The A2P Foodist: The Moral Crusade Against Foodies
February/March has been unofficially dubbed “Lash Out At Locavores” month at two of the most influential thinking person’s haunts. First, at Salon.com, chef Eddie Huang, owner of BaoHaus restaurant in New York City, and a blogger, had this to say about hip food trends:
You know what happens when you sell trends? You sell crap. I’ve been guilty of this myself. People wanted Cheeto fried chicken from reading my blog, a lot of people were mashing up Asian/Down-Home American, so I got caught up in a trend and introduced some crappy items at [my now-closed restaurant] Xiao Ye. I didn’t intentionally sell garbage; they were just crappy because I didn’t take the time to really understand what I was trying to do. It happens. No one’s perfect. Live and learn.
Huang’s post titled, “The utter ridiculousness of hip food trends,” is in your face about foodies who are “in the scene,” chasing the next trendy ingredient like dogs who gotten a whiff of a bitch in heat. Huang recreates a priceless account of wanna-be-chef line-cooks who are so in the scene, they’ve become characters in a trashy novel. Chef Eddie deftly fillets the scene:
On the flip side are the line cooks from two- or three-star restaurants hanging out at my shop, Baohaus, cockfighting:
“Oh, dude, pork belly is so played out!”
“Yeah, screw foie gras, Mugatu is so hot right now.”
You guys are a bunch of Zoolanders. People “in the scene” (puke) need to dig their heads out of their asses and understand that the rest of the nation still subsists primarily on ground beef and chicken breasts.
I’m not saying we should serve burgers and chicken breast, but if we look like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off running from new ingredient to new ingredient and the public can’t follow, well, then this whole exercise is just intellectual masturbation, ’cause there is no lasting effect on national eating habits, on getting people to be open-minded about what they eat.
Huang could very well be writing about Zingerman’s. Check out this description of the Deli’s Culinary Adventure Society food club, a $600 ticket into “the scene”:
The right gift for that friend or client who thinks of themselves as the Indiana Jones of the culinary world. No rolling boulders here, but four times a year we’ll send a big box of eight to ten food surprises based on our most up to date food research and travel.
Perhaps they’ll taste an olio nuovo, a coveted bottle of great olive oil, just pressed. Maybe a cheese from one of America’s small dairies, so regional it rarely leaves its neighborhood. Maybe the latest invention from Zingerman’s Bakehouse, only available in Ann Arbor.
All foods in the Culinary Adventure Society will be exclusively selected for its members. We’ll include a collection of writing on the foods’ history and culture plus recipes for their use.
Then, over at The Atlantic, B.R. Myers “takes a bite,” out of the Foodie movement with, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies.” If Chef Eddie Huang fillets “the scene,” B.R. Myers skins “the scene” alive. The main course of his argument is simple: “gluttony dressed up as foodism is still gluttony.” Gluttony, the last of the seven deadly sins. Any foodie worth his imported, pink, French sea salt could recognize himself in this passage:
Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as “gods,” to restaurants as “temples,” to biting into “heaven,” etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face.
Breakfast at Selma, launched by local foodies, is described on the web site in almost reverential language:
Selma Cafe is: a local-foods breakfast salon, offering a gathering place for friends and community to imagine and create a new vital and sustainable regional food economy.
The suggested donation for breakfast is $10-$15 per person, and a cup of coffee will set you back $3.00. Breakfast of local food in that salon might some day create a new vital and sustainable regional food economy, but at $70+ for breakfast for four, it fits perfectly into the mold of traditional elitism that Myers argues defines local food movements and foodism. With the same sharp-eyed logic of those who condemn the green movement for its propensity to build new while chasing certifications, The Atlantic’s food writer wonders why eating animals slaughtered locally should be a basis for claiming the culinary moral high ground:
But food writing has long specialized in the barefaced inversion of common sense, common language. Restaurant reviews are notorious for touting $100 lunches as great value for money. The doublespeak now comes in more pious tones, especially when foodies feign concern for animals. Crowding around to watch the slaughter of a pig—even getting in its face just before the shot—is described by Bethany Jean Clement (in an article in Best Food Writing 2009) as “solemn” and “respectful” behavior. Pollan writes about going with a friend to watch a goat get killed. “Mike says the experience made him want to honor our goat by wasting as little of it as possible.” It’s teachable fun for the whole foodie family. The full strangeness of this culture sinks in when one reads affectionate accounts (again in Best Food Writing 2009) of children clamoring to kill their own cow—or wanting to see a pig shot, then ripped open with a chain saw: “YEEEEAAAAH!”
The point is then driven home a few paragraphs later: “Note that the foodies’ pride in eating ‘nose to tail’ is no different from factory-farm boasts of ‘using everything but the oink.’ As if such token frugality could make up for the caloric wastefulness and environmental damage that result from meat farming!”
Locally, foodies can stock up on free-range, grass fed, broiler chickens for $15 each, grass fed lamb for $4 per pound, and even buy a 200 pound, locally-raised and butchered pig for just about $750—a bit more than the price of a year in Zingerman’s Culinary Adventure Society food club.
Before foodies reading this start feeling persecuted for their religious beliefs that they’re just better than the rest of the poor slobs who don’t know they should Just Say No to Chipotle, you’ll be pleased to know that shortly after Myers’s piece came out in the March 2011 issue of The Atlantic, Salon.com’s food blogger Francis Lam posted this: “Do we need B.R. Myers’ moral crusade against foodies?” Lam writes:
Look, I hate “foodies” as much as the next guy. You know the people I’m talking about — taking pictures of every plate, crowding out conversation with their pointless listing of chef names, crowing about their collecting of fancy dinners like they were baseball cards. And yet, when B.R. Myers’ grim-faced revolution comes, as a food writer I will be lumped in with them to face the firing squad. Myers’ invective against food obsessives in the March issue of the Atlantic,”The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” drips disgust with us….How joyless! How sad and dour he must be. I cook food because I love food. I eat food because I love food. But I write about food because I love people — I love the stories of people who cook and eat and share food, of how they come together around it, how they see the world through it, and how you can see a part of them through it. To me, these stories, these connections are full of wonder and surprise.
Lam’s piece begins as rather a back-handed refutation, but blossoms into a full-throated defense of foodies and food writing by the end. What makes both Chef Huang and B.R. Myers’s pieces more than just passing swipes is that both expose the underbelly of the foodie/locavore/sustainable agriculture/regional food shed movements: the moralistic paternalism that plagues these movements. I know owners of local CSAs who mock the over-willingness of their own members to pay through the nose for anything stamped “local.” The same mescalun salad mix sold for $12 per pound at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market is sold for considerably less at markets elsewhere. Whole Foods Market is known within the natural foods industry as the retailer for natural foods customers for whom price is not an object. Thus, a trip to the Ann Arbor Whole Foods Market, and one sees a parking lot dotted with Volvos, BMWs and even the occasional Hummer. This precious text comes from the While Foods Market web site Meat & Poultry section:
We still do meat and poultry the old-fashioned way, when people cared where their meat came from, how it was raised and how it was processed…We offer organic meats, raised humanely and processed with a measure of compassion, custom cut to your specifications when you want it.
Cue B.R. Myers rolling his eyes and Eddie Huang (puking).
Monica Eng blogs about food and wine at the Chicago Tribune, and in her post (“Are foodies morally challenged?”), a response to B.R. Myers’s essay, writes: “Foodies are an elitist, gluttonous, vocal minority who feign concern for animals while fetishizing their consumption.” She ends the piece by asking whether foodies “have gotten out of hand.” Finally, in the opinion of the writer at the popular Vegan.com, Myers’s essay gets two thumbs up. Blogger Erik Marcus writes, “A brilliant Atlantic piece calls out the bestselling foodie writers, revealing them for what they are: pretentious ethically challenged gluttons feigning a meaningful social agenda…Good, good stuff. And so cathartic.”
Make some popcorn and find a comfy chair. I have a feeling this food fight is far from over.
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