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on authenticity

a response to ‘the kinfolk cookbook: small gatherings you’ll likely never be invited to’ ︎

[originally published on Medium, November 3, 2013]

It was a love/hate affair that quickly deteriorated into mild indifference, peppered with occasional bouts of annoyance and delight: Kinfolk. I don’t remember when I discovered it. The website first. The magazine later. A couple of years ago, I think.

What was there not to love? The photos are outstanding, the design is immaculate. All that white space. Just the right kind of minimalism. Understated, if minimalism can be understated. When I first came across Kinfolk, it was just a group of creatives gathering occasionally and documenting it beautifully. I don’t remember the details. But I do remember my disappointment at the mainly American participants. There were only a select few members — can you call them that? — from around the world.

Kinfolk came into my life at the right moment. Still excited about the possibilities of living the life of a digital nomad — not that I ever really got there, but in a way even the most sedentary of us are digital nomads, just in a different sense of the word — the first signs of digital fatigue started to settle in, too. Working online, studying online and, thanks to real distance, talking to most of my friends online, a somewhat surreal distance began to form. The more connected I became, the more it grew. I started to feel just the slightest bit removed from everything and everyone and have felt so ever since. Kinfolk and what it stands for seemed to be the answer to all that was missing. All that I was missing. I know they weren't the only ones, but, thanks to their sophisticated and refined aesthetics, they were.

This should have made me wary right from the beginning. And in a way it did. I have a weak spot for sophistication and refinement, a very weak spot, but even back then I knew that neither of them are the most democratic traits. They are elitist per definition, both meant to set apart rather than bring together. But it was the idea of a group of creatives with different backgrounds meeting in real life that drew me in. To do this while celebrating food and also celebrating the celebration made it perfect. A way to not just network but to connect. Or so I thought. I hoped Kinfolk would strive. I hoped it would grow. I hoped it would come over to Europe. And I hoped I might be able to join one day. And even if not, it was something to aspire to, something to recreate, something to be inspired by.

How naive.

I kept checking in. There was a certain unease right from the beginning while swooning over their beautiful photo essays. But I blamed it on my own shortcomings. I was, still am, unsure about calling myself a creative. There were, still are, always people more talented, more skilled, more of anything than me. And the people of Kinfolk were clearly out of my league. But back then, back in the beginning, I still thought this was due to my own insecurities and that I could get there myself. That one day I, too, would sit around a table underneath blooming apple trees, surrounded by women with disheveled hair and red lips and men with full beards and smart glasses, having organic Sunday roast served on an eclectic mix of our combined grandmothers’ dishes and plates, drinking wine and coffee until late at night. And there is always the chance that I meet someone who knows someone who knows someone else that somehow gets me into this little sophisticated and refined circle of creatives who make up Kinfolk. And I’d probably give it a go. I would try to look very French. I would be looking forward to bearded men because I happen to like them. I would enjoy the food and the wine and the apple trees. The muted colors and the peeling paint and the flowers and the ice cream. And I would feel out of place.

I had my fair share of semi-organic Sunday roasts during the past couple of years. Some even under blooming apple trees, all of them served on an eclectic albeit less picturesque and photogenic mix of old dishes and plates. I had them with friends, with acquaintances, with strangers. There were photographers, designers, actors and writers, but there were also nurses, and teachers, and taxi drivers and fire fighters. When I had them with like-minded people who share my aesthetics, there were flowers in vintage milk bottles, handmade name cards, striped straws and mason jars. When there are mason jars, you know to dress the part, because there will be photos taken, too. Lots of them. Which always causes me the same unease that swooning over Kinfolk photos does.

I’m obviously not above this. After years spent predominantly in front of a computer, I’m craving a simpler, more tangible life, too. I want to use my hands for more than just gliding over a keyboard or moving around a mouse. The idea of preparing a meal together with friends, of serving it outdoors, if possible, on something that is not disposable, that has been used before and will be used again, of spending actual time together, uninterrupted by technology, sounds like heaven. I can (and want to) spend hours preparing for such a meal. I will dress up. I will take photos. And you’ll most likely see them online. The fact that you don’t only shows that my Sunday roasts are not sophisticated and refined enough. As I said, eclectic as they may be, it’s not the right kind. What they are, though, is real and authentic. And I can’t help but wonder how authentic Kinfolk is.

It defines itself as a magazine that collects ideas from a growing international community of artists, writers, designers, photographers, cooks and others who are interested in creating small gatherings and finding new things to make and do.

But I can’t help but notice the strange homogeneity of Kinfolk members — I think you can call them that. I can’t help but notice that they are predominantly white, predominantly young and attractive and predominantly well off. They are not just creatives, they are a creative elite. Sophisticated and refined. There is nothing wrong with that per se. What makes me uneasy is the uncritical admiration and adoration the magazine receives. These are not people like you and me. Even if you can afford the up to $135 to join one of their gatherings.

These musings were prompted by ‘The Kinfolk Cookbook: Small Gatherings You’ll Likely Never Be Invited To’ by Felicia S. Sullivan and try to make sense of my own mixed feelings about the magazine. I still visit the website every so often and flip through the magazine when I see it in a store. I've never bought it and doubt I ever will. After an initial rush of excitement, mainly about its photography, it leaves me dissatisfied, sometimes annoyed and exasperated. I agree with Felicia: 

Initially, I thought the magazine was an inch above the fold with its lush photography, impeccable layouts, and care given to design and aesthetic. However, as soon as I started to read the publication, the same slew of ubiquitous bloggers I’d seen online now, appearing in the printed publication, became the equivalent of records played on repeat. Most of them, while stylish and artistic in their own right, weren't exactly meant to be writers. The stories were uneven, the stuff of first drafts at writing workshops, and I felt as if I were paying a handsome sum of money to access pretty photos and, more unsettling, to escape, albeit briefly, to a very privileged and unrealistic representation of a life. That is what started to grate at me. I’m thirty-seven years old. Am I back in high school, donning acid wash while lamenting Angela Chase’s love for Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life? Shall I check my Warby Parkers at the door?

And even though I haven’t had a closer look at Kinfolk’s cookbook yet, I can see she means with:

The Kinfolkers drive miles for mussels and set a formidable table in their outdoor barns. Theirs is a life of a cultivated beauty that serves up the illusion of simplicity. In reality, the Tao of Kinfolk is nothing more than understated affluence and luxury. Theirs are gatherings where meals are photographed with a thousand-dollar camera; where everyone has clean skin, shiny hair, and ebullient optimism; where kids play around the paddock. Theirs is a world that exists for few.

I get it all. I get our desire for meaning, for minimalism, for escapism. I understand why we tend to share only the good and rarely ever the bad. But Kinfolk, to me, is artificial. Is artifice. It shows a life, and I admit that much, I sometimes envy, but that I can ultimately not relate to and could therefore never emulate, even if success and wealth should come one day.