Blinded By Labels

I’m writing my column from Hawaii this week, in the little town of Poipu on the island of Kuaui. Our first food stop, upon arrival, was at a little stand called the Kalapaki Beach Hut. They served Hawaiian burgers made with Kauai beef, fish sandwiches made from the catch of the day and island specialties like Ulu fries, made from breadfruit. The food was simple, inexpensive, and delicious.

As I was relishing the catch of the day, a thought crossed my mind. Leandra Medine, one of my favorite fashion bloggers, sometimes asks her readers if, as consumers, labels have blinded us. Do we love this piece, or are we in love with the brand? Do we really appreciate the design, technique, fabric, the way we feel when we put it on, or are we just looking for the ego boost that comes from wearing certain designer labels? The same question is relevant for food.

Glamorous restaurants sometimes do nothing more than pad our egos and make us feel more glamorous than we really are. They give us a reach around and a shitty chimichanga and charge us up the yang for it. Thank you very much, have a nice day. Come back next time you need that happy ending.

There are some places where labels mean nothing. Instead of being defined by a brand, these places are defined by flavor, technique, and comfort. Example: Taqueria Estrella in Oroville. It’s tiny, unglamorous, and located next to a gas station. They serve braised meats as opposed to cubed, grilled, and subsequently dry meats that can be found at other taco stands. You can get your burrito doused in homemade mole sauce. They also serve a chile colorado that takes a close second place to my own grandma’s. It is totally an acceptable substitute when I haven’t had hers in a while due to our unfortunate geographic separation.

My travel companions and I stopped in at Taqueria Estrella on the way to the airport, for a casual and satisfying roadside meal. And once in Kauai, had another great, casual, roadside meal. I had a grilled Ono fish lettuce wrap with sprouts and wasabi mayo. The fish was tender, perfectly cooked, and caught fresh that day. My partner had a burger made from Kauai raised, grass fed beef for nine bucks. That brings me back to my point: if we raise our food responsibly, prepare it well, and ignore fancy branding, we just might have a shot at eat eating well, staying within our budgets, and enjoying fresh, regional cuisine. That’s a different kind of happy ending.


Jen Cartier misses Chico! However, she has taken to the great beyond (er...The Bay Area) to be some kind of chocolate maven while simultaneously figuring out how the hell to navigate her long-ass work commute, and still kick ass at raising three munchkins, loving one soon-to-be husband, and keeping one rascally Brittany Spaniel in the damned yard. She loves Nutella, red wine, and American Spirits. She takes her dog along on runs to wear him out (sometimes he shits in someone else's yard - bonus!) and also to balance her own general consumption of all the fine tasty things life offers, ciggys included. Follow her blog at