A defence of foodies

by lindsay on March 9, 2011

B.R Myers has written a very provocatice polemic in this month’s Atlantic. You should check it out if you haven’t.

The gist of Myers’ argument is that foodie culture has gone too far.

More specifically, he contends foodie-ism:

  • Celebrates gluttony.
  • Is elitist. Myers contends that the gourmet has always celebrating in a form of eating that the “mainstream cannot afford.” This means foodies celebrate eating rare – even endangered things and take pleasure in arcane details about food’s provenance (think Michael Pollan).
  • Reveres strange – inconsequential – things.
  • Disparages dietary restrictions (especially cultural/religious ones)
  • AND…that food writing is basically hyperbole-laden bullshit.

As with many polemics, Myers’ argument has credibility because there are grains of truth in the above.

Go check a food blog near you. You might find celebration of gluttony, a mildly elitist slant, and/or an exaltation of a cheese sauce couched in terms usually reserved for the divine.

Point is, Myers has a point - though one made with extreme examples that makes sweeping statements based on these (another feature of all good polemics).

But Myers’ anti-foodie rant fails to account for some of the great things foodie culture has done.

For example:

  • Foodie culture has played a role in bridging cultural divides. As the world grows smaller, foodies’ obsession with trying new foods has served to bring hitherto foreign entities together. This is not a  bad thing.
  • Foodie culture – specifically the locavore/”need to know provenance” segment –  has raised awareness about dangerous eating and food production. OK, it may be annoying to listen to someone drone on about needing to know what a cow’s childhood was like and what the name of the farmer’s daughter is. But there’s no doubt that lesser versions of these foodie-tendencies have helped expose factory farming, the use of anti-biotics, and other nasty things. We believe this stuff is important and that much of the content from this segment of the foodie world is reasonable in its tone and argument (hopefully we are too).
  • Food writing is a lark (at least for me). I don’t expect food writing to be lean prose a la Hemingway. Yes, some of it is turgid enough to induce vomitting, but if there were ever a realm for flights of verbal fancy would it not be this one? Simply put, Myers needs to chill a little and recognize food writing for what is (and is not).

Love to know what you think on this. Please add a comment!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 A.J. Kandy March 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I suppose at times food writing can dip into the same wellspring of competitive consumption as hipster indie cred – knowing obscure cuisines, the right stores, recipes, what chef cooks where (and did you eat at their old resto before he quit), etc. And blogging how you have 5 hours of free time during a weekday to make a complex Marcella Hazan bolognese recipe sends out other status indicators… But better that than to be silent and allow all our culinary information to come in the form of commercials for Red Lobster.

To critique foodies for their attention to detail, their love of craft, their willingness to explore, their respect for traditions / provenance and insistence on ethical production – it’s the furthest thing from gluttony. Gluttony implies eating as much as you can, uninformed, unhealthily, thoughtlessly; what foodie-ism implies is mindfulness – really knowing what you’re eating or making, and why you eat.

2 lindsay March 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Hey A.J! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Excellent pts. Really agree with you on this.

Re food writing in particular: I think the point also is that while SOME food writing dips into the excesses Myers outlines SOME OF TIME, he makes sweeping statements based on moderately selective evidence.

3 A.J. Kandy March 10, 2011 at 9:41 am

Well it wouldn’t be the Atlantic Monthly if they didn’t run at least ONE piece like that once a month. And usually from people who really ought to know better. Balanced reporting doesn’t sell magazines, though.

4 Dustin- Food Guy Montreal March 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm

The whole article was somewhat confusing. Does he make a clear statement that indicated that people like Bourdain and Pollan are not only foodies, but are influencers in the food industry? I don’t think so. Maybe he does say it somewhere between all the blatant jargon used to fill up the page.
As a foodie, it’s important that we do indulge in gastronomic pleasures once in a while. When it becomes excessive, our expectations change, and we can sometimes nit-pick certain abnormalities, whether they’re good or bad. I believe that such indulgence is a privilege and should be treated as such. When I go to a restaurant to review it, sometimes my meal is comped. I truly hate that. The chefs, waiters, waitresses, bar staff, busboys, prep cooks, dishwashers, and managers all work hard so we can have a good meal and a pleasant experience. I choose to pay, even though I am sometimes offered meals for free. It’s just not my thing. Foodies who take advantage of this without showing appreciation for the craft, are gluttonous and should be ashamed for good reason.

The last sentence states that we’re “not all bad”, but we are “single-minded”. True, we’re not all bad, and I would argue that we are mostly good, instead of choosing the negative side of this argument. The foodie connections and the food blogger environment is a close one. There is a level of respect between all of us, and we certainly appreciate each others work. Are we single-minded? No. If the goal is to eat and enjoy ourselves, then yes we may be. However, we all have our opinions (whether we agree or disagree) and we are pretty stubborn about sticking to our guns. After a while, we become the influencers just like Bourdain and Pollan, perhaps on a smaller scale, but others seem to value what we say about where we eat.

5 lindsay March 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Thanks D! You’re right about Myers’ overwhelming focus on the negative. Appreciate you commenting :)

6 lindsay March 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I’ve been a longtime subscriber to the Atlantic (it is my favourite mag, hands down). But you’re right, the editors don’t mind a polemic from time to time :)

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