I am a food writer, which makes me a “foodie” by association (as much as I reject the terminology). My job, and much of my life, is occupied by considering, writing, and yes, sometimes eating food – a job that elicits as much envy as it does utter disdain. As an example, I was asked to judge an oyster competition a few years back, which, to my mind, sounded fun. Little did I know that my newfound responsibilities for the evening would require me to sit bolted to a white tablecloth, where I would have to rate each oyster along 30 to 40 different criteria. In addition, I was politely forced to eat upwards of 38 raw oysters (I lost count after about 34) and still maintain sanity and general civility. That night, when I retired to my hotel room to contemplate the general absurdity of my chosen profession along with the 40 odd oysters piling up in my GI tract, I had a thought or two about gluttony. Gluttony not in the sense of one of the deadly sins, but more in regards to indulging a preoccupation with food to the extent that it is not only decadent, but utterly pointless. Thomas Aquinas was quoted in saying that gluttony leads to “loutishness, uncleanness, talkativeness, and an uncomprehending dullness of mind.” Well that night I had two out of four, but none of these were generally my problem. My problem, if there was one, was the thought that dedicating one’s life to being a “foodie” might just be a graceless and profligate style of living.
After sleeping on it and chasing my oyster catch with a more modest breakfast the next morning, I quickly forgot about my dark night of the soul, but was rudely reminded of such doubts recently by B.R. Myers “moral crusade” against “foodies” that ran in The Atlantic. Mr. Myers, not one for mincing words, has long been a critic of many things (meat eating, animal cruelty, Jonathan Franzen, etc) and recently made his opinion known on “foodies” and the culture the espouse, with his article, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies.” The 3000+ words of rabid condemnation Mr. Myers lays down is probably one of the more hateful pieces of vitriol aimed at a perceived elite on this side of the Tea Party dividing line. Myers portrays “foodies,” food lovers, and food writers as motivated by their traditional elitism and gaining great pleasure in, not only food, but the fact that the majority of people cannot afford the rarified experiences bestowed on people like me. I honestly don’t take offense to anything Myers spits out, and while I don’t agree with the majority of his invectives, I do agree that there is something sadistic and off with the kind of people who derive perverse pleasure from eating things like goat testicles in rice wine.
That said, this “moral crusade” feels more curmudgeonly than purposeful. Sure for every democratic culinary pleasure (wood-fired pizza, craft brew, and a finely made cookie) there are any number of embarrassing indulgences that seduce people into the belief that coffee beans pooped out of the intestine of an Asian Palm Civit is worth going into debt for. But we are talking extremes here, and the fact is that food has become a very political subject, tapping into class, culture, and access. But beyond polemics, being a “foodie” is not necessarily an elite state of being. I have seen individuals derive as much enthusiasm for a jar of their favorite peanut butter as they do for a morel found among the detritus of the forest floor. The fact is people write about food, cultivate food, and, more importantly, eat good food because it is nourishing, compelling, and often a very simple visceral pleasure in a world with few uncomplicated pleasures left. If someone wants to call this elite, they are likely missing the boat, and a great bowl of Vietnamese pho.
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