Wednesday, October 6

A Philosophical Inquiry Into Aesthetics and Ethics, or A Post About Cheesteaks

Like many residents of Allentown PA, I often tell people I'm from "outside Philadelphia." I do this because (1) it's annoying to hear people sing the Billy Joel song, (2) a lot of time people don't know where Allentown is and (3) it's embarrassing to be from Allentown, a city mainly known for being a crap-hole and the national epicenter of the stinkbug infestation. So anyway, even though I'm not actually from Philadelphia, I feel as though when it's my turn to talk about food, I must broach the subject of cheesesteaks.

Specifically, the question of which is better: Pat's or Geno's? (I blogged about this briefly before in a longer post about Pennsylvania, which is filled with off-color jokes, so, um you've been warned?) Pat's and Geno's are two cheesteak places located on the same corner (9th & Passyunk) in South Philly. Some people swear by Pat's and some people swear by Geno's. It's not debated politely. It's ended marriages.

You might be wondering why there is so much debate about cheesteak, and it's a fair question. Basically there aren't a lot of ingredients. Basically both ingredients are mentioned right there in the name of the food. But how can they vary so wildly in quality? I honestly don't know, but they sure can. Some of it has to do with the bread, some of it has to do with the type of cheese and steak I guess, and maybe there are some spices in there. The point is, they really do taste different. So which is better?

A little while ago, my father, brother-in-law, and I decided to do a test. We drove down to South Philly for a double-blind taste-test challenge. I don't really know what "double-blind" means and I also don't know how to divide 4 steaks by 3 people, but for some reason we ordered 4 and it resulted in complicated math. The verdict? Geno's is better. We all agreed! 3 out of 3. Hands down. Now, this is where things get interesting. Depending on your politics, the guy who owns Geno's, Joey Vento, is either a hero or a pariah. It all started with a controversy about a sign at Geno's that said "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING Please 'SPEAK ENGLISH." And then during the coverage of the controversy, Vento offered a bunch of political opinions I strongly disagree with. And then, to my mind anyway, he pretty much just acted like a jerk all the time. And if I really think about it, I should probably boycott the place. But the steaks! I'm a weak man.

But this brings up a serious(ish) question. Can you enjoy a meal if you find the chef despicable? And does this apply to other arts, say, literature? Ever learn horrible things about an author whose work you have loved? Does this change the love? (I'm not asking you to name names!) Conversely, maybe an author is such a wonderful person that you love their work more than you otherwise might? Or does the work just have to stand on its own? Is aesthetics free of ethics? Please discuss. Or just share thoughts on cheesteaks. I'd be happy with that too.

p.s. Go Phillies!


Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

It all depends on the bad thing a writer etc has done or said. If they're the equivalent of Mel Gibson, they get stricken from The List.

Wendy Toliver said...

I definitely read a book thru rose- colored glasses when it's written by someone I adore or respect. If I know the author to be a real jerk, I might not change my opinion of his/her book (that's saying I loved it before I knew he/she was a jerk) but I wouldn't recommend it to ppl or re-read it and it might find its way from my personal book shelves into my "donate to library" pile.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I suppose it would be sacrilege to say I've always wanted to try a vegan cheesteak, lol!

But as to your question, I'm with Lauren, it depends. You see I am a long time Hole fan so I'm used to being completely mortified by Courtney Love's antics and yet still able to love her music, but if it was Mel Gibson level misbehavior, yeah that is a problem!

Josh Berk said...

Sacrilege doesn't even begin to describe it... :)