In the summer issue of The Baffler, Heather Havrilesky has a long-overdue takedown of foodie culture. Sprinkled with generous amounts of sarcasm, the piece exposes foodie culture for the hypocritical leisure-class indulgence that it is, however much it insists otherwise. An excerpt:
But as no end of other right-thinking crusades have shown, there’s a fine line between right conduct and smarmy self-righteousness. As we weather one discursive foodie sermon after another and choke down the aristocratic excesses of today’s foodie media complex, we may long for a sweet taste of silence. After all, there’s scant evidence that the vogue for artisanal cuisine has produced anything close to a more just, affordable, and robust food economy. If anything, it has driven our already class-segmented food system into still greater polarities, with privileged access to rabbit larb and Japanese uni at the upper end of the spectrum, and a wasteland of overprocessed, cheap, and empty slop at the other. To better grasp just how things got to be this way, let’s venture into the dark belly of the modern-day cult known as foodie-ism…
But beyond the fantastical idealism of foodie culture, there’s the simple fact that cooking a decent meal or dining at the right restaurant is an act of leisure-class consumption, not a heroic or courageous feat to build your entire identity around. As former food critic John Lanchester asserts in The New Yorker, our choices about food are nowhere near the most important political choices we make. “If these tiny acts of consumer choice are the most meaningful actions in our lives,” Lanchester writes, “perhaps we aren’t thinking and acting on a sufficiently big scale.” He takes it a step further. “Imagine that you die and go to Heaven and stand in front of a jury made up of Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Your task would be to compose yourself, look them in the eye, and say, ‘I was all about fresh, local, and seasonal.’”
Food is personal. It’s sensual, it’s nostalgic, it’s political. But contrary to the slogans of our officious foodie overlords, food is not everything. Viewing our foodie status as a badge of honor makes sense only if we’re prioritizing food advocacy—from promoting sustainable farming practices to reducing food waste to embracing and popularizing more sustainable crops to making healthy food more affordable to the poor—over our indulgence in wildly expensive plates of exotic fare. Before we dive into another dish of bluefin or veal brains or carrots with a 15.2 Brix reading, we should consider how we’ll look fifty years from now to the inhabitants of an overfished, polluted planet: decadent, callous, delusional, and above all, deeply unsavory.
Image via The Baffler.