There is an artisanal mayonnaise shop in Brooklyn. I know I hate this—and believe me, my hate is pure—but I’m not actually sure why.
I delight in unexpected foods. I like nice things, and I like mayonnaise. I like bahn mi and euro-style fries and even the classic turkey sandwich. But it does represent something very generic, doesn’t it? Mayonnaise, I mean. Or am I besmirching a noble condiment out of hand, motivated by my own prejudices? Maybe it’s political. I could be put off by the standard mayonnaise archetype—a wholesome Hellmann’s jar gracing the tables of 1950s suburban middle-class households—an economic position to which my family never quite ascended. Could it be that I’ve conflated “wholesome” with empty bourgeois lives? I’m sure the price of the mayo in question is also a factor—4 oz for $7? Is this the sauce of the petty bourgeoisie? Or does the current state of all mayo, luxury or otherwise, just reflect our capitalist alienation?
Maybe my objection is feminist. There is the mythos of a condiment once fine, now ubiquitous to every insipid kitchen, making a mockery of traditionally feminine labor with its diminishing quality. What was once a delicate combination of oil and water, a volatile emulsion requiring expertise to produce, now only evokes the vulgar industrial tubs of my food service days. Mass produced mayo was meant to simplify, save time and enrich the lives of women, like the vacuum cleaner. But with the vacuum cleaner came the standard of wall-to-wall carpeting—slightly differentiated dull labor and a more stringent barometer of cleanliness. Have our innovations in modern domesticity only made domestic life that much more banal and disaffected, haunting us like some sort of technocratic Betty Friedan nightmare?
Or is it a cultural issue with these people? These… mayonnaise people. Have I assumed their pretension too harshly? Did I falsely detect a sense of irony so thick they don’t even know when they’re kidding anymore? Why do I assume they aren’t earnest in their love of mayonnaise? They look like nice people.
Why would I hate the mayonnaise artisans? I mean, hey, I’ve often waxed affectionate over the esoteric intellectual motivations of my dearest friends. My favorite people always have some sort of strange specialty; one friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s queercore punk rock, another a talented typesetter, passionate over fonts. How does artisanal mayo inspire such ire, while the relentless academic pursuit of a near-forgotten Marxist inspires such tenderness? Could I ever become endeared to these people, as I am endeared to my dearest of comrades? Could I really see them, as lovely to me as my own loved ones, who know every Richard Pryor routine by heart, or who would stirringly lecture you about art nouveau toilets?
No. I could not. Because it’s artisanal mayonnaise, and I have my limits.