***This will be written in 2 parts, as this article made me drunk.***
Who are the “foodies” to whom B. R. Myers refers in his article for The Atlantic, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies?”
a) “as similar to each other as they are different from everyone else.”
b) “largely motivated by their traditional elitism.”
c) “feign[ers of] concern for animals.”
d) “certainly single-minded…& single-mindedness…is always a littleness of soul.”
As evidence for this handsome portrait, he mainly cites a few passages from a few contemporary food writers, among them the ever-controversial Anthony Bourdain, & makes passing reference to equally controversial groups like the Gastronauts, sans mention of controversy, thereby giving the impression that we “foodies” take their word as gospel—because we all “equat[e] eating with worship…with a straight face.” (On the contrary, see: Food Writing 101, by me & MC Slim JB.)
Let’s unpack this, shall we?
First of all, as a food writer myself, I don’t even use the word “we” with a straight face. The word “foodie” itself is a contentious one among—for lack of an agreed-upon better term—interested eaters. Many of us deplore it on the same grounds that Myers does. My theory is that the diminutive ending appeals to diminutive thinkers who throw money at the cutest chefs to dangle the most precious objects before their eyes…
My point is that “we” are a multitude. “We” come from an infinite number of places, of sociocultural backgrounds, of culinary traditions, with an infinite array of attitudes toward food, foodways, & eating. Jesus, spending half a minute on any Chowhound board, Myers might have seen as much—whether or not he would have dismissed any opinions that disproved his narrative or even accorded with his as payments of lip service, à la the assertion that “he [whoever ‘he’ is] even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better, though his heart isn’t really in it.”
This statement is presented as self-evident proof that “an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms” is “motivated by…traditional elitism.” Any logical reasons for the “rejection of factory farms & fast food” are, according to Myers, merely excuses whereby foodies “vaunt their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals.” He adds, “Only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction.” Which public? Again, I suggest he spend half a minute on Chowhound or any other food forum, where debates on such practices rage constantly (take Louisa Kasdon’s article in ZesterDaily on Legal Seafoods’ hotly contested blacklisted-fish dinner). As for “us,” why do we ourselves spend more than half a minute on Chowhound? Myers says it’s because we’re single-minded. Had he bothered to read beyond the authors he, not “we,” designated our philosphers, our priests, he might have stumbled upon, say, this rationale by M.F.K. Fisher (no priest, simply a damned good writer):
“People ask me: ‘Why do you write about food, & eating, & drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power & security, & about love, the way the others do?’ . . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry….When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love & the hunger for it, & warmth & the love of it & it is all one.”
But the fact that food, as a life-giving substance, so often operates as a metaphor for life itself, for life experience, is given no credence here. After all, “we foodies” are literalists in his eyes: “Needless to say, no one shows much interest in literature or the arts—the real arts.”
It’s true. Take me. My MFA in poetry & MA in English literature are really just elaborate beards, hard-earned years in the making, for my obsession with food. Sarcasm aside, am I an exception to the rule? Or proof that he’s generalizing to the point of absurdity? As for “real arts”—talk about a phrase students of postmodern/postcolonial literature would chew up & spit out with relish. For someone who’s arguing on behalf of anti-elitist attitudes, he’s sure got some snoot of his own. Consider his take on Kim Severson’s praise of butchers in the NYT:
“We are to believe [such appreciation] is a real national trend here. In fact the public perception of butchers has not changed in the slightest, as can easily be confirmed by telling someone that he or she looks like one. ‘Blankly as a butcher stares,’ Auden’s famous line about the moon, will need no explanatory footnote even a century from now.”
Putting aside the unconfirmed claims regarding the effect of telling someone he or she looks like a butcher, now or 100 years from now (note that he didn’t try it himself, or at least didn’t report on the results): what’s the implication here? That butchers, to a person, are dumb & cruel, or at least that perception makes it so? According to, of all people, Auden (not that I know who he is, since poetry was for me purely a Band-Aid on my foodie cooties)? Who’s elitist now?