Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Knock It Off With All The "Pairing," Okay?

Here a pair, there a pair, everywhere a pair pairDear Marketing Juggernaut,

I write to ask that you please stop all this "pairing," which in an earlier, more innocent time, used to be expressed simply as "having with," or sometimes more hopefully, "enjoying with." I refer to the ingestion kind of "pairing." Apparel-related "pairing" ("I would pair it with the Juliana Satchel in Beige") insinuated itself into second-rate fashionspeak so long ago that it's past all hope of recalling. I mean the sort of pairing that has resulted in stuff like this:

I got a nice bottle of amarone for my birthday and I was hoping to pair it with a tasty dessert recipe. My working idea is something in the stewed plum or fig vein but I am totally open to ideas.

Honey pairs well with mild cheeses that have a little something nutty going on.

Through de-construction we can arrive at our best pairing options… First, the dominant flavors here are likely caramelized pineapple and Vanilla.

The problem with this kind of "pairing" is much the same as the problem with "classy;" it gives an impression miles away from the one intended. It evokes not sophistication, but the dreary marketing-speak of consumerism.

It became clear decades ago that the consumer paradise is only hell in disguise, and nobody with any sense believes any longer that fancy or expensive things will make you more elegant or, indeed, alter your character at all. The culture of consumption is fully revealed as a destructive force, made most perfectly manifest, possibly, in the novel Infinite Jest (p. 1996), the comedy of Bill Hicks (1961-1994), and the writing of Thomas Frank (The Conquest of Cool, 1997.) Our leaner, more perceptive times call for language that is more about truth and clarity, and maybe quite a bit less about "discernment" or "snob appeal."

The current passion for anything to do with food and drink, cooking, regional cuisine, taco trucks, and so on is fun, and I certainly don't mean to bag on that. Of course it is great to try, and maybe like, new things, and delicious things. But the fussy, mincing habit of attempting to create demand with a sniffy insistence on things like "artisanal" cheese or soda, coffee brewed in some Japanese contraption for eighteen hours, etc., is manipulative and artificial and stands in opposition to the fun part of sharing good things together. You never caught Elizabeth David or Marcel Boulestin promoting such stuff, or "pairing" anything, either. On the contrary, these masters of food writing advocated simplicity and lack of pretension.

There's a usage problem here, too. The word "pair" can only be used as a verb in certain instances; the OED allows it mainly for noting likeness, and for arranging couples for activities such as marriage, boxing, dancing or dinner. None of the examples they give covers the Amarone-and-stewed-plum variety.

Comestible "pairing" seems to have started because of the weird cachet attached to drinking wine with food and spread from there. How much cachet can this tired phrase have left in it, though, when the Ernest and Julio Gallo website has got a whole Food & Wine Pairing Guide, and when you can visit any number of feckless blogs dedicated exclusively to this subject (foodandwinepairing.org, pairingsfoodandwine.com, matchmywine.com, etc.) and learn what kind of wine you ought to drink with, say, bacon (a "challenging wine pairing").

The whole business reached its nadir in the July 26th post on the Starbucks Ideas in Action blog (oh, yes, it is called that.)

How will you enjoy Gazebo Summer Blendâ„¢ this year? Let us know what food you pair it with or your coffee occasion. Summer BBQ or brunch? Share your pairing ideas with us.

After reading this and having a disbelief occasion, my pairing idea is to pair sealing off the kitchen and turning on the gas in the oven with sticking my head in there.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

Photo by beeeeeker, from Flickr.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

You want pairs if you're growing them or taking your time removing them from bras.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

How about pairing an outlet cover with your outlets? May I suggest a preium copper version?


pbr (#4,890)


Art Yucko (#1,321)

hey you! I pair you with Tecate all the time, dude.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

@Yuck: Who? PBR or tuna surprise? Personally, I think tuna surprise goes best with a bag full of crushed off-brand ruffles on top. PBR is best enjoyed with bad facial hair and an unearned sense of entitlement.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

A can in each fist, naturally! You hang tite, Tuna dear. I gotta bag of Chitatos waiting for you.

BadUncle (#153)

I'd love a pair of Amarones, which I would pair with my liver.

cherrispryte (#444)

Did you get pears?

Rollo (#3,202)

Apparently not.

Blackcapricorn (#4,791)

I will tell you inside.

dado (#102)

I have a pair of acres below the belt from all this.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

That expression suggests German-speaking livestock breeders. Which I would just as soon hear about as some foodie curating is precious damned table.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I should have said, "curatin' 'is precious damned table."

lbf (#2,343)

Thank you for bringing "curating" up.

Now, if we wanna go all Bikesnob here, we should also mention "colorway".

wb (#2,214)

I had a bag of Starbucks coffee, a variety from Mexico, that suggested pairing it with a ripe mango, a bit of copy drove me insane. And now I have context for that insanity.

TroutSavant (#1,990)

While I understand your exasperation with the overuse and probable misuse of the word (and, oh god, horrible Starbucks concoctions should not be paired or even singled!) — I don't really see the problem with the concept. It's not arbitrary. When we eat we also drink. We like to consume things that go together. Of course taste is subjective, but just as a recipe is a suggestion for ingredients that go well together, a pairing takes this one step further to the accompanying beverage.

AGREE STRONGLY. 'Pairing' has become abusive. On one hand, I'm a certified wine snob, and can attest to the incredible magic third taste that happens when you eat certain foods with certain other wines. On the other hand:

the teeth (#380)

I'll finish reading your comment after I start downloading the 'Triscuit Small Plates iPhone App.'

YES. Should you doubt The Teeth, scroll down to the bottom of that page and behold the terrible and all-too-real travesty that is the Triscuit Small Plates iPhone App.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Holy cow. Also: "Choose the wine that tempts your palette [!] then click on the recipe that tickles your appetite."

scrooge (#2,697)

Hear, hear, on the food obsession thing. I don't know what it is exactly about it that gives me the creeps. Is it a form of narcissism, maybe?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

It's people who don't get laid.

Bittersweet (#765)

Hey, they've gotta do something to feel superior to those of us who are getting some…

"Plating" is grotesque. "Curating" anything outside of a museum is grating hauteur. But the real OED – the 2nd ed., not the Frankenstein's monster 3rd ed. – says, "Pair v. 1. trans. [...] to place together as adapted or suited to each other [...]"

barnhouse (#1,326)

Indeed, the big midnight-blue monster is the one cited. But! No example given illustrates this usage other than through the meaning of 'likeness.'

But, but! Suited! Suited!!!

barnhouse (#1,326)

I know–you say sooth!–but I ain't going there without the citation.

The one time I ordered the wine the restaurant had paired with my meal the waiter totally forgot it. I had one glass with my appetizer and he never bought the entree wine.

Smitros (#5,315)

I hope his service was paired with the appropriately smaller tip.

It was. It was a Wolfgang's in Beverly Hills. I would never go back. The whole staff was terrible and the food was so so. The only thing going for it was the restroom had heated toilet seats.

You sat on the toilet??

I live dangerously. Also they had those automatic plastic seat covers. I would go back there just to use that bathroom again.

It may have been something like that. It was over a year ago. Now I am going to have to go to their bar just to use that again.

pepper (#676)

The Wolfang's space was born as an incredibly expensive all-tofu kaiseki restaurant, which was much better than it sounds. Nice to know that the fixtures stayed behind.

Oh, and the culture of consumption? Hellooo?!? It's, like, food and stuff? Those paragons of virtue, the hippies, were all about "complementing" their exclusivist food co-op crap like wheat berries and almond butter and carob.

Not to mention the early 20th Century intellectuals, with their nut loaves and graham flour and Toklas brownies…

spanish bombs (#562)

Wheat berries and almond butter are delicious! Carob is ass.

But Maria, some things are just objectively better than other things. And there's a value judgment inherent in "simplicity and lack of pretension," too.

barnhouse (#1,326)

No doubt. Simplicity and lack of pretension being objectively better than the ghastly pose of "discernment." (I tease, but I would love to discuss this whole thing with you in unending detail.)

I would love that, too! Over a rye Manhattan that I will pair with a (or several) Marlboro light(s).

barnhouse (#1,326)

I shall hold you to this, if I get the chance.

Next Awl Bawl!

Ryan Tate (#5,672)

I also find this simple verb highly distasteful!!

(Eh, not really, but I did try to get with you on this.)

Tulletilsynet (#333)

This is wny museums and symphony concerts are so boring. Forget about, Play as much fun music as you can fit in and get all rehearsed in time. It's got to be, Make yourself the auteur by composing the program that requires the most explanation. Bull pairing shit.

dham (#4,652)

When I worked at the Union Square farmer's market, I was instructed to write "pairs well with guava paste" next to the name of one of the cheeses every day.

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