The Slatest

Times Columnist Says Confusing Sandwich Menus, Not Structural Inequality, Killed the American Dream

David Brooks, Sandwich
David Brooks, Sandwich

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty Images, Unsplash, and Thinkstock.

One thing that has happened in the past 40 years or so in the United States is that (inflation-adjusted) income for most people has stagnated while the price of housing, health care, and education has risen. Income for high earners has also continued to increase. Meanwhile, middle-class and working-class Americans are now less likely to “move up the income ladder” than they used to be—i.e. we’ve collectively become less likely to have rags-to-riches American dream trajectories during our lifetimes.

New York Times columnist David Brooks asserts Tuesday that this reduction in social mobility is not the result of aforementioned trends but because menus that involve foreign ingredients are too confusing to simple folk who don’t have college educations:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Continues Brooks: “To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality,” naming several things that I don’t have any understanding of or attitudes about even though I live in gentrified Brooklyn like an asshole. “Structural barriers,” he says, “are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.”

Put another way, Brooks believes that we should make high-income jobs more attainable not by improving public/vocational education, housing affordability, and access to health care, or by addressing systemic racism, but by putting menus in plain English that any common ding-dong can understand without having to move their lips while they read.

As such, I have prepared a menu for a restaurant that I believe David Brooks is now obligated to invest in.

David, please send your check to my flat at 14 Soppressata Blvd., Brooklyn. You’ll have to make it out in French, of course.