January 07, 2013
MUNICH - Wearing a bright checked shirt, the man is strikingly tall, fit, with very short brown hair and brown eyes. He smiles a lot. Right now he’s looking for a suitable female partner – not in cafés or bars as such a search might have been conducted just a few short years ago, but in the virtual world.
In his profile it says that Freddie (not his real name) doesn’t smoke and eats a lot of fast food. But he also likes healthy fare – particularly Italian, French, Asian cuisines. Like lots of other guys, he’s into movies, travel, playing sports, listening to music, and going out.
One thing stands out about him, however: Freddie can cook. At least so it says in his profile. "It’s true," he confirms. His profile picture, where he’s shown in a suit, makes him look cool – cooler than he does in real life, at least this evening. The photograph is geared to make him appeal to as any women as possible.
A 40-year-old doctor from Munich, Freddie has had it with being single. And Andreas Laufer is helping him change the situation. Laufer wrote Freddie’s online profile, and is actively looking for a suitable woman for him on the net. This isn’t a friendly thing – it’s a professional service. Laufer earns good money doing this for men like Freddie.
Meeting women? For a windsurfing pro like Andy Laufer – this is no problem. Dubbed the "German sailing legend" by the international press, the 43-year-old Laufer recently announced his windsurfing comeback. But after he officially quit his sporting career in 2005, he launched another: first in finance, which he came to realize was not for him, and then – always having been one for unusual ideas – in Sept. 2012 an "online ghostwriting agency."
He started Suredate with 47-year-old business partner Ingo Möbius, to help people like Freddie.
His job is to get dates for lonely hearts – finding a partner on the Internet is hard work and requires a great deal of time, which is something that workaholics like Freddie don’t have a lot of. The doctor is presently one of four clients the agency is focusing on. Laufer and Möbius have so far had 20 male clients.
Freddie corresponds exactly to Laufer’s ideal client profile: well-paid job, very busy, middle-aged – and looking for someone. "I don’t have the time or the inclination to do a lot of writing and checking out profiles," Freddie says. Laufer and Möbius, who have known each other on the windsurfing scene for over 25 years, are familiar with this attitude from their friends. It gave them the idea for their agency. They tried their business concept out on a friend who was desperately seeking a partner but held a low opinion of online dating. The test run was a success.
In Germany – where a study by online dating site Partnersuche.de revealed that eight million people use online singles sites – the concept filled a gap in the market although it’s nothing new in the United States where "virtual dating assistant" services have been up and running for three years.
Munich couples therapist Andrea Bräu says she knows why so many people are looking for partners on the Internet: "The Internet is ever more a fixture in our lives. I can get anything I want on the Internet, so why not a partner?"
But Laufer’s ghostwriting agency goes a bit further than online dating sites, according to Bräu. She may find it "decadent," but she’s also convinced that relationships that originate online can last: "Ten years ago meeting people through the Internet was kept very hush-hush. That’s totally changed now."
A tradition from the Middle Ages
While Laufer can do a lot, he can’t do miracles: "The client has to be realistic," he says. If he hasn’t organized a minimum number of dates within a month, the client gets his money back. All-around service costs 699 euros a month. "That’s cheaper than in the U.S.," Laufer says.
As soon as a date is lined up, the client gets a memo listing a place and time and enough information about the woman so he can take up where the dating assistant left off.
According to the two business partners, they’ve had a high success rate – even when the dates have been in other cities. "I’ve had three dates, one of them in Berlin," says Munich-based Freddie, adding that his Berlin date is coming to Munich to visit for a couple of days. He says he’s thoroughly satisfied with Laufer and Möbius’s selection so far, and that the agency has been thoroughly professional.
Any moral scruples about any of this? Freddie hesitates, looking for the appropriate way of putting it. "It’s a little stupid, but it’s so convenient. And what you write isn’t so important. Eighty to 90% is your picture and the impression on the first meeting." Couples therapist Bräu sees it differently: “When you chat with somebody you can read a lot between the lines and learn quite a bit about a person. Even just how quickly somebody answers and the things they bring up say a lot," she says.
But Laufer and Möbius disagree: "Politicians have assistants who write their speeches. We’re picking up on a very old tradition. In the Middle Ages you had members of the elite using scribes to write their love letters."
So far they have one love story to their credit, but "the big goal is to be the ones behind a wedding," says Laufer.
Maybe that person will be Freddie, because at the moment things are looking up what with the visit from his date in Berlin. He has already told her, he says, that he was not the one who contacted her and flirted with her on the Internet. Her reaction? A short moment of silence. Then laughter. She thought it was funny, says Freddie, adding: "But I only told her after it was clear we were really getting along."
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
October 20, 2021
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
From Your Site Articles
- The Perverse Effect Of Street Art On Neighborhood Gentrification ... ›
- Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture ... ›
- How The Pandemic Is Helping Reinvent Food Production ... ›
- What's Chic Now In Paris Dining? African-American Soul Food ... ›
Related Articles Around the Web
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!