A food scene, foodie culture, and the death of Old Portland


On a rather chilly February morning, Elise and I got into an unreasonably long line to wait at one of the more popular doughnut establishments (not the pink one). Clearly, this is purely anecdotal in nature, but as I looked down the line and eavesdropped on many conversations, it was apparent that most of the people in the line were visitors, foodies browsing Instagram, and most likely not from Portland. Now, it was natural for me to think in the moment, “why are there so many people here?!”, especially since I was freezing my ass off, but then something dawned on me. I looked at Elise and said, “Ugh, I ruined Portland, didn’t I?”

Oh, the Guilt

I am not an asshole. I’m actually a good guy. Really, I am. I was, however, born in San Francisco, California, a city that many people fear Portland is becoming. While I don’t believe Portland will ever have quite the extremely problematic economic conditions of the City by the Bay, I do completely understand the sentiment that a place that was once very livable is rapidly becoming less so. I have this understanding and sympathy because this very thing happened to me. While I was living there, the very place that birthed me appeared to have transformed during my watch, and it changed to the extent that I stopped being able to recognize it as the same place. Yes, certain spots became less dangerous, but people of color and LGBTQ people were being pushed out. A very homogenous tech community seemed to be taking over, and while I personally make a reasonable wage, I still felt I was just trying to catch up, so I decided on a big move up north to Portland.

I have been visiting the Rose City since 2008, and in the past 12 years, I have seen quite a few changes: increased housing prices, increased rent prices, much busier freeways, in addition to many restaurant openings and closings. Even since I moved here in 2016, these same things have changed. The popular idea is that Californians like myself are coming here, buying property, moving here in droves, and clogging up the freeways. Having befriended many people who have been here much longer than me and even some natives, I realize I am doing what was done to my own hometown. So, while I had been pointing my finger at the very tech bros who are accused of ruining my hometown, I’m fully prepared to point three at myself for what is happening to Portland.

Personal Accountability

I used to visit Portland and plan big food trips where I’d have food from the latest and greatest restaurants in the food scene at the time. I thought about how much I was like the people I was so quick to judge, and to be perfectly honest, it was rather uncomfortable because I basically am them, except in some ways, I am worse:

  • I moved here and purchased a house, removing at least one unit from the market, which potentially drives up prices of residential housing.
  • I live in Southeast Portland and commute to Hillsboro, which means my vehicle is one of the many cars painfully crossing bridges during commute times and causing congestion on highway 26.
  • I took a valuable job that perhaps could belong to someone who’s from here. This one is debatable as my position is very particular where perhaps I am actually one of the only people anywhere capable of doing it.
  • I specifically write about the food scene, not just on this site but also on Eater PDX. As a contributor to one of the bigger online outlets of food news and information about Portland, I am actively promoting a food scene and foodie culture that some might argue is causing an influx of tourism and increasing the popularity of this city. Cultivating this food scene is perhaps part of the undoing of many of the things people came to Portland in search of.

It is somewhat sobering to consider how much of what I am personally doing is contributing to the overall problem. buying a home, taking a job from a potential local person, adding to traffic, food writing promoting a food scene and foodie culture contributes to the destruction of what some might consider actual culture and what made Portland a desirable destination in the first place.


Inspecting the toll I feel I am putting into this town, I feel I have a responsibility to being more aware, promoting local artisans, local artists, “weird” culture without fetishizing it. I also have a desire to create and contribute to the overall well being of Portland population. One of the tenets of Pip’s Doughnuts is the idea of community over competition. Owners Nate and Jamie Snell aim to cultivate this through executing well and staying simple. I believe this is the spirit in which I personally need to embody when looking at the impact I want to have on my new home.


Coming up with a few action items for the year (yes, I know it’s almost a quarter way through):

  • As a person who writes about food, I’d like to promote Portland small businesses. I try to do this already, but perhaps I could back off on buying things from Amazon and buy more local.
  • Building on the first bullet and trying to honor the history of this city, why Portland is the way it is, I will support businesses from people of color, especially in marginalized neighborhoods.
  • Volunteer for at least two non-profits benefitting the overall community in areas of need that I care about.
  • Support creators and see more local bands play.


I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. These are just some thoughts I have on my impact as a citizen in a new place. I don’t want to be a consumer intent on living off a culture someone else built, and perhaps you’ll find some of my words will inspire you to build your tribe a little more in a strange land to which you’ve immigrated. And to Portland, Oregon, sorry for fucking up. I promise to try better. ILYSM!

I’d love to hear what you guys think! Feel free to contact me.

1 Comment

D.A. · March 17, 2021 at 9:49 am

I apologize for this long comment… it grew legs and ran.

I think your article is well-meaning, but misguided. By all means, be a good citizen, but it is also just as important to be aware of contemporary growth.

As someone who shares certain things in common with you (replace SF with LA, and having been a visitor and a homeowner on similar timelines as you’ve mentioned), I have found that Portland is best enjoyed when you surround yourself with the right people. I personally have decided over the years to avoid people that perpetuate stagnant growth and shame others for the way they live. If you find yourself having conversations with people about how guilty you should feel or how wrong it is to be doing X, Y, and Z in Portland, then I might suggest reevaluating things a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I have felt the same things that you are outlining here, but I quickly let that go within the first year of having moved here. Why? Because I realized that guilt doesn’t solve problems that exist on the vast scale that we’re all facing. These are not problems that exist only on a local scale; these are problems that exist on a national and global scale – and I think you realize this when you say that you felt like you were losing grip of SF before you moved. The things that happened in SF will not happen on the same scale in Portland, but they will happen, because times change, ideas change, and people change. Whether you perceive that as “good change” or “bad change” is all relative.

What makes Portland unique amongst the thousands of other cities facing similar economic issues is that, yes, at one point it was “weird” and charming and a “small town in a big city”. The reason it was able to be that way up until, say, the last 1-30 years (depending on who you talk to – and yes, this is all relative to who you talk to), is because Portland’s much larger neighboring west coast cities were seeing so much more growth during that time by comparison. The focus was on those cities while Portland coasted along, changing far less quickly. That’s all fine and good for a while, but it can only sustain for so long when more and more people – like you, like me, like thousands or millions of others – feel the tight grip of economic reality in our hometowns growing even tighter.

Yes, our life decision to move here has affected another group of thousands or millions of people who were already here, and that conversation can spiral into a laundry list of guilt-ridden feelings and accusations, but does that really do anyone any good? Surely, being conscious of our actions is a good thing – and you’ve done a good job of putting together a personal call to action in order to be aware of how you contribute to, or take away from, Portland’s culture/economy/ecology. But, that can only go so far in a city that possesses an extremely brittle local government and conflicting infrastructural goals – all of which exist on the deepest levels of administration. I hesitate to even bring this part up, because of how polarizing the various issues are.

Simply put, Old Portland has held out from major change for so long compared to other big cities, and now it is experiencing major conflict because it has found no other choice but to change and doesn’t know how to let that change happen peacefully. It wants to maintain its charm and weirdness, but it doesn’t want to pay the price of a growing world population. It wants to be both insulated AND in touch with global issues at the same time. That’s a tall order for any major city.

Back to what I mentioned about the people you surround yourself with. I’ve chosen to surround myself with locals and long term transplants who are even more aware of Portland’s underlying infrastructural issues than you or I, and acknowledge that Portland needs to change (within reason) in order to survive. This is not to say that Portland can’t keep some semblance of weirdness, but it certainly can’t continue to keep clawing at the past in hopes of maintaining the unmaintainable.

As much as I love what Portland was when I fell in love with it, I agree with countless others (including the locals and long term transplants) that Portland needs to grow up a little. But I’m also hopeful that it can do it in style as long as we all stop resisting change so much.

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