There’s a new article in the March issue of The Atlantic called “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies” by BR Myers. While it’s not entirely clear in the rather lengthy article if Mr. Myers would lump me into the evil people he describes as “foodies,” I thought I’d go ahead and defend them anyway against some of his more brutal accusations.
His core argument in this article seems to be that not only are people that write about and eat exotic and expensive foods super-annoying, they are also wasteful, gluttonous, horrible human beings. These are people that have their priorities in the wrong place and, therefore, we would do well as a society to hunt them down and force feed them nothing but broccoli and rice for the rest of their days.
Ok. Maybe Mr. Myers didn’t say the force feeding part, but I think it was implied.
As you might imagine, I disagree with the bulk of his article. I’ll try to break down his main points and answer them using way less words than he did so you don’t have to spend your entire lunch break reading it.
Foodies Can Be Super-Annoying
He’s right. It can be annoying to hear someone go on and on about some weird dish they ate or, may god help you, be seated next to someone in a restaurant who insists on taking photos of every single course. Flash Click. Flash Click. Flash Click.
This is annoying though not because the person is a foodie. It’s annoying because that particular foodie is annoying. That particular person is being self-centered. The same is true for self-centered people who are obsessed with baseball, politics, technology, or journalism.
I just don’t buy that there is something particular to the subject of exotic food that’s annoying. Mr. Myers most likely finds foodies annoying because he doesn’t find food interesting. So yes. If someone is going on and on about something that you don’t care about, I can see how that would be frustrating.
But you know what? Change the channel.
Eating Straw Men
The article uses numerous examples throughout highlighting absurd things that foodies have written or said. He picks out people like Anthony Bourdain and Jeffrey Steingarten, snags a quote from them that shows some of the more absurd things they’ve done for a meal, and then hangs them out to dry for it.
Of course, the author is right that the world could not sustain 7 billion Anthony Bourdains. We just simply could not manufacture enough cigarettes. (Budump Ch)
But he’s maybe missing the forest through the trees here. The message that I think (opinion alert) people like Bourdain and Pollan are trying to get across is that we need to shed light on food in this country. People need to learn how to cook their own meals and use real ingredients and stop depending on food manufacturing companies to provide nutrition.
The benefits of a show like Bourdain’s No Reservations isn’t that we get to watch Anthony get sloshed and eat bat poop. The benefit of it is that it gets people talking about and thinking about food. And hopefully that will carry over from the television to the table where people could benefit by learning more about what’s on their tables even if it’s different than what was on his table.
If you pick out the most extreme excerpts from the most opinionated people in any field, you’ll probably find an easy target.
While he doesn’t come right out and say it in the article, it’s pretty easy to pick up on the fact that Mr. Myers thinks that meat eaters are evil. I actually think he’s a vegan, but he focuses mainly on meat eating here.
His argument seems to be that promoting the kind of exotic meat eating that foodies do is wrong because A) eating meat is wrong and B) most people can’t afford it so it’s elitist to boot.
There’s a few problems with this argument. First, there are plenty of foodies who are vegetarian. I know many people that get super-excited about heirloom legumes or just a really fresh tomato. My guess is though that Mr. Myer’s just doesn’t think of these people as foodies. He thinks of them as friends.
Second, buying good food doesn’t make you elitist. Well, at least it doesn’t make you any more elitist than making a Proust reference in your article and expecting people to get it (which he does). At the end of the day, I think that food prices should reflect the resources that go into producing that food and if people are willing to pay that price, then more power to them! (Note that this isn’t necessarily the case today because a number of foods are subsidized by the government which is a separate problem.)
Foodies don’t have to be solid meat eaters, but the one’s he targets in his article are because that’s easier. Take myself for example. I would guess I probably eat at least 50% less meat than I did 3 years ago. This is largely because I’ve become more interested in other foods through my foodie-ism.
Interests and Hobbies
After reading the article, I got the intense impression that the author sees food as an almost utilitarian thing. You eat it to sustain you. Taking too much joy in it is weird, wrong, and stupid. I wonder if he feels the same way about sex? You do it to procreate. Don’t go crazy.
Since he just doesn’t have food on his list of hobbies, he sees it as a waste of time and resources to hunt out delicious things. I have a feeling that he probably has some things on his list of hobbies that I would think of as a waste of time, but that’s life right?
So at the end of it all it seems like the author is annoyed by people who spend their time and money on something they care about. Since he doesn’t share the hobby, he goes on a witch hunt, defining foodies as annoying, rich carnivores. That’s a pretty easy target, but not at all a realistic picture.
Real foodies are gardeners. They shop at farmer’s markets to support their communities, but also because they want the healthiest food they can find. They save their hard-earned money for months to have one great meal. They know how to cook and love nourishing people.
Most importantly though, most foodies I know take no meal for granted. It’s true that most of us are extremely lucky to have a wide range of foods available. To take that for granted is silly, but to not take advantage of it seems equally dumb.
To read another thoughtful response to this article, check out Francis Lam’s article at Salon.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do we need a crusade against foodies?