Seeing eggs, milk cartons, and raw meat sharing floor space with $5,000 dresses at a department store might seem a little odd to many Americans. It's also insensitive to place food amid clothing that requires you to starve yourself to wear.
But across the Atlantic in Europe, floor-through food halls in high-end department stores are the norm. Bon Marche, Selfridge's and KaDeWe have giant spaces devoted to prepared food, cheeses, wines, meats and pastries. It makes sense, considering that food is an accepted luxury item. When heirloom tomatoes and sea salt become fetish objects, why not put them alongside purses?
Occasionally, you get interesting results. Take the KaDeWe in West Berlin, purveyor of such objects as $7,100 Hermes briefcases and $3,867, three-inch-tall Meissen figurines. A recent trip discovered humbler fare on the food floor.
In the Canada section of nonperishable goods, for instance, a box of unfrosted strawberry Pop Tarts was on sale for a tantalizing 8.98 euros ($12). And if, on your way to purchase one of their $51 ostrich eggs, you took a wrong turn and ended up in the "America" aisle, you'd be treated to a bloodbath of preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup: A can of Cheez Whiz retailed for 5.98 euros ($8); a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, yours for 3.98 euros ($5.30). Items on the barbecue shelf, including at least 13 variations of sauce, were gathering dust -- actually gathering dust, with the fingerprints of patrons with second thoughts on the labels.
There was more luxurious food, too -- the ostrich eggs were in the company of caviar, puff pastries and first-growth Bordeaux. But that made the inclusion of the Whiz, Fluff and Tarts all the more perplexing. It was as if they had stocked the aisles with provisions from the Berlin Airlift, then forgotten about it.
But perhaps KaDeWe is on to something. Why not put in a food floor with a global perspective at Barney's? You could stock the Germany section with some of the country's favorite foods -- Blutwurst (sausage casings filled with congealed blood), Fleischsalat (a salad of thin, pink, noodle-sized strips of meat, usually subsumed in mayonnaise) and Affenfett ("monkey grease," a spread of diced bacon, eggs, flour, and marjoram).
Come in for a Chanel suit, leave with some meat salad.
James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.