamburger. It’s… uh… transcendent.” That’s my favorite scene in the entire movie.
So here’s 14 food-related quotes from Andy Warhol:
And New York restaurants now have a new thing — they don’t sell their food, they sell their atmosphere. They say, “How dare you say we don’t have good food, when we never said we had good food. We have good atmosphere.” They caught on that what people really care about is changing their atmosphere for a couple of hours. That’s why they can get away with just selling their atmosphere with a minimum of actual food. Pretty soon when food prices go really up, they’ll be selling only atmosphere. If people are really all that hungry, they can bring food with them when they go out to dinner, but otherwise, instead of “going out to dinner” they’ll just be “going out to atmosphere.”
That’s just restaurants everywhere. Not the mom-and-pop shops. Not the actual street vendors. But the classy restaurants.
My favorite restaurant atmosphere has always been the atmosphere of the good, plain, American lunchroom or even the good plain American lunchcounter. The old-style Schrafft’s and the old-style Chock Full O’ Nuts are absolutely the only things in the world that I’m truly nostalgic for. The days were carefree in the 1940s and 1950s when I could go into a Chocks for my cream cheese sandwich with nuts on date-nut bread and not worry about a thing. No matter what changes or how fast, the one thing we all always need is real good food so we can know what the changes are and how fast they’re coming. Progress is very important and exciting in everything except food. When you say you want an orange, you don’t want someone asking you, “An orange what?”
I’m not into progress in food either. I just want traditional food. Good old comfort food.
I really like to eat alone. I want to start a chain of restaurants for other people who are like me called ANDY-MATS—”The Restaurant for the Lonely Person.” You get your food and then you take your tray into a booth and watch television.
Warhol had a fascination for television and diners. He also had a fascination for emptiness, most likely because everything felt empty for him.
But if you do watch your weight, try the Andy Warhol New York City Diet: when I order in a restaurant, I order everything that I don’t want, so I have a lot to play around with while everyone else eats. Then, no matter how chic the restaurant is, I insist that the waiter wrap the entire plate up like a to-go order, and after we leave the restaurant I find a little corner outside in the street to leave the plate in, because there are so many people in New York who live in the streets, with everything they own in shopping bags.
So I lose weight and stay trim, and I think that maybe one of those people will find a Grenouille dinner on the window ledge. But then, you never know, maybe they wouldn’t like what I ordered as much as I didn’t like it, and maybe they’d turn up their noses and look through the garbage for some half-eaten rye bread. You just never know with people. You just never know what they’ll like, what you should do for them.
So that’s the Andy Warhol New York City Diet.
One time I saw someone gave a banana to a homeless guy in Berkeley. The homeless guy took one bite and threw the banana away. Sometimes I give my restaurant leftovers to homeless people, I don’t know if they eat them though. Maybe I should hide in a corner and watch if they eat them.
I know good cooks who’ll spend days finding fresh garlic and fresh basil and fresh tarragon, etc., and then use canned tomatoes for the sauce, saying it doesn’t matter. But I know it does matter.
It does. Warhol lived in the industrial era, I guess he would be pleased now with the revival of farm-to-table foods. Then again, he hardly found happiness in anything, so I don’t know.
I also have to admit that I can’t tolerate eating leftovers. Food is my great extravagance. I really spoil myself, but then I try to compensate by scrupulously saving all of my food leftovers and bringing them into the office or leaving them in the street and recycling them there. My conscience won’t let me throw anything out, even when I don’t want it for myself. As I said, I really spoil myself in the food area, so my leftovers are often grand — my hairdresser’s cat eats pate at least twice a week. The leftovers usually turn out to be meat because I’ll buy a huge piece of meat, cook it up for dinner, and then right before it’s done I’ll break down and have what I wanted for dinner in the first place — bread and jam. I’m only kidding myself when I go through the motions of cooking protein: all I ever really want is sugar. The rest is strictly for appearances, i.e., you can’t take a princess to dinner and order a cookie for starters, no matter how much you crave one. People expect you to eat protein and you do so they won’t talk. (If you decided to be stubborn and ordered the cookie, you’d wind up having to talk about why you want it and your philosophy of eating a cookie for dinner. And that would be too much trouble, so you order lamb and forget about what you really want.)
This is where I’m different, but also the same. Food is indeed my great extravagance, but I like leftovers (if I like what I order in the first place). And the only thing I ever truly want is carb. I would steam some squash blossoms or braise some pork, and after I’m done, I break down and go to the diner downtown and get pancakes. Or I microwave some ramen.
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. AM the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
In Europe the royalty and the aristocracy used to eat a lot better than the peasants—they weren’t eating the same things at all. It was either partridge or porridge, and each class stuck to its own food. But when Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog. She could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else.
Again, the common diner theme. I quoted this quote before.
When I was a child I never had a fantasy about having a maid, what I had a fantasy about having was candy. As I matured that fantasy translated itself into “make money to have candy,” because as you get older, of course, you get more realistic. Then, after my third nervous breakdown and I still didn’t have that extra candy, my career started to pick up, and I started getting more and more candy, and now I have a roomful of candy all in shopping bags. So, as I’m thinking about it now, my success got me a candy room instead of a maid’s room. As I said, it all depends on what your fantasies as a kid were, whether you’re able to look at a maid or not. Because of what my fantasies were, I’m now a lot more comfortable looking at a Hershey Bar.
It’s strange the way having money isn’t much. You take three people to a restaurant and you pay three hundred dollars. Okay. Then you take those same three people to a corner shop — shoppe — and get everything there. You got just as filled at the corner shoppe as at the grand restaurant — more, actually — and it cost you only fifteen or twenty dollars, and you had basically the same food.
Yet again, the common diner theme.
Of the five senses, smell has the closest thing to the full power of the past. Smell really is transporting. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting are just not as powerful as smelling if you want your whole being to go back for a second to something. Usually I don’t want to, but by having smells stopped up in bottles, I can be in control and can only smell the smells I want to, when I want to, to get the memories I’m in the mood to have. Just for a second. The good thing about a smell-memory is that the feeling of being transported stops the instant you stop smelling, so there are no aftereffects. It’s a neat way to reminisce.
When I’m walking around New York I’m always aware of the smells around me: the rubber mats in office buildings; upholstered seats in movie theaters; pizza; Orange Julius; espresso-garlic-oregano; burgers; dry cotton tee-shirts; neighborhood grocery stores; chic grocery stores; the hot dogs and sauerkraut carts; hardware store smell; stationery store smell; souvlaki; the leather and rugs at Dunhill, Mark Cross, Gucci; the Moroccan-tanned leather on the streetracks; new magazines, back-issue magazines; typewriter stores; Chinese import stores (the mildew from the freighter); India import stores; Japanese import stores; record stores; health food stores; soda-fountain drugstores; cut-rate drugstores; barber shops; beauty parlors; delicatessens; lumber yards; the wood chairs and tables in the N.Y. Public Library; the donuts, pretzels, gum, and grape soda in the subways; kitchen appliance departments; photo labs; shoe stores; bicycle stores; the paper and printing inks in Scribner’s, Bren-tano’s, Doubleday’s, Rizzoli, Marboro, Bookmasters, Barnes & Noble; shoe-shine stands; grease-batter; hair pomade; the good cheap candy smell in the front of Woolworth’s and the dry-goods smell in the back; the horses by the Plaza Hotel; bus and truck exhaust; architects’ blueprints; cumin, fenugreek, soy sauce, cinnamon; fried platanos; the train tracks in Grand Central Station; the banana smell of dry cleaners; exhausts from apartment house laundry rooms; East Side bars (creams); West Side bars (sweat); newspaper stands; record stores; fruit stands in all the different seasons — strawberry, watermelon, plum, peach, kiwi, cherry, Concord grape, tangerine, murcot, pineapple, apple — and I love the way the smell of each fruit gets into the rough wood of the crates and into the tissue-paper wrappings.
My mom always says she doesn’t like Berkeley, but Berkeley is growing on me, and I feel like a traitor for letting it grow on me. One big thing about Berkeley is that I can walk here. I used to hate walking because it’s inefficient and especially when it’s sunny. But when I started learning about tea, I started rubbing my fingers on whatever leaf or flower along the road to train my nose. At some point, I didn’t have to rub anymore and could still smell the leaves walking by. I began to like walking then.
I put my napkin over the bowl of cherry pits so I wouldn’t have to look at how many I’d eaten. That’s the hard part of overdosing on cherries—you have all the pits to tell you exactly how many you ate. Not more or less. Exactly. One-seed fruits really bother me for that reason. That’s why I’d always rather eat raisins than prunes. Prune pits are even more imposing than cherry pits.
You take some chocolate . . . and you take two pieces of bread . . . and you put the candy in the middle and you make a sandwich of it. And that would be cake.
My favorite simultaneous action is talking while eating. I think it’s a sign of class[…,] knowing how to talk and eat at the same time. […] It’s very important if you go out to dinner a lot. At dinner you’re expected to eat—because if you don’t it’s an insult to the hostess — and you’re expected to talk — because if you don’t it’s an insult to the other guests. The rich somehow manage to work it out but I just can’t do it. They are never caught with an open mouth full of food but that’s what happens to me. It’s always my turn to talk just when I’ve filled my mouth with mashed potatoes.
Is that why he liked to eat alone? I was telling Kristen how I went to this Korean restaurant in Oakland Chinatown when I had jury duty. I was very tired and just wanted some comfort food. When the owner ladies brought me my samgetang (chicken and ginseng soup), they also started talking to me. A lot. Not only was I by myself, I was also the only customer at that time (it was past lunch time). Between smiling and responding to them, I had no time to eat. I really, really just wanted to eat my soup.
In high-class stores they sell through “display,” in low-class ones they sell through “smell.”
Warhol was talking about clothing stores here. But I think it’s true for food business too.