Monday, February 14, 2011

On "Foodies"

This weekend I attended the Slow Food Ted X simulcast event at St. Stephen's Church. I was there for the afternoon portion of the event, the 'Where Are We Now' portion. I heard so many amazing speakers on issues ranging from food security and food deserts, to ways in which healthy, sustainably grown food can cleanse the environment, benefit wildlife, and restore our health. There was even an impressive talk by Dr. William Li, the president of the Angiogenesis Foundation, that spoke on how well- grown, whole foods can prevent and even cure diseases like cancer. Really an amazing talk.

All of this made me cringe so much more when I read a piece in the March issue of The Atlantic by B. R. Myer entitled The Moral Crusade Against Foodies. ( Francis Lam writes a fairly nice response.) Portraying 'foodies' as anyone who enjoys good food, or is capable of holding a discussion about food, Myer's 'foodies' are evil- that's right, evil- and he hints, probably going to hell. I agree that the trend for food, and even pure mindless gluttony to be served up as entertainment can fall into the realm of the unappealing, or even the irresponsible. However, Myer and his strange personal vendetta like rant speaks of the macho, meat devouring Anthony Bourdain, the hideously gluttonous world of 'Man vs. Food,' and 'Slow Food' as though they are ultimately one and the same.
You may have noticed I keep placing the word "foodie" in quotes. That's because I do not like, and have never liked that word. "Foodie" implies snobbery, it implies gluttony. It implies a one dimensional character, regardless of the real person behind the label.
I guess I should start off by saying that I do not consider myself a foodie. I don't believe I have enough culinary skill or knowledge to do so. In addition there are way too many things I am just unwilling to eat. For Richmond.Com's Five Questions with a Foodie ,Erin and I tried to come up with a definition of the term that could suit us.
I know that I began learning and caring about food precisely because not doing so was making me sick, literally. The blind overindulgence in cheap food, the total lack of a community discussion about food, the sense that calories are calories, and that "good food," real food is not something of value is the reason why we are suffering so greatly with epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and countless other critical health concerns. Food is what sustains us, how we produce that food effects our own well being as well as that of much of the world around us.
Myer's rants about the self-indulgence of food writers, because really who cares about how to make a souffle? Why would anyone be so small minded as to write about something as mundane as milk toast? I think that food writing is another important part of the solution to our broken food system. If people are going to eat well, they need to learn to cook. Basic cooking skills, and nutritional information are clearly the most important aspect here, and obviously not mentioned by Myer. The basics may not include"the perfect souffle," but if home cooked meals shall ever return on a large scale, perhaps it does need that element of 'entertainment.' Perhaps, the ritual, (yes the ritual) of cooking and eating does need to be elevated and returned to our ideas of home and community. It should be fun. For someone who wants to learn to cook, and enjoys a challenge, maybe the ideal of the 'perfect souffle' is part of what keeps them cooking, and has them ordering pizza a little less often. Odes to milk toast are not going to save the world. All the same in a world where a burger from McDonald's carries way more cool factor than any meal that includes milk or toast, perhaps calls for making real food cool again is not such a totally bad idea.

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