Have you ever rolled your eyes at Anthony Bourdain, or am I the only one?
Well, at least there’s me and B.R. Myers, a vegan and brilliant literary critic, who tears into foodie-ism with zeal in “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies” in this month’s Atlantic.
The essay is great fun. Omnivore blogger Cliff Bostock writes, “The essay is every bit as hyperbolic and sermonizing as the foodie movement he attacks, but it is nonetheless a great read.” New York Times food critic Glenn Collins highlights it as what he’s reading this week.
Myers has read the latest by Anthony Bourdain, Kim Severson, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), and he couldn’t be happier that that reading assignment is over.
He finds that all of today’s foodie writing flows from the spring of Pollan’s “moral logic,” which, in Myers’ reading, goes like this:
The refined palate rejects the taste of factory-farmed meat, of the corn-syrupy junk food that sickens the poor, of frozen fruits and vegetables transported wastefully across oceans—from which it follows that to serve one’s palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows, Earth itself.
It’s not the first time Myers has critiqued Pollan. He identified the danger in Pollan’s line of thinking in September 2007:
Pollan is free to present his appetite as a sort of moral-o-meter, the final authority for judging the rightness of all things culinary. He shoots a wild pig, for example, hugely enjoying the experience. We even get a spiel about how hunting makes people face the inevitability of their own death.
This is nonsense, says Myers. What has become socially acceptable as being a “foodie” is nothing more than elitism and gluttony. What’s new is that “for the first time in the history of their community,” these gluttonous elitists are left “feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street.” There’s no guilt about eating so much, so well, and at such cost. No one sees that there’s a problem with being so fixated on food, thinking about it all the time, or pursuing it as basely as Bourdain does:
Bourdain starts off his book by reveling in the illegality of a banquet at which he and some famous (unnamed) chefs dined on ortolan, endangered songbirds fattened up, as he unself-consciously tells us, in pitch-dark cages. After the meal, an “identical just-fucked look” graced each diner’s face. Eating equals sex, and in accordance with this self-flattery, gorging is presented in terms of athleticism and endurance. “You eat way past the point of hitting the wall. Or I do anyway.”
Francis Lam opens his rebuttal to Myers with an admission: “Look, I hate ‘foodies’ as much as the next guy.” Hannah Wallace, who writes about food for The Faster Times, is on board, too:
Myers has a point: many so-called foodies are elitist and would rather brag about their latest meal at Per Se (and eating ortolan, apparently) than work to make organic fruits and veggies affordable and accessible to low-income communities.
And Robert Sietsema, lashing back against Myers in the Village Voice, has to admit as well that there’s some truth in what Myers says:
Foodism is an unstoppable cultural phenomenon that has outgrown its metaphoric britches. Just like any other human endeavor, its manifestations must be submitted to sane judgment on a case-by-case basis. Good ideas and bad ideas abound, and it’s the job of the thinker, writer, and dining enthusiast to submit these ideas to analysis, and, yes, moral judgment.
Well, here I am, being a thinker and writer, wanting to submit these ideas to analysis and moral judgment. (I’d be more of a dining enthusiast if I could afford more frequent enthusiastic dining.) And what I want to ask is this: As the ranks of foodies grow in Lancaster County, how will our community change?
There is a growing focus in our community on food.
There are blogs: We have Keely Childers Heany’s Note to Self blog on Susquehanna Style. Kathlene Sullivan’s Food-Love-Lancaster blog on Fig. Carl Kosko’s Lancaster Culinary Journeys. Holly High is blogging her way through the Mennonite Community Cookbook on 7 Sweets and 7 Sours, in a Central PA version of Julie & Julia. Every so often we get a fresh post from Ten Pints.
There are institutions, beginning with the sporadically active Lancaster Buy Fresh Buy Local. There are local community-supported agriculture coops (CSAs). There’s Expressly Local on King Street. My friend Antonia Hinnenkamp has East King Culinary. Amy Crystle offers weekly bundles through Everyday Local Food (I’m a happy customer).
Apparently there are even local listservs about food.
And then there’s the growing national attention on Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine—witness the August 2010 issue of Bon Appetit.
It’s easy for me—and, I expect, most readers of this blog—to imagine how much good could come of all this: Better, more nutritious food for all segments of our community, with a positive effect on the environment. More healthy options for dining out. Protection for the traditional agriculture that is such a part of our area’s heritage.
But Myers’ Atlantic article, cheerless as it is, causes me to pause for a moment. I think of John J. Jeffries, which is wonderful but, you cant deny, elite. I rewatch the Fox 43 segment on Susquehanna Style‘s Silver Spoon awards, which gives eating a red carpet treatment. I recall the Buy Fresh Buy Local $60/person dinners. And I wonder if Myers is right to bring up a concern. If we stopped thinking and conversing about this, couldn’t this all devolve into a circle of local elitists congratulating themselves for all the good they’re doing by eating delicious and expensive food?
I’m an American, and therefore an optimist, so I think we’ll see positive outcomes rather than the negative ones that are possible. Still, as foodie-ism continues to erupt in our community, it makes sense to me for us to recognize how precarious a position we’re in. Are we talking about food that’s better for people and the environment, or a convenient disguise for elitism and gluttony?
What about you? Do you share any of Myers’ concerns, or is this a whole lot of buzz about nothing?